Sunday, January 13, 2013

Don't Forget Your Nose

by Randy Kemner, Proprietor

Like so many of our countrymen the past few weeks, I fell victim to a bad cold and had to stay home from work.  Not serious, just enough of a respiratory funk and low grade fever that kept me from spreading my germs to those I work with. 

A few things happen when I get a cold like this.  First, all energy is sucked out of me--even reading becomes a chore. 
Second, I tend to sleep in the daytime and stay awake at night, a maddening insult to my Circadian structure, not to mention having to endure clicking past truly stupid infomercials to find something decent to watch at 3 in the morning.
The third thing is actually a benefit.  Since I haven't felt like eating much, I have actually seen my weight go down a few pounds.  The I-feel-like-crap diet is not one I recommend for weight loss, but if there is a silver lining to having a cold, that's it.
The reason, of course, is when I have a cold, food becomes rather tasteless.  Last night Dale made me a wonderful and healthy soup of kale, carrots, chicken stock, chopped garlic, pureed potato and hot sauce and all I could taste was salty liquid that burned my tongue. 
Which brings me to a larger point here, and it involves all of you reading this wine blog.  Your sense of smell is critical to fully enjoying wine.  I'll repeat that.
Your sense of smell is critical to fully enjoying wine. 
It's my job to discover wine for your enjoyment.  And I've come to learn there are many ways people enjoy drinking wine, not the least of which is simply pouring good wine into a glass and savoring a sip. 
But so many times I observe people drinking wine without stopping to savor the aroma first, and I wonder if they are truly getting their money's worth.  Aside from the pleasures I enjoy from the complex smells of wine--the briary herbaceousness of Zinfandel and Cotes du Rhone, the seductive perfumes of Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo, the tantalizing earthiness of the red wines of Italy's Sudtirol and the Cabernet Francs of the Loire, the floral beauty of the Rieslings of the Mosel and California Viognier come to mind--soaking in the smell of wine expands and enhances the taste of wine. 
This is not academic.  It's real.  Just ask someone how good wine tastes when suffering from a cold.  As fundamental and simple as salty liquid that burns the tongue, sweet, sour, salty and bitter flavors are all you get.  There is no nuance, no subtle spices, no interplay of flavors, no depth, just primary, fundamental taste.  There is something in the brain that combines the signals the body's receptors deliver from the tongue and the nose, even though a different part of the brain perceives it is only the tongue doing all the work.
Without its aroma, a potentially glorious young Barolo tastes acrid because the wine's astringent bitter tannins are the only thing your taste buds alone recognize.  Without the depth and complexity its aroma offers, a French red Burgundy becomes a shell of itself, offering neither timeless pleasure nor anything that a great Burgundy does.
Some folks love the tartness of Sauvignon Blanc or the creamy oak spice of Chardonnay and that's enough flavor for them.  They don't demand much of their wine.  Let it be cool enough to quench their thirst and give them a little satisfaction.  To me it's like grabbing some junk at Burger King to appease your appetite.
I've actually met people who don't like food and consider mealtime a nuisance; they just eat stuff for sustenance.  As incredible as that sounds, it is not unlike someone who drinks wine just to get a buzz or just to slake one's thirst. 
Wine doesn't merely quench one's thirst and help foster a sense of well-being, it is capable of providing incredible flavors if one only takes time to savor its aroma first.  That opens the door to the kind of pleasures that inspire artists, writers, kings and connoisseurs like no other beverage on earth can offer.
It'll be a few more days before I'll be able to truly breathe in the aroma of a good glass of wine.  Until then, I'll continue to drink my green tea rather than waste the vintner's art. 
That bottle won't go bad in the next week.

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