Ramble #10 – Swallowing As A Metaphor For Life

23 Jul

cottage3I’ve been away. I intentionally took a break from writing while I sat (a la Otis Redding on the dock at right), read, swam, slept at our cottage in Muskoka and contemplated the …………honestly, just did nothing much of anything. I didn’t even have internet access (gasp) unless I trudged in to civilization (the Gravenhurst library) to post there. While trying to get to sleep one night I started to think about wine writing, my unambitious contribution to the mass of writing on the subject and I thought – Get Up and Write About What You’re Thinking! And, this is it.

Lately there’s been much thrashing about on the subject of wine reviews. Are they necessary? Understandable? Of value? And, if you’ve been playing along at home, you might remember a rant a few months back that spoke obliquely (Word Power: use it three times and it’s yours) to this subject. Not to pile on again but here’s what I think. As Mike from Cranbrook would say, “one man’s opinion”.

What other sensory experience carries the obligation to “get it” before you can talk about it like wine drinking? Is a falafel better appreciated when you’ve taken a course on Middle Eastern cuisine? E.g. Course 101 – Experiencing Food Cart Fare – of the FSET (Falafel and Shwarma Education Trust)

1.     Tasting Order – Falafel, Cleanse Palate, Shwarma, Cleanse Palate, Tabouleh, Cleanse Palate, Fattoush, Break For Lunch.

2.     Carefully remove falafel from its waxed paper wrapping by turning counter-clockwise 6.5 times and place on paper plate provided free of charge with your course registration (feel free to take plate home to use for home tastings).

3.     View the falafel against a white background (that be the plate) and compare to the palate of falafel colours provided in your course materials, pages 24 – 56. Whole wheat or white?

4.     Swirl paper plate under your nose. Please choose from the 37 categories of scents that foods wrapped in pita exude. “I’m sensing a spicy component – Cinnamon? Pepper? Anise? No, marjoram! That and distinctive medium-new canola grease accents.” Now, drill down.

5.     Take a bite of the falafel, chew (yes, it’s chewy) and determine if it’s carrying the tell-tale falafel signature of chickpea – the chickpeaness – (that sounds kind of rude but you get it, right?). “Light to medium bodied.”

6.     Spit the chewed up falafel into the spittoon.

7.     Now savour that finish. For example my notes say, “On the rather long finish the heavy utilization of condiments carry the day. Hot sauce and pickled turnip. All in all I prefer a less tricked up falafel”

But as funny as that comparison is, the thing that kept me awake tonight was this – why do those that simply smell, swish and spit get to hold sway on wine? It’s unnatural. The bloggers that I read clearly drink what they’re talking about – I see them nodding but not publicly acknowledging a wee bit of a problem. Love these men and women! “Swallowing is key to understanding wine, I believe”, he says as he takes another sip and swallows. I’ve seen on video the Emperor of Wine, who I actually love to read (which explains my dilemma), review a flight of 7 zillion Bordeaux at one sitting by simply smelling, swishing and spitting, Graphite? On to another. What the hell does graphite matter when you’re not even going to swallow the wine? Red cherry or black cherry? Yes, i want to know what the flavours are but swallow for crying out loud! We most likely don’t and can’t taste wine like that. We enjoy wine by a brief swirl, sniff, sip, swish and gulp. Our evaluation, most importantly (check one): Yuck! Meh? I love this stuff!

sommeecardMy first wine tasting was the best example of this because I left the place (a crowded room with 95 wines) with a pretty solid buzz and a poor recollection of the wines that I’d tasted (actually swallowing because I didn’t want to make a mess spitting into a rudely partially-filled stainless steel container with a scarily narrow opening). I learned that wine is ill-suited to and not meant to be lined up in a busy room and subjected to note taking and spitting. Regardless of who’s doing it and whether they’re really good or not. It’s just rude and not fair to the guys and gals that slaved to make the stuff. It’s only giving us a palate confusing or oblique (2 times) introduction to the wine. Don’t get me wrong. I’m still going to go to tastings; swallowing every sip I take. I want to experience as many wines as I can while staying under the “room is whirling” threshold.

So, Bill, why bother reading any of the multitude of wine reviews available? Funny you should ask.  Because I think so.

Because most of us can’t go to every movie release, every restaurant and try every dish. We depend on others. And, that works best when we get to know some of these others – get to trust or understand their viewpoint. Those who experience life and wine like we do or how we want to. I know that Robert Parker loves Rhone wine more than I do. And, I love them a ton. He tells me what he experiences when he swirls and spits. I get him on the Rhone and have a pretty good idea how the swallow will turn out for me. I can’t go with him in Bordeaux. He doesn’t get me there. And that’s OK. In this way, I know that I can trust The Drunken Cyclist if he suggests a Champagne. I can take it to the bank if The WineGetter promotes a Riesling. If Oenophilogical sings the praises of a Trader Joe’s wine, I wish I was in U.S of A. so that I could pick it up. I may not love the wines like they do but I know what to expect. I like to read them because they don’t take an oblique (bingo!) approach to wine – they are straight forward, understandable yet informed by years of swallowing! There’s substance that we can enjoy and learn from. They swallow! Talk-a-Vino? He swallows cause you can just tell. Grapefriend? I’m betting swallows when by herself or with close family and  trusted friends.

So, the moral of the story? Drink lots of wine. Don’t believe everything you read in wine journalism, and particularly, here. I love to swallow. Smelling is very nice.  Swishing is sublime but I believe that swallowing is also key to experiencing wine. I can’t truly understand a wine without swallowing it. And, frankly, I just don’t want to, regardless of what my doctor suggests.

Yes, that’s it. Now I can go to sleep. Well after I finish the little glass of chardonnay that I just poured. “Umm, a little more buttery since it’s warmed up, swallow. Yum.”

Next post we’ll return to wine reviews and other fun stuff.

Note: Very funny picture above courtesy of http://www.someecards.com


12 Responses to “Ramble #10 – Swallowing As A Metaphor For Life”

  1. talkavino July 23, 2013 at 4:32 pm #

    Duff, thank you for shout out! Very interesting read in a lot of ways. Talking about food, it is actually interesting that we really don’t over-analyze it, as you show in the case of falafel – unless it is food competition – then you actually are forced to compare. But in essence, outside of swirling ritual, describing food is every bit as difficult as describing wine. I’m watching Next Food Network Star competition on TV, and while all the contestants can cook quite well, the thing they are struggling with the most is being able to describe the food in meaningful terms, not as “nice” or “beautiful”.
    And as far as wine swallowing goes, generally, yes, I do – but not when I’m presented with 200, 300, 400 wines in the tasting – then you really have to decide what are the 10 which you will allow yourself to swallow… Cheers!


    • Duff's Wines July 23, 2013 at 4:52 pm #

      Thanks for the comment. And, yes, it is important when faced with a night or full day of tasting to keep some moderation in mind. It is hard though and probably why I’ve been less inclined to go to those things if I can score some tastings of the few that I really want to try. Nights where it’s all red Bordeaux or Zins place a heavy toll on my palate such as it is.I bet food discussion takes a turn pretty soon where proponents of fine food start to introduce parameters, codes, etc. that will allow a more accurate explanation of what we taste if they haven’t already.


      • talkavino July 23, 2013 at 4:57 pm #

        well, but your main point (if I got it right) is correct – we strive simplicity – does the wine tastes good or not? And the fact that someone was able to find pencil lead or brumbleberry in that wine is totally irrelevant in the end of the day : )


  2. Stefano July 24, 2013 at 8:17 am #

    Amen to that! 🙂
    Very enjoyable post.


  3. the drunken cyclist July 24, 2013 at 8:29 pm #

    First, thanks for the shout out! I do not know if I am an expert on champagne, but I do love the stuff (and drink a bunch of it). Second, I agree with you in principle–wine is meant to be drunk with other people, not spit into a spittoon. Pretty straight forward. I also agree that most wine “critics” try to do far too much and they have far too much influence. Having said all that, I feel I need to respectfully disagree (a bit). A few years ago, I went to a wine expo in France where there were at least 2000 different wines to taste (maybe more). I was looking for a few things: Red Chinon, white Bordeaux, Côte Rotie, and a dessert wine. Even when limiting to these four rather specific types, there were still a couple hundred wines to try (I also tried every champagne I saw–my weakness). If I had not spit, I likely would be dead now (as I almost experienced at a tasting here in Philly 8 years ago), Fast forward to this last trip to Europe where I did a few tastings in the Mosel. 9-12 wines each time. And I was riding a bike. No spit, no life.

    I also feel that when I spit, I actually get a better understanding of the wine. Why?I have no clue–perhaps the “aspiration” of the wine pronounces the flavors. regardless, when I am tasting for review or for purchase, spitting just makes more sense (and I can drive home).

    Just my $.02.


    • Duff's Wines July 24, 2013 at 10:20 pm #

      Appreciate your perspective and agree that swallowing while at a tasting of many wines doesn’t make sense. I guess what I stumbled to say was that wine s fully appreciated when its consumed. Consumed with friends, family and most times food. I can spit and still get the wine, colour, nose, flavours, and finish. I just like to experience how the wine really finishes, settles and how I feel about it too.
      And, your sparkling recommendations, including Champagne have brought me much joy. If you’re moving directly from spitting to recommending them keep it up and thanks for following and commenting. It’s been a topic that’s received some feedback in the community which is great.


      • the drunken cyclist July 25, 2013 at 2:58 pm #

        I really think we are in agreement here. I think the best way to rate wine is by consuming it in the context of a meal. I have had some very highly rated wines that completely overpowered their accompanying meal and therefore were rather out of place. I have also had lesser wines (according to the critics) that went famously with the meal and were therefore far more enjoyable. I only spit when at tastings, trying to figure out what I want to buy. I have never spit in my own home–even if the wine is awful!



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