Yesterday a tasting put on by Jörg Pfützner of Fine Wine Events in conjunction with the Elgin Wine Valley Guild to explore the concept of “elegance” in relation to wine, the Guild have adopted “Elegantly Elgin” as its positioning statement in recent times.
“Elegant” is an important wine descriptor but one which needs to be deployed carefully lest over-use rob of it of meaning. An old philosopher’s trick is to define it in terms of what it is not and “elegance” is therefore and most obviously the opposite of “brutish” or “crass”. Encountering an “elegant” wine is not a violent experience that takes place mostly in a physical sense, but rather one which compels you to engage intellectually and emotionally, the wine elevating itself beyond simply being a beverage.
But by only looking at what “elegance” isn’t, do we get to the essence of it? An extra dimension of elegance is surely style in the sense of a distinctive way of doing things. We all have an idea of the archetype of Merlot, for instance, and then there are the various real-world renditions of it, each more or less successful in approximating the consensus-based idea of what the perfect Merlot might be. An elegant Merlot therefore is not simply one which is largely absent of flaws but rather reveals the ultimate or at least an aspect of the ultimate in an uncommon way.
As ever with language, there is a political component to how concepts are used and I suspect anybody who would co-opt “elegant” as a descriptor for his wines is trying to mark them out to be somehow more sophisticated and hence desirable than others towards a commercial end.
Too often, however, “elegant” is a euphemism for lean and insubstantial. It reflects on the overly delicate sensibilities of many wine enthusiasts that “elegance” gets privileged over “power” when really there is no need to favour one over the other fundamentally. Being prepared to acknowledge both extends the stylistic spectrum, which must be to everyone’s advantage.
Another problem that the use of “elegant” as a wine descriptor it tends to be applied to wines which supposedly demonstrate “minimal intervention” but are frankly under-done. While lightness of touch in winemaking is to be celebrated, that some human skill is needed in the winemaking process is a key reason why it is interesting in the first place.
The line-up from yesterday below. A general observation regarding the Elgin wines is that they tended to be “pretty” and “delicate” and “pure fruited” which are all good and desirable but not the same as “elegant”. The Shannon Mount Bullet 2007 meanwhile was “profound” and there’s another whole concept to wrestle with.
2008 Cotat Sancerre Les Monts Damnées
2009 Cotat Sancerre Les Monts Damnées
Sauvignon Blanc Blends
2007 Oak Valley OV
2005 Smith Haut Lafitte
2005 Pape Clement Blanc
2009 Thelema Sutherland
2005 Domaine Raveneau Chablis 1er Cru Montée de Tonnerre
2009 Paul Cluver CWG Wagon Trail
2007 Cathy Marshall
2005 J.M. Fourrier Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru “Combe aux Moines”
1999 Dominique Laurent Mazis-Chambertin Cuvée A Grand Cru
2007 Clape Cornas
2002 Torbreck Descendant
2007 Shannon Mount Bullet
2005 Ferrand Lartigue Grand Cru Classe Saint Emilion
2007 Bellefonte Belcier Grand Cru Classe Saint Emilion