Although the general wine drinking public seems to prefer lush, powerful wines, in recent years wine experts and somms seem to prefer wines with lower alcohol and more elegance. Is there reason to prefer one style over the other as the mark of a fine wine?
We might take a page from the art world to help sort out this issue. The distinction between fine art and craft is usually drawn as follows. A piece of craftwork has a job to do, a function that the craftsperson well understands. The craftsperson thus skillfully creates a work that does its job exceedingly well, without flaws, and achieves technical excellence in how it performs. Style matters but is subordinate to function.
By contrast, a work of fine art commands our attention, not because of the function it performs or because the technique was excellent, but because it is a personal expression of the artist’s viewpoint and because it stimulates the imagination and intellect. Great works of art have a sense of mystery about them; there is something to be understood that requires focused attention on the part of the viewer or listener.
Wines that exhibit power require great technique in the vineyard and in the winery ( and good luck with the weather) in order to extract maximum flavor and texture. Modern technology has made this more readily achievable. And the virtues of such wines strike you right in the palate—without ambiguity. They are well-crafted. But all that power can obliterate any sense of mystery or sense of place. And because elegance is in part a matter subtlety and nuance, elegance may be hard to detect in highly extracted, powerful wines. It is this sense of mystery, place, and the tracking of elegance that stimulates the intellect and the imagination.
Perhaps then we should prefer wines of elegance since they are more than well crafted but express individuality and have a viewpoint that influences the mind as well as the body.
But it is important to note that power does not preclude elegance. Like Beethoven, Michelangelo or Pink Floyd, the mark of the finest winemakers is their ability to achieve both power and elegance.