Sunday, October 23, 2011


Not the whole truth, because there's no way, to say it all. Saying it all is literally impossible: words fail.  -Jacques Lacan

...because he could seek a great deal, particularly for expressions when he has to express himself - it is difficult to express oneself with respect of a wine...  -Jules Chauvet

There is perhaps a language of wine. Not a language that we use to speak about wine, although there is some attempt at that, but a language through which wine articulates itself. This language might be thought to be primitive (primal, unsophisticated, a phenomenon of nature) or archetypal (Chardonnay, Viognier, New World, Old World, etc.). When wine is thought about in these ways, the "telling" character of a wine is thought to slip out in our human speech, seemingly instinctually, and because of our intense preoccupation with the liquid. "Peaches" we might say, or "hazelnuts". "Low acidity" and "high alcohol". And we as observers take up these threads and tie them together as a knot might be pulled together (apart from the wine), indicating an identity for the wine. The code of cryptic associations has been deciphered. But such an identity is thought to be only a hint of what lies below the surface of the words. Underneath this weave is the roiling liquid in the decanter, full of hints at a cloaked meaning.

When one reads what Jules Chauvet said in 1981, that

...but when one speaks in truth, for the wine itself, it may be questioned. That is to say, the aroma of oakwood, of oak variety, which is very good, it may be said, which I like a great deal, one must know that it does not come from the wine...That's what you must say. Wine is wine, this is contributed to it. All very well, very well, but all the same...It is an old practice, which no doubt would improve the wine. But one does not see the truth of wine...Yes, indeed. It goes together very well, when it is well done...Yes, it makes them more complex, it makes one more flavour, etc. it is well matched...but it is questionable, when the wine is itself the thing presented: wine, wine must be naked. I shall go even further: it is the wine of wine: without anhydride, without sugar, without anything. That's simple! If one wants to look things straight in the face. Because one has the habit of putting sulphur, sugar, oak, etc.

one sees perhaps not the creation, but certainly the assumption, of a concept of wine as apart, as having its own nature alone and on its own. A conception of wine beginning as a kind of Noble Savage, separate and before oak, and chaptalization, and sulphur additions. A primal truth, naked.

This is such a pervasive thought today, wine as having its own essence, that we may forget that this is perhaps a fairly modern understanding. The Romans took a wine with resin, saltwater, and aromatic herbs in a recipe that varied by region within the Empire. There was no taste for "wine" without these. Wine might have been thought of as an ingredient. The difference that France's AOC system and Italy's DOC system have with America's more recent appellation rules is that the European models give stipulations not only for where a wine might be made, but also for how it must be brought up. There is no Barolo or Brunello di Montalcino without a minimum time period in wood. There is not a "naked" Barolo, only speaking of its essence as "wine". To be Barolo it must have been in wood. I would submit that for Chauvet there was the unconscious wine. The wine not of deliberate choice and the changing stages of nature, but of an essence preceeding choice.

But what if we look at unadorned wine as having a language determinate on how it is spoken. In this view each individual wine provides a full sentence of meaning at birth, but this meaning is intrepreted differently depending on how it is raised. A wine might have the sentence "I walked from Houston to Hollywood." This sentence could have a multitude of meanings. One might coax from this a meaning of Houston the city, or Houston the street. It might imply Hollywood the street, Hollywood the town, or Hollywood the industry of film. This sentence might imply a slow change from country music singer to film star. Imagine now that oak barrels implied Houston the city, whereas stainless steel implied Houston the street. You see? The sentence is ostensibly the same, but the meaning has been changed. A wine might have a nature separate, but not intelligible except by being misunderstood.

Language when it is not understood seems a decoration. As hieroglyphs on a wall. We do not understand the meaning, but we think the effect pretty, awe inspiring, and from another time. As we do wine.


Michael Madrigale said...

Nice buddy. Like this post a lot. Get well soon!

Levi with an i said...

Thank you, Mike. See you soon.

Pascaline Lepeltier said...

really great post Levi