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How can describing a wine enhance your life?

By Prahlad Sukhtankar
A lot of people look upon wine descriptors and tasting notes as some sort of snooty indulgence – “The wine kissed my lips with a bouquet of subtle fruits that led in a long mineral tinged finish. Nothing short of beautiful and I shall love this wine for as long as I live” – is precisely the type of useless rant that might have contributed to that perception. But this isn’t always the case, for example, “intense red cherries, earth and leather, with a medium high acidity, medium body with moderate tannins and a long finish” can be useful. These are the type of tasting notes that a sommelier perhaps could narrow down to a few grape varietals, and ultimately decipher the wine through a disciplined tasting and elimination approach. Good tasting notes help pair the right kind of food that will compliment the flavour profile of the wine leading to an extraordinary dining experience. But how can describing wine enhance your life?
To me, it is all about being aware. It’s all about trying to see beyond the first impression. People would drink wine and say, “I like this” or “I don’t like this” and they move on – they have pre-determined notions. But if you stop, take a breath and look a little deeper at something, you will start to notice some detail that you might have missed before. I think that skill applies to so many things in life aside from wine like being able to slow down and be aware of where you are actually standing and appreciating that moment alone. To stop talking and just open up your nose, palate and your taste buds for example. There is so much more detail around, which you can absorb if you can just take that moment and let your senses guide you. Understanding and deciphering wine is about developing a skill of being more aware of the moment, the surrounding and the emotion that you are left with after experiencing it.
Let me try and explain this through an example other than wine. Think of the moment when you are enjoying French fries and after a few bites you are desperate to sip on an ice cold coke or beer. In our day to day life, we have done this a million times without really stopping to think about why is it that we crave Coke (or an aerated beverage) and not tea or milk? If you think about it, you will realise that the oil in the fries coat your palate with a layer of fat, your tongue therefore craves aerated beverages so that the carbon dioxide in the beverage can rinse your palate to prepare you for the next fresh bite of French fries. Milk on the other hand will coat the already coated tongue with more fat until your tongue is so rich that the experience is just not the same.
I often find people scrambling for words when I ask them what it is that they sense in a wine. Most would blurt out, “grapes” or “I know this…. Umm…but I just can’t remember.” Then I would ask them if they sensed what I smell and they positively agree. It is not that they don’t know what it was, but they hesitated probably because they can’t remember the last time they experienced that aroma because they were not in the moment when they did.
The skill of being aware of your surroundings helps you appreciate life differently. We live in a visual world. And understanding, looking and thinking about the way things around us communicate in all kind of ways is important to being alive today. Whether it’s looking closely at newspaper photos or looking at art in the museum; that sort of attention to your environment makes you a better person. Think about it.
I would like to leave you with a classic food and wine pairing to try at home this weekend. Blue cheese like say Gorgonzola (Roquefort or whichever you prefer) with a Port wine. Sip the port, and then take a small bite of blue cheese, then sip of Port again. Did you enjoy it? If yes, think about why you enjoyed it. Think about the various things you taste, sense, smell in each bite and each sip. To put it simply, the sharp and salty blue cheese compliments the sweetness in the Port. However, when you smell Port, think about what else it is that you smell. Is it dried fruits, dates, apricots, chocolate, honey, wood, etc? Which of these flavours compliment the cheese and why?
Think about all these things. Share your experience.
Remember, understanding wines, just like art, is all about being aware and being present in the moment. It allows you to enjoy life and being alive because when you experience the moment, you are living in the present and isn’t that what most spiritual disciplines are about? Don’t be afraid to share your opinions when describing and articulating wine. There is no wrong answer. Taste is subjective. Your tasting notes may be different than the winemaker’s notes on the bottle. So be it! The idea is to have fun, socialise and enjoy the wine and every moment of your life by being aware of your environment. Hope you have a great weekend and enjoy your Port.
(prahlad@blacksheebistro.in.)

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