an epistenological take on wine
- Susanna Danieli
Technical tasting is something to be learned. It is the relentless research for something else in the wine you drink. This analysis involves mainly the smell and taste, and people usually shift their attention from the mere object they come in contact with (namely, the liquid inside the glass) and desperately try to recognize that fruit, flower, spice, mineral – ever wondered what a mineral smells of? – or wooden note they believe they should look for. Because, at least in the dominant mindset, wine never is: it is always made.
This process of deconstruction, recognition and definition of elements supposedly found in wine is a common practice that everyone, experts and amateurs alike, feel the need to fulfill.
It happens to me as well: you know by now that, when dealing with wine, my main concern is about the people, terroir and culture that shaped it. However, even though I try to give a voice to the bottle I have in front of me, I can not help but put said bottle in some category of sorts.
The reasons are at least three:
1. I try to put a product into what I consider to be a useful perspective – let’s say, I can tell this Chardonnay is from Burgundy because of some peculiar characteristics distinctive of that terroir.
2. I need to distinguish a wine from others, all the more when they appear to be similar – I’m going to remember this Chardonnay because of this particular note that stands out / I didn’t expect to find (see here for the recollection of wine through tasting notes).
3. I try to assign the wine to the right food pairing – because of its taste, this Chardonnay is going to match perfectly with saffron risotto (see here for pairing tips).
Perhaps I act like this because of my technical training; perhaps it is just common sense. In the end, wine is perceived as something different from food: while we happily enjoy the latter, we perversely dismember the former. The most effective way to achieve such a result? Be as objective and detached as possible, divide every feeling into a sort of scheme and give each of them a name. Simple, fast, meticulous, surgery-style, next glass, please!
In this rather grim scenario, I believe another kind of approach is possible. What we really need is an alternative to the methodical, distancing and aseptic tasting we are used to. When we are ready to give up the restraining system that treats wine as if it was a bunch of numbers, defining it by its score, price and alcohol quantity, a world of possibilities unfolds.
Nicola Perullo, professor of Philosophy of food and Gastronomic communication at Unisg, currently guides his students through a new and somehow revolutionist approach to wine that, rather than tasting, takes into account the drinking, encountering and knowing with wine. The Epistenology class he holds at Società Gastronomica is an immersive plunge into the process of knowledge through experience and self-expression. Professor Perullo, providing theories, anecdotes and practical exercises, proves that we are constantly becoming with other beings, meaning that our identity is a meshwork of relations, a world of lines continuously interconnecting that correspond with (in the postal meaning of the verb) each other.
In this perspective, wine is not an object anymore, rather it becomes a living being that carries the sun, rain, dirt, rocks, hands that made it along. It interacts and intertwines with us, changing us and with us every time we meet.
Confused? Skeptical? Totally understandable.
I would suggest you to just relax, have a glass of wine and listen to yourself and your feelings while you try some of the following possibilities.
1. Why judging wine when we could just enjoy it as it is?
This exercise is very simple and similar to a blind tasting. Sip your wine and write down what you feel on blank paper. Except, this time you are not required to analyze the color, grasp the aromas or, least of all, recognize the bottle: try to describe what images are elicited in your mind starting from the moment you drink. Wine can be anything you want, and could be described as a person, a landscape, a situation.
While the experiment is to be made individually, it is recommended to involve several participants: the curious – and fun – thing is that, most times, people envision resembling images. One example could be the fire and ashes solicited by Susucaru (Frank Cornelissen), a Sicilian red blend (mainly composed of nerello mascalese) which happens to be made on the slopes of a volcano.
Another experiment is to split into groups, describe the wine individually and then find the common points to build another, more complex, picture. My group, trying to express the spirit of Eligio (Maria Bortolotti), a Sauvignon from Emilia Romagna, came up with this amazing piece of narrative: “A Greek god statue made of pure gold, plunging inside a huge, incandescent, yellow fruit cornucopia”. During a normal tasting, we could have agreed on the wine being warm, round, alcoholic, with notes of ripe fruit and sweet spices: with a different approach instead, it felt a lot like being part of the process of life, made every time we encounter wine.
2. Why ripping wine into particles when we could see the whole picture?
This is a collective exercise, to be done preferably outside because YOU ARE GOING TO GET DIRTY. This time you should not write, nor speak, instead just let the wine guide your hands. In groups of five-six people grab a canvas, some brushes and acrylic colors: while drinking, everyone should paint in turn, until the strokes eventually mesh and become something new and unexpected, something organic and whole.
On the left, you can see our beautiful painting inspired by Le Clos du Bourg (Domaine Huet), a slightly sweet Chenin blanc from Loire Valley.
Wine makes art, it is art, if you let it.
3. Why being blind with sight when we could see with touch?
The typical wine analysis involves sight, a sense that distances and let us see things-objects from a self-subject’s point of view. However, drinking wine is a subsumption, and that involves touch. This exercise lets us shift from an optic to a haptic perception, one that makes us aware of the relation, consisting of us + the wine, and the process unfolding before and during this contact. In a dark room lit only by candles, make groups of three-four people and gather around a table. You will need someone to help serving the wine because you will be blindfolded. A large cup or mug will be filled with wine and put at the centre of the table: you need to decide who’s going to be the person in charge of reaching for it. Everyone must take a sip and pass the cup from one to another, only the touch of hands to guide their movements. This is the most intimate exercise where, despite being blind, you will see even clearer through the very essence of wine.
During the last session, we had Tenoris (Tenute Dettori), a Sardinian Cannonau: words are not enough to express how it felt, it was like several connections were suddenly established between us and the wine. A collective touch that opened up our perception of reality as a continuous flow, the never-ending process of changing and becoming. That’s the magic of wine.
In the end, my friends, these are just examples of the different relationships we can build with the help of wine. My suggestion is to put aside rules and schemes when they are not needed, and surrender to your inner voice and imagination: infinite possibilities await.