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Ask the Master of Wine:
"Have you ever tasted the perfect wine?"
 (January 27, 2003)

"Have you ever tasted the perfect wine?" —Kevin Shaffer, Hamilton, NJ

  Roger Bohmrich, MW, is Senior Vice President of New York-based importer Frederick Wildman & Sons and President of The Institute of Masters of Wine (North America)

Roger Bohmrich, MW, replies:

The intriguing question of what constitutes a perfect wine can be answered on several levels and goes to the heart of the appreciation of wine.

Taking the matter at face value, I would argue that perfection would imply certain obligatory, if highly intangible, attributes. A perfect wine would be endowed with a presence or authority which would be dramatic: a power to stop conversation or cause words to flow poetically. It would be multidimensional with a myriad of nuances. A perfect wine would possess an ideal equilibrium of all its constituent parts, and would be seamless and composed, a unified, harmonious whole. A perfect wine would not simply be a great wine; it would be a paradigm with an otherworldly quality.

I have tasted wines which met these theoretical ideals, albeit only rarely, for how could one encounter perfection routinely? Perfect wines for me have been a 1947 Cheval Blanc drunk in its prime, glorious, polished and complete; a 1961 Hermitage La Chapelle, a giant, powerful, aristocratic wine; and a 1945 Baumard Clos de Sainte Catherine, a regal Côteaux du Layon tasted when it was 50 years old, dark yellow in color yet astoundingly fresh, rich and beautiful.

Considered from another perspective, is not the very concept of perfection an abstraction, an exercise in subjectivity carried to an extreme? As a Master of Wine, I can describe and apply standards to assess quality; indeed, that is the role played by MWs around the world in their capacities as makers, buyers, sellers and critics of wine. To attempt to define perfection, however, and to insist that specific wines must be judged perfect by all palates is to go beyond educated appraisal. As Horace so wisely observed, "There are as many preferences as there are men."

Should we surrender our individual preferences for a supposedly objective definition of beauty? Is your idea of a perfect work of art Botticelli's "Birth of Venus" or Picasso's "Guernica"? There is no right or wrong answer, even if authorities can substantiate why both works should be considered masterpieces. In wine as in art, the appreciation of perfection lies within each of us.

For me, perfection is to be found not in a set of intellectual criteria but in a particular experience when wine becomes an integral part of a translucent moment. Surely one of the most perfect wines I ever drank was a 1966 Ducru Beaucaillou, the first "serious" wine I encountered. Nothing short of an epiphany, this experience led directly to a lifelong career in wine.

Wine does not have to be grand to be part of a perfect moment. The Lugana I recently consumed jet-lagged on arrival in Italy was ever so satisfying and refreshing, and no other wine could have been any better suited to the mood and moment. We can debate what constitutes a perfect wine, but we should never lose touch with the joy of merely good wine, for it can please, reward and make every day that much more perfect.




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