Saturday, November 19, 2005

Too Much Tongue

This is a very loose translation of a post--really a riff-- that I published in Italian a few days ago. I'd love to hear comments from you, pro or con. This is a subject that's been bugging me for a while. The other day, when I was writing down my impressions of the Cavallotto Dolcetto d'Alba, it occurred to me, and not for the first time, that the tongue is too central to our language of tasting wine. It's all about the berries and fruits we taste and sugary coatings we feel on our tongues, the bite of tannins, the puckering of acids and so on. Granted, we talk about the nose, and we swirl and swirl to release ethers, etc. But it's all in service of the tongue. Now don't get me wrong. The tongue is a useful and delightful organ. Mine is used for many things, many of which lead to bliss. But the overattention we give to the tongue makes us forget about the complete experience of drinking wine. And this, I believe, causes us to miss the mark in assigning relative degrees of merit to one wine or another. To me, at least, a good wine is above all an evocative wine. Do you see what I see? This is a bold move: involving sight when talking about drinking wine. But let's think back to a hot, sunny day in July. There I am with a glass of Vermentino--a Sardinian Vermentino from the large winery Sella & Mosca, a very pleasant and restrained but not "remarkable" wine--and I'm drinking the light-colored, dry wine before and with dinner, a nice piece of fried dayboat flounder from Montauk. There is a haunting undertaste of something wild in the wine, I suppose you could call it a hint of the macchia, the Mediterranean undergrowth, and the acidic snap of lemon. But it's more about the sea, and the name on the label reinforces that impression: La Cala, the cove. It's free association time. Evoking, evoking... So. Here I am on the 22nd floor, the sun blasting in over all the skyscrapers of Midtown, lolling around with a glass of chilled Vermentino that makes me feel like I'm swimming under water in some Sardinian cove, cool and silent, searching the sandy bottom, far away from the sweating millions and the horns blaring on First Avenue, and the medium I swim in isn't salty water but clear, briny Vermentino. Soon the fish will be in the pan, the lemon is already sliced. It's a lovely hour of rest after an arduous day. And an $8 bottle of wine's transported me well out of the grimy city into a place that, for a while, is just about perfect. How can tired gustatory similes "like lychee nuts" and " like gooseberries" begin to compare with the power of wine to evoke other places, other states, other joys?


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