Speak, taste.

May 8, 2008 at 2:04 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

The food-fanatical among you should know and love the revelatory cooking blog Taste Memory, one woman’s loving tribute to all things comestible, replete with gorgeous color photos of the mouthwatering dishes she creates. A blog sidebar cites a tidbit from James Beard’s Delights and Prejudices, a work I recently devoured with great pleasure, wherein Beard discusses the blessings of a talent called taste memory, or “the ability to recall a taste sensation”–and there you have the blog title.

Yet I always want to insert a comma in between Taste and Memory, changing the title from a noun to a command; for while I am keen on Beard, the blog’s title always gets me thinking about Vladimir Nabokov’s inimitable memoir Speak, Memory instead. Quite different from your garden-variety autobiography, Speak is much more impressionistic–and more imagistic–than it is a rote list of his life’s unfolding, perhaps thanks to his synesthesia.

Which leads me to my actual point: the mingling of the senses. How fortunate that we food-and-boozy folk get to attach images, words, scents, sounds, smells, tastes, feelings, and emotions to the delights we ingest. Of all of these, I think the most fascinating would be the words. But challenging, too. For certain, a few glasses of something delicious and fermented will loosen up my lips, but how to verbalize that first wine at an early afternoon tasting, my mouth and nose tinged with mint from recently brushing my teeth? And sometimes there are just days when, even upon sniffing something especially miraculous, all I can summon from my addled brains is “Good. Juice.” or something equally useless to, for example, a customer who is waiting for some tasting notes from the girl behind the bar.

On the other hand, there is always the matter of being too descriptive, but not in a useful, customer service sense. Yesterday I had the pleasure of tasting a phenomenal 2006 Alsatian Pinot Noir from Mure and, at the moment its savory dill vapors hit my nose, my brain conjured up all sorts of images from one favorite evening: we had been eating German food at Laschet’s, and the wine evoked the sedate happiness of driving in the car afterwards, a styrofoam box of half-eaten rouladen on my lap and the belly-warmth of a liter of good bier, all paired with pleasant tunes and the too-rare company of a dear friend. There is loss in there, and food smells, and the aftertaste of beer in my mouth, and the cold February air. Synapses firing: for the rest of my life, that Pinot Noir will be that moment–for me.

There is tremendous beauty in the thought that life’s memories can be summoned this way; that said, your experience with the wine will be another one entirely, and let us not forget that wine is also a thing unto itself. Somewhere in there, we all come together like a boozy, pulsing Venn diagram. Has there ever been anything so wonderful? Our wine memoirs are shifting, living things, just as wine itself, and despite the challenges of describing wine, the rewards are infinitely better. Speak, taste.

Posted by Erin


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