I practice and teach meditation. I also enjoy wine. White in summer, red in winter is what floats my particular boat. I drink in moderation and only rarely over-indulge.
I have no doubt at all that mindfulness makes drinking wine very much more enjoyable.
When we are being mindful – ‘paying attention to the present moment deliberately and non-judgementally’ – we are able to extract the full intensity of any given experience. We focus with our undivided attention. We don’t allow ourselves to be side-tracked by cognitive chatter. As a result, the experience is a much more vivid and all-absorbing one than if we allow ourselves to be distracted. Neuro-scientists call it being in ‘direct’ mode when we attend directly to what we are seeing, smelling, tasting, hearing and touching, as opposed to ‘narrative’ mode, when we are caught up in our thoughts.
Significantly, there is a small and elite group of people in the West who have been serious practitioners of mindfulness for well over a hundred and fifty years: sommeliers. Their mindfulness may have been developed in relation to a specific range of objects, but it has evolved with a rigour that would impress even the strictest Eastern master.
A sommelier is expected to recognise three different elements of appearance, three of nose, and five different aspects of taste, sweetness, acidity, tannin, body, flavours (e.g. fruits, flowers, spices) and finish. A specific wine lexicon of over 120 terms has been developed and increasingly it is the case that sommeliers must pass blindfold tests where they should differentiate, for example, between the tastes of a black current, black berry and black cherry.
The ability to give forensic attention to something, and discern subtly-different aspects of it is the very heart of mindfulness. And watching it in action can seem close to magic. I was so impressed when I poured out a splash of red for a sommelier friend and, after a swirl of the glass and meditative sip he told me it was a Barossa Valley Shiraz. I would do this a lot more often but my wife tells me off for treating him like a performing monkey. The truth is, I am in complete awe of his skill!
While most of us will never be sommelier-level wine tasters, we can all benefit from being more mindful when drinking wine. We appreciate each sip all the more when we really give it our full attention. When we are aware of all the subtly-different characteristics it may have, ours is a richer, more multi-layered, and appreciative experience.
You’ll find a link here to an online document provided by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust which details different characteristics you may try to look out for when mindfully tasting wine. It also has a very helpful list of different words in the sommelier’s lexicon:
Here’s a suggestion: next time you have wine-quaffing friends round for a meal, get in a couple of alternative options of the same varietal, print out the tasting notes from the bottle for them to read, and offer the options to your friends in glasses with different coloured ribbons on the stems (one of you will have to know which ribbon represents which wine). A blind taste-test is a wonderful way to experience the joy of winefulness and a great start to the evening!
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