Thursday, June 18, 2009

Learn to Forget

You have a wine placed before you. You might be a judge in a competition. Or you might simply be ordering a wine in a restaurant. In either case the wine is poured. Then, what do you do?

Most people look at the color and then move on to the aroma and the taste. But somewhere inside many of us is this little mental punch list. On it is memories, likes, dislikes, markers, highs and lows. Somewhere along the line many of us have gotten that punch list down to a narrow spectrum of what we like and are looking for in a wine. Just like people and foods and music.

With Italian wine, there is a fork in the road. One way says, stick to the tried and true (whatever that is for each person). The other way is this wild beach party where anything goes.

A man walks into a bar and the bartender hands him a taste of Barbera. The man pulls up his mental punch list:
• deep red color with intense violet hue
• raspberries, blueberries, strawberries blackberry, black cherries
• good acid structure
• low astringency
• lower level of tannins

The wine cannot seduce him, taunt him or convince him that it will be different. If so, it might come off as a flaw. And the dance is over.

“Your brain seems bruised with numb surprise,” the ancient song goes.

Just once, try and approach a wine you think you know really well and imagine you have lost your memory of it. Maybe that is the essence of blind tasting. But instead of trying to find markers, imagine this is the first time any wine has ever passed your lips.

Learn to forget.

It goes counter to what many Italian wine experts think they should do. They prefer to “speak in secret alphabets” as the same song continues. It’s the battle of the prefrontal cortex, memory vs. attention.

I’d love to know what someone like Roberto Paris might think about this. At this time Roberto is in the middle of a 10 day meditation retreat in India. I reckon it probably isn’t high on his punch list right now. But the clarity of his mind, after ten days, yes, I’d like to know his thoughts.

Suggestion: Next time you open a bottle of Chianti or Valpolicella, any wine really, instead of trying to figure out what it is and how it fits into those neat little boxes inside your mind, turn your mind loose and let it wander over the wine. Imagine the experience that wine might be, if you could learn to forget.


Unknown said...

fantastic advice - I'll give it a shot

Anonymous said...

Your column today hit on a high level activity, be it wine, art, or life: evaluating. Of late my approach for myself and my students has been, describe first, judge last.

You offer something similar I think. Also, your emphasis on clearing the mind of preconceptions is great. I found a great evaluation technique for photographs -- by Minor White -- that offers a specific method for that. Might work well for wine!

When I take students into our art museum and put them in front of a painting I ask them to contextualize, i.e. consider the gallery space, height of ceiling, lighting, painting’s placement on wall, what other work is nearby, et al. prior to describing.

Start by nonverbal pondering, then fully describing what they see (describe, not I like/don’t like: notice this, notice that), I ask them to draw the painting in their sketchbook, i.e. drawing=description. If you reconstruct a painting, even quickly, then at least in part you get a feel for how it might have come together for the artist.

I was thinking for wine, perhaps same thing. Lighting? Look down into glass, what hue, saturation, and value? --- reflected light. (All three comprise color.) Hold up to light to assess density via transmissive/incident light.

Of course with wine you get to get to many of the other modalities, (haptic, i.e. sloshing around to watch how inner glass gets coated, some olfactory, much gustatory, etc.).


Greg Randle said...

Cool post, Alfonso.

The "learn to forget" angle applies so much to all we know. I've learned and relearned over and over. Most of it sticks but there's always an open door. The blind tasting side, deciphering sight, nose, taste, and all of the "tells" that lead to a conclusion is more mathematical, against the grain of the experience.

Just about always something good in everyone and everything. All just trying to make it...

I've noticed recently that your writing direction has changed a bit. I loved it before. I love it now. Keep it up.

Marco Porto said...

You are on a energic roll, amico.
This is your time of year. "memory misused..."

Anonymous said...

Whoever thinks wine blogging is dead just doesn't have the stones to stay in the game. Bravo, AC


Mattie John Bamman said...

Rodin tasting a wine for the first time:

mind ripe pear juice summer hot round surfaces pointing over rolling chatting

In short, he would remove the self-consciousness of technique.

Tony said...

Preconceived notions are difficult to lose. After 13 years in wine I'm still struggling with it. My first boss in the business told me to go into every situation like a newborn infant. On days that I go out and can't get past myself, I try to hear his voice in my head.

Unknown said...

try closing your eyes when tasting a wine, it is a completely different sensory experience, better than a brown bag and a lot more focused


Marco Pancrazio said...

Sometimes I forget to look at the pretty pictures. Teatro Greco in Taormina!

Alfonso Cevola said...

anyone know where I shot the first one? it's a really famous place

Marco Pirandello said...

Roma at one of the baths?

Alfonso Cevola said...

right town...something a little more colossal

Marco Cavallotto said...

oh, the place where they fed Christians to lions and that is now home to their smaller brethen?

T said...

Great articles as usual. Always willing to pass along things that I find on the net related to Wine.


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