Can a wine have “soul”?
My exposure to the word “soul” has been two-fold: philosophically, in the sense of an immaterial essence of our humanity (which may or may not be immortal), as explored by Plato and others, and musically, as defined by the Motown and Stax Volt records I grew up grooving to. Aretha had soul. James Brown had soul. Smokey had soul. If you want to hear soul–at least, through my white ears–check out Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through the Grapevine. That song not only gets your feet moving, it touches on love–lost, deceived, embittered.
I wouldn’t go so far as to claim that any individual wine has an immortal soul, in the philosophic sense. That’s a bit too much. My undergrad degree was in philosophy. I paid close attention to the religious, spiritual and philosophical concepts of the soul. I still do, but in my musings, I never think about wine in that context. However, when I think of wine in the cultural sense of rock and roll, which is enormously important to me, the sound track of my life, I can come up with a concept of wine as having soul.
I was stimulated to think along these lines after reading this online article that talked about wines with soul. The writer defined a soulful wine as “A …wine [that] is a very real combination of scent, flavor and texture that is seamless, multi-faceted, and unending from first sip to swallow, from first sip to last sip.” He had a lot more to say, so I hope you’ll read the piece in its entirety, but his bullet point, I think, was this: “The experience [of a soulful wine] should be such a sensorial onslaught as to capture your complete and undivided attention.”
What the writer seems to be saying is that a soulful wine has something that you can’t define in words. It “captures your attention,” but not the way, say, a noisy garbage truck outside your window at 6 a.m. does. It’s more subtle than that. It’s hard to say exactly how or why it captures your attention; it just does.
If I grant that a wine can be soulful, that leads to a big question: Is a soulful wine one that necessarily earns a high score? To answer this, I went over several years worth of my reviews and searched for the word “soul.” I found it in only a few instances, usually in the sense I employed with a Clos Pegase 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon: “…it has an enormous soul of blackberries, black currants, cassis and dark chocolate.” But that isn’t quite what I was looking for; in this case, I used the word “soul” as a synonym for “concentration” or “core,” not in some morally uplifting sense.
Nineteenth and early twentieth century writers had an easier time grappling with the notion of wine’s soul. H. Warner Allen, in “The Romance of Wine” (1932), referring to a Tokay [sic] Essence of 1811, refers to its “peacock’s tail,” comparing it “without exaggeration…to the harmony of the sunset colors.” It had “a radium-like power of emitting particles” that caused him “to meditate.” Other wines elicited similar and in some cases even more rapturous praises.
I suppose H. Warner Allen found “soul” in that wine. Perhaps it’s our more jaded, cautious age that does not permit me to do so, in quite that fashion. I find certain wines “fabulous,” “fantastic,” “stellar” and the like. But anthropomorphising wine isn’t my style. On the other hand, “soul” is just a word. I’ve enjoyed many wines that gave me such “a sensorial onslaught as to capture [my] complete and undivided attention.” Whether or not they had “soul,” I will leave to others to determine.