Structure or Sex Appeal?
One could certainly read some pretty devilish things into my title, but the true wine geek undoubtedly understands exactly what I mean. Consider it a head to head match, as a structuralist would argue their true love has the substance and depth to last a lifetime, and those that fall to the easy temptation of quick seduction are only setting themselves up for vacant satisfaction, coupled w/ a king-sized hangover. Perhaps, in that argument there is merit. The structure packed wine can give varying degrees of pleasure as it evolves and fill a cellar with possibilities that a one dimensional hedonistic bottle could never match. The one night stand, consisting of barbequed spare ribs and lavishly rich layers of pulled pork can find an easy companion in the slutty, superficial fruit bombs that scream just as loudly, reaching some sort of facile harmony. This of course, is a black and white argument that doesn’t nearly reach the depths of what type of contest this really is. This match involves competitors that offer both structure and sex appeal, in different proportion. What if the wine was sexy, yet structured? When tasted alongside a wine w/ a serious constitution that also had some tempting succulence to boot, is there an objectively better wine?
Hypothetical situations are always enhanced by specific examples, so allow me to indulge you w/ three previous juxtapositions that suit this question to a t.
Two particular contests speak to a broader, vintage comparison between 2000 and 2001 Chateauneuf du Pape. The contestants; Domaine du Pegau and Clos des Papes, personify each of these vintages beautifully and produced equally exquisite, yet distinct wines in both years. Both 2000’s offer up precocious, up front fruit in tantalizingly and effusive fashion. These are the type of velvet laced hookers that simply boast their attractiveness to your palate, almost overwhelming the senses in sheer satisfaction. Although their structure has never shut down their flesh, they are by no means feeble. I wouldn’t predict these to be the longest of agers, but I also wouldn’t imagine they are in any danger of falling apart over the next decade. On the contrary, their sibling 2001’s are tangibly muscular, more tightly knit and are still somewhat cloaked in a brawny sheath of tannin. Underneath their bodybuilder physiques they are crammed w/ depth, nuance and gorgeously rich fruit that demands patience to be truly enjoyed. Now, these ’01 wines are certain to make old bones (especially for Chateauneuf standards), but may never provide the sheer thrills that their elder competitors are currently providing.
Just to prove that I’m not entirely Rhone centric, I think a Bordeaux example is in order. The back to back blockbusters from Pichon Lalande in 1995 and 1996 are as appropriate as any for this exercise. The 1996 is an oozing sexpot of a claret, almost more Right Bank in that regard as it seems too energetic and explosive to resemble its aristocratic Pauillac pedigree. Sinfully drinking beautifully now, but again, the iron clad foundation (which is almost undetectable) should prove to carry this wine well past its adolescent period. When paired next to the aromatically closed 1995, you have to wonder if the years were transposed in bottle as this vintage seems entirely younger. While rich & exceptionally deep in the palate, w/ layers and layers of pure fruit, there is a much more reserved and severe quality to this wine than the ’96. The edge in focus and ageability firmly lie w/ the ’95, but does that make it the better wine?
Time for some introspection:
The answers to these questions caused me to do some soul searching. Since we attach so many human traits to wines (and also extrapolate a winemaker’s personality to their own wines), why not look in the mirror a bit more deeply when considering our personal preferences? Personally, I scored the sexier wines (2000 Chateauneufs as well as the 1996 Pichon Lalande) a point or two higher than their sturdier counterparts, but I gave the more structured wines the magical plus symbol, hedging my bets for their future development. Why did I evaluate these wines as such? Well, the easy response is that ‘it’s my personal preference, I dig sexier wines a bit more,’ as I think the wines are nearly equals vis a vis their quality. That being said, if I were to parlay this into a life situation towards ‘my taste’ in women, I might have come up w/ a different conclusion. I chose my wife w/ structure first, sex appeal second (not that she is lacking at all in that department, of course). I view a relationship (in the hopes of achieving marriage) w/ evolution as the primary determinant, as physical gratification tends to fall into a more fickle category. In wine, broadly speaking, I believe life’s too short to wait for one wine’s promise when another wine of comparable quality is already delivering (and perhaps, delivering at a more pleasurable apex). The faithful plus sign is what makes the other wine perhaps a bit more fascinating, but not necessarily more enjoyable.
Having said that, I am glad that both of those types of wines exist, as their diversity is what makes our enological environment so rich. Wine’s diversity can only be rivaled by that of our own, as humans, in expressing our subjective experiences to one another and learning from our similarities and differences of opinion. That, my friends, is what makes this competition a win-win.