Relearning How to Taste?

In May I spent a sublime, if intense, week in Sicily with 19 fellow Masters of Wine. On one visit, just a few days into the ten-day adventure, a thin, 32-page pamphlet was slipped into my hand as I departed a winery. I wondered, as I glanced at the title, “How to Drink Well,” while being hurried onto our bus, “Why would a winemaker want Masters of Wine to read this book?” So, despite the fifteen pounds of paper I estimate I collected during that tour of Sicily, I didn’t drop that pamphlet into a waste bin.

Having read that pamphlet cover to cover this morning, I now understand. As the translator, Elaine Trigiani describes, with regard to a true love or a perfectly harmonious wine, “It’s nearly impossible to describe or explain, but you now it when you’re in it.” This is a great encapsulation of Salvo Foti’s thinking and writing.

Foti is certainly the first to introduce to me the idea of “listening” to wine. So much for “sight, sniff, sip”! Foti explains that light wines make lots of noise falling into a glass because they aren’t so viscous. Considering the Bourgogne Rosé I poured tonight, I’d agree. Contrarily, wines with considerable unctuousness pour quietly. As I’m off on Wednesday for another week of traveling, I thought to finish a near-empty bottle of Sercial Madeira at the end of the evening. The pour…near silence. Truly, a new perspective on wine appreciation.

This new lesson acquired and digested, the other ideas derived from Foti’s rather sensual perspective provided more than a few lifts of my eyebrows. Is it the Italian in him or is it his love of wine? I think it is both, and I believe Foti's is a beautiful view on wine that few of us live and more of us would like to experience frequently. Here are some of Foti’s delightfully suggestive thoughts:

-With regard to using a candle to decant wine: “The candle appears in the visual analysis of a wine like it does on the table of a romantic dinner. The goal is the same: to seduce and to be seduced.”

-“Like a wine, each us has our own personal and distinctive aroma. …we can recognize unmistakably our beloved’s aromas: we recognize their unique scent with our eyes closed!” Foti goes on to suggest that our “beloved” smells differently at “each part of the body: cheek, neck, ear, and I’ll stop here….”

-“Tasting is like kissing. The tongue is all-important, it envelops, separates, tastes and identifies, through the intimate contact of lips and tonuge, like the secrets of your beloved’s mouth.” (Whoa!) In connection with the previous idea and the fact many tasters close their eyes while technically assessing wines, Foti writes, “Who keeps their eyes open during an intense kiss?” Hmmm….

-Wine structure provides “gustatory relief”, with “optimal gustatory relief” “compared to a sphere”. “The perceived volume can be more or less intense or more or less expansive.” (Wowsa!)

-After equilibrium between astringency and bitterness has been established in the mouth, we can best judge the fullest spectrum of aromas. Because the mouth’s higher temperatures heighten volatile aromas and because saliva contains enzymes that transform aromas the nose cannot detect from the glass, Foti compares wines to salame. (Incite your imagination.) A thin slice of salame allows you to focus on aroma while a thicker slice requires you to focus on texture and structure.

-With reference to “good alcohol content and important acidity”, a wine can be defined as “fresh or soaring.”

-“A bitter taste in your mouth” is a typical description for the sensation produced by “suffering the end of a relationship.” Foti explains this may be so intense that we “cannot even enjoy food, much less wine, and it may stay with us until our mouth is sweetened by new love.”

The comparisons are fun, fresh and a little racy.... Don’t we expect as much from a passionate, Italian winemaker?