There are no great wines, only great bottles

My friend Jacko opined a few years ago – and he is a person who is not short of opinions – that cooking is performance art. His thesis was: the kitchen works its artistry, the dishes are produced, and then “pouf” they are consumed.

I asked him if he considered wine to be performance art as well, and he said, of course. In fact, he was wrong, as he often is. I will not detain the reader further on the subject of cooking, but let’s consider wine.

Some distinctive features of performance art are:
1. There is an element of theatre.
2. Attention is shifted from the object to the artist’s action.
3. It asks challenging questions about art, life and everything.

Does wine do any of these things? No. But wine is art just as much as a picture or a sculpture: it engages both the intellect and the senses. To put it another way: it is possible to enjoy a bottle of wine without thinking about it, as you can look at a picture and just enjoy it. Or, if it is a fine bottle, you can delve deeper and explore the wine, think about its flavour, its balance, its texture, its complexity; the Italians have a phrase for such a wine, vino da meditazione. And wine has become as collectable as more conventional works of art. Also, like art, it is a useless waste of time to give marks to wine, just as it’s pointless to give pictures marks out of a hundred. How many marks would you give Picasso’s Guernica, for example? Or Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring?

But, just as you can go to see a disappointing production of a play or opera, so you can, I’m afraid, meet disappointing bottles of wine. And, conversely, you can meet a bottle which just happens to reveal the full beauty of its character on the occasion when you decide to open it. The greatest bottle I have ever tasted was an Échézeaux 1990 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti; which is indubitably a very posh bottle of wine. But I have been lucky enough to taste other, supposedly posher, bottles, though none transported me to the places that the bottle of Échézeaux did.

The moral of all of this is to keep your senses about you when drinking wine, so that you are receptive to those great bottles when they are in a mood to reveal their true beauty to you.