Aug 09, 2017
If, as according to Socrates, “the unexamined life is not worth living,” then the unexamined wine must not be worth drinking. As a wine lover, the more I learn, the more I value my passion. To appreciate is to love. What makes a wine sing to me is important. Since I sell and educate about wine, I want others to share in my passion. I find that people want to communicate what they like, but are at a loss. The problem, I surmise, lies in people’s getting simultaneous sense perceptions confused.
While all five senses play a role in enjoying a wine, the two most valuable are our senses of smell and taste. And of these two, the nose’s sense of smell is most important. When eating or drinking, we smell twice. Once, when we bring things near our nose and secondly when we put these things in our mouth. The first is an aroma, the smell of that thing. The latter is a retronasal taste, a second “smell” that enters our nasal cavities through the back door at the top of the throat.
Most people’s true likes and dislikes of wine are predicated on taste sensation more than what is mentioned above and experience through the nose. The flavor of a wine is the sum total of its aromas, retronasal tastes, and taste sensations – salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and savory. I contend these taste sensations for most part determine people’s like or dislike of a wine. Seldom has someone said to me that they hate the hint of blueberry or overwhelming whiff of cherries in a wine, but they are quick to say that the wine was “too sharp,” “had a bite,” or was “too sweet.” These are sensations. This is what makes or breaks the deal.
Regularly, however, we read wine reviews that sound like someone just turned over a fruit basket on the page. This is all good, until we taste the reviewed wine and realize that the bright Meyer lemon (which we love) is wrapped in a smoky and slightly caramelized crust of oak (which we don’t love). Sensation trumps taste every time. I want to love it, but…
Learn what you love, where it comes from, how to define it, and how to describe it to others. It takes introspection, time to tease apart tangled sensations, an acquired vocabulary, and an open palate. If you examine the wine and determine you don’t like it, then it is not worth your drinking. Your friends may enjoy it, all the same. I wonder what review Socrates would have dictated to Plato about the hemlock. I’ll bet he’d have noted it’s bitter edge.
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