One of the great tragedies of wine is having a bottle that lacks magic, transforming what should be a memorable experience into merely an act of intoxication. Some bottles, naturally, possess more magic than others, but any bottle worth drinking will have at least a little.
So what is wine magic? Where does it come from? Well, in many ways that's a deeply personal question, but here are a few tipoffs that I look for when buying and tasting.
Who made it? Certain producers just know how to coax the magic out of their grapes. That may be because their vineyard is of particularly high quality, or because they're particularly talented in the cellar, or both. Often, it's because they understand how to get out of the way when the grapes are already sparkling, doing just enough to polish up the diamond so to speak. Furthermore, while their stories can vary greatly, understanding the history and passion of a winemaker serves to bring the magic in the wine to the surface.
How much of it is there? Certainly, there are large-production wines that can have some magic to them, but generally speaking once you get above 100,000 cases or so you're starting to stretch whatever magic there may be pretty thin.
Have you allowed the magic to show itself? Drinking wines too young, or too old, can kill the magic. Drinking wine too fast, or without thought, can kill the magic. While the burden lies mostly with the wine, you as the drinker should shoulder your responsibility as well.
Where is it from? One of the great joys of wine drinking in the 21st century is that we now have so many frontiers open to us. No longer are we limited to just the most classic wine regions and varietals, but now we can find wines from all over the globe, made from grapes that we may never have heard of. Granted, some of these wines are possessed of a strange sort of magic that most might find off-putting, and indeed, some of those classic wines are still the most magical we have, but learning that places like the Okanagan Valley, Stellenbosch, Hawkes Bay, and Dingač all contain their own magic has been a joy.
Who are you with? Drinking a magical wine alone is a bit like masturbation, and drinking it in the wrong company is...ok, I'm not going to continue that analogy, but the fact remains, the wine you drink is only as good as the company you keep, and the food you eat. The interplay between all those factors is where the real magic happens.
It's an appreciation for this magic that keeps me in love with wine, and wanting to learn more. This recent column by Matt Kramer for Wine Spectator addresses many of the same topics, though from a different angle. Whatever you do, drink magic wine.