There are some wines — Clos du Mesnil, Grange, Monfortino — that, when said, instantly evoke the estates that produce them; no additional words are necessary. You wouldn’t say “Krug Clos du Mesnil,” any more than you would say “Nike Air Jordans” — you would just say “Air Jordans” (or, more likely, “Jordans”); the fact Nike makes those shoes — and Krug makes that wine — is implied. In the wake of a shared culture, sometimes the language we once used to describe something becomes superfluous.
Clearly, these are rare examples. Every winery in the world seeks to be defined by a singular bottle that transcends the maker. But, while not all wines have that broad cultural awareness, all good estates make these kinds of wines. We call them “halo wines” — calling card expressions that define the artistry of the estate.
Halo wines function just like their metaphorical namesake: shiny pieces of light, hovering above, and yet inextricably linked. So, if you know of Conterno’s famed halo wine, Monfortino, you might seek out Conterno’s other wines. It makes perfect sense. They are bathed in the glow of an iconic expression.
But halo wines do not need to be as unattainably rare as Clos du Mesnil or Monfortino (or a pair of vintage Jordans, for that matter). Any wine that reflects an estate through its singularity is a halo wine. Most often these come from very specific vineyards, made with incredible care, and are always susceptible to the vagaries of vintage. In a way, it’s this uncertainty that separates a halo wine from the rest of an estate’s offerings; the winemaker isn’t seeking to show consistency of craft here, but rather attempting to capture a moment, a season, a piece of land.
How about that for irony? A winery defined by the inherently variable. But, at the heart of that contradiction is the soul of wine. At their best, wines are not products — they’re living things, reflections, messages from a specific place and time. Of course, a winemaker’s stamp will always come through (even the lack of intervention is, itself, a winemaking choice), but that quixotic attempt to bottle the ineffable is why so many of us love wine. We don’t always seek consistency; we look to be surprised, challenged, even moved by a great bottle of wine. The best wines can be both utterly unique, and yet, at the same time, unmistakable.
And what does all this get you, the drinker, in the end? A moment of repose, perhaps, a thought; or even better, the absence of thought in the glow of something exceptional. But more likely, it will be a bottle with friends, family, colleagues; a totem upon which we gently lay our humanity; perhaps even a shared culture, where language becomes superfluous. Halo wines indeed; those shiny pieces of light, inextricably linked to both winemaker and wine drinker, a connection from one place-and-time to your place-and-time.