Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Torturing A Confession From A Wine

As I mentioned yesterday, Terry Thiese's new book, Reading Between the Wines, is quite fascinating and I am back to discuss another intriguing issue raised by Thiese, one that I have actually been pondering even before reading the book.

When you drink a wine, how should you analyze it, if at all? What is the best way to taste wine, to discern its intrinsic qualities?

Thiese states, "There are basically two ways to taste wine. You don't have to pick just one, but eventually most of us settle on the one that comes naturally. You can taste 'aggressively,' that is, aim a beam of concentrated attention directly at the wine, using your palate to take a sort of snapshot. This is entirely desirable, but taken to extremes it has the effect of seeming to torture a confession from the poor wine." (p.153-4)

That seems to be the most common method of tasting, as well as essentially how all beginners are taught to taste wine. It is also part of the reason why wine intimidates people. They have difficulty with analyzing wine in this way, trying to discern each and every aroma and taste in a wine, no matter how esoteric it might be. Some people feel embarassed if they cannot smell or taste the same matters as more "professional" tasters.

Tasting in this matter can seem clinical and antiseptic. It seems more the purview of a scientist, a routine laboratory analysis. Though such an tasting method does have its place, it seems like it cannot be the only method. And might also not be completely effective or desirous for certain wines.

So what is Thiese's second method? "Or you can taste 'passively,' peripherally; you look away from the flavors and see what the wine says when you are not trying to nail the sucker down. You quietly let the wine come to you. This approach brings you closer to the gestalt--I might even say the truth--of the wine. But the liability is that it's very hard to verbalize, unless your tasting note takes the form of a Zen Koan." (p.154)

This makes a lot of sense to me. How many times have you been asked a question, or considered a problem, and had trouble coming up with an answer, though it seemed just on the tip of your tongue. The harder you concentrate sometimes seems to get you nowhere. But when you relax, and stop thinking about the matter, the answer somehow comes to you when you least expect it. Why shouldn't wine be the same?

I also know how I have felt sometimes when drinking a phenomenal wine. It becomes impossible to put my feeling into words, to try to explain the smells, tastes and feelings that I find within the wine. It is almost a transcendent moment, and it can be shared with others drinking the same wine, though words are unnecessary. A bond forms, an unspoken agreement of the power and complexity of the wine, of its fascinating essence.

If wines have started to bore you,if you have grown tired of technical analysis, then maybe you should try tasting more wines through the second method. Experience wine in a different way and you might be very surprised at all you learn.


JacquelineC said...

Interesting to consider. I think each method would have its appeal and purpose. Certainly, there are many wines that I've enjoyed for their contribution to the gestalt of that moment, that setting. Is that less valuable than being able to say something more analytical about it? Maybe not. Good to ponder.

Silenus said...

For me it all comes down to the individual taster. What do you hope to get from this glass or bottle of wine? Everyone approaches it differently.

For me, it is problematic to state with any semblance of seriousness, that there is one or two or even three ways of doing something. Even if the assertion is correct, there are levels of experience and attention, not to mention numerous tangents radiating from a method.


Richard Auffrey said...

Hi Jackie,
Thanks for your comment. I hoped the post would get people to think, and I am glad I succeeded with at least one person. :)

Hi Silenus:
Thanks for your comment too. Thiese was making a broad generalization, understanding there are many variants and nuances. My hope was that people might reconsider their way of tasting, and maybe try something different, to see what type of results they derive. It is never good to stuck in one mode of thinking. We should sometimes try to look at matters through different eyes.