Resolved: I will taste comparatively, in context, with others.
The photo at left appeared in a recent Globe Food pages story on how a North End wine shop overcame daunting bureaucratic hurdles to stage a pop-up wine bar in the dining room of a neighborhood restaurant. Kerri Platt, co-owner of the sponsoring Wine Bottega said she didn't intend the event to be a money maker. The idea was just to create a forum where people could gather, taste several wines together, and discuss them.
While the event didn't have the tone of a formal wine tasting, a traditional structure was nonetheless evident: the wines were someone's conscious selection rather than a random assortment; pouring multiple wines meant comparison was possible; conversation was, if not mandatory, at least hard to avoid.
I'm not sure what makes it so difficult to make progress in understanding and appreciating wine when operating entirely on your own, but I know it's very hard indeed - and it's not just because it's nice to have other points of view.
Wine is both something we drink and something we think. The drinking part involves the sensory impressions wine provides; the thinking part involves information about where a wine comes from, what physical conditions and winemaking traditions are in play there, the opportunity provided by a given vintage, and so on.
Making progress in wine means making progress on both these fronts. Without the drinking part knowledge is mere theory; without the organizing construct provided by the thinking part drinking can be no more than a succession of fleeting and unrelated impressions. Tasting events, to be worthwhile, even the most informal ones, need to address both aspects - that's why tasting comparatively, in context, with others, is a habit worth cultivating.
Tasting comparatively involves sampling more than one glass of wine at a time. It makes it possible to book related sensory impressions iteratively, in real time, rather than after the fact by the operations of memory. The difference is dramatic. Vintage variation may seem something only experts can discern - until you taste it for yourself in the two glasses right in front of you.
Tasting in context means that some rationale has been applied to the selection, for example: new and old world variations on sauvignon blanc; chardonnay raised in stainless steel and old barrels; multiple vintages of a one producer's Cote du Rhone. Tasting without context is tasting without purpose and makes it unlikely you will arrive at conclusions you could actually make use of later.
Tasting in company means access to ideas you couldn't self-generate, and imposes the obligation to articulate and defend the ones you do.
Make good on your resolution by connecting with a local wineshop that regularly offers tasting events such as I've described here. Or opt to join in a private tasting group (search for one in your area online) or organize one of your own.
And if you see me at the next pop-up, be sure to introduce yourself.
Stephen Meuse can be reached at email@example.com