Hungry for wine

Seeing the World through the Lens of a Wine Glass

Hungry for Wine is maintained by Cathy Huyghe, wine writer for and author of Hungry for Wine: Seeing the World through the Lens of a Wine Glass.

Filtering by Category: Tasting Notes

Wine Reboot, and What Happened Next. It Ain't Pretty.

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.

Wine Travel GAH

The title of this post should really be Wine Travel YES and, by the end of saying what I need to say, it will be.

But let me work something through first.

I'm at that moment of a trip, at the very beginning, when I've said good bye to my husband and children, when I'm on board the plane, when I'm leaving on the first leg of the journey. The physical side of me is ready to go.

This particular trip, however, isn't to Napa or Oregon or Switzerland or New Zealand. It's to Turkey. And for that reason, it's taken the emotional side of me a few ticks longer to be ready to go.

Partly it's because the trip was almost canceled last week, when political protests intensified in some areas where we planned to be and, rather than postpone the trip entirely, we rearranged the itinerary around the sites of those protests.

Partly it's because of the sharp contrast of news coverage, between the sources I consult at home in the US and the sources my husband consults back in his native Belgium. He reads his news on the Belgian newspaper's app on his phone, and this morning he told me in detail about a US general's presence in Turkey, trying to convince Ankara to intervene in an aggressive takeover attempt of Kobani, a town along the Syrian border. (Belgium is home to a significant number of Turkish expatriates, and their national news addresses that population.) However, I had to dig -- deep -- for similar coverage in the US news sources that I regularly consult, which includes a website that claims to prioritize international news.

Maybe the US news sources are oblivious. Maybe the Belgian news sources are alarmist. Probably some of both. The bottom line is that I've got to cobble together information, which heightens my anxiety.

[several deep breaths and a take-off later]

There's something about starting, about stepping off, that adjusts my perspective.

This train has left the station and, since I'm along for the ride, my emotions need to recalibrate along with my physical location. It's a subtle shift but a critical one, from being anxious to being eager.

When I travel I am focused. I accomplish more work on the road than I do at home. I attribute this largely to my husband who, when we're both at home, is the biggest soaker-upper of my attention! (See what you get for marrying an incredibly interesting person??) And of course I miss our children, but the truth is that they've got fun and highly responsible people taking care of them. They are fine. They will be fine.

And so will I.

This is the kind of trip I adore. It is unusual. It will be challenging. I expect to learn things I won't learn anywhere else on the planet. I expect to meet people -- and taste wines -- that are distinct and unique in the industry.

So, yes, we have arrived at Wine Travel YES!

And for that I am extremely grateful.