A lonely scorched survivor

A lonely scorched survivor

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Think While You Drink

"I'm no wine connoisseur, but I know what I like." I cannot tell you how often I've heard a “satisfied sipper” or a “traditionalist” utter that phrase. (Archives 10/24/11)

 I've also been tempted to respond, “I believe you . . . I really do. But can you tell me why . . . very specifically why you like it?” Thank goodness, I've resisted saying that, otherwise I'd be a very lonely wine drinker.

Wine drinkers—you, me, all of us—know what we like, but for the most part, we find it awkward and difficult to articulate. Part of the reason, I believe, is that we simply don’t focus our attention on the details of what’s in the stemware. It's like other aspects of our lives. How about that picture hanging over the fireplace? In detail, what is it that you like about it? Is representational, full of life-like details, or is it abstract, leaving you to experience your own perception. The same can be said of music. Is it strictly in the background, sliding by your consciousness? Or are you paying attention and heard that waffling sound of the fifty-cent piece the drummer spun gently on the drum? The full, satisfying appreciation of wine, art or music is definitely knowing and understanding the details.

Another reason for our inability to define and articulate our wine preferences, I believe, lies in the intimidating, sometimes off-putting, metaphorical vocabulary of winespeak; those special purpose descriptors that wine tasters and critics use that sound like they belong in a physiology class (legs, body), or a chemistry seminar (acidity, tannins, balance), or a garden club meeting (floral, herbaceous). There's no question those wine basics need to be understood. However, when the metaphors go to lofty extremes . . . .

What if I can't perceive, for example, that a Super Tuscan has the gentle fragrance of the "forest floor?" Or that I don’t detect the aromatics of a Provence red echoing "garrigue" (that mélange of wild, countryside herbs and shrubs )? Or that I can’t honestly confirm that a Bordeaux smells faintly of cassis, cedar, and tobacco?

I’ve never sniffed the undergrowth at Muir Woods, so I’m out of luck on Super Tuscans. But could a jar of Herbs de Provence give me a hint of that red from Provence? I doubt it, but maybe I just need to do more outdoor grilling with those spices. And we have cedar blocks in our closets, but I must confess the aroma doesn’t remind me, the least bit, of my favorite St. Emilion or St. Julien.

Lastly, our palates are like fingerprints; everyone is different. What you perceive is not what I perceive. I've been to large group tastings, and the perceptions and descriptors vary widely. But that shouldn’t inhibit you from expressing your own opinion. One man's "forest floor," may be another man's "mulch pile," while an expert's "garrigue" may be the beginners "weedy." And "cassis", well, blackberry preserves sounds pretty good to me. So, here's a thought: focus your attention, don't be afraid to speak your mind, and have faith in your palate. As one English wine writer says it, "Think while you drink."

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