Tuesday, 19 July 2011

What does it all mean; Some ideas, rather than just another boring tasting note.

I appreciate and have various opinions about wine, so do a lot of people. I don't think my palate is too bad on a good day, but then realistically, thousands of others are in possession of the same if not better instruments of taste and judgement. In the same way I can write a note about all the wines I ever come across, taste, drink, even tip down the sink, in the end it will be similar and a repetition of most all the other commentary on a wine. All these notes have a place to help guide and categorise in what is such a bottomless murky vat of vino, but it sort of misses the point. We drink wine because it is evocative, with a glass of wine we can travel to different places, we can voyage through time, ideas and emotion, good wines are an art form, provoking and seducing us in the same way that film, writing or music can.

When we talk about taste and flavour, really we are mainly referring to aroma, our noses for the complex parts, our tongues provide us with the more basic, but no less important foundations we think of as sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami. Smell is the key, it's a fascinating sense in many ways, perhaps the point that captivates me the most here is the association between our sense of smell, primitive brain, and memory. Research now indicates odour and aroma can act as powerful triggers for memory, often ones which are deep in the unconscious. Intriguingly the resulting recollection can be incredibly vivid and amazing in it's clarity despite the passage of time, think about this as it obviously differs for all individuals, but everyone can recall examples of this occurring I'm sure. I for example, find the subtle odour of cooking gas (in a good way!) reminds me of childhood visits to my grandparents. This may not seem the most obvious of associations, but that's the point, sometimes it is the most obscure, even bizarre odours that trigger some memory and often you have no prior concious recollection of either the aroma or the memory, until your nose has a chance encounter. Returning to drinks, wine has this tremendous ability of associative power, with the millions of aromas and tastes possible from the differing varieties, styles, regions and production techniques. Sometimes the association may be the context in which a particular wine is consumed, such as a birthday, or other milestone being connected henceforth with a particular wine. In other situations we may be reminded by the power of the olfactory association, of thoughts, memories and emotion. All this engenders discussion of the wine and ideas, of life. This makes it absolutely no surprise then that wine is and should be a shared experience with others, and from here we gain inestimable pleasure and enjoyment. Take this idea further and perhaps wine can help us to experience or envisage something of places and time we have not yet been to, tantalising indeed.

Assuming a wine is not a complete mass production job, we are hearing something from the winemaker as well, reflective of their experience and self. Making the wine the producer obviously has a goal in mind regarding the end product, using technique, knowledge and intuition to bring us the eventual alcoholic beverage in a bottle. There is much talk of the variety or clone used, of the terroir, or even the barrels used to age the wine; it is hardly a surprise though that alongside all these factors, wines are shaped and change, dependent on the individual/s behind them. It's nice to think of wine making as something akin to writing or playing music, in that an individual can create something, but it becomes more alive and changes again as others sip upon it, pondering and talking about it, enjoying the experience.

I love the idea not just of consuming wine, but that along with wine making, it is something that connects us with a collective past and future. Wine has been produced and consumed (and written about!) for thousands of years. The process, the pursuit of perfection in it's production and drinking of wine is something we share with others through the ages. We can see the importance and thought that surrounded wine, for example in the writings of Ancient Romans such as Pliny the elder or Culumella, but evidence of wine consumption is apparent throughout the ancient world and over time to the present day. Into the future I am sure wine will be something produced, savoured and contemplated so long as grapes are grown.

So it seems what we need to consider is that the scoring of wine and looking at it in technical terms of quality and standard, as the main aspect of consideration very much misses the point. If we assume that the quality of a wine (from a technical point of view) is good, mere comparisons between wines are somewhat superfluous, even useless. To appreciate them we need to be more in the moment, then the wines should mean and reflect something, suggesting to us there place of birth but also interacting with there location and time of consumption. Thus there is something magical and special about going to the vineyard and trying the wine looking out over the vines, or savouring a wine with fine food and friends. Clumsily put as something like: wine is place and place is wine. Think about your own experiences and I'm sure this will ring true. Looking at it in this way it seems ridiculous to suddenly talk in terms of a 90+ wine exhibiting dark fruit, spice and hints of chocolate! It is so much more and these sorts of descriptors take away from it. Ratings and technical talk have their place, but let us celebrate the diversity and individuality of wines for all their differences, savouring them. If we merely score them like it were some sort of school exam, or raw comparison to declare a winner we should probably give up.

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