About 10 years ago I used the word, ’vinosity’, in conversation at a local wine festival, to describe what I wanted from our wine. The person I was addressing burst into laughter at the sound of the word. He failed to listen to my explanation and I assume he judged the word rhymed best with ‘pomposity’.
Sadly, I never used the word again, despite my own unwavering belief in its relevance to modern winemaking.
Back in the early 80’s, Rita and I were living on a sheep farm on the South Downs of England near Brighton. We were fortunate enough to travel some of the wine routes of Europe and to enjoy exploring the local independent wine stores (veritable ‘Aladdin’s caves’).
What struck me then, was the difference between European and Australian wine when seen from outside Australia. Australian wine had ‘squeaky clean’ bright fruit and varied only in intensity and complexity of primary fruit aromas and flavour. European wine had complexity derived from savoury aromas and flavours overlaying the primary fruit. Some characters were at the limits of perception. Others were rank and potentially repulsive.
On returning to Australia and enrolling in the winemaking course at Roseworthy Agricultural college, I came to understand the underlying technical basis to this difference. Australian winemaking then was embarking on a quest for technical ‘perfection’. Our daily ‘organoleptic evaluation’ classes were centred on the detection of wine ‘faults’ – volatile acidity, oxidation, hydrogen sulphide, mercaptans, TCA cork taint, Brettanomyces infection, the list went on as new ‘faults’ were discovered.
This rigorous examination of wine left little time, or room, for the emotive response to wine. It became obvious that to achieve ‘technical perfection’, then the biological imprint had to be eliminated as it was unpredictable and dangerous in its outcome. To this end, wine should be made from crystal clear juice, freed from its grape particulates and modified for its acid, sugar, phenolic and protein level, then fermented by a single commercial yeast of precise provenance at a controlled temperature and finally to be sterile filtered to bottle as quickly as possible.
It felt at the time that if yeast could be eliminated in the conversion of sugars to alcohol, say by chemical or enzymatic means then that would have been preferable.
This mentality, i.e. the pursuit of pristine primary fruit was at odds with my pleasure derived from seeing the not so perfect characters in wine – cheesy, leesy, ‘wet dog’, briny, oyster shell, incense, Asian spice, leather, cigar box, balsamic, charcuterie, undergrowth, mushroom, etc. An endless list of emotion evoking aromas and flavours layered over the complex fruit I had seen in Europe. Yes, some wines had been out of balance and undrinkable but in moderation, the interplay of these savoury characters with the fruit could elevate the drinking experience to a hedonistic and intellectual experience.
Some wine writers refer to these non-fruit derived characters as ‘artefacts’, seemingly ignorant to the fact that the word ‘artefact’ is derived from the Latin ‘to make art’ and means ‘a product of human art and workmanship’ – I can live with that attribute!