Eugene Weekly : Wine : 10.07.10


Sensual Complexity
Train your brain for a fuller experience
By Lance Sparks

Quiz: What’s the most vital organ of pleasure in the human body?

No, sillies, it’s the brain. Whatever other organ you guessed, I’d argue that it registers more acute pleasures in direct proportion to how deeply the brain/mind gets involved. (That whole mind/brain dualism has always seemed sorta transparent: no brain, no mind. “These two things are one,” as poet Wallace Stevens wrote.) Whatever the sensations experienced by other organs of the body — sexual of course, but also eyes, ears, skin, mouth, youpickit — the more the “little gray cells” get engaged, the richer the sensation. Brain brings the zing. Sure, there can be mindless sensory buzzes, but without zing they don’t mean a thing.

All this philosophizing bears a propos of wine (or beer or food or any consumable) because wine without mind is just a drink. Ah, but wine with mind, that’s an adventure in sensual complexity. Preparation for wine-learning begins with tuning up our senses, all our senses. Just a primer: 

Sound: Some folks claim the Pop! of a cork ranks among the sweetest sounds (maybe the best reason for using a chunk of bark as the bottle’s closure).

Sight: We pour, peer at the color, really gaze, note shades and tints, relate those to visual experiences: Is that white wine a pale gold, more lemony, straw? Is that red a ruby, garnet, red velvet cake? What?

Smell: Snuck it up: Flowers, earth, citrus, leather, meat …? Descriptors used by wine writers can sometimes seem silly (“burnt, scorched earth”?) but can also be evocative. Too, our olfactory sense is mysteriously linked to emotions and memory. Associate freely; can be mighty fun, surprising, too.

Taste: Swirl and sip, slosh and slurp. Flavor and aroma are interwoven, but the key to tasting is to savor; let the wine linger and play across the entire palate before swallowing. Breathe, catch the cherries, berries, wood notes, spices, the gustatory gestalt.

Touch/Texture: A really tannic red wine will dry the mouth. A strongly acidic white will pucker the lips. The tactile sense also relates to temperature; if a wine is too cold, flavor and aroma get smothered.

Time: Wine, to a degree, is memory, history in a bottle. Vintage dates recall growing seasons, harvests, events in our lives. A little reflection on time can also wonderfully concentrate the mind on the present moment.

At this year’s Pours for Paws benefit for Greenhill Humane Society, we tasted the offerings from local artisanal (really small) wineries: Shadow Mountain, Capitello, Patchwork, Kandarian, Verve, Briggs Hill, Meriwether, J. Scott, Brigadoon. We savored some beauties:

Patchwork 2009 Pinot Gris ($13): Patchwork’s a tiny producer of well-made wines; this gris is ripe and round, with flavors of pears/apples backed with zippy acidity.

Verve 2007 Pinot Noir Momtazi Vyd ($30) might bite some budgets but is good value, a fine, complex, thoughtful wine centered on black cherries with top notes of spices and tobacco. Could benefit from time in the bottle, or in the air.

J. Scott 2007 Syrah ($20) is big red in drinkable style, ripe and round, with notes of cassis and pepper.

Jeff Kandarian makes the wines for giant King Estate, but saves some expertise for a few barrels of his own eponymous wines. Kandarian 2008 Pinot Gris Ice Wine ($20, half-bottle) is spectacular for desserts involving a little ripe cheese.

We’re not done, just outta space; gotta catch others next month. And thanks to all the guests who made Pours for Paws a success for Greenhill and all its critters. Think about that.