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Greatness in wine

At the recent pinot noir symposium in New Zealand, known as Pinot Noir NZ 2017, the concept of ‘greatness’ in wine was discussed and debated.

What is greatness?

It is an incredibly hard thing to define, as one person’s idea of greatness is very different from the next. There is, of course, a lot of subjectivity involved.

Dictionary definitions of greatness, an old English term, talk about high quality, eminence and distinction. But in wine, I believe there is more to it than this.

The degree of greatness depends on who has bestowed the title. Greatness awarded by a person held in high esteem, whose opinions are valued by many, may be worth more than the view of the average wine drinker. However, this concept is also up for debate, especially if one’s palate preferences are not aligned with the one awarding the title.

Would the title mean more if bestowed by a collective of commentators? Perhaps.

Greatness is a mix of the subjective as much as the objective. Surely greatness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

My personal, and somewhat intangible, definition of greatness has changed over the years. It has altered as my palate has grown and evolved. It is less about components and more about emotion.

For me, a wine that has greatness must, first and foremost, be delicious to me. If a wine is in the category of greatness, I find that it consumes me. After discovering it, I think about it, almost obsessively, and then I hunt it down to add to my collection.

When I serve it, I do so with great care. If it has obvious greatness, I share it and serve it with abundance. However, if its greatness is discreet, I save it for those who will fully appreciate it. Sometimes its impact is so profound that it informs and re-defines my very own personal parameters of quality. Wine with greatness is always memorable.

Ones’ surroundings can enhance wines with greatness. Though I’d like to think that a wine with greatness could transcend any negative environmental aspects. Perhaps this is being naive?

But greatness in wine can be transitory. The term cannot be given to a wine passed its peak. If consumed too young, one can still be satisfied knowing that its prime years are yet to come. But if a wine has passed its moment of splendour, then one must accept that the opportunity to experience greatness has been missed.

Price has no part in defining greatness. In fact, it can be a poor indicator. Wines of greatness can, of course, be found across a broad spectrum of prices. Though price, will most probably, be a factor in its availability. If made in small quantities, and others also admire its greatness, the price is likely to be higher, than if it was readily available.

Value for money is not part of greatness. A wine has greatness irrespective of the price paid, whether it be high or low. There can be superb wines that over-deliver on quality compared to their price. But for a wine of greatness, the price is irrelevant, though the cost can be a factor in how often the wine is experienced.

Although there are plenty of excellent wines in the world, greatness is something, from my experience, that is only seen periodically. Such wines are to be celebrated, appreciated and remembered. And their rarity makes their discovery even more satisfying, exhilarating and momentous.

It is the elusive quality of greatness that is the impetus for many wine lovers to search the world for that special bottle of wine. I wish you great luck, and pleasure, in your quest.

2 thoughts on “Greatness in wine”

  1. smaky says:

    Hi Your parameters of greatness in wine fairly parallels my own subjective appreciation of the movies I have seen and the ones I hope to. 37 years of winemaking in Tassie has a ways to catch up with having viewed 59 consecutive Oscar presentations.I love both industries and indulge simultaneously on many occasions, however, movies have it over wine in the memory stakes and cost of pursuit, at 9 dollars for each movie,wines can only deliver at, perhaps, 5 times that and upwards.That i remember plentiful great experiences with both, i would guess one in fifteen of either would be definable as great.Thankfully neither are on a fuck-it list, but i do own a copy of 1001 movies you must see before you die and I would readily buy a copy of 1001 bottles you must drink before you live,.a Halliday edition would suit me fine.
    Mark Semmens
    Deviot Tas.

  2. Mahmoud Ali says:

    Agree on all your points with the exception of a wine, in its youth, that promises greatness. These are wines that will be great and hence the need for a cellar. Greatness in a wine, regardless of its pedigree or price is when, in the fullness of its maturity, it expresses all it can aspire to be in terms of complexity, breadth, and finish.

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