How To Listen to Wine

I once saw a great winemaker hold a glass of wine up to his hear...when he was asked what he thought the alcohol content was.

He was dead serious.

Is there something to that? We generally don't talk about our ability to hear as an essential sense for tasting wine. Fair.

But what about the impact sound has on experiencing wine? If you argued that it wasn't immense, you might want to open your eyes. Or, your ears, I suppose. I digress.

I became especially aware of this while I was at the height of my sommelier hey-day, tasting wine all day, every day. Although you can't control the noise you hear in a restaurant during a shift, I found myself continually looking around for the volume nob when I was tasting wine at home or in a nook of the restaurant early in the morning before we were open.

It's kind of like when you're looking for an address you've never been to before in a part of town whose traffic layout is unfamiliar, peering out the window, and you turn the radio down to look for the numbers on the buildings.

And what about the flip side? Does a nice Bordeaux with steak frites not taste a little sweeter when you've got a fresh pressing of Bill Evans' Sunday at the Village Vanguard spinning alongside it? I want to use saucy language to describe how exciting the notion of that trio is to me. The cigarette after the meal is optional.

The reality is that our senses are total. How else can you explain Beethoven? No, he was not completely deaf for his entire life. Yes, music is best when it's hear. But you can also feel it.

We take for granted the sounds that go along with wine. The splash sound when you pour. The sound of it inside your mouth. The clinking of crystal against crystal and the table. The gentle release of a cork being pulled. The sound you make after your first sip, and it's delicious.

Sound is everything. I used to make short films. I always say that films are MINIMUM 51% sound. Audio. Minimum. Don't believe me? Then why don't you watch it with the volume off? Scary movies aren't scary without tense strings. Intense movies and shows aren't intense without the deep, technological bass-driven tracks that get you excited.

It's more than we realize with wine, too. The whole stage must be set. It's the same way you don't like to go to a nice restaurant in your sweats when you haven't showered or shaved. It's screws up the experience. It messes with the vibe.

I'm off on a tangent again. Oh well. I'm not in a hurry to get nowhere. Literally.

Next time you taste, at least your first couple of sips, get quiet. Listen to the sounds that make up the experience of opening, pouring, and tasting.

Then, walk over to your turntable and fire up the Bill Evans.

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