It’s that time…another bloody Monthly Wine Writing Challenge…
#MWWC6 Topic: Mystery.
by L.M. Archer, FWS
For me, the mystery of Burgundy lies in the concept of terroir, a concept difficult to describe outside the borders of Burgundy.
To Burgundians, terroir speaks to the tangible, such as soil, aspect, location, water, and weather. It also speaks to the intangible, to its soul, not just its soil. I’ll leave the ‘quantifiable components’ of terroir – details about limestone and eastern exposures and dry farming and stone clos and combes and fault lines, to others more eloquent on the topic.
I prefer to speak to the ‘unquantifiable component’ of terroir, its ‘soul’ – and perhaps Burgundy’s deepest mystery.
The Spanish have a term for soul: duende. ‘Tener duende’ ( ‘having duende’ ) roughly translates into ‘having soul,’ i.e., a heightened state of emotion and authenticity, usually in the arts, often connected with flamenco. Duende is similar to finding your ‘authentic swing’, as in The Legend of Bagger Vance by Stephen Pressfield. Or ‘being in the zone,’ like a professional athlete lost in the moment of playing, not winning.
Terroir, like duende, speaks to the ‘authenticity’ of Burgundy wine, not just it’s ‘typicity.’ It speaks to its character, not just its ‘characteristics.’ It speaks to wine as art, and not just beverage.
During my latest trip to Burgundy in October, respected wine guide Jean-Pierre Renard – a man who forgets by breakfast what most people struggle to learn in a lifetime about Burgundy – provided a tour through the birthplace of terroir.
“Wine making doesn’t rely on a recipe – there’s no ‘magic formula’ here – each vintage is unique, and we must adjust accordingly, responding to what the wine needs.”
Mysterious how each wine maker understands this ineffable commitment to full expression of the wine’s authentic voice. And how each wine maker described getting lost in the ‘flow’ of each harvest, riffing like a jazz musician.
This mystery serves as the bedrock of Burgundian wine, just as limestone serves the bedrock of its soil. It’s why I keep coming back to Burgundy. Burgundian wines unravel on the palate as elusive mysteries of restraint and elegance, understatement and refinement. Like any mystery, they require diligence, patience, and attention to detail. Burgundian wines are about subtext, not what’s spoken. They are about ‘the space between,’ not what’s obvious.
Some things in life offer more questions than answers. The mystery of Burgundy wine may be one of them. Santé, and pass the DRC.
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