Building Your Wine Tasting Memory
On Monday nights, Joe goes bowling. Strange for a guy who thinks football season is year ’round. But when he gets home he’s only the slightest bit hungry, so usually we just have a few snacks with our wine.
Joe: “Let’s open a bottle of wine.”
Amy: “What wine would you like?”
Joe: “Something red and tasty.”
Which in Joespeak is usually Syrah.
This particular Monday, Joe comes home and stops near the breadbox. “Awesome. Little Toasts!” Little toasts, good ones, at least for us, come in two varieties. There are the buttery, almost crouton garlic rounds from Specs and Central Market, or the non-buttered dry variety from Randall’s bakery. These are from Randall’s. I remember we have a little tin of Goose pate’ I picked up at Specs, when last on a trip to replenish our supply of Bourbon.
So on this particular Monday night we open a bottle of Bedrock Wine Company’s 2009 Griffin’s Lair Syrah. When he first released it in the Fall of 2011, Morgan (Twain-Peterson) said it needed some age to come into itself. But in our house, two years is an eternity and we have at least one more bottle. So we open it, even though he again reminded us the 2009 had another 7-10 years to peak when he talked about his newest release of Griffin’s Lair.
When I first open the bottle, I see what he means. The nose is austere, tight, almost organic Languedoc in character. There’s still the fabulous Bedrock Wine Co. black jam, but it’s waiting in the wings.
We settle in to catch up on an episode in the Final Season of our favorite righteous serial killer, Dexter.
Tastes Like Chicken
I taste the pate’ and I think…”it tastes like chicken!” But not just any chicken…those little buttery bits of chicken in Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup.
In my mind, I’m immediately transported back to the living room of my home at age 6. I stayed home from school because I was sick. Sick always meant Campbell’s Chicken Noodle soup. But I don’t associate the soup so much with being sick. In my mind’s eye I am sitting on the couch with a metal TV tray in front of me and watching “That Girl.”
“That Girl” starred the husky-voiced Marlo Thomas and focused on the life of a single young woman who left home for the Big City, all by herself. She lived alone. She had a job (well several, while aspiring to be an actress). She had a boyfriend (“Oh, Donald!”) But she didn’t need him to take care of her, she took care of, albeit sometimes quite comically, herself.
According to Thomas, her character Ann Marie was “a young, modern woman focused on her own dreams and aspirations.”
“This pate really loves this Syrah,” says Joe, and snaps me back to Dexter, who is trying to stay one step ahead of his sister Debra Morgan’s hunt for Hannah McKay, and Detective Quinn, who is out to prove Dexter’s (unbeknownst to Quinn) protegee is the latest serial killer “Brain Surgeon.” (Personally I have bets on Dr. Vogel being the killer.)
Sitting in my glass, the 2009 Bedrock Griffin’s Lair Syrah is opening up nicely. A bit of spice. Jam. A hint of black pepper. I don’t care what Morgan (Twain-Peterson, not Debra or Dexter) says, I love it now. And so does the goose pate’.
Research tells us that it is easier to remember tastes and smells if we form an association. It is why using all senses is so important to wine tasting. We need to see it, taste it, feel it on the tip, the sides and the back of our tongue. Subtract sight, and often even expert tasters cannot tell a red from a white. (See Frederic Bouchet’s 2001 Research) Subtract sight and smell, and it’s worse. Often one cannot tell a bit of an apple from a bit of potato.
To really hone your tasting skills, I am convinced you must also form a memory association.
I tried to prove out my theory with Joe. Joe loves toast–one of life’s simple pleasures, he wrote back in 2008. So, I asked him, what one memory did he associate with toast to make him love it so?
Joe: “Nothing specific”
Me: “But you have such an affinity for toast! ”
Joe: “Didn’t even realize that until one day I was eating some and thought…I f*ck!ng love toast.”
Trying to prove my theory still. I thought about the Bedrock Syrah.
Me: “When you drink a Bedrock Syrah, are you immediately transported back to the top of the hill at our first WBC tasting Morgan’s Syrah out of a growler?
Joe: “I used to be, not so much lately. I guess it has its own associations now.”
But for me, it is still so. I see Joe standing in front of a table, with a long line behind him. Glass held out over a table covered with printer proof labels of a craggly old vine on a white background. Standing over two growlers — one filled with dark purple and the other with a light golden liquid — is a guy with wine-stained fingernails. Joe saying, “You have to taste this Syrah.”
I think about how much my love of wine is tied to my love for Joe. I joke that our relationship was once saved by Shiraz. Every bit of learning about wine, the tastings, the travel, the parties, the knowledge, and the writing exists within the context of my life with this man.
A couple weeks ago we had a little scare and Joe made a trip to the emergency room. Turns out it was a relatively minor issue. But it got me thinking. If suddenly there was no Joe, would my life still revolve around wine?
“That Girl” had a huge impact on 6-year old me. I spent years being independent, trying to make it big on my own, not needing — or so I thought — anyone.
But I have come to believe life is better if we share it. Wine, food, beer, bourbon it is all better when we share it. And if we can associate memories and people and events with the wine we are tasting, we can enjoy it even more each time we taste it again.