And I've got one-two-three-four-five // Senses working o-ver-time
Trying to taste the difference 'tween a lemon and a lime //
Pain and pleasure and the church bells softly chime
-Senses Working Overtime, XTC
One of the things about continually toiling and tinkering at something is that your ideas about such a something that is the subject of the toiling and tinkering will constantly be evolving, changing, and contradicting previous versions of themselves.
I used to be afraid of this. When someone calls you out on contradicting yourself, the right reaction usually wasn't in the handbook to begin with, if you actually even read your own instruction manual. We tend to get defensive. We feel like the fabric of who we are as a person is being attacked and torn down. The mistake we make is that those ideas that we, ourselves, may have contradicted, were never truly us to begin with.
We are not our tasting notes.
Another thing I've come to over the years, on the topic of contradicting oneself, is recognizing that we simply do not live in an absolute world. I used to think this just applied to wine. I was wrong.
It applies to everything.
We seek absolutes, because absolutes make sense to our tiny brains. That's why we love those restaurants that have been open forever and have served something the same way for decades. For me, it's the steak tartare at Le Crocodile in Vancouver. Over 40 years in the restaurant business. It's still fine dining. It's a sure thing. We love a sure thing because it brings us comfort and familiarity in the midst of uncertainty that scares us. That's why athletes have a routine. The familiarity of a routine turns the fear of the unknown into something known. The fear of failure dissipates as the comfort and familiarity of a sure thing is repeated in the form of the routine. That's why Michael Jordan & Tiger Woods are so good in big moments. Their routine is so solid, that they become more comfortable in the big moment and are able to channel that extra desire for a certain outcome into the execution and subsequently, the result. Routine.
What does this commentary on uncertainty and fear of contradicting ourselves have to do with tasting notes? I'll tell you.
As a lifelong contradictor of self, I got to a point where I was so tired of tasting notes. It started by being enamoured by them as a newbie. Then, some education came, and I started feeling more comfortable using them, while also questioning their use in a marketing sense on the backs of labels, from critics, on signage, etc. Then I started to enjoy the act of coming up with the ridiculous tasting note. It became a hyperbolic and humorous activity. Then I really got sick of them. I was so tired of the wine crowd taking them so seriously and waxing on them so intently and earnestly. I got this sick feeling of seeing myself doing the same thing, looking like a total poser and a pretentious turd. I started to notice that consciously thinking about tasting notes never helped me in a blind tasting, and I was hanging around people who valued blind tasting as an activity. Read: sommeliers. I also found myself having more success in blind tasting without using an analytical tasting grid or thinking about describing what I was drinking at all than a lot of people who seemed more serious and were using those tools.
Maybe it's a strength. Maybe it's a character flaw. But I've always been quick to be confident in my own ideas and direction, especially when they appear to be working. I think a person can still be humble while practicing confidence.
So for a while there, and up until recently, I all but stopped thinking about tasting notes. I relied on memory, feel, and that sense of nostalgia that triggers something you've smelled before.
I call it the perfume rule.
Maybe it was your mother. Maybe it was your 3rd grade teacher. Your Aunt Mabel.
Hopefully, it was a steamy lover. It's that moment when someone walks by you and you recognize their perfume immediately. Not just the brand, but the exact cuvée, so to speak.
I hung my hat on this rule for the past few years. But, in the past 7 months, with my wine consumption up and my noodle flexin' a little more often on the subject of the juice, I've been finding those moments of contradiction.
I've been experiencing a version of the perfume rule with wines I've never tasted before. And it's not that I'm recognizing the wines' origins and varietal in a blind setting. It's that they taste like other things from my past, and they are calling up these buried memories. I'm coming to my own realization of the value of tasting notes. I feel pretty darn sure that I'm not just looking for creative things to say, because these tasting notes have felt like 2x4s to the face.
Pinot Noir with an aftertaste of strong, bitter black tea.
Another Pinot Noir with a distinct "Laphroaig-y" smoked peat quality.
A red wine with a distinct aroma of a Djarum™ clove cigarette.
A chardonnay with a finish that literally made me feel like I was drinking fresh apple juice.
A blend of Syrah/Grenache/Mourvedre/Malbec/Viognier that tasted exactly like red velvet cake.
Pinot Gris that smelled and tasted like brie rind.
See, I genuinely want to hate myself for even admitting these things and emulating dialogue that I've long despised. But at this point, I don't care about how I look as much as I care about being honest with myself about the process. Being honest with myself about contradicting my own ideas. Being honest with myself about the past. Being honest with myself about the connections that my small brain makes while drinking wine.
Embracing uncertainty through routine, that routine being the willingness and discipline to stick my nose in any glass that's out there and chuck the contents into my big mouth, swish them around, and let them pass down my gullet.
When these moments occur and I taste something in a wine that is so overwhelming to my senses and memory, I feel like a beginner again.
And that's something I'm embracing.