As a wine professional, I sample several wines each week. Sometimes dozens in a single day. When I taste a wine for work it is rarely with the thought of whether or not I like the wine. I taste with the future consumer in mind. I ask, will it go with the menu or is this price point going to deliver what the guest is looking for? I look, sniff, swirl… all with the mindset of someone else.
When you get into wine as a profession it is common to lose your passion for why you came to this inspiring beverage to begin with. But sometimes, a wine will remind you of a memory, a snapshot of something ethereal and important. Something forgotten that you find like a single earring under the rug. A note of petrol that triggers a quick moment of sitting in the backseat of your parent’s car while they pumped gas with the windows open on a warm day. Or graphite that takes you back to sharp pencils and algebra tests. A Cabernet that brought back the taste of red currants growing near the front door of my grandmother’s house.
I could not tell you what that Cabernet was. But I can remember details of picking the sour currants and staining my lips with them. I appreciate when a wine pulls the past out of my distracted brain. It is like a microscope of smell and taste that connects me with a former time when I collected all the environmental clues that hold consistency in my glass.
It is these olfactory moments that inspire me to continue studying wine. I am a secular person by nature, but I find a certain spirituality in wine that science is not enough to understand. I can comprehend the chemical components that make the liquid what it is but when I put my nose in and inhale the fresh-cut grass in a Sauvignon blanc, I don’t think immediately of pyrazine. I think of late mornings in the suburbs and the hum of riding lawnmowers. I think of taking a long green blade between my thumbs and blowing to make kazoo noises. So many of the smells in this adult beverage make me a child again.
Of course, you can’t just smell wine and immediately be transported to kindergarten. It takes a bit of training to hone in on the scents. You have to make your brain talk openly with your nose and tongue. They speak different languages so translation is necessary. You have to be keenly aware of what your nose smells and be able to identify it to your brain. When you spread raspberry jam on your toast you must smell it and tell your brain, this is raspberry jam. Then when you have California Pinot noir your brain can go, yes, I understand this is wine, but it smells like raspberry jam. Voile! Your brain and palate now speak the same language. This allows you to communicate the wine to another person and also, remind you of the morning in the country when you brewed the coffee and enjoyed toast and jam while watching the rain clouds gather.