By Sonia Dovedy
The dense odor overwhelms my nose while walking down the supermarket aisle. I’m looking for a simple bottle of water so that I can quaff my thirst in this wind-chill. Turns out, the bottled water section just so happens to share shelf space with…the bread section.
You know, ten weeks ago, I would have just described this scent as “bread,” and I would hardly have been irritated by the fumes. But today, I know that this smell is something deeper than that, something I have smelled so often these past weeks. And that pungently unpleasant, suffocatingly sharp group of molecules emanating from the packages across from me is quite plainly yeast.
I dash out of there as fast as I can.
Did you know that yeast is the catalyst in the chemical reaction that turns lovely little sweetheart grapes into alcohol and CO2? Also known as vin, VINO, wein, vinho, and oh yes, wine.
It feels amazing to be back in school! I just finished my first summer course of my program, An Introduction to Wine Level 1. Doesn’t that sound like fun?
So, yes, I tasted a ton of wines, but this class went far beyond simply enjoying wine. (In actuality, we hardly consumed any wine, as spitting is essential to bringing out the residual tastes and textures in the mouth.) This course was about meeting the wine, sensing its personality, understanding its roots, its values, its character, and tapping into our own sense organs.
For example, I now understand a dry spicy Riesling. It likes to be chilly, thriving in regions such as Alsace, France, and prides itself on being quite sour, crispy, and refreshing. I also understand that if a red wine is harshly astringent, it is probably just too young and excited. It needs some time to grow up. Age and maturation will soften the tannins.
I could share cool things with you about wine all day, but what I really want to talk about is the evolution that took place within me during this course.
Let me back up a little.
Class One. We all arrive. I have just come from yoga class, so naturally I am in yoga attire. Behind me is a stay-at-home mom. There are two disheveled-looking boys who have just gotten off their shifts at a restaurant, a few girls my age. There is a wine-expert-in-suit and a gentleman-in-light-pink-lacoste-shirt-and-boating-shoes. Very eclectic crowd. We line up our glasses as our professor passes around our first wine, showing us how to observe, smell, swish, sip, and spit.
So the first thing I notice is that this wine is definitely red. Well that was a cinch. I put my nose in the glass, and I am getting the smell of, hmm, well…honestly it just smells like the smell of wine. This is a silly class, I think.
Meanwhile, I glance around to see wine-expert-in-suit furiously swishing his wine in the glass and making chewing noises as he spits out into the spit cup. Strange. Disheveled #1 is scribbling and scratching his disheveled hair. What is so fascinating to note? Stay-at-home-mom is in deep contemplation. Boating-shoes raises his hand and affirmatively states, “I smell cherry cola, good leather, and a hint of pepper.”
What?!? I look at him in disbelief and submerge my nose back into the wine, trying to pick up anything, anything at all. That doesn’t work, and instead makes me sneeze. I doubt whether I will ever be a decent wine taster. Oh boy.
Slowly, surely, effortlessly, the world around me has started to change for my little nose. I open my cupboard and at once, the aromas of dried figs and those dried currants hidden up in the corner jump out at me — YES, I remember these scents from my red Bordeaux wine. The dust of cocoa powder that flutters up when I open the box instantly brings clarity to that bitterness that I sensed in the Chilean Cabernet. Green bell peppers, olives, nutmeg, cumin, new tennis balls, grass, green apples, and more come to life. I’ve started to pause during my day and pay attention to different things that I perceive in the nose, making little mental notes in my olfactory’s factory.
I like to close my eyes and visualize different things that I have smelled before, when I search for what is “in the nose” of the wine. A little conversation takes place, of memory, recollection, and the present moment.
Do I sense those lemon piths that make me wrinkle my nose? Or is it oxidation from a browned apple core that was sitting out on the counter today? Cooked fruits from Thanksgiving pies? Or fresh fruits from the springtime? Yes, this one takes me back to kindergarten, to the peach syrup from those canned peaches Mom used to pack me for school. This one reminds me of mildewy sweat from the yoga room. That one of wet-wipes — yuck. I smell gushers and Robitussin cough syrup. Yuck again.
Fast-forward to Class Five, and I am really starting to get the hang of this. Together, my comrades and I enter into a deep discussion about the nuances in each glass. As my nose opens up, I become more chatty and daring, sharing what I actually do smell, even if it’s something silly, like “a forest”. Sometimes, people even agree with me, which is something I never thought would be possible in Class One! Our disagreements are what really make things interesting. We stimulate new ideas and we laugh at the crazy things that come up in our noses. For instance, Disheveled #2 always finds a way to smell “basement” and “cigars”. And sometimes he is right. It’s a subjective study indeed.
What I realize is that in order to taste wine properly, you have to pay attention to the fragrances that surround you. It requires a keen sense of imagination. And it is much more enjoyable with a friend to bounce ideas off of.
What’s more, I find the practice of wine tasting to be much like yoga.
Let me try to explain.
Yoga postures, or asanas, exercise each cell in the body to sharpen and sensitize your physical awareness. Wine tasting exercises my nose and my brain’s power to remember and recall smells. In just nine short weeks, my nose has become sharper and pointier, like Pinocchio minus the telling lies part. I’ve realized that I rely so much on my sense of sight, and that perhaps sight is overrated. Smelling and tasting sense organs on their own are far more incredible in the details of information that they can provide.
Learning wine has strengthened something within and is starting to teach me a bit more about myself. Just like yoga, this study is refining my insides like a pencil sharpener. My goodness. This world is too exciting. I think it calls for a celebration, don’t you?
Cheers to wellness, spontaneity, and refreshing imaginations.
You can find this post and others on Sonia Dovedy’s food, yoga, travel blog at Bake with Sonia.