Is wine a work of art? The Minimus 2017 Pinot Gris from Oregon was one of the most artful wines I’ve ever tasted

Please join me tonight (Friday, Nov. 16) at Sud Italia on University Blvd. in Houston (Google map) for an evening of great Italian wine and conversation. I’ll be pouring wine for guests all evening.

The greatest works of art and literature are those which are conscious of being works of art and literature, texts that are self-aware of being texts, so to speak.

Without diving headfirst and recklessly into a discussion of “experiential” versus “experimental” poetics, suffice it to say that there are two types of “art” in the [post-]post-modern world: those which merely entertain us and those which expand their genre by forging new ground, as they entertain us all the while.

This dichotomy can be traced back to antiquity, of course. But in modern times, the “art vs. entertainment” dialectic was best summed up by Umberto Eco in his (in)famous 1985 essay “‘Casablanca’: Cult Movies and Intertextual Collage.”

“According to traditional standards in aesthetics,” he wrote, “‘Casablanca’ is not a work of art… [I]f the films of Dreyer, Eisenstein, or Antonioni are works of art, ‘Casablanca’ represents a very modest aesthetic achievement.”

A lot of Casablanca fans will be surprised to hear that. But as Eco illustrates (and despite being a diehard ‘Casablanca’ fan, I agree with him), Casablanca is a great film but it’s not a work of art. In other words, it’s not a film that’s conscious of being a film. It’s just a great film.

Late-night graduate-days debates over the intersection and divergence in art and entertainment — fueled by pungent cigarettes and acrid coffee — came to mind as we drank the Minimus 2017 Pinot Gris from Oregon the other night.

Where so many skin-contact and natural-intentioned wines can tend to be monochromatic in their aromas and flavors, this wine delivered gorgeous varietal expressiveness, with brilliant fruit (ripe peach and apricot), elegant acidity, and artful weight, body, and texture. In a word, I loved it.

But I was also struck by the fact that, like many of the Craft Wine Co. wines, it’s a one-off, one of the many bottlings they do just once — when the confluence of growing conditions and availability of fruit gave the winemaker the unique opportunity to make. No, there won’t be a 2018 bottling and that’s simply because the winemaker has already moved on to his next aesthetic adventure (well, honestly, I don’t know that for sure but it’s my understanding that each of their wines is intended to be an entirely singular viticultural expression, a sui generis bottling).

The packaging and meticulously compiled metatext (see the image above) also struck me as remarkable and remarkably thoughtful and thought-provoking.

Like a text that’s left the hands of its author and has gone on to become its own living and breathing objet d’art, this wine seemed to have a life that came into being only after the moment of its issuance. At the risk of sounding unintentionally macabre, I’ll borrow Barthes’ equally infamous declaration that “the author winemaker is dead…” In other words, this wine, so mindful and self-aware of being a wine, had taken on a life of its own once it left the confines of the cellar where it was born and found its way to me in Houston.

(For the record, the man who made this wine is alive and well; meaning here is figurative, of course, not literal.)

Is winemaking an intellectual pursuit? I believe that no, it’s not. Is it an aesthetic expression of its winemaker? I believe it is… but not when she/he seals the wine with a cork or screw cap. It becomes poetical the moment a wine lover pulls that cork or twists that screw cap.

And the other night, the Minimus 2017 Pinot Gris was pure poetry…

Buon weekend, everyone! Have a great weekend and drink something delicious!

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