A trip in a wineglass
Following the final Grand Tasting at the Food & Wine Classic, I was strolling through town and came upon a family nibbling ice-cream cones. The eldest boy had opted for a flavor called cake-batter and swore it was the best flavor ever. The rest of the family all took a lick and, together, they started to reminisce about how their grandmother used to make “the best cakes in the whole world.”It struck me that this family’s experience had a direct connection to the event I just attended and the wines I had been tasting for the past four days. Not that I tasted cake batter in any of my sippings, but the experience of tasting a wine can and should affect you both tactilely and emotionally. Richard Betts, the winemaker and sommelier, is fond of saying in his seminars that the best wines will “take you somewhere” when you drink them.”Taking you somewhere” can mean different things to different people drinking different wines at different times. (Try saying that three times with a tongue tied with tannin.)When you taste with experienced oenophiles, they will frequently talk about “a sense of place.” The smell and the taste of the wine will transport them, in their minds, to say, Rioja. They will actually feel where that wine comes from because they may have been there, walked those soils, seen how the grapes hang and how wide the spacing in between the vines, and how rocky or manicured the vineyards may be. When they taste, they are both focused and experienced enough to understand that these elements affect what is in their glasses and they are, in effect, transported by their senses to that place.Tasting with a winemaker, particularly when tasting their wines, you might have the experience of being taken directly to the genesis of that wine. Not just to the place but also to the time that the wine was made. The winemaker is likely to remember the climate of that vintage when it was harvested, the early rains that made him sleepless, the blending that was needed – or not.But the sensation of traveling in a glass is not just for experts. The sensory experiences we have when we see, smell and taste a glass of wine can foster feelings of nostalgia that have been suppressed. (Perhaps even feelings of arousal, but that’s another topic). A sip of a creamy champagne may remind you of the first dance at your wedding, for example. A spicy Shiraz may take you back to that barbecue on the Gold Coast on the best day surfing that you ever had.For me, the wines of Walla Walla, Wash., awaken memories. Not because of the way that they taste per se, but because of an experience or, in this case, the lack of an experience, that I had.Two summers ago, I had a planned trip to the hot, arid farmlands of southeast Washington. The wines that I had been drinking from the likes of Cayuse, Cougar Crest and Dunham Cellars not only piqued my interest, they had grabbed me by the lapels and screamed “go Northwest!” I couldn’t wait to get there. The boldness of the wines, the collegial nature of the winemaking community, the friendly emerging wine towns populated by a new generation of very un-Napa-like folk was exactly what I was looking for.Alas, it was not to be.The day before my trip, a call came form Arizona. My father, who been fighting a life-sucking malady, was in the final stages of his battle, and I was summoned home.To this day, I have not made the sojourn to Walla Walla. But on Sunday, Father’s Day, at the Classic, I found myself passing by the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance table at the Grand Tasting. Memories of the contributions my father made in my life brought me back to that exact moment. I asked for a taste of the Buty Winery Redvivia 2004, raised the glass toward the top of the tent and was, as I said before, transported to a different place.Such is the power of wine.Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and a black Lab named Vino. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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