Cat Pee. Dirty Socks. Wet Dog. Did you know all of these “notes” are present in some very fine and expensive wines? We learned this and much more at a Portuguese Wine Tasting event held on Friday night in the community room of our apartment building. Sure, I had been to wine tastings before. And truth be told, I had probably consumed wines with worse notes than those previously mentioned – especially in college. I wonder what notes are found in Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill. Frat House? Bar Bathroom? No matter, I have finally outgrown the world of convenience store wine and, after our session on Friday night, am one step closer to knowing how to properly “taste” wine. And no, just pouring it in the right glass is NOT enough.
After learning about the event, we were very excited to go and taste some great Portuguese wines. We have been to Portugal twice and have come to enjoy the excellent wines there, especially those from the lovely Douro Valley. When we arrived at the community room on Friday night, however, I was surprised to find that this was not just a “show up and taste” event. The room was decked out with long tables set with an assortment of different glasses, a stack of handouts about the notes present in wine and other crucial information, plates full of bland crackers to clear our palates between tastes, large spittoons (that I was sure would go unused), and some very mysterious tiny, numbered bottles. We took our seats and faced the large screen, obviously set for a slide show, and waited. And waited.
The event was due to begin at 6:00 pm. It was now 6:30 pm and most of the sixty-odd seats were still empty. Shortly after 6:40 pm, our moderators, both degreed Portuguese wine experts, declared that the remaining participants, mostly Angolan, would arrive at some point. This is Africa. Even for such a high-falooting event, the start time is merely a suggestion.
Our moderators (I will call them Mr. White and Mr. Red) proceeded to run through a very detailed description of how our nasal passages and tongues work together to process tastes. There were slides, pictures, and even a little game where we sniffed the contents of the mystery bottles and tried to decipher what they were. Luckily, there was no Cat Pee involved! About 7:00 pm, the remaining participants sauntered in and immediately began to talk amongst themselves, oblivious to the slide show and lecture going on.
Mr. White and Mr. Red struggled to keep control of the increasingly restless crowd. Where is the wine, we all wondered? One-by-one we each got up to nibble from the plates of appetizers set on the bar, and checked our watches to see how much longer this was going to last. Finally, after an hour and a half of very in-depth discussion, the first glasses of wine were poured. Hallelujah! The addition of wine did nothing to improve our attention, but it certainly made for a more jovial crowd! As they say, ‘wine goes in and happiness comes out’.
We began with a lovely sparkling wine, worked our way through various whites and reds, and finished with a sweet, port-like dessert wine. Along the way, we discussed the notes detected in each wine and whether or not we liked them. But…more education was clearly needed before we could be considered “qualified” to properly taste wine. At one point, one poor misguided soul asked what kind of cheese would go with a particular wine. “That is another class”, Mr. White snapped, “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”
Really. What an amateur.
All kidding aside, and despite the slow start, it was a fun and informative evening and we met some very nice folks. Of course, we bought some very nice wines as well and look forward to our next get-together. In the meantime, I will do my best to sniff out the notes in any new wine I try.
But, at the risk of labeling myself as unsophisticated, if I come across a Chateau St. Cat Pee, I am giving it a pass…
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