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What is a wine with “personality”?



While we’re on the subject of storytelling (we are, in case you haven’t been reading lately), let’s consider the role of personality in a story. “A personality” is what people call a person who isn’t bland or forgettable, but instead someone who impresses himself on others through the sheer force of—well, personality.

Keep in mind the origins of our word “personality”: from the Latin persona, literally, “an actor’s face mask.” While each human being by definition has a “personality” (in the sense of a collection of personal characteristics), I’m more interested in what we mean when we say of someone, He’s a real personality,” as Jennifer Garner did of Matthew McConaughey, her co-star in Dallas Buyers Club. He’s a fantastic actor and he’s a real personality and he’s charismatic as hell,” she said in an interview.

“He’s a real personality” is also how a sports commentator referred to former Packers quarterback Brett Favre.

Clearly something more than just a collection of traits is going on here; people who impress us as “real personalities” have extra qualities that grab our attention and make us remember them—for better or for worse. That, I think, is the key to understanding the remark yesterday by a Tuscan winery owner concerning Chianti’s top-tier classification, Gran Selezione.

“The problem,” said Lorenzo Zonin, “was that Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva were almost a commodity, wines that didn’t have such a strong personality, so they said we have to find a way to give a value to such products that are outstanding.”

“Strong personality?” Is Mr. Zonin talking about the wine’s organoleptic qualities, or is he talking about the perception of the wine among the critical community and consumers? I confess I don’t know, but this meme of “personality” in wine ties in nicely to the storytelling aspect that has enveloped wine lately. It seems that every winery—and its marketing team—wants consumers to form a personal bond with the wine—as if they have a stake in it. This is the elusive “personality” of the wine that makes it distinct from every other wine.

Does having “a personality” add value to a wine? Why? Is it because the wine really does have objectively valuable extra qualities, or is it because the winery says it does? This is the eternal question.



  1. Why stop there? We need sentient wines. Wines with multiple personalities… a vinographic DSM. A whole line of KJ Therapist’s Select wines. Metaphysical issues of self-determination of clones. Nature/nurture discussions about whether mercaptans originated from the cruel grafting as a child.

    This is going to be huge. OK, I just registered and booked a one-way ticket to Monkton.

  2. Dusty Gillson says:

    I think “personality” is exactly what you said it to be with regard to people. . . something that isn’t bland or forgettable. It may be (and many Fracophiles will probably comdemn me for saying it) that personality and terroir are very similar in the endgame (flavors in the glass). A wine with personality would be a wine that may have varietal typicity, but puts a spin on it in some way. An example would be Heitz Cellars Martha’s Vineyard, which has an undeniable mint and eucalyptus thing happening. As far as return customers, I am much more likely to remember how good that wine was and go looking for it in the future because I’ve never had another wine quite like it. And just like terroir, I find that most wines just don’t have enough personality to really stand up and take notice, but the ones that do really wow me.

  3. As Dusty writes, it means (to me, anyway), that the wine has character; i.e., it’s not boring.

  4. Ah Steve,
    Thanks for the softball to shamelessly plug my blog “The Personalities of Wine”.

    Wine does have individual personalities and it is my belief that if we can categorize the wines into different groupings that customers might be able to try new varieties that may fall under a particular personality grouping. Otherwise I wouldn’t have crafted an entire blog around this concept.

    See full details here…

    That being said there is quite a bit of “generic red wine/white wine” with very little defining characteristics on the market which is maybe the issue to which Mr. Zonin was referring. I’ve always thought it was a good counterpoint to numerical rating and perhaps they can be complementary in some ways since numerical rating generally should refer to intrinsic quality and “wine personality” refers to style.

    My two cents…

    Thanks again,

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