“But when from a long distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, but with more vitality, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.”
Marcel Proust ~ A Remembrance of Things Past
In 360 B.C.E. Plato suggested that smell and taste, unlike the higher senses of hearing and sight, belonged to the lower order of human experiences – illusory and temporary, tied forever to animal desires. Almost 2000 years later, Marcel Proust’s nameless narrator upended this view of the senses, describing the extraordinary experience of the palate awakened in A Remembrance of Things Past. Wine tasters, makers, and connoisseurs the world over will likely wholeheartedly agree with Proust’s revisions on Platonic thought. Scent and taste open the human psyche to something much more than the baser functions of human experience and, once stirred, become inexorably interwoven into the content of one’s memories, attachments, and adorations.
The smell of fallen leaves in October can conjure unbidden within the mind powerful seasonal memories: long autumnal harvest moon risings, children in costume hunting down their next fun-sized candy bar, hands buried deep in the guts of pumpkins. These memories are not just about the base senses involved, though, they are complex and elegantly layered scenes which call upon a range of responses: psychological, emotional, and physical. October, after all, is as much about the comfort of hearth and home as it is about jack-o-lanterns. Sense memories are raw essence, as Proust details, like love, lust, and longing and just as ephemeral when we attempt to describe them.
Most fans of Rosé have come to expect something thirst-quenching yet may not be expecting complexity out of their Rosé. As Fall brings mixed, temperate, weather, with some days windy and warm while other days are windy and cold or there is snow and then sunshine, a finely layered, expressive Rosé is still the ticket for the varied melange of Fall dishes and daily climes. The Familie Reinisch offers a Rose which no doubt inspires its fair share of delightfully haunting memories. The two separately vinified varietals are mixed only just before bottling to create the memorable and succinct layering of light and acidic, with a refreshing St. Laurent playfully weaving through the velvety richness of the Pinot Noir.
Variety: 70% Pinot Noir, 30% St. Laurent
Vineyard: Various Sites, alluvial, limestone
The Language of Memory in Wine Philosophy
How, then, do we create a philosophy of wine, a wine aesthetic, that gives us the language to communicate an experience so variable and sensual? Neuroenologists have been tackling the conundrum of taste and scent experience by trying to link the multi-faceted way these senses connect to our behavior, mood, preferences, and, yes, our memories. The key factor in making this connection is understanding that taste, flavor, scent, and memory all share a common denominator – they are produced in the brain and have evolved over time.
When our distant pre-historic ancestors roamed the land in pursuit of food, or to escape the chill of the ice age, remembering where they found a particularly delicious hillside of dark berries or a patch of late season guards could be the difference between survival or starvation. By necessity, we all developed the intricate neural pathways and behaviors connecting our sensual experience and our memory.
In Arizona, Kent Callaghan’s pioneering wine journey had stakes that were not life and death, but they are no less important. In almost 30 years of growing grapes in Sonoita, Kent has learned, through memory, intuition, success and failure, the proper grapes to farm in the unforgiving high desert terroir. Perhaps one of his most loved varieties, Kent is fond of Grenache due to its hardiness and ability to withstand fairly extreme conditions similar to its Iberian origin. Grenache is yet temperamental in the vineyard, cellar, and bottle despite its stamina and fortitude. There are hundreds of examples of banal Grenache that is fine to drink but elicits no profound excitement. Grenache made with focus and vision, however, can be life changing to experience. To craft a wine that will provide you, the drinker, a pleasurable and hopefully memorable experience, the winemaker must rely upon his or her own sense memory as well as practical know how to guide the grapes from the vineyard hardscape to the elusive landscape of the personal palate. One way that Kent curates his sense memory is by tasting a great deal of fine wine (#wineresearch), often benchmark examples from around the world. He then can reach into his memory palace and draw the threads of his winemaking realities to what is in his mind’s eye. A great many wine lovers in the USA have realized that in the quiet pocket of Sonoita, Arizona, Mr. Callaghan has been gradually shaping how Arizona’s fine wines are influencing the sense memory of wine drinkers as to the taste and terroir of the Sonoita American Viticultural Area (AVA).
Variety: 100% Grenache
Vineyard: Caliche, high in calcium bicarbonate, gravelly loam, formed in alluvial fans from igneous and sedimentary rock
Appellation: Sonoita AVA
Luckily, unlike our nomadic ancestors, we do not have the same dire circumstances that forged the evolutionary development of our sense of smell and taste. However, we still have all the machinery, and the neurological network that creates the taste of wine within the brain is an extraordinary machine if ever there was one. Gordon M. Shepherd, professor of neuroscience emeritus at the Yale School of Medicine, describes this machinery in his article about how we create the taste of wine in the brain: “The multiple neural mechanisms involved in producing flavor include sensory, motor, cognitive, emotional, language, pre- and post-ingestive, hormonal, and metabolic. It can be claimed that more brain systems are engaged in producing flavor perceptions than in any other human behavior.” When we understand just how much of our body and mind is dedicated to each act of tasting and savoring, we realize that our love of wine is anything but a simple equation.
Günter & Regina Triebaumer understand just how complex an equation the perfect taste can be. For the Triebaumers, adding modern and innovative techniques with the centuries of tradition to produce the kind of neural building flavors we all crave once made memorable in the mouth. Grown in the iron-rich soil of the Burgenland region, and protected from the warm and dry winds in its southwest location, this wine exemplifies the distinctive full-bodied, rich tannin qualities these winemakers are famous for producing. Adding to their prowess as winemakers, the husband and wife team are both avid chefs who have travelled the world studying wine and the cuisine that best complements it. Their website is rich with recipes and wine pairing suggestions. Their love of food can not help but inform their style of winemaking which is honest and respectful of the land while showcasing the essence of the grapes.
Variety: 100% Blaufränkisch
Vineyard: löss, loam, chalky clay
While the leaves fall to the ground this autumn, raise a glass of your favorite wine with friends and family around an autumn hearth. Experience the majestic transcendence that is taste and smell amidst the deep earth scents rising from leaf piles in the yard. Craft a memory of the seasonal cycle wound down. As profound and transformative as the description of the tea-soaked confections Proust’s narrator made famous, the wondrous gift of taste and smell that is the perfect wine at the right moment lives a life eternal. Not just within the realm of the senses, but within the labrynthine pathways of the human mind.