Sep 24, 200912:00 AM
All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans
What’s the Rush?
We often experience how much in a hurry Americans seem to be all the time. There are always those, maybe even us, who appear to operate at maximum speed even when the situation does not demand it.
Let’s also note that we Americans aren’t the only ones. Anyone who has tried to cross any street in Rome or Paris can attest to the fact that those folks driving are also extremely late for whatever their next appointment is –– or maybe not. Maybe they just don’t have another speed, like us.
Maybe we all have just become accustomed to one speed, and when we’re “on,” we’re going full force.
But when it comes to enjoying fine food or beverages, it is absolutely not the way to be. Remember when your mother told you to chew your food ____ times –– fill in the blank; everyone’s mother used a different number –– before you swallow.
Just like a lot of other pieces of advice from Mom, that was pretty much on-target.
Anyway, the enjoyment of beverages goes along those lines, also. Take your time; savor the experience. Really, what’s the rush?
The entire pleasure of enjoying good beverages or fine cuisine is the sensory overload we humans experience from many directions.
We can enjoy the sight; the smell; the taste; and ultimately the result, either through a satisfactory supply of the drink or food or in some cases (well, maybe many cases if you live in New Orleans), the overloaded feeling that comes from too much of a good thing.
We can rush through the entire episode if we wish, getting it over with just to be getting it over with.
Or we can slow it all down a bit and spend time discovering what’s being offered to each of our senses. In all honesty, we probably won’t eat/drink as much that way. And where’s the loss in that?
Let’s focus on beverages for the time being because this supposed to be a blog on wines and spirits. See, every once in a while, I “get it.”
There are certain steps we can take to better enjoy our adult beverages. We don’t need to spend the time on beverages that are always consistent, such as soft drinks, because we know what they are from previous experience, and the goal of such offerings is consistency. So when you get one, slam it down and move on.
But some drinks, such as scotch and all wines, don’t act like that. Each one has some important and unique characteristics to offer us. In the case of wine, even vintage variations make for different results.
Take some time, and approach what’s in the glass in the ways described below. See if you don’t derive more pleasure, and more fun, by taking your time rather than simply quaffing it down.
It’s not pretentious. Pretend you’ve been cooped up in a glass bottle for a period of years. What would you do when they finally let you out? You would remain in your cooped-up state for a while –– until something happened to wake you up.
That “something” is the swirl. Don’t do it so hard that the beverage overtops the edge of the glass but just enough to wake up the smells and the flavors of the wine.
It’s not about showmanship; it’s a wake-up call to the wine.
Remember, wine is a living thing. It changes along the way. Sprits, such as scotch, are pretty much set, so swirling is not going to make that much happen with them.
Look at what is in your glass. Look straight down into the glass. Hold the glass against a white background, and note the clarity.
You can tell a lot about a wine by just looking at it. Was it filtered or fined? Is it older? Is there a lot of alcohol in the wine (those folks who like to look for “legs” hugging the inside of the glass are actually looking for alcohols –– not always a good thing, especially when there is too much of it.)
More than 85 percent of our sensual experience from food, spirits and wine comes through our nose. You only think you are “tasting.” Actually the nose is doing just about all the work.
Are you getting flowers, or do you smell cardboard? Do you smell the earth? How about fruit? Is it fresh, or does it have an old smell? Does the smell remind you of a pleasant past experience, conjuring up wonderful memories? Or do you jerk your nose away and then try to find the nearest flower arrangement to clear the odor from your mind and your nose?
OK, now all you folks who have patiently waited to put the beverage in your mouth, do it. Thank you for your patience.
For those of you who are going along with the program, your logical question now is: If my nose does most of the work, then what does my mouth do?
Your tongue has all the flavor receptors in your mouth. That’s the only part of your mouth that can discern flavor. And at that, the taste buds can only pick up four sensations: sweet, sour, bitter and salty, with the last one hardly ever, ever being present in wine.
There is a group of certain scientists who want to add a fifth flavor, umami, to the existing four. Umami is the sensation of savory, such as meat or a baked potato. That’s why enjoying both of those foods at the same time is amazing.
But as far as your mouth goes, that’s it. Only four (or five) sensations and no more. The faster you ingest your food or beverages, the fewer of these few items you will perceive or enjoy. See, we are back to the go-slow rule.
It’s not always the up-front aspects of a beverage that declare its quality. Often the defining moment of a beverage comes when it is not even present in your mouth.
You can determine how long the bouquet/flavor stays with you only after you have swallowed. You can examine (to yourself, please) certain sensations left in your mouth. Tannins? Sugar? Acid? Stained teeth?
The five S’s listed above will take you to places you may never have been before. Food and beverages will open up new worlds to you.
And when you can express your thoughts and perceptions, all gained through the five S’s, you are on your way to fuller and richer enjoyment. You will receive what the distillers or the winemakers were trying to accomplish, both working in full partnership with nature.
Sometimes you will like what you find. Sometimes not. But you will always know what is going on. Perhaps more important, you will know what is going on with you.
One more thought on the subject: You are unique. No one else tastes or smells like you. Don’t be intimidated when someone tells you there are rose petals in your wine and you can’t even come close to that sense.
Maybe for you, it’s more like a smell under Tiger Stadium at halftime. And you’re right.