Wine is lots of things, but 'living' is not one of them. Flavour development in bottle is not evidence of life but its exact opposite: the changes we detect in mature wine are a result of it decomposing with age.

Life can be scientifically defined, but the soul is another matter. Physiologically there's no such thing, unless you count it as part of the brain. Yet the soul is a concept that we all value. It gives us meaning beyond physical existence. For some people it is a divine phenomenon, for others it is the sum of our emotions and beliefs - something to live by, something to cherish. Without our souls we're just arseholes.

Wine in itself has no soul, but it can reflect the soul of its origin - or more specifically, its maker. The appeal and joy of wine does not purely come from its intrinsic taste or its inebriant effect, but from what it represents. The story behind a wine should confer the soul of its maker upon it, assuming the story to be genuine rather than phoney marketing claptrap - but let's not get into that.

Evidence that wine can have soul was illustrated by a recent 'discovery' that demonstrates the opposite. A pair of Californian scientists claim to have created an exact replica of Dom Pérignon 1992 without using grapes, yeast or fermentation. Their website says:

All wines share the same basic set of compounds. We recreate wines from scratch, flavor by flavor, by combining these components at precise levels.
— avawinery.com

This story has been picked up by many news outlets, including a surprisingly credulous New Scientist report. The whole things smacks of a hoax to me, but let us imagine for one moment that it is true: that it is possible to exactly reproduce a wine by analysing its chemical makeup and synthesising this combination in a laboratory using ethanol, acids, water, flavour compounds and so on. After all, this sounds theoretically possible. 

The reason such a wine would never have the value and worth of the original it reproduces is because it would be soulless. Even if the sensory experience was ostensibly identical, the facsimile wine would always lack the authenticity of place, vintage and people that elevates the original wine to something far beyond its own chemical constituents; something to evoke emotional and instinctual appeal.

Wine may not be alive, but it can certainly have soul.

7 Comments