The Objectivity and Subjectivity Inherent in a Bottle of Wine

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GrapevineWhat makes one wine unique and distinct from another?

I’m frequently asked this question. Aside from the obvious considerations such as different grape varieties and different countries/regions of origin, there is no empirical answer or immutable consensus. When considering wine, I initially call on my natural penchant for data analysis to narrow down the distinctive qualities of comparable wines.

After drilling down to the lowest common denominator of objective data, I then apply my palate’s learned behavior of likes and dislikes to evaluate the subjective characteristics of the wine at hand.

This process may sound a bit convoluted and stilted but, in practice, it flows instinctively from my memory banks and learned behavior.

The analytical component of my evaluation is based on my knowledge of a wine’s viticultural (read agricultural) composition, including the type of soil and plantings in the vineyard, the exposure to sun and the elevation of the grapevines, be it a valley, benchland, hillside or mountain.

The subjective, palate-driven component of my evaluation is based on a wine’s vinicultural (read winemaking) influences, including the duration of the fermentation stage and the nuanced practices and techniques of the winemaker from sorting table to vat to bottle.

The end product is the sum total of these numerous macro and micro components, which in combination create an original wine – one that sings of its heritage and its master’s craftsmanship.

At times, an analogy illustrates a point more vividly than a descriptive narrative. I am reminded of an occasion that encapsulates my evaluative process for wine, albeit on a different plane.

My wife and I have been fortunate to attend a number of solo and ensemble violin performances – several in unique settings and performed by acclaimed artists playing one-of-a-kind instruments. One such event was a concert in a 15th century Venetian church. Not only do the acoustics of a church create a unique listening experience, but the history and prior artists who performed in the space also create a backdrop unlike any other venue.

At the Venetian concert, we were immersed in Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons concertos in the very church this piece was first presented by the artist and his students in 1723.

Just as this concert was unique, so too do the unique landscape of a vineyard and the rich heritage of the winemaker combine to create a singular expression of a wine.

Beyond these macro differences of violin concerts are the micro factors – the instrument and the artist.

The instrument. The components of a handcrafted violin are unique; no two instruments are created alike. So too, no two wines are crafted in a similar fashion. What makes violins unique and original is the wood of a particular forest from which the body is crafted and the artisanal source of the strings and the bow. The ultimate soul of a particular violin emanates and resounds from the origin of the materials.

So too do barrels of wine stand apart, each uniquely crafted from materials hand-selected and selectively integrated.

The artist. 1) Violins built from the same material sources will sound unique from each other when hand-crafted by different master builders and 2) the ultimate sound experience is dependant on the soul and emotion that each violinist brings to the playing of the instrument. The appeal and allure of that ultimate sound is differentiated by the ability of each violinist to coax and cajole from the violin its inner essence and individuality.

So too do winemakers imbue in wine their philosophy, their techniques and their ethos to create an aroma and flavor profile that is the signature of their winemaking principles and makes for a singularly representative wine. Such wines are unparalleled in their vitality and soulfulness – and imprint on our senses and our psyche an indelible memory.

Scratching beneath the surface of any man-made product reveals the inner essence of the product and the artisan. Understanding this influence enables us to appreciate each product and its ability to stand apart from the crowd.

Nick Antonaccio is a 45-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years, he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member and program director of the Wine Media Guild of wine journalists. He also offers personalized wine tastings. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at

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