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Memories of the Oenophile

August 1, 2017 7 comments

If you search the Internet, you will find plenty of references to the medical benefits of the moderate wine consumption – for your heart, blood pressure, cholesterol level, and among other things, memory. It seems that jury is still out on the wine and memory – some say it helps, some say it works the opposite way – I guess it depends on who pays for the research and researcher’s personal view on alcohol – oops, let’s avoid the rant trap, and so let’s leave all the medical stuff aside.

Wine and memory are connected on many different levels. In the most direct terms, mastering the world of wine will greatly tax your memory. Yes, anything humans do connects to memory. But think about thousands and thousands of producers in each and every wine region – the more names you remember, the easier it is for you to make a choice at a restaurant or in the wine store. And this is a simple scenario, as we build this memory step by step when we drink different wines, one producer at a time.

And then there are those (very few) who have to know the names of about 6,000 German villages in order to pass the Master Sommelier exam – and this is something you simply have to memorize as there is no way for you to try the wines from all those villages to create some sort of mental connections.

Think about next level of connection between wine and memory – when you smell and taste the wine. Have you ever smelled the wine, looking for all those blueberries, baking spices and Chinese Cinnamon, so exquisitely described on the back label of the wine? In this case, you need to memorize smells, not the words and there is such a fine line between blueberries and wild blueberries, for instance – it is definitely not an easy task to recall all the aromas (a perception of?) which exist only in our heads, and no wonder most of us struggle so much trying to dissect those escaping flavors – excelling at the blind tasting is so much more difficult compared to memorizing wine regions and producers.

Beyond all the scientific and direct relationships between wine and memory lays something which is far more important than all the technical knowledge and abilities – our experiences. Wine is an ultimate connector and facilitator. It helps us to create memories which stay with us forever. It helps to retain those little moments which comprise life, and bring them back, one by one. Some of those little moments are very personable, often relating to the personal discoveries, especially as we are learning our ways in that vast world of wine. Some of them connect us with our friends and families.

I don’t have that “pivotal bottle experience” which was a starting point of journey for many oenophiles. Instead, I can relate to the singular learning experiences.

Growing up, the wine was never “a thing” in my family. We had some of the home made sweet plum wine, which I developed the taste for at the age of 14 or 15, taking random sips of the sweet liquid from time to time – but this was, of course, for the love of sugar and had nothing to do with learning about wine. In 1989, I was visiting the Czech Republic for work, and I brought back a bottle of white wine, Tokaji – we had it with friends and I thought that it was delicious (I don’t remember any details, but I think it was dry). Next year I visited Bulgaria and brought back the bottle of wine which had the same “Tokaji” written on the label. I still remember my grand disappointment after tasting that wine and finding it to be totally different (in a bad way) from the previous wine under seemingly the same name. The big question in my head was “how is that possible – same name, Tokaji, and such a different taste – what is wrong here???” Of course, I had no idea about regions, producers, vintages – wine was one monolithic “thing” – and that feeling of total surprise became an everlasting memory.

The absolute majority of my wine memories are happy memories – I guess this is how humans are wired, we don’t like to keep bad stuff around for too long. One of the worst memories for the oenophile probably connects to the faulty, spoiled bottles – corked, cooked, oxidized. I had my share of the spoiled wines, however – knock on wood, of course – not anywhere near some statistical averages, to the best of my knowledge. However, the majority of my corked wine experiences would involve a heated exchange with the service staff at the restaurant at the most, but no memories of high-end spoiled bottles (lucky, right?!).

But when it comes to the happy wine memories, the sky is the limit. The discovery of Amarone, tasting of magnificent 1964 Rioja for the first time. First encounter with Krug Vintage, Chateau Margaux, Vega Sicilia Unico and the wines of Lopez de Heredia. The list can go on and on, and on.

And then there are people experiences. Tasting freshly fermented Chenin Blanc at Paumanok winery with Ursula Massoud, right from the fermentation tank. Experiencing 1970 white port in the cellar at Quevedo Port house with Oscar Quevedo, poured directly from the barrel – the wine which most likely will never be bottled. Tasting magnificent Franciacorta sparkling wines right in the cellar, listening to Stefano Camilucci explaining the effect of music on the aging of the sparkling wines, talking to the passionate producers and seeing sparkling wine hitting the ceiling to demonstrate the effect of 6 atm of pressure in the bottle. Such experiences will stay forever with us, conveniently available at any time happy memory is desired.

I really had fun with this trip down the memory lane. How about you? What are you happiest wine moments?

Ahhh Long Island Wine Country

This post is an entry for the 34th Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC34), with the theme of “Memory”. Previous themes in the order of appearance were: Transportation, Trouble, Possession, Oops, Feast, Mystery, Devotion, Luck, Fear, Value, Friend, Local, Serendipity, Tradition, Success, Finish, Epiphany, Crisis, Choice, Variety, Pairing, Second Chance, New, Pleasure, Travel, Solitude, Bubbles, Smile, Winestory, Obscure, Faith, Translation, Once Upon A Time

And if you really like this post, please vote for it here: #MWWC34