Posts Filed Under wine appreciation
I’m a dog guy.
While I don’t hate cats, I don’t love cats, either. Mostly, I get along best with the cats that think they’re dogs anyway. Since this post is going to be about my schooling of wine appreciation literally going to the dogs, my apologies in advance to those who are cat lovers. I’ve never been taught anything about wine appreciation from a cat (more on learning wine stuff from domesticated house pets in a minute) – though they have taught me the art of totally ignoring people.
Dude here has been given primary Dog Duty at the House of Dude. I’m the one who now has to feed and walk our Weimaraner, Samson (see pic above).
Sammy has been a great sport throughout the whole adjusting-to-the-baby thing, and he is very, very sweet with the baby. Having to walk the dog more often than I used to has made me take more notice of Sam’s behaviors – such as licking the baby, sniffing around, licking himself, sniffing the baby, licking himself, and licking himself (did I mention licking himself?).
By observing Sam, I’ve actually learned a bit about wine appreciation. And no, it doesn’t involve drinking so much that you want to sniff someone’s butt, unless that’s your thing (licking yourself is also optional). Though it does apparently involve startling segues from dog licking to wine tasting… maybe I should have thought about that one a bit more…
Anyway, straight from the home office in suburban eastern-PA, here are 3 Things that Your Dog Can Teach You About Wine Appreciation…
- Short, concentrated sniffs work best. Dogs have some of the best senses of smell around – and Weimaraners have one of the best noses in the doggie business. When my dog smells something, he doesn’t take a long, drawn-out, overly-dramatic sniiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiffffff. He takes a burst of short, concentrated sniffs. Sniff… sniff-sniff… sniff-sniff-sniff-sniiiiiifff.
Turns out there is a lot of merit in that approach if you really want to smell something thoroughly – and in the case of wine, smelling is where you will get about 80% of your enjoyment and appreciation. Shorter sniffs help to focus your olfactory senses, and may also help to keep your sense of smell from fatiguing too quickly. The sharper your sense of smell, the more you can pinpoint what aspects you like (or don’t like) about the wine that your tasting.
In the case of wine, smelling is where you will get about 80% of your enjoyment and appreciation for your glass of vino.
- Focus, focus, focus. Ever try to move a dog from a spot when he is smelling it during a walk? If not, I encourage you to do this as a test of your own upper limits of frustration. My dog will frequently stop in his tracks, plant his nose into a smell, and lock all four powerful legs so tightly that it would take a tow truck, steel cables, and an act of Congress to move him from whatever he is sniffing at that moment.When a dog is really smelling something, nothing can break his concentration. At that point, there is no walk, there is no leash, there is no master – there is only the smell. If you want to experience everything that a wine has to offer, you’d do well to imitate the concentration that the average dog gives to any random oder in which s/he gets interested. With that kind of focus, you’d be on your way to wine-tasting pro status in no time.
- Don’t rush it. Once my dog stops smelling something and decides to start eating it, he is an shining example of what not to do when enjoying a wine (or any food or drink, for that matter). My dog will inhale food that he really likes. He will eat it so quickly, you would think there was a pack of angry, hungry velociraptors waiting 7 inches away from him ready to steal his morsels should he take more than 14 nanoseconds to eat them. The tastier the treat, the less he chews (or breathes) before swallowing.Which is exactly what you don’t want to do when enjoying a wine. Take your time. Savor it. That glass isn’t going anywhere, man. Relaaaax. See, isn’t that nice? Sniff. Swirl. Focus. And enjoy.Now, go walk that dog!
(images: 1WineDude.com, nytimes.com, galacticpudding, javelinaleapwinery.com)
Everyone makes mistakes. In the case of the Dude here, mistake frequency is pretty much daily. Thankfully, almost every mistake is an opportunity to learn.
Fortunately for you, the Dude here has made plenty of mistakes when it comes to drinking and appreciating wine. That means that you don’t have to make all of those same mistakes, my friend! You can thank me later (preferably with a bottle or two of `82 Mouton…).
Anyway – following are Top 5 of the most common mistakes in wine drinking and wine appreciation that I’ve come across (or made myself) during my life dabbling in the wine biz. Hopefully these help you to avoid the same…
- The Over-pour. Far and away, the most common mistake that I’ve seen is over-pouring wine into your wine glass. Believe it or not, being skimpy in this case is not being wimpy – pouring the right amount of wine is what you need to do to allow you to really enjoy the wine in your glass.
Filling that glass to the brim is being generous only in the extra amount of calories that you’re consuming. It’s a killer for wine enjoyment because a) it prevents the wine’s aromas from being concentrated towards your nose (where they belong), b) it prevents you from swirling the wine in your glass (which releases those wonderful aromas and flavors in the first place) and c) it makes you much more likely to spill your wine (and you probably paid good money for it!).
At this point you’re probably thinking, “Wait a second Dude – waiters do the Over-pour all the time in restaurants. What am I supposed to do about that?” Simple: ask for a second (empty) wine glass. Now you have two glasses of wine that you can fill properly (which basically means filling to the bowl shape of the glass and not beyond). You’re welcome!
“Filling that glass to the brim is being generous only in the extra amount of calories that you’re consuming.”
- Serving wine at the wrong temperature. Wine that is too cold will taste dull, with subdued fruit characteristics. Wine that is served too hot will taste astringent and will highlight the alcohol above the other flavors in the wine.
In a word – Yuck.
Now, you don’t need to be too anal about this one, but to get the most out of your wine, you do need to get the wine temperature in the right ballpark – and the right ballpark is different depending on they type of wine you’re trying to enjoy. Sweet whites and sparklers usually stand up to the coldest temperatures; hefty reds like Zinfandel and Port can withstand the highest temps. For more specific information, check out this handy chart of wine serving temps from recipetips.com.
- End-Bin shopping. What does “End-Bin shopping” mean? It means shopping only at those flashy, special displays at the end of the aisles in wine stores. Why is this a mistake? Because the end bins are sometimes where good wines go to die.
If you already know the wine and think it’s a good buy, then you may have found a good deal in that end-bin. While it’s certainly possible to catch a great bargain, I’ve also seen on many, many occasions wines that are woefully past their prime stuck into the end-bin at steep “discounts”. Don’t totally ignore those end-bins – but it’s a big mistake to make those the only stops on your foray through the wine store.
“…the end bins are sometimes where good wines go to die…”
- Ignoring the sauce. There are few hard-and-fast rules when it comes to wine and food matching. I only really offer people two rules: 1) Match the “weight”/body of the food with the weight/body of the wine (lighter wines with lighter fare, heftier wines with heartier fare) and b) Don’t ignore the sauce!
A thick, flavorful sauce can turn a lighter dish into a heavy monster of a meal. So, if you’re pairing a lighter wine with that heavier sauce, you might not ever get to really taste that wine, as it will get totally overpowered. Epicureans take note!
- Not doing any homework. You by no means need to have fancy-schmansy wine certifications to appreciate wine. But a little knowledge about wine styles and wines from different areas of the world can arm you with a very important weapon when it comes to wine enjoyment: Context.
What do I mean by context? I mean knowing what some of those wines typically taste like, and what foods are typically enjoyed with them. This allows you to avoid a whole heap of mistakes when it comes to wine appreciation, because it means you’re more likely to taste the wine in its proper context. Someone can tell you that they hate Italian wines – and if that person tried those wines with super-spicy Thai food instead of Italian cuisine, they’re probably not giving that poor Italian wine a fighting chance to be liked!
Grab yourself a book and get in some wine learning. Take a wine class, practice your tasting, or host a wine tasting party. The important thing is to keep an open mind about wine, and be willing to learn – in terms of helping you avoid the most common wine drinking foibles, those two things will never let you down.
(images: chichesterdesign.co.uk, comparestoreprices.co.uk, oleswanson.com)
(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, I have been introduced to Zen and Buddhist principles that I have tried to integrate into my life, 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.
(images: firstrung.co.uk, www.2112.net/powerwindows, freelanceswitch.com, ecx.images-amazon.com)
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.
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.