Friday, August 21, 2015

TASTE; Apples to Apples

"The quest for taste might be nothing other than a voyage out of childhood...It then occurred to me that perhaps what I was searching for in my own quest for taste was some sort of adulthood."
L. Osborne, The Accidental Connoisseur

Golden, bright honeysuckle in color, the glass offered aromas that reminded me of a sliced apple dipped in butterscotch.  Recognition of that 'apple' character promising to be found in this Chardonnay just had been taken for granted.  I have simply come to expect and anticipated finding something reminding me, even slightly, of apple or pear in the varietal Chardonnay. Interestingly, later that afternoon I sliced in to a beautiful, pristine orb of a Gala, and took a bite.  There was no 'apple' taste at all. Beyond its conventional and polished appearance, how should its taste, I thought, be different than that of an Asian Pear, or even that chilled glass of Chardonnay? What actually is the process of taste, and how do I recognize the alteration of the unique sensations of what we generally describe as taste? It was going to be more than just apples to apples!

By appearance/sight it looks like a fruit that we have had before; a familiar shape, color and texture. Observationally, that glass of wine seems also to be recognized: clear to bright, a light straw to golden in hue. There are even a few in my tasting experience that have offered a slightly green tint to that brilliant glass. My nose above the glass, its aromas lift to recognition thru the nasal cavity, stimulating the olefactory bulb with a quick relay to the limbic system in the brain, the reaction matching previous sense memories. It looks like an apple.  It even smells like what I had anticipated an apple to smell like. Taste, after all, is an individual sensory detection.  It evolves into a rationalized cognitive: the knowing and perceived rational thoughts of distinction; a genetic pre-disposition that affirms the recognition of various sensations, flavors or textures. As a chemical reaction, thousands of taste buds on the tongue, react consistently to these recognized primary tastes: sweet to sour, salty to bitter, and then unami, or savory. Yet, even as our universal recognition or impressions of these primary notes continues to evolve over a lifetime, scientists have recently identified the sensation of fat to the buffet of basics. That initial sense of smell, as well as our feelings for textures, and temperature also will influence ultimately what we perceive as taste.

Unfortunately, these gustatory perceptions begin fade with age, and additionally, not all of us taste things in exactly the same way. There are even a minority of the populations that are recognized 'super tasters' due to a mysterious genetic concentration in their taste buds!  Yet each of us over a lifetime have enough reinforcement of the same or similarly experienced chemical reactions to re-actively recognize and even to categorize taste; the red fruit family(strawberries, raspberries, etc.), the stone fruits(you know who they are), the chemical family(petrol, anyone?), the tertiary family(mushrooms and wet earth), etc. As a result, a marketable contemporary lexicon has become the convenient language for the presumed sensory identification, the sensual description of the living, breathing, ever-changing elixir that is wine. In my case, when a fruit, like an apple, does not taste the way it had previously been categorized a flavored disappointment is bound to set in.
Chardonnay ready for the press

Wind to Wine Grand Tasting, recently featured the wines and the winemakers of the geographic Petaluma Gap region of southern Sonoma County.  Currently part of the broad Sonoma Coast AVA, this contiguous low land region is an east-west wind gap extending from the Pacific Ocean to San Pablo Bay. Offering foggy mornings with generally sunny days, it typically has windy afternoons which thicken grape skins and shut down photosynthesis in the sun drenched vines. Arrested by the areas cool nights that retain a naturally high acidity in the fruit, this sub-region is home to around 4000 acres of vines across more than 200,000 acres of rolling coastal hills; a mix of alluvial soils: gravel to loam, that stretch from Marin to southern Sonoma counties.

After tasting many Chardonnay's from this contiguous region, I assessed that an apple personality, under-ripe to over-ripe, tart to crisp was a flavor foundation to most samples. Its perceived personality jockeyed for attention with many other recognized elements: pear, citrus, barreling, and mineral. As for sight recognition, each selection was on its bottle clearly marked 'Chardonnay', and I began to feel the waning loss of the once pretty apple that did not really taste like an apple.

"I want to live in a world of thousands of different wines, wines whose differences are deeper than zip code, each of them revealing fragments of unending variety and fascination of this lovely green world on which we all walk."
T. Theise, Reading between the Wines


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