I was at Winex last week (on complimentary tickets of course) and must confess to an acute case of olfactory confusion. Put in plain English that means I hadn’t a clue what I was smelling in my wine glass. I think part of the problem was that I had already put so many different wines in the glass in quick succession that the bits in my brain which identify pong had got confused. So when the winemaker peered at me and asked what I thought of his wine I could only mumble that I thought it was pretty good. Normally, I would have launched into a description of how I was picking up litchis and passion fruit on the nose with a hint of mint. Of course, it’s all bluff in the wine industry. I don’t think I have ever picked up litchis and passion fruit but I’ve often pretended to because it seemed a smart thing to say at the time.
I used to be the chairman of a very prestigious wine society in Johannesburg and have been lucky enough to drink many of the world’s great wines over the years. What I have learnt over time is that very few wine lovers can tell you with any degree of accuracy what it is they have in their glass. Most can’t even get the country of origin or the grape varietal correct. So this is why a large vocabulary of apparently irrelevant words is essential if you are to be taken seriously as a wine fundi. My mumbled comment at Winex that the wine was “pretty good” was the equivalent of oenological heresy. I should have faked it.
Truth is though, I became very bored with all the pretension of wine tasting a few years ago. While it’s wonderful to look at the colour, savour the bouquet, swirl anti clockwise and allow the wine to run over your tongue to activate all the taste buds before you analyse the longevity of the wine and how long the taste remains in your mouth, it’s not very practical. Most people drink wine because it makes them feel good and goes well with the food. If you make slurping noises in an attempt to extract the full flavour then people look at you in a strange way. So, the only thing you need to understand about wine is whether you would like to open a second bottle. If someone else is paying then the answer is invariably yes but if you are paying then you want to be damn sure you like the wine before risking another bottle. Whether the wine smells of litchis, blueberries, violets or old leather is frankly of no consequence and since wine isn’t made (as far as I know) from any of these things it seems a bit pointless to mention it. I once gave a wine tasting where I managed to convince the audience that I was picking up penguin on the nose. A surprising amount of people nodded in agreement with me proving that nonsensical autosuggestion is a powerful tool at a wine tasting.
However, at next year’s Winex I am going to be better prepared and will be bluffing my way with the best of them. It’s the only way to get the winemaker to pour you a second glass you see.