Monday, February 7, 2011

Sparkling pinot grigio - tasting without category

Even when tasting blind, I use categories to order my expectations, process what I taste, and make judgements however subjective. If I can see the wine, the visual cues start the categorisation: white, pink, red; bubbles or no; age cues or no. Tasting non-blind, category cues can be stronger. Knowing the year, the variety or blend, region, maker, the pricepoint, how the wine made its way to you... all these cues help build a frame for evaluating a wine.

But the efficacy of these category cues largely depends on having past examples to populate these categories with. Judgements of difference, or similarity, rely on other taste examples. But what happens when you have a new category and a new example, such as a sparkling pinot grigio from the Adelaide Hills?

One aesthetic judgement argument would suggest that the new object (bubbly, lemon juice on fresh pear, crisp, light to drink) could be processed against how it makes the taster feel. What do the senses say? What sensations are produced by watching, smelling, looking, tasting, drinking the wine? Is there an emotional response? This is judgement from affect (emotion, sense, sensation, considered together).

But I don't find I can taste wine from affect alone. Categories creep in. I have never had sparkling pinot grigio before. But I have had Champagne, Cava, Prosecco, German bubbles and sparklers made from 'other' grapes, such as riesling, chenin blanc and sauvignon blanc. And I have had pinot grigio before, the grape in the grigio-to-gris range, from different countries and regions. I know that I prefer gris to grigio, that I like the grape to taste of bright pear juice more than citrus, and to not show alcohol heat.

The glass in front of me, even while I try to not think categories but focus on newness, on the affective dimension of the wine, ends up passing by these other categories (variety, style, region) in my head. It's my first sparkling pinot grigio, and I quite like it (the Japanese woodcut label another aesthetic cue), but I end up tasting it with mouthfuls of many other wines. Which is fine by me.

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