When & Why Words Fail

The french have a term called frisson. There’s not really a word for it in English, but we’ve more or less borrowed it, as with schadenfreude from German. Apparently, as a category, these are called “loanwords”.

Frisson, is more or less when you shiver and all the hair stands up on on your arms as the result of some organoleptic experience. Whatever you’re experiencing is so intense that your body actually has a physical reaction. I remember this happening the first time I listened to the choral arrangement of Barber’s Adagio for Strings, Agnus Dei:

I also remember getting it the first time I had an oyster. And most recently, when I had this wine:


Well, not this exact wine. The bottle was François Cazin’s Cour-Cheverny “Cuvée Renaissance” 1996. Made from an obscure Loire variety, Romorantin, The Cuvée Renaissance is a late-harvest version of the wine, made slightly off-dry, but with such massive acid that you barely even notice the sugar. Genetically, the grape is related to Chardonnay and Aligoté, but there’s only one appellation for it in the whole world, Cour-Cheverny. Don’t confuse Cour-Cheverny with plain old Cheverny (I know you would!), which is made out of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc for white, and Pinot Noir and Gamay for red.

To see us lose this grape would be a tragedy, but I almost don’t want to tell anyone about it, for fear that become even more expensive. There’s nothing I could say about this wine to begin to describe it. Complex would be a snarky understatement.

And on that note, I had a really intense experience today tasting a vertical (one producer, multiple vintages) of Lebanon’s Château Musar. In wine nerd circles, these wines are well-known and widely touted. Serge Hochar, who has been making the wine since 1959, even through years of civil war, was holding court at this sit-down tasting today. He is pretty incredible. I will be thinking for decades about a lot of the things he said. I’m also fairly certain that they will be making many appearances as future blog topics.

He did say this, “My red wines are my babies, and my whites, they’re the big boys.”

I can’t disagree. His red wines, which are mostly Cabernet, Cinsault, Carignan, Mourvédre, and Grenache, are very good. Don’t get me wrong. They have incredible longevity and character. The whites (made from the indiginous Obeideh and Merwah), however, are fathomless, eternal, without end, and completely indescribable. I will go to what E.L. Doctorow said about sex:

You can’t remember sex. You can remember the fact of it, and recall the setting, and even the details, but the sex of the sex cannot be remembered, the substantive truth of it, it is by nature self-erasing, you can remember its anatomy and be left with a judgment as to the degree of your liking of it, but whatever it is as a splurge of being, as a loss, as a charge of the conviction of love stopping your heart like your execution, there is no memory of it in the brain, only the deduction that it happened and that time passed, leaving you with a silhouette that you want to fill in again.

That’s all I can say. I am not a generally a believer in much beyond the human power to self-determine, but the only word I can use to describe how I felt drinking the ’80 and ’75 is “rapture”. I experienced something so much bigger than myself that it made me feel incalculably small. And I know that is a ridiculous thing to say about a glass of wine, but it is a feeling so indelible that it will be with me until I die. I can only hope to discover it sometime again.

About Morgan

Liquid enthusiast. Sommelier and wine communicator living and working in New York City.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to When & Why Words Fail

  1. Madeline Puckette says:

    I love this wine, ramorantin. I experience frisson when I come across something unique & special: doesn't matter what realm it's from.

    On a side note, I'm having trouble pronouncing german wine words. You have any recommendations?

Leave a Reply