Being residents in a famous wine-growing area, management at the Duck ’n Fiddle agreed that we needed to further educate ourselves in the field of fine wining and dining. So, in the hope of providing our jaded palates with at least a veneer of sophistication, we attended a few wine-tasting demonstrations over the past couple of months.
Well, the blokes who explain the subtleties between the different wines they’re punting are obviously very chuffed with their achievements. They are, after all, the winemakers and can spot a Sauvignon Blanc from a Savour your Plonk at ten paces.
They launch into insightful discussions about the prevailing conditions influencing a cultivar, like the soil, sun, sea breezes and the age of the vines, all of which we’re meant to absorb, appreciate and savour in the thimbles of wine they pour us.
I was astounded by the enticing adjectives some of them string together without blushing. Who on earth thinks up this jargon? Is there perhaps an international winemakers’ competition, an annual ‘think-tank’ to find who can create the most pretentious descriptions of flavour, aroma and hue? Some are as priceless as the wine itself.
One varietal apparently produces a tantalizing nose of peach and apple with a delicate lasting finish, while others, crimson in colour, deliver hints of pepper and spices, with understated oak nuances. Another boldly claims to maintain a minerality throughout – whatever that means – with a lingering buttered toast finish. Huh?
We were delighted, however, to discover that we all have something called a mid-palate. We would never have known this if we weren’t informed that some wines are flat, viscous and flabby, causing a fat mid-palate, while others are elegant, smooth and feminine, creating a silky one. Since I am now acutely aware of this neglected organ I intend to exercise it whenever possible – come flab or silk.
Some winemakers though, find themselves over a barrel when compelled to produce the flavours promised on their labels, and to make assurances doubly sure, they secretly chuck a few tins of plum, orange or pineapple juice into the mix – even grape sometimes. The flavour combinations are as varied as the winemaker’s imagination and what’s on the supermarket specials – mint, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon – choices are endless, just print it on the label.
Now, this might get up the noses of some dyed-in-the-wool wine connoisseurs who’ve heard these types of stories before, but here goes anyway…
Fred Brochet, a viticulturist from the University of Bordeaux in France did a survey with 54 students of oenology (wine science), to study the terminology bandied about by wine snobs. He gave them each a glass of red and a glass of white, and asked them to describe their flavours. The white was referred to with terms like honey, citrus, floral and peach, while the reds had words like raspberry, cherry, cedar, chicory and oak.
A week later he once again gave them each a white and a red to taste. The two wines were actually the same white wine as before, but one was dyed red with tasteless food colouring. The white was described similarly to the first tasting. However, the white-dyed-red wine elicited terms commonly ascribed to reds. Oops. The eye deceived the nose and palate.
Okay, so they weren’t connoisseurs yet, but some who are were also bamboozled by another test. This time the fundis were blindfolded and managed to describe some chilled reds as full-bodied whites, while room-temperature whites were deemed to be robust young reds. Temperature deceived the palate.
Anyway, enough about delicate noses and silky mid-palates with lingering minerality, and back to reality for some home truths.
In wine there is wisdom. In beer there is freedom. In water there are bacteria. Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy, so here’s a tip to enjoying a good wine: 1. Open a bottle to allow it to breathe. 2. If it doesn’t look like it’s breathing, give it mouth-to-mouth. A meal without wine is called breakfast.