“Really get your nose down in there,” the presenter said as he demonstrated, tipping the glass and inserting his proboscis into the globe. Our pony-tailed, bespectacled connoisseur instructed us to swirl the wine around the glass swiftly to introduce oxygen and “open it up.”
With a mind that whirls madly churning through worries, to dos, and existential crises, it’s challenging to focus on any one thing. For this problem, one might turn to yoga (and I do). I also recommend a wine tasting.
My friend Danielle took me to a tasting last week, our second, in the cool basement of a local liquor and specialty foods store. There, we sat among a couple of dozen people at fold-out tables, each setting outfitted with two wine glasses, a water goblet, and a paper plate containing slivers of gourmet cheese and salami.
Each table also held a paper circle with a rainbow of hues, like a color wheel, but for taste and aroma. Sections for predictable, oft-used, and lovely descriptors like black fruit, spice, and flowers gave way to more exotic ones like earth, microbial, and the surprisingly incongruous combination, noble rot. Easily palatable flavors including fig, cinnamon, and elderflower turned to nauseating-sounding options including musty cardboard, petrolatum, and — gag — horse manure as we spun the disc in our hands.
“What do you smell?” our sommelier asked after we deeply inhaled Pinot Grigio. The group was very quiet, experiencing only the second glass of 13. I sniffed hard, eyes closed, with an intentness akin to staring, but with my olfactory senses. Danielle whispered to me, “Peach.” Yes! I mouthed back. Say it! She did, and when he agreed, we beamed. It was like she got an A in class.
“Italian wine is food wine,” he said, encouraging us to taste each selection with a bit of cheese or the salami, and raise our hands if we came up with a really delicious pairing. There seemed to be an agreement that lip-puckeringly tart, dry wines were excellent with the fatty salami, for instance.
On the wall behind our grape guide hung large maps of big wine-producing areas: France, Spain, California, and the one we had come that evening to contemplate, Italy. “Let’s pretend we’re in Tuscany,” we whispered to each other, both desperate for a real vacation. Mr. Wine pointed out where each varietal was grown, describing the terrain of a country we had never visited. I made note of where on “the leg” the regions were — my gauche non-geographer way of orienting myself — near the ankle, on the calf, under the skirt.
We learned that where the climate is warmer, grapes get riper, and their wines are “thicker” in texture, also darker, as I held a sample aloft to view it. Ruby went to garnet with the reds; almost transparently clear changed to warm yellow with the whites. We learned about wines that evolve after opening, often changing character for hours. We learned that vine with fewer grapes are tastier. If you have eight clusters of grapes on a vine and cut off four, the remaining half will be more flavorful.
Trying irpinia aglianico, a name as exotic as its taste, our teacher swooned, “Oooh, this one is like blueberry on the tongue followed by, like, crushed sticks and dirt.” I raised an eyebrow, but kind of got it once I sipped. Of an abruzzo, he warned, “When you open this bottle, it reaches out and grabs you by the face!” The audience now softened up (read: buzzed), giggles filled the room.
The highlight for me — because it came with a great story — was a wine called tascante, whose grapes grow in black dirt just below the top of Mount Edna in Sicily. A tiny wine region on the slopes of a mountain! Even tasting (or seeming to taste?) a bit like smoke, this elixir shall forever forward be known to me as Volcano Wine.
By the end, attendees were shouting out, “Burnt rubber! Cigar box! Garden in a parking lot!” And somehow we had decided these were, after all, all yummy descriptors. Or we were all too drunk to tell. Who knows? But weren’t we mindful for two hours? Present in the moment, our attention targeted toward just the experience in front of us, on our lips, in our snouts.