Posts Filed Under wine appreciation
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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.
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Smoking sucks donkey butt.
Hardly a news flash, right?
But what you might not know already is that, aside from the fact that smoking kills more people per year than alcohol & drug abuse, homicides, suicides, car accidents, fires, and AIDS-related deaths – combined - it also kills something else near and dear to our hearts.
Smoking totally kills your ability to truly appreciate wine.
You want to learn to appreciate wine like a pro? Then you’d better quit smoking, pronto…
1) Smoking impairs your sense of smell.
This is a well-known effect of smoking. Considering that almost all of your ability to taste wine stems from your ability to smell, this makes smoking pretty much the death knell of your wine appreciation pursuits. And it will stay that way until you quit smoking.
2) Smoking impairs your sense of taste.
According to TheScoopOnSmoking.org, “If you smoke, you won’t be able to taste your food as well as nonsmokers do.” That’s because smoking damages your taste buds. So, what smoking doesn’t kill in terms of your ability to appreciate a wine’s aromas, it will kill in your ability to savor its flavors on your palate. You might as well be drinking water (or grain alcohol) instead.
3) Smoking creates off-odors that interfere with your (and others) ability to appreciate wine in the glass.
When you smoke, you stink. Your clothes, hair, and breath all suffer from off-odors when you’re a smoker. The kind of strong off-putting odors associated with smoking are absolute murder for the appreciation of wines with delicate aromas. What’s more, nothing will piss off other wine geeks more than your smelliness impairing their ability to appreciate the wine in their glasses!
4) Smoking is boku expensive.
The money that you spend on smoking (current estimates put this around $200 per month, on average) is money that you can’t spend on good wine. I don’t know about you, but I consider $2000+ a year a good deal of money; after all, that’s almost 225 bottles of tasty Centine (or maybe 1.5 bottles of Chateau Petrus – in an off-vintage). Aside from the large personal expense of the smoking habit, it could also be argued that you have a civic and moral duty to quit smoking, to promote the public good. Why? Smoking increases general medical expenses, even for non-smokers. For example, treatment costs and rising insurance rates (even for non-smokers) are being driven up due to smoking-related health costs. Not really related to wine, I know, but since I had your attention I couldn’t resist mentioning it.
5) Smoking will kill you.
While there has been past publicity given to medical studies that claim wine drinking can counter some of the arterial damage caused by smoking, there is no evidence to suggest that drinking wine can help counter any of the dozens of other negative health impacts of smoking. The bottom line is that smoking will kill you.
And I’m fairly certain that death seriously imparis your ability to appreciate fine wine.
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I work in two professions – Wine Consulting and Playing Rock Music – that pretty much guarantee that I am in close proximity to alcohol (and its potential abuse) a good portion of the time.
I love to drink. Specifically, I love to savor excellent wine (and beer), and admire the nuances, flavors, aromas, and overall artistic craftsmanship that a good drink can deliver. Most of all, I love sharing that experience with others. Wine connects us to a particular place and time, and connects us with each other – not just the place, time, and people that made it, but also the place, time and people with whom we enjoy it when we pop the cork.
And once in a blue moon, I like to overdo it a bit. Because getting buzzed with friends is, well, it’s just plain fun.
Notice I wrote “once in a blue moon” and not “every weekend.” In the rock-&-roll context of my life, I’ve seen first-hand what alcohol abuse can do to individuals, families, and even total strangers that come into unfortunate (and sometimes, in the case of drunk driving, catastrophic and tragic) contact with an abuser.
Genetics and personality traits are very important in determining anyone’s individual predilection towards abuse of alcohol, but it doesn’t help that cultural, and peer pressures (at least in the U.S. and the U.K.) tend to ridicule the appreciation of wine as snobbish, while at the same time aggrandizing inebriation as the height of fun in a social context.
That approach is completely ass-backward. I don’t have any pithy humorous sayings on that topic. It’s just so sad, stupid, and heartbreaking that I can’t make it funny and still respect myself.
Alcohol-related liver diseases (which are notoriously difficult to diagnose until they are advanced) have been on the rise in countries like Britain for years. Whether you drink or not, the rising abuse of alcohol (in the U.S. or the U.K. for example) is expensive for taxpayers and health insurance recipients who all help to fund health care systems that are having trouble keeping up without breaking their banks.
I’m not the first person to touch on how these dangers impact those of us in the wine consulting biz (check out this great series in Men’s Vogue for an example). But I thought I’d add to the on-line discussion by listing the tips that have helped me (so far) to successfully navigate the waters of wine appreciation while minimizing the damage to my liver (and my relationships)…
Abuse Is NOT ‘One-Size-Fits-All.‘ Safe levels of drinking can only ever be approximate. While you may read that having 2 drinks per day is the safe average level of consumption for someone of your weight and gender, these generalized figures don’t take into account your race, family history, or personality type. You can’t treat these as hard-and-fast rules – your safe levels may differ.
All Things In Moderation. If 2 drinks per day is a safe limit for you, that doesn’t mean that abstaining from drinking for one week means that you can safely consume 14 drinks over the weekend. If you are unsure if your current alcohol consumption levels are safe, consult alcoholism.about.com (or, better yet, talk to your doctor).
Treat Professional Settings Professionally. I’ve written before about the perils of industry tastings, so I won’t repeat all of that advice here. Bear in mind that just because free alcohol is available to you doesn’t mean that you are obligated to drink it. When you’re at industry tastings, don’t forget to spit, and don’t use it as an excuse to catch up on drinking that you think you’ve “missed out on” in the past.
Don’t Punish Yourself. If you’re not an abuser, drinking too much once in a long while shouldn’t upset you (unless it’s caused you to do something that you regret). Nobody’s perfect. Just make a mental note to improve the next time. If needed, ask your friends for support. (If you are an abuser, or concerned that you might be headed in that direction, then falling off the wagon is a big deal and might need the help of a professional).
Never, Ever, Under Any Circumstances Drink & Drive. This one should be obvious but amazingly I still know people who do this. This is never, ever safe under any circumstances. If you suspect that you’re going to have more than your normally safe level of alcohol, get someone else to drive – no excuses.
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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?
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.