In my last blog post I wondered if I could still find pleasure -- simple pleasure -- in a single glass of wine.
I wanted to stop thinking and just drink the damn wine.
Would that be enough?
A few days ago, I wasn't sure. But I wanted to try.
Here's what happened next. Spoiler alert: it ain't pretty.
There was this wine in front of me, and only this wine -- two or three fingers' worth of 2004 Ontañon Bodegas Reserva from Rioja, Spain.
I picked up the glass, and right away all of my "wine training" wanted to rush back at me.
The core is opaque, with a dark cherry-colored rim.
(And are there legs? What about the saturation?)
I smell black fruits and olives.
(What kind of black fruit? What kind of olives?)
I smell woodsy herbs, and smoke. Or ash.
(What kind of herbs? And which is it? Smoke? Or ash?)
I don't know where this is coming from, this "tasting note voice." Yes, of course my wine teachers urged me to be specific. Yes, they encouraged me to push further with my descriptions, beyond what the others in the room were saying, beyond agreeing with the power of their suggestions.
Why did I even shift into "tasting note mode" was all I wanted to do was enjoy a few sips of wine?
That's force of habit, most likely.
But here's what wrong with that, IMHO. I've always felt that tasting notes are like a script I should be following. There's a formula to it, like a grid. Color. Nose. Palate. Finish.
I know the rules, and I can follow them, though I feel much like a dancing bear when I do.
Plus there's no section of the grid where you can indicate pleasure. There is no space for WHOOPEEEEE!!!!
All very objective, it is. Very precise.
Which is why sometimes -- and for me, most times -- tasting notes seem too analytical. Tasting the wine sometimes becomes over-tasting it and thinking about wine, as I can see in myself, becomes over-thinking it.
There is not much room for the give of circumstance.
This is the danger zone that I am in: over-tasting, over-thinking, defaulting into analytical notes even if they're utterly inadequate.
This is the danger zone that I am in: losing sight of the pleasure of wine.
I am in danger of not enjoying wine the way I started out enjoying wine -- simply for the joy of it, for the way it made me feel, because it connected me to the people I wanted to be connected to.
Losing touch with that is, indeed, GAH.
Friends I know, other wine friends, take measures against this hazard. They "take off" the whole month of January, for example, and don't drink any alcohol. At all. They're recuperating their taste buds, I think, and letting their palate rest. They're recalibrating it. But it's just as useful I think to let your brain rest too.
It reminds me of the very first teacher who taught me about wine writing, who taught me this:
Just drink the stuff.
My teacher's name was Richard, and this lesson was passed down to him as well.
He had been interviewing the Baron de Rothschild, many years ago in France, when Richard was a young man and the Baron was not. What advice would you have for me, Sir? Richard asked at the end of the conversation. What advice can you offer someone who's just starting out, who loves wine, who truly wants to know more about it, who wants to maybe even devote a good part of his life to it?
"Richard," the Baron said. "Just drink the stuff."
In other words -- Stop. Thinking.
When do I do this? When I do stop thinking, and just drink the stuff?
The answer, for me, is when I'm in the kitchen, as I'm cooking dinner.
"Could you open a bottle of wine, please?" I ask my husband.
"Of course," he says. "Anything in particular?"
"Something white," I might say, though I'm just as likely to say something red, or something sparkling, or something sweet, or something he chooses on his whim, or something that's just arrived by delivery to the front door.
And he'll go and pull something from our collection, open it, and set a half-glass full next to the chopping board as I peel carrots or dice squash or season and stuff a chicken for roasting.
He has sensed by now -- I have sensed it too -- that I am a much better cook when I have a glass of wine in my hand than when I don't.
It's kind of a joke, except it's also completely true.
I relax. I am intuitive, with seasoning the food, and with what's happening with my family as they pass and sometimes tumble through the kitchen.
These are the people -- this man, these children, often those friends -- I want to be with, as we sit at the table for dinner. These are the people I love, whose lives I want to be part of, who have a way of living that I also want to have.
Wine hasn't made this possible, exactly. But wine has helped to guide the meal to the table, and it has most likely made the food taste better, and look better, and smell better. All of that brings the people -- these people I love -- within arm's reach and encourages them to savor it and to linger, to say more and to listen longer.
This is my own hunger for wine.
This is my reason why.
At this point I don't always remember the vintage or the producer of the wine off hand.
That's actually a compliment to the wine.
Because at this point -- the best point -- wine has become a seamless layer of flavor in our lives. There's an echo of it to our conversation, and our children integrate it the way they integrate other lessons of the table, like how to make a joke or how to engage someone in conversation or how to express compassionate sympathy to a neighbor.
Can I still enjoy the simple pleasure of a glass of wine?
Yes. I can.
I just have to remember to do it in my kitchen, with people I love.