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wine vitalityI think if there is one way of summarizing what wine quality comes to, I would say quality wines exhibit vitality. What do I mean by vitality? There are three elements to tasting vitality:

1. Tasting variation in the vineyard, glass, and bottle. Darwin showed that life is creative, a continuous process of novelty and natural selection in which living beings contract, select, and harmonize the conflicting forces that affect them. Living beings make a life for themselves by using matter and energy to resist degradation. Wine, in its life span beginning in the vineyard through its years on the shelf of a wine cellar and finally in the glass,  puts this process of difference, disparity, and integration on a pedestal, glamorizing it, showing the process itself to be captivating. Tracking these life-like variations and noting the ability of wine to escape the categorical boxes we put it in–tasting the tension between stability and change, degradation and maintenance, predictability and contingency–is in part what I mean by tasting vitality. Wine tasting, at least in the modern world, has always been about this and the best wines are transparent in how they express these living processes.

2. Tasting variation and movement on the palate. Increasingly, in tasting notes, wine tasters are making reference to perceived motion on the palate, referring to a wine’s energy as lively, slow-building, deliberate, swelling, tense, light on its feet, etc. Great wines have a distinctive rhythm as they unfold in the mouth revealing many ways of being lively and energetic. This is a dimension of wine tasting that doesn’t receive enough attention and is not well represented in formal tasting models.

3. Tasting for personality and character. Living things have dispositions, what we call personality in a person—a complexity that expresses a being’s way of unfolding in time and reacting to the world in a particular way. That is why living things attract our engagement and responsiveness. Wines too, at least those that are distinctive, have dispositions, a way of unfolding in time, that contribute to their complexity. This is why metaphors based on a human personality have been used to describe such wines. Thus the degree a wine has personality and character is a measure of its vitality.

Great wines exhibit distinctive variations from the vineyard, winery, or bottle, distinctive rhythms on the palate, and a distinctive personality—all summed up as the wines vitality.

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