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Corley Family Napa Valley

Chris Corley
August 27, 2008 | Tasting Wine | Chris Corley

The Chemistry of Pleasure

My olfactories are reveling in an aromatic cacophony of diacetyl and pentyl pentanoate, with hints of eugenol and vanillin swirling within the glass. On the palate, the ethanol is well-balanced against the tartaric acid while the phenols are providing the perfect frame for the sweet glycerol finish ...

Blah ... I'm glad I've never actually heard anyone talking like that about a glass of wine.

While all of those terms may be meaningful at times to a winemaker or enologist throughout the winemaking process, they really have no place when describing a wine's soul. I spend a lot of time with wines at all stages and after a while you develop relationships with them in the same way you do with people. Like people, wines in development can perplex and frustrate you, yet they can also provide immense pleasure, both intellectually and physically.

I've talked with people who have been reluctant to discourse about the wine we were enjoying because they didn't have a good grasp of the wine lingo. My response is always 'So What' and here's three reasons why ...

1) You know what you like and what you don't like.
2) Your opinion of what you like and what you don't like is equally as valid as anyone else's. Anyones!
3) An inability to describe the experience doesn't lessen the pleasure of the experience one iota.

(Mark, our enologist at Monticello, is working diligently in the lab on quantifying iotas)

You can be fully engaged in another person without being a psychologist or a biochemist, that is to say - without understanding how every one of their molecules is vibrating or synapses is firing. It's the same with wine. A person's inability to accurately or scientifically describe their experience doesn't lessen the pleasure of the experience itself. People inherently know what they like and what they don't like. It's got to be one of our most basic instincts.

I imagine that tastes and preferences are somehow 'built in'. There must be some reason that whole populations of people drink Retsina and Pinotage while other groups won't stray from Merlot and White Zinfandel.

Tastes and preferences can be learned and developed as well. My palate has broadened over the years and hopefully I'll continue to explore and broaden my horizons for as long as I live. There are times I come across intriguing and compelling textures and aromas which are new to me. For me, these are opportunities to learn. I like to write down my tasting notes when I can, so I'll scribble down my thoughts and keep that experience stuck in my head - like a song that won't go away -  so I can try to learn about it. If it's something pleasurable, I want to know where that aroma/flavor/texture came from so I can pursue it again. If it's something undesirable, I still want to know where it came from so I can avoid it in future wines. This is how we push forward our skills as winemakers.

All that being said, the two most important words to remember about wine are summed up in a neat little book called 'Still Life With Woodpecker' written by Tom Robbins.

Yum or Yuk ...

The rest of the discussion is secondary.



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