Monday, January 27, 2014

Sports for the Under-Coordinated

In a recent ransack of the parents' attic (I was looking for old Battle Beasts to sell play with), I came across my war-chest of athletic accolades and trophies from childhood.  Locked away for years, these triumphant physical endeavors unfolded like a long-awaited Hall of Fame speech:

  • My "2nd Place:  Roswell Rec Dribble & Shoot Contest" trophy, the proverbial Lombardi Trophy of the lot.
  • An entire shoebox of obscurely-colored Mountain Creek Swim Team (go Dolphins!) ribbons.  Purple meant 5th place.  There were lots of those.  And- ah- glorious Green.  4th place.  Not as many, but they were hard-earned, still stinking of sweat and chlorine.  I didn't see any Blue (1st place) or Red (2nd place) ribbons.  Primary colors are for idiots anyway.
  • There were several Tritt Elementary (go Tigers!) Field Day "Participation" ribbons.  Some may say that everyone gets those ribbons.  But that one kid with head lice didn't participate, per the school nurse's decree.  No ribbon for that poor little bastard.  But, seriously, he was lousy with parasites.
  • The Presidential Fitness "Merit" Award, signed by the Governator himself.  It was the certificate given to kids who were a step-down from the star athletes.  I can still imagine Arnie yelling at me to this day... "IF ONLY YOU COULD HAVE DONE ONE PULL-UP, YOU WOULD HAVE GOTTEN THE 'ACHIEVEMENT' AWARD, YOU FLABBY, GIRLIE-ARMED SISSY!  HAVE ANOTHER STREUDEL, OR WHATEVER IT IS YOU FAT AMERICAN KINDER EAT!  KROM LAUGHS AT YOUR FOUR WINDS!"  
Okay, so I basically sucked at athletics.  Can't help it.  While others were out playing soccer, I was reading cookbooks.  And the one time I made ten free-throws in a row in the driveway?  It took 8 hours, and I only did it because my mom promised I could get whatever junky sugar cereal at the grocery store if I succeeded.  Guess she just really wanted me out of the kitchen, reading all her cookbooks.

And what kind of neighborhood kids were playing soccer anyway?  This ain't Paraguay.

The point is, like any red-blooded kid, I had a desire to compete, but had to find alternatives that didn't require athletic prowess.  To this day, you probably don't want me on your church basketball team, but if your church organizes a horseshoes league, beer pong tournament, or rib cook-off, I'm first pick.  And I want to join your devil-may-care church community.

I think my affinity- and success- with leisure sport is part of the reason why I've become so enamored with blind tasting wines lately.  On the surface, blind tasting probably appears to many as a stupid parlor trick with very little practical application.  And, if you are using it primarily to pick up chicks, it really is.  Unless it works.  Which it doesn't.  Trust me.

Blind evaluation of wine is one of the three components of the Court of Master Sommeliers examination structure, and perhaps the most harrowing to the general public; as it was portrayed and popularized in the recent cult-documentary, SOMM.  Observing a bunch of guys taking six glasses of unmarked wine and- with nothing other than their superior senses- pegging them down to the variety, region, and freaking vintage can seem almost super-human.

However, as impressive a feat as it may seem (and not to discount... it IS impressive), these top sommeliers were not necessarily born with magical noses or freakish taste buds.  Sure, scientific research has discovered that certain individuals may have greater sensitivity of taste, but the methodology (and there most certainly is a method) is one that is LEARNED.  Acquired with a great deal of practice?  Sure.  But it can be learned, if you are psycho enough to pursue it.  And, by "psycho", I really just mean willing to taste a lot of wine.  And study a bit.  That's not so bad.

Take me.  It's my blog, so I'm gonna bloviate about myself.  Deal with it.  Five years ago, I couldn't tell you if I had Merlot or Pinot Noir in my glass.  Now, not only can I tell you it's Merlot, but can probably tell you generally where it's from, and roughly how old it is.  I'm not saying this to boast, but mentioning it to encourage those who have zealous interest in wine.  I don't have a great nose (in fact, I can barely breathe through it), nor a hyper-sensitive tongue.  But I have invested time (and perhaps a bit too much money) in learning about the classic wines of the world, and that studying has done wonders for discerning what's in my glass.  How does thin skin affect the color of a wine vs. thick skin?  What does age do to a wine's color, aroma, and taste?  Where do they predominantly use French Oak, and what are its flavors?  What about American Oak?  How does climate affect levels of acid, sugar, and alcohol?

So, circling back to the practicality of blind tasting, we come to find that "getting the wine right" is only a minor component in a much grander scheme.  Practicing blind tasting requires that one learn about grapes, regions, aging requirements, climates, soils.  It dictates we come to better understand the esoteric concept of flavor.  How sweet, sour, and bitter come into- or fall out of- balance on the palate.  For a fat kid reading cookbooks as a kid, this is straight Jedi stuff.  And all this homework not only helps with tasting, it improves one's general understanding of wine.  If you truly are a student of the fermented grape, this is a good thing.

And, admittedly, being able to work through the components of a wine using all the knowledge and practice one's amassedto ultimately "get the wine right", well... that's rewarding.  And a bit sporting.  Hell, some of us may have never had the moves.  But we all have competitive spirit.

So, how does one navigate through a wine?  Come back next year, and I'll write about it.

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