Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Takin' it to the Streets: Wine Knowledge vs. Wine Experience

I'm writing in Apple TextEdit right now. Cable's down. TV's down. Internet is down. My Blackberry is a sole lifeline to the interweb. I feel naked. Confused. It's tough to believe I didn't even have a cell phone 10 years ago.

At least there are some entertaining emails coming through on the work address. One lists a great collection of universal truths:

#5 That's enough, Nickelback.

#16 The only time I look forward to a red light is when I'm trying to finish a text.

#18 Was learning cursive really necessary?

#20 I have a hard time deciphering the fine line between boredom and hunger.

#23 Whenever someone says, "I'm not book smart, but I'm street smart," all I hear is "I'm not real smart, but I'm imaginary smart."

Ah, #23, hitting so close to home. As I sit, now one day removed from FINALLY taking my Certified Specialist of Wine exam, I happily free my still-crammed brain of fifth-growth chateaux and ponder if ol' #23 really carries water- or wine- in the case which I'm thinking. Yes, I'm still thinking about wine. Get off my back.

Seems to me most of the "vinophiles" or "oenophiles" I meet spent most of their formative years tasting wine, drinking wine, visiting vineyards, and building cellars. Through practical application and experience, they became "street smart" in the cabernet-soaked back alleys, winding avenues, and endless intersections of wine appreciation. They've sharpened their keen, primal senses; instinct the only weapon in surviving a blind tasting or navigating a 4000 selection restaurant list. Ask a street-wino to name the primary nutrients a vine needs to survive or to discuss the 13 allowable grapes in a Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and he's stuck...fight or flight. Then, out of nowhere, he's barking out aroma profiles of vegetation you've never heard of, describing "front ends" and "mid palates" and "long finishes" while you're still looking at your glass, trying helplessly to determine if the legs are big or small. You, my friend, have been schooled by the skreets.

It's an all-too-familiar scenario for me. I came up the other way. My love of wine begins dubiously with a fancy for Carlo Rossi cannonballs back in college. Even then, I knew I liked wine, but I couldn't fathom how someone would want to study it. As I aged (poorly...thanks, cannonballs), I developed a greater appreciation for fine food, and wine followed in tow. I began reading cookbooks, wine books, visiting wine shops and reading the labels. Needless to say, it was overwhelming. However, the desire to experience great culinary and oenological culture led my wife and I to San Francisco and Napa Valley for our honeymoon, and- as they say- the hook was set. I read all I could read about wine. I visited blogs. I looked up videos about wine on Youtube. Even pursued and (hopefully) acquired a CSW certification. However, being part of a relatively-young married couple with a taste for the finer things, finding the money to try all the great bottles in my studies was (and still is) not an easy task. Information- conversely- is often free. I had become "book smart"; a fancy-lad of wine knowledge who couldn't last two seconds on the mean streets of blind tasting.

But not all is lost. A bottle of wine can really be looked at two ways: a source of intellectual stimulus or a means of sensual pleasure. Both- in my opinion- lead to discussion. Discussion leads to a sharing of ideas. Sharing of ideas leads to heightened awareness. Bring a "book smart" wino together with a "street smart" wino, throw in a couple glasses and some vino, and I guarantee both part ways smarter. And while I may whine about the grass being greener in the expert-taster's world, I bet there's another blog out there where a pro-drinker wishes he knew more about the stuff in his glass that smells like mulberries. Maybe I can help that person, as long as he'll tell me what the hell a mulberry smells like.

So, I think I've answered my question. Wine appreciation is about serving two masters, one no more important than the other. And while I need to make a better effort honing my "street smart" sensual skills, I hope I can impart some "book" knowledge in a common setting. Ultimately, it all comes back to a reoccuring theme in much of my writing: Wine is about the experience. Wine brings people together. Wine is- when you boil it down- all about enjoyment. Whether one arrives at that by taking tasting notes or by analyzing the labels on the bottle (or both), hopefully it all ends in laughter, conviviality, sharing of ideas, downright revelry, and maybe even some music.

As long as it's not Nickelback.

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