Suburban Wino 2: The Wordpress Experiment

Now hang on one hot minute. | February 22, 2011

Last week, I jabbed a thumb in the eye of wine-tasting protocol, using a popular technique of the insecure: sarcasm. It was a joke. In all seriousness, I adore when the person next to me at a tasting gives me the business for not picking up the delicate hints of porpoise dander in the Wild Irish Rose we’re sipping…

…wait, was that sarcasm? It doesn’t translate well in print, does it?
Anyway, I was having some fun with embellishment on many things I’d heard at tastings. The vast majority of ridiculous statements at wine tastings involve proclamations of unbelievably obscure smells and tastes. However, despite my snark, I honestly believe there can be tremendous value in learning telltale aromas and flavors in wine, as well as probing for new ones.
Cool out! Let me explain this perceived one-eighty.

There’s nothing wrong with a frame-of-reference. I strongly subscribe to the notion that a better understanding of a recreational activity makes it far more enjoyable, whether that be watching a hockey game, smoking a brisket, or shooting pool against a guy whose first name is “Detroit”. You ain’t winning against a guy named “Detroit”. I bet he brought his own two-piece pool cue to the table, didn’t he? But you didn’t have a keen understanding of that. And now you are broke, and likely wounded by knife.
But back to my point. Part of the fun of wine is being able to stick you nose in it and smell apples, chocolate, green pepper, etc. Science has often lauded the strength of olfactory memory, so tasters already have brains full of familiar smells. It’s always fun to pick one of those out when sniffing a glass. Case in point: my friend, absurdly talented writer, and professional wine slinger Samantha (of The Wine Country in Long Beach, CA) recently got me on the fast-track to debt by introducing me to “grower” Champagne. These bottlings feature grapes both grown (thus the name) and bottled by the producer, something rare among the big Champagne houses, who usually buy their grapes from other growers to produce their Veuve Clicquots and Dom Perignons. Grower certainly isn’t cheap, but can really bring some value if you’re looking for incredibly complex flavors and aromas in your everyday $60-80 bottle of sparkling wine (see previous comment about imminent debt).

The last bottle I had was a 2004 Marcel Moineaux Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs. 100% Chardonnay (“blanc de blancs” tells you that), and darn tasty. But here’s why I bring this whole mess up: that stinkin’ wine smelled exactly, EXACTLY like hot, fresh Krispy Kreme donuts. In an instant, some stupid little glass of wine transported me back to Saturdays as a kid. After playing rec basketball games at Roswell, Georgia’s Waller Park- nothing more than a rusty shed with some hoops on the walls at the time- the old man would often take my brother and I by the Krispy Kreme on the corner to pick up a revitalizing post-game donut. At this point, the Champagne had become more; I wasn’t just drinking an alcoholic beverage. I was triggering a strong olfactory memory that added tremendously to the experience. Pretty cool, huh? Of course, then the smell further triggered memories of how bad I was at basketball, and I got depressed. At that point, the alcohol was ready to serve its needed purpose.
Similarly, having familiar olfactory reference points can enhance the enjoyment of wine. Like I said earlier: having a better understanding of something will often improve the interactive experience. However, the operative word here is “familiar”, and that’s where I have my big ol’ bugaboo. When I hear someone say “organic tangerine blossoms” instead of “citrus”; “overripe peels of fuji apple” instead of “apple”; “petrol” instead of “gasoline” (at least in the States); “Japanese violet” instead of “floral”; “yearling antelope droppings” instead of “poop”… man, I tend to get a little irritated. Yes, there is a tiny percentage of the wine-drinking population that has trained its palate to such sensitivity that differences in types of specific fruit, spice, etc. are perceptible. They’re downright freaks of nature. However, for 99% of the population, more general descriptors will not only assist in recognizing flavors in aromas, but will also not alienate novices and make them feel inferior. I’m convinced that most of that obscure, overly-descriptive blather is designed to elevate said blatherers’ senses of themselves, while simultaneously causing doubt and confusion among less-pretentious tasters. In more clear terms, those people are irritating assholes.
Here’s the takeaway: wine education and sensory frames-of-reference are good, and they can help everyone heighten enjoyment of an incredible beverage. Even very advanced descriptors can be helpful, as long as they are honest (not contrived or regurgitated from a wine publication) and meant only to improve the experience for all…
Of course, maybe you never got to eat a Krispy Kreme donut as a kid. Does that make me an asshole? Probably.
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