A Guest Blog By Terry Theise
I had a report to file. I’d been tasting wines from my portfolio (which the growers had been kind enough to send me) and suddenly there was the first batch of Champagne. I do know that “Champagne is wine” and I’ve always tasted it that way. But when I tasted it in my merchant days there were others there, colleagues and of course the vintner himself, as I always tasted in situ. It was a gift and a privilege, to be able to reinforce the idea that wine was most expressive in its full context, the grower pouring, the vineyards out the window, the chatter about the family and the weather and the wine in the glass.
Yet while it was an Ideal, it was also a distracting way to taste. There was business to talk about, there were diplomacies to observe (except with the closest friends), there were questions to ask and answer, and often there was another appointment looming on the schedule. We often tasted against the clock. I learned to work fast, to taste when I couldn’t really concentrate, and to make reasonable decisions as a portfolio curator in the actual conditions I confronted.
These days I taste slowly and calmly, at home, in an environment I control, and almost always by myself. It is a lovely and liberating way to taste, because it lets me bring my basic introversion to the wines and allows my imagination to proceed in its particular and accustomed way.
But pouring the first of the Champagne samples, something was off. Among all wines, Champagne is the one that cries out to be shared. It is carbonated fellowship. It felt perverse to taste it alone – at first. Eventually I adjusted to it until, slowly, the strangeness became ordinary and even curiously fascinating. Solo tasting is a way to delve, a kind of spelunking through wine. I loved tasting with colleagues at the domains we visited, but that’s the yang of tasting, a nourishing energy from which much insight may arise. Tasting alone is the yin of tasting, trying to hear the gift of the silence. I’ve learned that I want both experiences, to help balance myself as a taster and a human, yet the solo experience is the one I almost never had. But what to do about the very much absent other who admonishes me when I taste Champagne alone? “You forgot to pour for me!”
Time to revive the imaginary friend of childhood, or at least his descendent. (I doubt that Piddle-Puddle is really into Champagne….) I pretended someone else was there; actually, I pretended a slew of people were there, but not all at once, and not all of them actually existed. But I toasted to them all.
Tasting alone is also an exposure. If I misread a wine before, I could blame the distractions or the time pressure or all the things I had no control over. Now I have no excuses. The silence delivers all sorts of messages, that’s its job, and one of those messages is that I have flaws as a taster. Obviously this isn’t big news; we all have flaws as tasters. But I have to scramble to learn them now, to account for them and to assimilate them into my sensibilities as taster, writer and commentator. The clarities I seek are not always kind. But they are always useful, if I let them in.
My final toast was to Champagne itself, for making me feel alone, for making me want to share the wine, for resolutely insisting that I not spit out the small sour message of my imperfections. And so I hope to go on learning the many lessons in the thousand bubbles – but hey, I have some Champagne left over, so swing on by if you’re thirsty!