(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: piperreport.com, amazon.com, storeappeal.com)
It is with much trepidation that I publish this post.
Not that I don’t enjoy giving wine advice. I love it, acutally.
I especially love when people tell me that they truly enjoyed a wine that I recommended to them. When I hear that those wines opened people up to new culinary and epicurean levels of enjoyment, I am one very happy wine dude.
It’s just that I prefer to give this advice one-on-one, and tailor it to an individual’s or business’ specific needs. Once I publish this sort of stuff in one way or another, I invariably get flamed from people who feel that I snuffed/ignored/disrespected their favorite budget wine pick.
BUT… you folks keep asking me for it, so I’m gonna bite the bullet and go ahead and give you –
1WINEDUDE’S TOP 10 BUDGET WINE PICKS…
To make the cut, the wine needs to a) have a decent enough amount of production / distribution that most people won’t have a difficult time finding it, b) offer a consistent level of quality bang-for-the-buck, & c) cost less than $20 USD. The wines are offered in no particular order. Where I have previously reviewed the wine on twitter, I’ve included a link to the ‘mini-review.’
- Smoking Loon Viognier (CA) – Good varietal character, a nice into. to a Chardonnay alternative if you’re willing to branch out.
- Hess Chardonnay (CA) – Not too oaky & well put-together.
- Chateau Ste. Michele Gewürztraminer (WA) – Consistently yummy. Mini-review
- Salmon Run Riesling (NY) – Contains some of the best aspects of this underrated varietal, at a low price.
- Quinta da Aveleda Vinho Verde Branco (Portugal) – Improbably cheap, with nice spritz and refreshing fruit. Mini-review
- Banfi Centine (Italy) – “Super Tuscan” type blend for the rest of us. Mini-review
- Ravenswood Old Vine Lodi Zinfandel (CA) – Dark and jammed with fruit. Mini-review
- Firesteed Pinot Noir (OR) – An elegant introduction to OR Pinot.
- Misterio Malbec (Argentina) – Black as tar and tasty. Mini-review
- Francis Coppola Diamond Claret (CA) – Accessible Bordeaux-style blend at a fair price. Mini-review
The more astute readers out there will already have noted that the vasy majority of these wines are made in the USA. To be honest, the list would more accurately be titled “DUDE’S TOP 10 BUDGET WINE PICKS IF YOU LIVE IN THE U.S.” There are only 3 non-USA producers in my list, representing (in order of appearance) Portugal, Italy, & Argentina.
The reason for this is twofold:
1) I live in the U.S., so I’m giving you what are good budget picks available to me, and
2) Aussie, NZ, German, French, and Spanish wines are not currently offering particularly good value for money in the U.S. (my opinion). The ones that do are notoriously difficult to locate (which usually ends up driving up their prices eventually anyway).
I’d like to think that this could be a bit of a wake-up call to budget importers and producers from those countries who want to succeed in the huge U.S. wine consumer market… but my Google Analytics reports suggest that I don’t yet have that kind of influence on the world’s wine blogging readership :-).
(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.
(images: wiskirchengallery.com, farm3.static.flickr.com, smokingkills.com)
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.