Nature or nurture? The virtues of great wine.


As a winemaker with a fast-twitch mind, I’m often filled with questions about great wine. What makes a great wine? Who makes great wine….and how? Why do some people see this in a great wine, and others see that? Etc, etc. All of these questions I’m sure are pondered by every self-leveling winemaker, wondering how their fruit’s virtues can best be expressed. What settles me off to sleep in a haze of comfort is the thought that great wines have one thing in common, seamless texture.

The eminent Robert Parker describes a great wine to have the virtues of 1. Singularity (a wine like no other), 2. Must show its place (taste of where it comes from), 3. Intensity without heaviness, and 4. Satisfy the palate and the intellect. Indeed, these virtues are the cornerstones of great wines, and in my mind the last of these is most important.

I’m risking entering the realm of wine wanker here, but in the quest of creating great wines, a winemaker must be looking at the not so obvious angles as well as the obvious. Great wines don’t shout you down, smother you with flavour, or prance around in a sexy outfit, no. They tantalise you. Lure you to a place of tranquility and contentment. They charm you with their story of the vintage, and the interaction between the earth which they were born, and the people who raised them. Yes, the terroir (environment) in which a vine grows has a permanent impact on a wines nature. But the ability of a wine to show the four virtues above is nurtured by the attention to detail and careĀ given to the fruit by the winemaker. Is nature more powerful than nurture, or vice versa? No. It is only when the two are skilfully matched that full expression is achieved.