Let’s go wine tasting.
How many times have I heard that and wondered, “what exactly is the attraction?”
It’s the norm for those of us in wine country. We know what to expect. Get a little buzzed, learn a little more than you wanted to learn about the other people there tasting…and maybe have a small revelation about that flavor you have on your tongue—is it really ‘hints of chocolate?’ why yes, yes it is… how does that happen with zinfandel?
But after having wine-tasted with friends, family, cousins, neighbors, the dog next door as well as the actual wine maker buying my grapes, my standards are now clearly defined. Don’t get me wrong, I love wine-tasting. But I do not have what is described in the biz as “a cultivated palate.” However, I think my palate is sophisticated and discriminating.
When I taste wine I’ve been taught to extend my proboscis straight into the glass farther than a normal person would. Yes, stick your noggin right in there. And breathe.
If you don’t pass out, the wine is not opening up yet. “Let the wine open up,” you’ll be told.
But normally the sensory perception you are feeling at this point is called ‘the nose.’ Then when you actually put some of the stuff in your mouth by sipping it, that’s a whole ‘nother thing. You can evaluate the residual sugars, the body, the mouth feel…and you can decide whether the acids are balanced or the wine is too heavy or light or dark or complex or whatever your still-sober brain decides. Then you can discuss these things using adjectives as creative or noncreative (someone drew up a flavor wheel that can help those less imaginative—or preoccupied instead with what this is going to cost.) Then you can swish the stuff around in your glass, which essentially aerates it—and the results can be amazing. Just like if you go running and aerate your body. Feels totally different, hopefully better.
Then usually the person carefully pouring exactly one ounce for you (and if they are more generous than that, it is not because THEY are stupid…remember, alcohol is not only scientifically proven to reduce your inhibitions, it gives your judgment a break too so that $40 bottle of zinfandel suddenly might seem like the best date you’ve had in a decade.)
So the question I like to ask myself is ‘does this taste good?’
Then I take it one huge step farther.
And this is where most wine-tasting venues dare not tread. How does this wine make you feel? I know that sounds very pseudopsychoanalytic but really, where is this conversation going from here?
And that guy at the other end of the bar? How is he looking right now?
I have reached the age of midlife crisis—you know, where women start wearing purple and forgetting what their cars look like. We also shed a whole lot of crap that has not served us well like tight-fitting clothing, pancake makeup, high heels, politesse … and we stop inviting people over for dinner whom we don’t really like.
So apply this syndrome to wine and what you get is a pretty damn great barometer of whether the wine is any good or not.
I recently tasted a cabernet from Lake County sold under the label “Dancing Crow.” I suddenly remembered a guy from my journalism school undergrad—he was a grad student—and he was sitting next to me on the bank of a river, his bicycle—which we had both ridden to the location– tossed against some trees up the hill. On our ride over I had gotten very close to his golden curls and watched shamelessly as his gluteus maximi worked the pedals propelling us toward the river.
And we had been talking about whether obituaries actually are news stories—or should be. Should the world know what killed your loved one? At the time it was a huge issue. It was gay people predominantly who were dying from AIDS. To the extent that if you died of AIDS, it was probably because you were gay. And families didn’t want the world to know that their kids/spouses/siblings were gay.
But, I argued, the community has a right—and legitimate reason to know—what is killing its members. My friend agreed.
But what I really wanted to know was whether my friend was gay. And I couldn’t figure that out. Turns out he wasn’t but I had missed that boat. We had not been drinking that cab so he never released his real self so I went home alone not knowing …
So what in that sip of wine called up that memory? What is it in the wine that defines its value?
I conclude that the conversation elicited by the wine is the best indicator of its worth. What do people say when they drink this wine? Do they spout clichés? Do they talk about nose and body and mouth feel? Or are their imaginations emancipated so that they start telling you about whether if Trump, should he not be incarcerated until November, might be replaced by someone with some sanity. Do people start talking about lost loves? Solutions to the world’s problems?
If after sipping that zinfandel someone says “mmmm, this takes me back to cherry blossoms in my backyard in Colorado back in the sixties …and the body is so rich and inviting I want to make love to this wine …” well then you know you have a certain level of uh … stimulation.
But if you taste a zinfandel and you find yourself saying, “If we elect enough democrats into the house of representatives then the speaker of the house replacing Pence will be a democrat and maybe we won’t lose our national parks to corporate greed … ” then we are dealing with a different level of wine.
That, my friends, is what you should expect from your wine. It should give you hope and vision and love and creativity. It should make you come alive.