TASTING REPORTS – AN UPDATE
First a note on what will be a posting hiatus from now until the end of July, as the gentleman who actually executes this website enjoys a well earned vacation. I’ll continue to taste and write while he’s away, and you can look forward to a bludgeoning in early August, as I dump my accumulated verbiage onto this platform. (Might be a good time for your vacation, come to think of it….)
I also introduce you to a lengthy tasting report on SCHLOSSGUT DIEL. That was a fascinating week of tasting. And it further fueled my evolving sense of what I’ll call the “tasting Ideal,” as I’ve been able to practice it – even to test-drive it, as it were.
These reports are only indirectly (or implicitly) “buyer’s guides.” Those I wrote for decades, and while I layered a lot of stuff over the top, the basic purpose, the skeleton if you will, was intended to help potential buyers with their choices.
I’m not really trying to do that here, though it could happen regardless of my explicit intent. The alert reader can easily discern the wines I’d suggest they ought to buy, and I am satisfied to be useful.
But I have a bigger purpose. That is, to make use of the luxury of time to establish the kinds of relationships to wines I always wanted to have and never really had the time to have. And if I could do that, I wanted to see what flora and fauna lived in that environment. What might be learned about a wine – and a winery – if the reporter had all the time in the world? More important, is that knowledge valuable?
There are layers of immersion in play. Each wine I taste is given time to stretch its legs, and its “self-ness” is respected by tasting and drinking it from different stems and at different temperatures and sometimes with food. There is even a distinction between the morning and afternoon palates. In the process of making companions of these wines, I deepen and broaden my understanding of myself, not merely as a taster or reviewer or commentator, but simply as a person. It’s more than just learning “new things.” It’s walking with the things I already know and seeing what they are when they have space in which to breathe.
I aspire to be a caring, reasonable, attentive, and competent writer about the wines I taste. This is different than it was before. Then I was like most wine merchants and writers; I wanted to “get” as much out of each wine in the tightest amount of time, so as to both describe and evaluate, and as a writer, to tell readers exactly how good a wine was. I have unqualified respect for that skill. I tried hard to be good at it. Given the often severe time limitations under which most of us have/had to work, it forces the taster into a remarkable virtuosity. There is of course a cost. It is the sacrifice of leisure, of time to see what a wine might have to say after it played – and we heard – its overture of flavors. Such skill requires an incredible brilliance, and no heart at all.
Don’t mistake me; plenty of wine people bring plenty of heart to their work, but in the feverish crux of tasting under time pressure, heart is unwelcome. It’s in the way. If it arrives it has to force its way in, and if it manages to break down the doors, within moments you’re looking at the time and regretting that you’re late for your next appointments. You paused to feel something, and as lovely as it might have been, it was inconvenient for the schedule.
So I am hugely grateful to let the wines set the tempo, to let them lead the way. I heard once about a jazz audition where the player had to solo over something, maybe “Giant Steps,” at quick tempos and in different keys. Because in that split second on the stand, you have to be able to cook when the music says GO! I do like to imagine the successful applicant mentioning to the band leader that she also has a ballad she’s written, and could she play it? And could she solo over a few meandering, deliberate choruses, and use her chops to tell a story? One thing is a demonstration of what she’s learned, and the other is a revelation of who she is.
I find also that there are somatic things to consider. As I write, we are in the middle of a truly filthy heat wave here in Boston, with humidity so high that if you’re outside and you stand still long enough, mushrooms start sprouting on your arms. Yes I’m inside with a/c, but the mood isn’t conducive to tasting important reds, and a sense of siege makes me jittery, and when I’m jittery I tend not to drink enough water, and that also affects my palate, and if you’re going to be a serious taster you have to take all such things into account. It’s why I opted to taste Schlossgut Diel’s wines this week – which are mostly white and mostly Riesling – rather than the Ziereisen samples I’ve been eager to get to, which are mostly reds….
And so this is becoming a sort of diary-of-a-taster, in which the act of tasting a certain way becomes a fruitful interaction with what is actually tasted. I am slowly starting to recognize what emerges from such a relationship, and what hasn’t actually surprised me has revealed things I didn’t know about what I already knew!