When you were a little kid, you probably hated peas. I not only hated peas, but loathed lima beans. It was not so much the flavor, as the consistency. Lima beans, especially when prepared hastily, or from a can with little or no enhancers like herbs or spices, reduce themselves to little more than paste in your mouth. The kind of paste that weird little boy, who always sat in the back of the classroom shooting spitballs at all the prissy girls, ate straight out of the jar. Primarily for shock value — but also because he was probably a little “touched.
As a kid, I preferred foods that were familiar, straightforward and un-nuanced. Give me a cheeseburger slathered in catsup, mashed potatoes with nothing but a dollop of margarine (Gawd forbid anyone use butter!) or macaroni and cheese (a la Velveeta) and I was perfectly satisfied. Adventuresome eating was Prime Rib au jus with a little horseradish sauce, or potatoes au gratin, because adding the “au” to anything made it a bit more grown-up and “worldly.”
I listened to music the same way I ate food. Give me Bobby Sherman, David Cassidy or Davy Jones. Throw in some Donny and Marie or Sonny and Cher — but that was also because they were all on television. The music was driven by lyrics and melody. If I knew the words, and I could sing along– that was all I needed. Anything else was just distraction.
It was a pattern for most everything — music, food, literature, film, and art. About as “exotic” as I got was Pier I, Tex-Mex and occasionally a film with subtitles. Not that I never thought about venturing outside my comfort zone — I just rarely did. I suppose because familiar is safe.
For the most part, that is how I stayed. That is, until I met Joe.
Joe’s tastes and experiences ran in wild opposition to mine. Joe likes the art of Jackson Pollock and the films of Stanley Kubrick, the Cohen Brothers, David Lynch and Tim Burton. He will try anything when it comes to food — favoring those that use everything. Or what Tony Bourdain terms “The Nasty Bits,” the parts most folks (in the States anyway) throw away.
But part of my frustration, and lack of appreciation was that I could not hear anything but the voices. Joe would say, “listen to that lead guitar, the poly rhythms on the drums, the pulsing of the bass.” But I could never really hear them — because I focused on the voices of the singers.
Not until I discovered the political messages behind the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen, Eminem and Black Flag, could I appreciate bands like Rage Against the Machine, the Beastie Boys and Public Enemy. And it wasn’t until a recent Jane’s Addiction concert, I realized how much sharper my senses had become. (That I could distinguish at least two strains of “incense”– one, I’m told, characteristic of the hydroponic persuasion, is further proof.)
Once grating to my ears, I now enjoyed the sui generis vocals of Perry Farrell. Granted at age 53, Farrell’s voice is now rounder. But I could now too hear and appreciate the true artistry of Dave Navarro’s guitar, the beats of Stephen Perkins’ drums, the bass line of Chris Chaney. Perhaps because now I am really listening.
My food choices have changed as well. I will try almost anything, even “The Nasty Bits.” I will eat lima beans, albeit Joe’s “Butter Beans” based on a black-eyed pea (not the band) recipe he got from Bobby Brown’s (yes, that one) personal chef years ago.
So it is with wine.
When many of us first tasted it, we often could pinpoint only the most prominent of flavors in wine. The jammy fruit of a big California Zinfandel, the bite of a tannic Howell Mountain Napa Cab — that turns the juiciest mouth quickly from rainforest to desert. Much like music, we could not begin to appreciate the nuances until we had opened our palates to the myriad of choices.
Do not fault your own tongue if you cannot taste the difference between a Merlot or a Cabernet Sauvignon; an Old World versus New World Chardonnay. A Walla Walla Syrah from a McLaren Vale Shiraz. Or a classic vintage Burgundy from a young Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.
Like life itself, to truly appreciate the flavors and nuances in wine, you must open yourself to new and different bottles of experience.
Drink. More. Wine.