Posted by: erdehoff | May 18, 2009

Sniffing the produce

A funny thing happened to me when I started to approach wine tasting seriously and began taking copious notes. I wonder if I’m the only one.

I was in Safeway the other night on a routine grocery run. The produce section is usually my first stop, though I rarely buy produce there — my neighborhood is packed with Asian markets that sell decent produce for a fraction of Safeway’s price, so I only buy produce at Safeway if I’m desperate. But as I was making my rounds, a display of berries caught my eye.

I’d recently tasted a number of red wines whose aromas kept bringing the term “berries” to my mind, but I found that, frustratingly, I couldn’t narrow it down. The fact is, I don’t eat much fruit besides apples, bananas and (when in season) strawberries and blueberries, and I don’t spend much time sniffing them in any case. Seized by a sudden impulse, I marched up to the berry display, grabbed a carton of fresh organic raspberries, and took a deep whiff. I did the same with the blueberries, the blackberries, the kiwi fruit (not very helpful unless you cut it open, I think), the mangoes — everything they had on hand, I sniffed. I must have looked like a nutcase, and of course I didn’t buy the $5 8-ounce carton of raspberries (who do you think you are, Safeway? Whole Foods?), but I suddenly felt I was onto something. I foresee much sniffing in my future (probably to be accompanied by many weird looks from store clerks, but that can’t be helped).

On a related note, I’m planning a group wine tasting event in August. Last year we did wine and cheese, and it was sort of chaotic — I had no idea what I was doing and we had way too many wines (and too much of most of them), and the whole thing was overwhelming to the participants, most of whom are relatively new to wine. This year I’ve got a better handle on what to serve. But instead of cheese, or perhaps in addition to it, I’d like to give each person a plate full of flavors: slices of guava, kiwi, peach and apple; an assortment of berries; cucumber slices, maybe some dried flower petals, sachets of herbs and spices. I know I can’t always put a name to the aromas I encounter, and I think this method might be particularly helpful to people who haven’t really interacted with wine. Not all of us can take a whiff and reel off terms like “gooseberries,” “grass” and “wet slate.” (I don’t think I’ll put rocks on the plate. Well … maybe.)

So as I begin to put together the wine list, I’d like to hear what you think. What wines have thoroughly engaged your senses? What are the wines that gave you that moment of “Aha! So that’s what they mean when they say a wine is earthy/lush/grassy!” and opened your eyes? They can be any varietal from any country; I’d like to keep the price under, say, $25. Let me know!

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