Friday, June 8, 2007

The Unanswered Question

Importer Terry Theise has published his 2007 Germany Catalog, and as usual, along with his invaluable tasting notes are extended ruminations -- evocative, poetic, pseudo-philosophical -- on the state of the wine world and, in particular, German Riesling. Especially noteworthy, given the most recent flare-up in the so-called "terroir wars," are Theise's thoughts on minerality -- a favorite subject of my co-blogger Jeffrey. Jeffrey would find a kindred spirit in Theise, who exalts minerality as "a higher form of complexity than fruit."

Now, Theise still clings to the unscientific notion of the direct transmission of minerals from soil to vine (he praises the long hang-time of German Riesling for allowing the vines "lots of time to leach minerals from the geologically complex sub-soils"). Yet unlike many like-minded adherents, Theise argues that minerality "doesn't yield to literal associations":

Search for "fruit" and you'll find it eventually: some combination of apples and pears and melons and limes and there they are all. But search for the detail in mineral and you grope fruitlessly ... An answered question halts the process of thinking, but an unanswered question leaves wonder awake, and this is why I prize minerality highest among wine's virtues.

It is this quality of ineffability that make these wines, in Theise's view, a deeper, more profound reflection of the beauty, mystery, and ambiguity of the natural world. In Thiese's tasting notes, one can find the stray reference to "slate" or "chalk," yet more often "minerality" is described in terms of its character: "steely," "powdery," "salty," "pungent," "craggy." And even more frequently, the term "minerality" or "minerally" is left completely unmodified, posed again and again like Charles Ives's Unanswered Question, ever without resolution.

Of course, it is crucial to observe, as Theise does, that minerality is not synonymous with acidity, "nor does it relate to acidity" (I wonder how much of what some call a wine's "mineral cut" actually relates to the acidity, as opposed to the mineral flavors, of a wine). Nor is minerality synonymous with austerity, or merely a means "to excuse underripe wines." Rather, at their most extroverted, these are "wines of gushingly lavish flavor ... you could swear had rocks passed through them." Or at their finest, wines that "pass beyond the mere sense of stone into flavors mysterious enough to compel thoughts of jewels."


William said...

Personally, I feel that the highest form of complexity is the uxormammocity of the wine, so poetic and hard to pin down at first tasting, and yet so pleasurable to think about and ponder. For those of you who aren't vinophiles, 'uxormammocity' is the character of the wine that is influenced by the shape and size of the breasts of the wife of the grape grower.

Anonymous said...

I generally agree with Theise, minerality is great. Reisling is my favorite wine.