Thursday, January 3, 2008

Tasting notes: new considerations

When I began tasting, I wrote the following:

To say that one actually tastes blackberries in the wine is not only inaccurate, it denies the fact that wine possesses flavours and scents not found anywhere else. If, in our lack of words to describe these unique scents and tastes, we are forced to figuratively call upon other, familiar substances, we should acknowledge our shortcoming and not reduce wine to merely a jigsaw puzzle of known flavors and scents.

Several months and ~30 wines later, my mind is changed: I believe that nearly all the flavours in wine can be described in terms of components we recognize in the world around us. These need not be indivisible elements: we might say the wine smells of blackberries and blackcurrants, when clearly the two are multi-species aromas, with some overlap. I believe there is a molecular basis for these impressions, and that objective truths about the molecular makeup of the wine can be discovered through our senses of taste and smell, subjective though they might be.

What then, do we look for when we taste? Certainly each individual is free to attend to whatever characteristics of the wine interest him. Many drinkers do not smell the wine at all, which is their prerogative, though most of the information contained in the glass is in the "nose." In fact, my tasting method has a lot to do with my view of wine as "information."

I Never Look at the Wine Before Tasting

In fact I often remove my glasses before nosing, partly so they don't hit the glass, and partly so I don't see the wine. I do not wish to be prejudiced by the appearance, and I believe any beauty or lack thereof in the wine's hue or clarity is irrelevant to my enjoyment of the wine. I do sometimes check the color after tasting, to check for irregularities.

Four Nosings

Informed by Peynaud's assertion that different aromas have different volatilities, I endeavor to capture a range of aromas through different nosings. First I sniff slightly at the still glass, then deeply. Then I repeat with a swirled glass. I always intend to record the aromas at each point, but inevitably I end up repeating the third and fourth several times, mashing my impressions of each nosing into one aromatic picture. I try to remain open to whatever scents strike my memory, but I do look specifically for varietal characteristic, when I know the varietal.

Wrestling with a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster

"the effect of drinking a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster is like having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped around a large gold brick." - D. Adams,HHG2G

Upon actually tasting the wine, my method devolves into madness. I often miss initial impressions entirely, in eagerness to extract retronasal aromatics through emulsifying with air in the mouth GV-style, and standard "oo" aeration. Of late I have also begun to swish laterally to detect bitterness on the sides of the tongue. I usually forget the finish in my excitement about whatever I discovered on the midpalate.

As for the parameters I'm concentrating on, they are wine and varied. I examine sweetness, mouthfeel, viscosity, density, bitterness, saltiness, acidity, alcohol heat, and tannins. It's hardly surprising that the best I can do is remember whether or not there were retronasal aromatics - I'm far to distracted to try to fit flavour profiles to the midpalate - I do most of that on the nose. It's all got to be done quickly - smelling and tasting - because of the rapidity with which our palates become enured to flavours.

The Goal

Ultimately I'm looking for a detailed picture of the wine: how the components relate to eachother and to the the context of other wines. Ultimately I should be able to form such a complete and objective picture of the wine that I would recognize the wine upon retasting. Objectivity is what I'm going for when tasting. When drinking on the other hand, subjectivity is clearly the name of the game.

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