Something's Off Here
Tatler Malaysia|July 2021
A hint of diesel fuel, a note of rotting flowers, an aftertaste of wet dog—these are the things that make our resident wine expert go weak in the knees
Sarah Heller MW

What separates a wine that checks all the boxes for quality—rich fruit, great balance, concentration— from one that goes further and makes your soul quiver in ecstasy? Considering the sheer number of otherwise sensible people who regularly fork out princely sums to enjoy a most treasured bottle, there has to be a certain something that makes some wines more special than others.

Cynical readers might point to the valorising effect of a hefty price tag. Indeed, research suggests being told a wine is more expensive genuinely makes the drinker believe it tastes better. The mind is an extraordinary interpreter of reality, which is why blind tasting is critical for professionals. However, for my own palate, the single, irreplaceable feature of a truly great wine is something I call “the crack”. The intended connotations are multiple: one is the idea of a poetic flaw, akin to Japan’s tradition of wabi-sabi or France’s embrace of the jolie laide aesthetic; a less highbrow reading reflects how maddeningly addictive this quality is once found.

A crack typically manifests itself as an aroma, or sometimes a texture, that feels like a moment of discontinuity within an otherwise “perfect” wine. It can be something distasteful, or even downright disgusting, that I know I should resist but don’t quite want to—a hint of diesel fuel or sweat or even blood, creating a tension that perfectly resolves the whole. Think of Jacques Guerlain’s contention that “perfume should smell like the underside of my mistress”, and you are just about there.

To step out of the abstract and into concrete examples, allow me to take you on a brief tasting journey through some of my most beloved wine regions, each of which provides fertile ground for the avid hunter of the indecently delicious.

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