There is nothing more humbling and beautiful than when a group of students end up teaching the teacher something. This is what happened when I held a wine tasting for a group of study-abroad students, who mostly would be underage to drink in their home country, meaning they surely weren’t ‘wine experts’ (well at least I hope not).
If you ever want to have a wild and unique experience for your nose, strange as that may sound, I may suggest ordering a bottle of Schioppettino. We play a fun game by having our guests best and most creatively describe this wine to us, and for those who maybe can’t connect the dots with exactly what they are smelling, we encourage them to let the wine take them to a memory and describe it that way instead, since our olfactory system is deeply connected with memories.
But that said, nearly every adult and many ‘wine experts’ that come through describe this wine in 3 words or less…perhaps pepper, berries, and a spice. Two back to back nights of students, where I struggled to find a winner amongst the sea of beautiful and accurate descriptions, and I was left with this question…
How is it that us ‘wine experts’ or ones who study wine seem to be the most boring and literal at describing wine? (I suggest this article by the way)
I am left convinced that our natural instincts are over-run by what we think is our intelligence, and that we lose our creativity as we age if we don’t continue to cultivate it.
We can’t forget that WE are the ones who create our experience with wine. Unlike visual art which has a concrete form that can exist outside of us, taste is created in us, by us. We are in essence the artist creating the art piece. For me, a good glass of wine always brings me somewhere – either to the flavors of the land or it allows me to indulge in a fond memory of my past. But textbooks and sommelier classes don’t teach you this. They will tell you what flavors and aromas to expect from certain regions or grape varietals, and then knowing this, we will regurgitate it back to sound ‘right’. Below are some descriptions – 2 from the students and another typical response from a person who claims to be studying wine or an expert in wines, and you can decide which description is more appealing and which glass you would want to be drinking based on the description (keeping in mind that this is the SAME glass of wine)….
– It reminds me of a summer morning, maybe some dew on the ground, camping at my cottage in the woods with my friends, and being around a campfire and drinking together.
– This wine reminds me of Christmas Day with my family. My mom used to make this holiday bread which had oranges, spices and cloves in it, and it also reminds me of a spicy Christmas candle and smells a bit of a wreath.
– I get pepper, earth and grass.
And I could list another 10 descriptions from the students that were as rich as the first and second description were. And I don’t even want to mention how great the little kids are who come with their parents, sometimes only 7-10 years old, who so naturally are able to accurately describe our wines. But I am also going to contradict myself and tell you that being able to describe it has absolutely nothing to do with being able to derive pleasure from it. Sure there is sensorial pleasure and intellectual pleasure derived from wine, and perhaps knowing a bit about the wine’s origins and being able to speak about it with your friends can add to the enjoyment of it in a different way, but appreciating a wine does not require being able to speak about it or know it. So like all the great wine experts and writers say after enough time, perhaps forget all of this, because great wines speak for themselves and the full beauty of the experience is only short-changed when reduced to a few words.
But, let’s not forget that sometimes all it takes is closing our eyes, swirling and sipping away, and a whole world of memories can be available to us if we just get out of our own way. And somehow if we can go back to our good old childhood days – when we roamed and played for endless hours, when time was on our side, when we could create games and art pieces from the most unassuming things, when we could daydream of having the wings of a butterfly, and weren’t so caught up with being intellectual and right all the time – perhaps it is in this expansive and naive space that even more is available to us.
Watch the video: Everyone can be a Sommelier