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Meditation By The Glass: The Mindfulness of Wine Appreciation

Vinted on April 14, 2008 binned in best of, learning wine, wine appreciation, wine tips, zen wine

(images: all from Joe’s house!)

Although I was raised in the shadow of Roman Catholicism, I am not by any stretch of the imagination a religious man.

In fact, after attending an Oblate grade school, a Franciscan high school, and a Jesuit university for undergrad, I ended up totally religiously-confused. Not exactly a poster-child for American religious education.

Still, despite being (more-or-less) totally religious-averse, I would consider myself a spiritual person. Over the last few years, my wife has introduced me to Zen and Buddhist principles that we have tried to integrate into our lives, with some great results. I don’t claim to understand any of the universe’s mysteries, but there is no denying (for me, at least) the powerful & moving experiences of communion I’ve felt when meditating.

“This small word – witnessing - contains the whole of spirituality.” – Osho

And by “meditating” I don’t just mean the familiar image we have of someone sitting on a pillow silently exploring the depths of their witnessing (though doing that is great and I’d highly recommend it to anyone). I mean going about your daily life activities and truly witnessing each moment of your life – trying to be “in the zone” and really living, treating every action you take as sacred – whether you are washing the dishes, walking the dog, negotiating an important business deal, playing music…

…Or tasting wine.

It’s by truly being meditative when tasting that we can most maximize both our enjoyment of wine and our wine appreciation skills…

I’ve written a few “glasses of zen” articles in the past, but I’ve never really explored how the simple act of witnessing can enhance the enjoyment of wine.

Some of the greatest noses in the wine business follow a similar “witnessing” tasting method, though they themselves may not call it meditation.

Take the love-him-or-leave-him wine critic Robert Parker, for example:

“When I put my nose in a glass, it’s like tunnel vision. I move into another world, where every bit of mental energy is focused on that wine.” - Robert M. Parker, Jr.

A similar tasting ethos has been expressed (quite eloquently) by the venerable Christie’s wine critic Michael Broadbent:

“You do not need to be an expert, or even that interested in wine to enjoy drinking it. But tasting is not the same as drinking… The important point is that there is a reason for every colour, smell and taste. Every facet of a wine’s effect on our senses… is meaningful. Exploring and understanding these facets helps us to appreciate a wine more fully.” – from Winetasting, by Michael Broadbent

Those are some serious big-league wine-tasters, whose opinions have been known to make-or-break sales for virtually any wine that they happen to taste. So, you don’t just need to take Dude’s word for it!

I could wax philosophical on how the quality of our focus may or may not increase the quality of our wine appreciation. But I’ll leave that one to the book Questions of Taste: The Philosophy of Wine which has already explored it in great detail.

Instead, I will simply leave you with another quote, and then request that you do just one simple thing. Here’s the quote:

“Meditation is not something that we just do for 20 or 40 minutes every morning and then forget about. Meditation involves a principle of awareness that you can practice in every moment of your life.”Wildmind.org

Here’s the simple request:
The next time that try a glass of wine, really taste it, don’t just drink it. Don’t think, just taste.

If you find yourself marveling at how all the disparate aspects of nature have come together to allow you this moment of real, focused living – connecting you to the small miracle of how the fruit of a wild plant can end up producing the complex and pleasure-giving drink in the glass in front of you – well, my friend, then you “get it.”

Nothing left to do but sit back, relax, and offer up a small prayer of gratitude to the universe for the gift you have received.

Well, that and finish your glass, of course.


Cheers!

3 Things an Infant Can Teach You About Drinking Wine

Vinted on April 9, 2008 binned in best of, learning wine, wine appreciation, wine tasting, wine tips

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In a mere 2 1/2 weeks, my infant daughter has taught me a lot about life – how fragile, strong, miraculous, and “gritty” it can be, sometimes all at once.

What I didn’t expect is that she would also teach me something about wine appreciation.

Now, before you go running for the phone to report me for child abuse, I’m not feeding this kid any vino. The most she gets of that would come from the residual bits in Mrs. Dudette’s breast milk.

What I’m talking about is watching her eat (er, is it “drink” right now?). It’s actually made me reflect a bit on how we (as adults) normally eat and drink in our crazy, not-enough-minutes-in-the-day kind of world.

And I can sum it up in three little words…

SLOW DOWN, BABY.

Actually, you can even shorten it down to two words (SLOW DOWN), for those of you who are really, really busy.

My daughter (more or less) waits until she is pretty hungry, makes her “hungry face” (which consists of her sticking out her tongue and flailing her head around looking for a waiting nipple), then latches on and starts sucking and gulping like a crazed, wild animal. She does stop to breathe – but only when she has to. Or when we burp her (those burps would finish her in the top 5 in any beer-guzzling bar burping contests, by the way).

And you know what? Daddy isn’t much better.

I eat 4 to 5 meals a day, trying to load the calories up in the AM and gradually lighten my food intake so that dinner is usually a small-ish meal. When I eat lunch, I’m usually in the middle of something else. Instead of being “in the moment” and enjoying the food, I gulp i down as if it were the only meal I would receive that week and someone will come to snatch it away from me
if I’m not finished “eating” it in 5 minutes or less.

Watching my lil’ bundle of joy has made me realize that this is probably not the most mature way to ensure I’m getting the right amount of conscious enjoyment – not to mention nutritional value – out of my meals.

If I used the same approach to appreciating wine, I wouldn’t even taste it, let alone be able to evaluate its aromas, or enjoy any lingering finish that a great wine has to offer!

Let’s get to the nitty-gritty and summarize.
On the winding road of life, watching how an infant eats can show us what (not) to do to really appreciate our wine (and our food):

1) Slow Down (Baby)
Take your time. There is no reason to rush that glass down your throat. Look at the wine. Smell the wine. Check out the colors of the wine in your glass. Swirl it and smell it again. Get to know the wine a little bit – after all, you’re going to be putting it into your body, if nothing else you should make sure it’s something that you really want in there!

2) Be In The Moment
Think about the wine and its aromas and flavors. Don’t think about all the things you need to get done tomorrow, whether or not you think the restaurant’s veggies will be overly-buttered, if the baby-sitter is eying up your beer (OK, maybe you should worry about that last one), etc.

3) Don’t Forget To Pause – and Breathe
Once a glass of wine is poured, wine needs air to really show its stuff. And you need air, too. To clear your mind, help you focus, and remind you to pause and actually live and enjoy each moment of life. And each glass in your hand.

Cheers!

3 Ways to Increase Your Wine Appreciation Without Drinking

Vinted on March 6, 2008 binned in best of, learning wine, wine appreciation, wine tips

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Let’s face it. There are just some situations where our favorite pastime – drinking the vino – just isn’t appropriate.

Religious retreats, Amish barn-raisings, and Rehab all come to mind.

Think that because you can’t imbibe the vino, you’re missing out on opportunities to up your Wine IQ?

Wrong, Jack!

Here are three sure-fire ways to increase your wine appreciation – without having to pop a single cork…


1) Get out the map.
Wine connects you to a place. Sometimes (usually when it’s inexpensive) it’s a big swath of country; other times (when it’s so expensive that it’s on allocation to the billionaires among you who own your own islands), it’s a tiny plot of land in Burgundy.

Since wine connects you to a location on the planet, the more you know about that location the more your appreciation for that place’s wine can grow. When you’re traveling, spend some time to learn about the culture, history, and geography of that area. When you’re at home, crack open a decent atlas and soak in some knowledge about someplace far, far away.

Remember that the vino embodies a unique combination of a place’s soil, its climate, and the culture of winemaking that helped along the miracle of turing that grape juice into the stuff in your glass. When you’re back to your normal wine-tasting environment, try some wines from the places that you just learned about – you just might get an instant and intimate connection with that spot of the world through that wine.

2) Get cookin’.
Mrs. Dudette likes to cook – and she’s pretty darn great at it, too – which has exposed Dude here to cuisine he would never have had the pleasure of grubbing if he had stuck to his bachelor life. And you know what? Exposure to varied ingredients and cooking styles had made Dude a better wine taster.

Why? For one thing, regional cuisine is a function of regional culture, and in many parts of the wine world, a region’s wines and its food have evolved together to compliment one another (check out the book Vino Italiano for a good example of this). For another, exposure to different cooking styles and foods builds up your flavor and aroma chops – essential stuff for tasting and describing the myriad of tastes and smells that a good wine can serve up.

I’m not sure how many amazing cook books are out there, but I’m pretty sure Mrs. Dudette owns approximately 80% of them. In any case, some of my faves can be found at this link. Pick a recipe, fire up the grill, and get cookin’!

3) Hit the books.
Can’t taste? Then read.

Reading about wine, its amazing history, its incredible variety, and the charismatic & entertaining personalities that have forged its destiny… well, you can’t help but to be awed, people.

I’ve got a Top 10 list of wine appreciation books, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are a plethora of books on the market that explore wine from angles besides just how to taste it – its impacts on philosophy, its affect on modern culture, its mysterious origins, and the human side of its story throughout world history, for starters.

You could, quite literally (ha-ha), read about wine every evening and deepen your appreciation for (and knowledge of) it for several years without ever getting bored.

But it’s more fun to do it with a glass of vino in hand.

Cheers!

Help, My Wife Only Drinks Bad Chardonnay! (How to Rescue Her From Wine Hell)

Vinted on February 20, 2008 binned in best of, learning wine, wine tips

(images: nigella, mikesblog.typepad.com, gamerevolution.com, totalgambler.com)
Warning: This post details – and advocates – actions that are sneaky, surreptitious, and downright manipulative. If you are of tender constitution, or high moral standing, I suggest that you turn away now.

Still with me? Great – that’s why I love my readers! You people ROCK!

Please note: In this post, you will encounter the use of Chardonnay and femine pronouns. I’m using ‘Chardonnay Oak-Butter bombs’ simply as an example in this post – you can feel free to replace that with any wine vareital / style that you don’t like. Similarly, I’m using the female pronoun because it matches my particular experience – feel free to substitute the male equivalent to suit your needs.

Anyway, this will all make sense in a minute or two (I use that phrase a lot… is that, like, a mulligan for bad writing?). Got it? Good – let’s get down to business!

The Problem: Wine Hell
Many of you will be familiar with this scenario: You’re on a date with your wife/girlfriend/partner/whatever. You’re about to order up a fantastic dinner. Then you remember it, like a nameless fear from the dark recesses of your consciousness:

  • My Wife only ever drinks super-oaky, buttery Chardonnay. I don’t like those – and it’s totally a BAD match for the food we’re gonna order!

Your blood runs cold – what do you do? Do you suck it up, and try to minimize the damage by ordering the least offensive option? Do you chance pissing her off by ordering some other (totally different) wine? Decisions, decisions…

Dude has been in this situation – and he is here to help you out. I will give you in this post some super-secret tactics to surreptitiously convert your loved-one away from the wine you don’t like, thereby giving you a modicum of a chance to enjoy some wine that you do like (at least once in awhile).

Before I get to the brass tactics, let me tell you Dude’s story…

Dude’s Tale of Wine Woe
My wife used to drink super-oaked, buttery Chardonnay bombs. It was the only thing she’d want to order when we dined out. Now, Dude likes him some good Chardonnay, but when the wine tastes less like apricot & toasted brioche, and more like it came from a jug of rubbing alcohol that has had a stick of butter mixed into it using a two by four… well, let’s just say it doesn’t make him jump for joy.

Besides personal preference, I don’t like the super-oaked, buttery Chardonnay bombs because they severely limit your choice of a really killer food & wine pairing. Why? Chardonnay is fuller-bodied (hefty), but doesn’t have an overwhelming flavor profile; think baked potatos, or lobster. Naturally, you’d assume that a buttery wine would pair well with a buttery dish, and you’d be right. But oak tends to pair well with smoked dishes (the oakier, the smokier). When is the last time you had buttery smoked lobster? Or cooked it at home? It’s just not that common.

Make Her a Convert!
I kicked my wife off the super-oaked, buttery Chardonnay bombs habit, by following one of the super-secret, tried-and-true tactics described below. I converted her to a lover of other wine styles. If Dude can do it, you can do it. Having said that, no guarantees are explicitly stated or implied regarding your potential success (especially with the more, shall we say, difficult cases you might encounter – see below). Your mileage, as they say, may vary.

If you want to get out of Wine Hell, you gotta get her to break that habit! It’s important to remember that our mission here is not entirely selfish – that same dinner-ruining potential exists for any similar situation in which your partner is harboring an overly-narrow view of potential wine choices. (That’s what I tell myself, anyway, so I sleep OK at night).

Just as in matching wine & food, a good pairing is essential for these tactics to work. For this 1WineDude.com experiment, start by determining what type of Subject profile best describes your dining companion, and then try the Tactic best-paired to that profile.

Got it? Good – let’s boogie!

Subject #1: The Newbie – This is a person who is choosing to drink plonk simply because she doesn’t know any other wines, and therefore resorts to picking what she considers ‘safe’.
Conversion Difficulty: Easy to Moderate.
Tactic: The Power of Suggestion – You pass yourself off as someone who knows a bit about wine, and subtly suggest a different wine with dinner, one that you “heard was really wonderful” from an equally-knowledgeable wine buddy.
Why it Works: The Newbie is not necessarily afraid to try a different wine, she just doesn’t know which ones to try next. Gentle suggestion, and the promise to buy her some of her same old wine as a safety net, will go a long way with The Newbie. Play your cards right, and you come off looking like a veritable knight in shining armor, rescuing her (and yourself!) from Wine Hell.
What Could Go Wrong: Don’t play your cards right, and you come off like a smarmy know-it-all jerk. Whoops! No wine for you!

Subject #2: The Victim (a.k.a., “Once Bitten, Twice Shy“) – This wine drinker tried another wine in the past, but she either had it with the wrong food, the wrong dude, got a bad bottle, or had some other semi-traumatic experience. Now, she plays it safe to avoid getting burned again.
Conversion Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult (dependent on previous level of victimization).
Tactic: The Killer Combo – Unleash the Killer Combo on her, Bruce Lee style. It goes down like this: You make her dinner, and make the night as special as possible. You tailor the dinner to a food she likes – and you find the most killer wine combination you can to pair with it (assuming this is not her usual plonk, of course). For example, you could branch out with some Viognier and Coconut Halibut.
Why it Works: You’re providing a safe and inviting environment for the Victim, which is essential to getting her out of her timidity to a suggestive open-minded state. The Killer Combination of the great pairing and you’re good deed will leave an indelible positive mark on her wine psyche – viola, wine curse broken!
What Could Go Wrong: Picking your own favorite food and wine and ignoring her preference can result in disaster, exposing you for the selfish jerk that you really are – which is doubly disastrous if she gets turned off to one of your favorite wines and never lets you order it again.

Subject #3: The Immovable Object (IO) – This girl likes her buttery, oak-bomb Chardonnay just fine and has been drinking it for years now and doesn’t want to change and does NOT want to hear about it again THANK YOU VERY MUCH!!
Conversion Difficulty: Difficult to Impossible (proceed with extreme caution!)
Tactic: The Bait & Switch – The IO can only be countered by the most cunning trickery and deceit. Pretend to order her usual plonk, but instead order another (possibly similar) wine that is much better (to you, anyway).
Why it Works: If you time this correctly, The IO won’t discover the bait & switch until after she’s already acknowledged that she is enjoying the wine. In order to protect her pride, she may be forced to acquiesce. If discovered prematurely, you may be able to feign ignorance (“Oh, this is Pouilly-Fume?!?? Drat, I thought for sure I’d ordered Pouilly-Fuisse! You know, just to see if you’d like it, it is Chardonnay after all…”). With French wine labels as confusing as they are, you might just get away with it.
What Could Go Wrong: Just about everything. You are entering a veritable mine-field, and will need to execute each step flawlessly to win over The IO. Even then, you risk dire consequences should you falter on even the slightest misstep. Good luck… you are going to need it…

Assuming you have made a successful conversion, encourage your partner to expand her wine knowledge through wine books (ahem… might I humbly suggest purchasing her the 1WineDude tasting guide?) and tastings. You may just have a beautiful wine tasting future together.

And which Subject was Mrs. Wine Dudette? At the advice of counsel, I decline to answer…

Cheers!

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