Vins d’émotion – Burgundies of passion – have been uppermost in my mind since the fall trip I made to Burgundy. They have taken up a fair amount of space in these pages as well.
While there is some consensus between myself and my circle of wine-loving acquaintances as to the characteristics of red vins d’émotion, what makes a white wine an emotional experience is somewhat more elusive and ineffable in today’s world.
Wines are made in the vineyard
In my view it is clear to most – or at least many – that emotional wines are made in the vineyard. The efforts in the cellar, while important, can not create an emotional wine, but can at best illuminate the qualities that come from the vineyard.
This is especially true when we talk about vins d’émotion, in which rare but basic qualities such as zen-like energy, tension and effortless balance come from the vineyard, not the cellar.
In fact, misjudged cellar work can – and often does – damage this feeling. Too much extraction, heavy-handed vinIfication and excessive sulfuring can take the hedonistic life and spirit out of most wines.
This is certainly true for reds, and perhaps even more so for whites.
The emotional spice
Looking at reds, I am able to identify physical traits that contribute to emotional content. Among those, optimal phenolic ripeness is one of the primary elements in producing a true vin d’émotion, as this provides both energy and balance in the wine.
A wine with perfect phenolic ripeness can have effortless lightness, balance and energy. On the other side of that coin, it is hard to imagine a vin d’émotion which is phenolically unripe – or overripe, for that matter.
Of course physiological ripeness also has some influence on emotional content, as high alcohol or low acidity can be problematic. That said, I don’t think high acidity is a prerequisite for a vin d’émotion, as I have tasted some emotional reds from lower-acid years. High alcohol is perhaps more of a deal-breaker for me, as 14.5% alcohol and above spoils the optimal balance and refinement of phenolic ripeness.
The question is, however: Do these same criteria apply to whites?
Whites and phenolic ripeness
Reflecting on white wines, the x-factor for me that defines a vin d’émotion is effortless balance combined with vivid energy: this combination provides the foundation on which is built a truly hedonistic and emotional white.
Ripeness – both physiological and phenolic – is an important element in this equation, and there is a delicate balance between unripe grapes and the perfect phenolic ripeness found in some wines, or should I say that appears to be found in some wines.
Again – and I’m guessing somewhat here – managing to produce phenolically ripe grapes earlier in the harvest period is among the keys, as this will ensure the desired phenolic qualities before the alcohol rises or the acidity drops significantly.
So this is a menage a trois at least, and in some vintages is an impossible jigsaw puzzle to complete.
There is frequently a disconnect among sugar levels, acidity and phenolic ripeness in white grapes – meaning the grower needs to wait for phenolic ripeness while the alcohol increases beyond what perhaps is optimal, and while the acidity is certainly dropping.
This is clearly a complex issue, as dehydration in the vineyard in dry years such as 2018 can block phenolic ripeness while delaying the optimal harvest time, risking the higher alcohol and lower acidity of a delayed harvest. It’s all a compromise, and there is clearly no one right way to do things.
Looking at a few whites that in my view have quite clear emotional values
- Domaine Henri Gouges Nuits-Saint-Georges Clos des Porrets St-Georges Blanc 2014
- Henri Boillot Corton-Charlemagne 2017
- Domaine Pierre Girardin Puligny-Montrachet Les Folatieres Village 2018
these wines all have that extraordinarily fine energy and effortless, zen-like balance. But even more importantly, they have a natural ease and airiness that makes the wine flow over your palate with immense hedonistic joy.
My theory is that this is related to phenolic ripeness as well as perfect balance in the physiological ripeness of the grapes. It is this equilibrium that offers the delicate and – above all – balanced expression that defines a vin d’émotion: a Burgundy of Passion!
What do you think?