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pollackI’ve been thinking a lot about Martin Seel’s concept of resonance as one of the keys to wine quality.

Think of the rustling of leaves, the shimmer of light on water, or the background hum of the city. What is common about these phenomena is that they cannot be perceptually traced back to a source.  We know the hum of  city is caused by engines, voices, all sorts of devices that make noise but those individual sound sources cannot be picked out. In resonance, events shine, vanish, and reappear without order or form.

Think also of the inchoate, half-formed shapes in the background of abstract art (such as the Pollack painting above) or the sounds that are not quite melodies or harmonies that provide interest and complexity in a piece of music.

The use of tonal effects operating in the background of contemporary rock music provides a sense of movement independently of the melody or rhythm. The precise character of a band’s sound can’t be fully analyzed into component parts, especially if it’s new and different. The sound depends in a general way on which instruments are used, their tone quality and the way the various tone qualities interact but these components cannot be picked out and given a precise specification.

This lack of perceptible form is the key characteristic of resonance. It’s experienced as a kind of attractive chaos, a loosening of expectations and assumptions, drawing us in to the painting or piece of music by creating a sense of mystery about it.

Although Seel doesn’t mention it, wine too has resonance, flavors and aromas that give only hints and nuance as the flavors and textures insinuate and lapse remaining just below the threshold of full discernment. Quality wines often have a clarity and focus to them. But great wines provide a different kind of experience, provoking a feeling of something just beyond the horizon that cannot quite be identified. They present barely discernable aromas that don’t fit our standard categories, that violate expectations and seem starkly original but resist attempts to explain or describe precisely what we’re tasting.

Seel thinks of resonance as a borderline aesthetic phenomenon, present only occasionally in works of art although striking when experienced. In wine, by contrast, resonance is the main characteristic of superior quality. Only the best wines combine clarity with these inchoate nuances that indicate great complexity but resist a full analysis into component parts.What is a borderline phenomenon in the visual and musical arts is central to wine appreciation.

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