Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Smoked oysters and Sweaty Saddles

This tasting of wine at the cellar door is a bloody funny business. I find that there is a general reluctance to actually examine, let alone identify, flavours and impressions during a tasting. It's as if the messages being relayed from the taste buds, palate and olfactory epithelium are lost on their way to the if there is such social intimidation tied up in the use of descriptive terms during wine tastings that, unless you are perceived as an "expert", it's simply not done to comment.                          

"I don't know much about wine, I just drink it...don't ask me, I wouldn't have a clue, just as long as it doesn't burn my throat on the way down"..

I don't like excessive alcohol either, but after all the human and natural endeavour needed to coax wine into bottle, I find that nonchalance a real pity. If you were served a plate of fish and chips that smelt of violets and blackberries, which finished with a clean, fine-grained tannin and left you relaxed, convivial and at peace with your fellows, there's a fair chance that you would have something to say to your local fish monger.( If you let me know the address of such an establishment, there's an even greater chance that I, and most of my friend, would take up permanent residence in the cafe responsible.)

However, discover those same flavours and impressions in a fine glass of cool climate Cabernet Sauvignon and general silence reigns. The conspiratorial muteness barrier falls. Why is it so.?

I was conducting a tasting recently when one of the "I don't know much about wine" brigade was tormented by me into making a comment on the tired old Shiraz before him.

"Well", lips pursed and limbs flailing about like a someone hand sowing oats in a thunderstorm, "well, if you really want to know, it smells like Bondi sewer".

 This may have been meant to embarrass his persecutor in particular and the group in general. It was certainly intended to end his torment. Undeterred,(sic) my response charged back.

 "Correct. Sewers from Buckingham Palace to Bondi smell of hydrogen-sulphide, or at least sulphur derivatives. I would assume that the good bergs of Bondi, and the not so good ones of London SW1A 1AA, United Kingdom are no less fond of good food than we all are and that their sulfide is just as hard to hide as that of we lesser mortals'

 And the wine, well it had a case of bad-handling in its youth; or, at least a brush with a winemaker not anal enough to protect it against oxidation and the many bacterial afflictions wine is heir to through the correct use of hygiene and sulphur-dioxide during maturation. And it did have a touch too much of that weee-ha, good-'ol-sweaty-saddle so common in certain traditional styles from equally traditional areas both local and Continental.  I'm reliably informed that that same wine taster now associates Bondi with hydrogen-sulphide problems in wine, and impresses, ad-nauseam, at local dinner parties with his technical expertise in that particular wine fault. I must introduce him to the fresh bright, clean Katoomba's of wine so he'll have something else to talk about.

(As an aside, I wonder what Australian winemakers will have left to say about Bordeaux when the Bordelaise finally get on top of brettanomyces bruxellensis. Now that will be an interesting tasting! )

So you see, there's nothing extraordinary in becoming a good wine taster. All you need is an ability to associate the flavours found in wine with tastes or aroma sensations you've experienced in your lifetime.

 It becomes a little more tricky when developing the ability to translate these impressions into word pictures common to your audience. Try telling a winemaker that his or her newest creation in the grand tradition of Bordeaux earthiness reminds you of Bondi sewer, and see how inadequate your medical insurance is. But slide into the "observation" with a "can you detect a slight hint of H2S on the nose,"  and you've made your point with a better than average chance of making it home alive.

To get the ball rolling, the next time you open a bottle of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti La Tache 2006, at $2,500 per bottle, see if you can detect a rich smoked oyster and saline savoury character on the nose. On the other hand, smoked oysters are only $2.50 at your local Walmart this week.

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