Wine has always been an important part of my life. Bringing awareness into it deeply influenced the way I taste wine and appreciate life.
A few years a go I went on a vacation and traveled around the world. When I got to India I went to a Viphasana meditation retreat. Vipassana is a way of self-transformation through self-observation. What I learned was is to enjoy wine even more than I did before. I am not sure that was what they had in mind... I learned to notice what I feel, sounds simple try to feel your middle toe without moving it. Our body is constantly changing from sensation to sensation. When someone talks to us what we react to is not the words of the other in our direction but to our own interpretation of it. For example if my friend would tell me how loved I am it would make my facial muscle contract and I will smile. If a stranger on the street would tell me the exact same words the physical impact will be different.
The story we tell ourselves
The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world” It was thought in the past that infants start creating memories from the age of 3. It is true that most of us start to “autosave” events at around 3 but that happens because at that age we start developing language skills and are able to describe experiences in words. Children who are asked to describe events will have more memories of that period. We are not brought up to connect between a word and a sensation unless its that of un-comfort usually. The majority of wine consumers will know to tell if they like a wine or not but not always why they do so.
I got back to Israel and started noticing that people who drink wine seem to be enjoying themselves very much. Wine isn't a drink we NEED any more like we did a few hundreds and thousands of years ago, our drinking water is perfectly clean. So what is it in the wine that so many people are attracted to? Wine creates pleasure! What is pleasure? It is the reward we get from years of evolution for doing something that will increase our chances of survival: Eating, exercise, coitus, social connection. Its also important not to exaggerate, chocolate is great but a whole bar can give a stomach ache.
I learned that when we approach a glass of wine we come with a bundle of expectations of the experience even before taking our first sniff or sip. We will be influenced by the price of wine, awards it has won, appearance of labels, type of glass, the visuals around us, the music, our mood, sex, age, health condition, the importance of the event, the tone of voice and the spark in the sommeliers eyes when she describes a wine she recommends.
Understanding what influences people when they drink wine will help create a better experiences for our guests and ourselves.
The first thing we do is look at the wine. When we look at something our eyes receive signal in a form of wavelength. Different intensities and wavelength of light will influence us physically, the knowledge is used in medicine and is know as phototherapy. The color blue will strengthen our immune system, green can help adjust our biological clock and red promote reproductive organ activity. But beware of painting you restaurant blue or green. Blue will enhance the bitter perception of the wine and green the sour. Red will make the wine more favorable. That does not mean all wine bars should look like old brothels. Some lighting companies are researching the influence of the light setting to create and an environment which will help feel calm, focused or energized.
Now comes the best part of wine tasting, smelling. Wine can have hundreds of aromatic compounds, naturally there from the grapes, winemaking process and aging. When we smell, a volatile aromatic compound goes into our nose, the information travels to the brain and spreads the news around. One place it travels to is the limbic region which stores sensory memory. Try to think of a memory of a smell and see if it has any affect on the way your body feels, can you remember the smell of christmas dinner? A person you love very much? or your grandmother apple pie? When I smell a wine I ask myself 3 question:
Does it have a smell?
Have I ever smelled it before?
What is the name of that smell?
If there is a smell I ask my memory to pull out the story with that smell (where did I smell it? What season was it? Did I eat it or just smell it? Was it fresh or cooked? What colour is it? Our brain loves stories. In one of my sensory enhancement workshops I passed around a covered glass sesame oil and asked the participants “what is that smell?” One of the women started laughing, I asked her whats funny? She said “I smell Jerusalem” and then we started wondering in her brain, -“When you go to Jerusalem what do you like to do?” -”I like to go to the old city” -” and what do you like to do there?” -”walk around and buy myself a bagel” -”what is on the bagel?” -”Sesame seed” -”Eureka!”
When I studied winemaking at Brock we were given a Gewürztraminer wine, I smelled and immediately and with great excitement said: “Passion fruit!” one of my colleagues looked at me and said “oh come on, who really knows what a passion fruit smells like” I lived most of my life in Israel, Passion fruit grows everywhere there. In Israel some criticized an American born wine critic who wrote of aromas of blueberries in some wines. They said “Blueberries? come on, who really knows what a blueberry smells like?” In another workshop I past around black cherries to smell blindfolded and a woman said “It smell like pure happiness, I don't know what it is, but its pure happiness”, as a child she used to go cherry picking with her grandmother. Many times I will prefer a wine by the memory that comes with it. The smell in the room has a great influence, studies have found that lemon scents increase concentration in people, while lavender and orange scents have been used to reduce patients' anxiety in dental offices.
After, smelling all the aromas we take a sip and evaluate the body, taste, balance and aftertaste. We will notice if the smell and taste are in harmony. Is what I expected by the nose fulfill itself in the taste. I had a chance to learn about my own “expectation” and “experience”. Within a few months I had attended a Wine glass comparative tasting and went on a vacation to Italy. The after affect of the tasting was that for a while I felt I need at least 6 types of glasses to suit different wines. Then when I went to Italy I drank a fabulous local wine in a small heavy wine glass. I enjoyed it so much, I finished the whole bottle by myself. In Israel some restaurants made it a part of their agenda to serve wine is a small black Turkish coffee glass, making the whole experience more and easy going.
Music will influence the wines that your guests will order and their tasting perspective. At the Selfridges in London they learned that when french music was played in the background the sales of french wines rose 5:1, when they played “Top Hits” the sales of the cheep wines rose. Another research showed that when “heavy and powerful” music (the opera Carmen) was played in the background in a wine tasting, the wines were perceived as “heavy and powerful” (32%/60%).
By the anthroposophy philosophy the biodynamic lunar calendar expresses the potential energy of each day. Some organic biodynamic wineries use this calendar in order to determine when to conduct wine tastings, they will conduct them only on “fruit or flower days” and never on a root day. You can al rest at ease, today in fruit day, the the will be great. We are dynamic creatures who are influenced by our environment. Our preference can change by the time of day, month or year.
Noticing how we are influenced by so many things shows how complex and rich life is and can help us enjoy it even more. No matter what time it is, wine is magical science, its simple and complex, it can raise a memory which will create a physical sensation which can bring great joy. Lets notice the joy in our glasses, Share the joy with others, enrich ours lives and theirs.