Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"I don't spit."

Proclaimed proudly or with disdain, these words always puzzle me when uttered by an admitted wine geek. Sure, spitting is gross, and seems counter to our instincts. Many people feel that they can't taste wine properly without swallowing it - implying that their nose and palate are located somewhere south of the epiglottis. Some are content with scrutinizing microscopic sips of wine, sacrificing the experience of tasting to save their livers. Others accept the gradual loss of coherence as an unavoidable hazard of tasting.

Spit, folks. Spit. You'll find it's freeing in a way - you get to experience the flavors of many wines in full, taking in a well-sized mouthful to swish around, without the impending doom of intoxication. It is far better to spit a fine wine after enjoying its subtlety and complexity, than to swallow and be unable to distinguish it from Yellow Tail.

I won't go so far as Jancis Robinson's implication that those who don't spit are of inferior moral character,* but I will say that if you don't spit, you're extremely silly, and are shortchanging your wine experience.

A good spit should be accurate, clean, and economical. Ideally you would stand next to the spit bucket, but not need to stick your head in it. Don't dribble. Don't splash. If you can't produce a perfectly clean spit every time, use a cup as a personal spittoon. Spitting from 10 feet away is impressive, but totally unnecessary.

* "...then the taster demonstrates his devotion to duty rather than pleasure by spitting..." - Oxford Companion to Wine.

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Sunday, April 6, 2008

Tasting Notes, Vinography Style

...the effect of drinking a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster is like having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped around a large gold brick. - Douglas Adams

...the wine was like satin, but with a print on it. - Jancis Robinson

While I dream of one day writing a tasting note as memorable, punchy, and utterly useless as the above examples, Alder Yarrow at provides constant inspiration with his consistently eloquent and detailed notes. Add his superbly wrought background profiles on producers and regions, which preface his concise tasting notes, and it's no wonder he has won a bouquet of accolades for his long-running blog.

As an exercise I have reworked two tasting notes in vinography fashion. These tastings stand out in my mind not for the quality of the liquid, but the clarity of the tasting experience. Having spent half an hour or more with each of these, it is difficult to distill my notes down to a paragraph, but here they are:

1996 Joel Taluau St.-Nicholas-de-Bourgueil, vieilles vignes

Decanted for 80 minutes. Medium purple in color, rimmed with brick red, this wine has a fascinatingly rich, complex, and symmetric nose of stewed bell peppers and candied jalapenos seamlessly balanced by expansive black raspberries and secondary aromas of dusty earth, barbecue sauce, sweet tobacco, pomegranate, plum, and sun-warmed stones. Did I mention the tertiary hints of roasting chicken skins, basil, and cloves? In the mouth the warm strawberry and black raspberry bouquet blooms endlessly, supported by woody flavors, rich bell pepper, and green tea. A crystalline acidity heralds a transition to a secondary flavor of focused cassis, and tertiary hints of spiced oranges. On the finish, cinnamon and matcha green tea overtones add sparkle to the fruit and smooth, rich tannins. Extraordinary. $35. 97 points.

N.V. Dogfish Head 120-Minute India Pale Ale

Brilliant gold in the glass, this IPA has a profoundly layered nose of caramel, wood, smoke, malt ovaltine, coffee, candied coconut, lanzones, dried oranges, and spiced cider. Even when chilled, the aromas in this beer achieve a volume and clarity I've never experienced in a wine. In the mouth it is explosively creamy, lusciously sweet, finely bubbled, dazzlingly pliant, and riotously flavored. Smoky caramel spicy orange (that's right, folks: this beer has superbly balanced acidity!), powerful hops on the finish intermingled with more fruit and caramel, lemon, figs, dates, and strong impressions of creme brulee. The entire finish, hops and fruity caramel included, lasts over 2 minutes. The d'Yquem of beers! Serve well chilled. 20% ABV, $10 per 12 oz bottle. 94 points.

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