Memory and wine


Memory and wine

I have done a lot of driving over the last two days. It has meant a lot of Radio 4 listening, interspersed with CDs. Today I heard a program on memory (here). It got me thinking about memory for wine.

When I think of my memories, and try to recall them, I can recall faces, voices, sights, sounds. But I can’t recall smells and tastes in the same way.

The only time I can recall the experience of a wine is when I try the same wine again. It’s a bit like listening to a well-known piece of music. You anticipate what is coming next by playing the track in your mind, and as it tallies it gives satisfaction, with the real track bringing in the missing bits from your internal account.

When I taste a wine I know, there are the familiar notes, suddenly instantly recognisable as I experience them again, but previously hidden. Then again, there is almost always something new: either something I missed the last time I tasted the wine, or a new facet that has developed in the wine as it changes in the bottle, and even in the glass.

Can you recall tastes and smells in your mind’s eye? Can anyone? What about synaesthesates? I would love to know.

4 Comments on Memory and wine
wine journalist and flavour obsessive

4 thoughts on “Memory and wine

  1. It depends what you mean by remember wine. I can recall the taste of wines I have loved but not one I thought were just ok. I can recall the taste for example of a bottle of Rioja Alta 904 ’98 had recently or a Brun Cote de Brouilly. Very different. Both great. I think I can remember the first Napa Cab I ever had in 2002 which was a Snowden ’98. It was fantastic and I think I still chase that memory when drinking Napa Cabs now.

  2. Jamie, my sensory recollection experiences mimic almost exactly what you’ve described in recounting your own. In my case, it seems to happen more often when I’m lucky enough to retaste some great Mosel Rieslings, sometimes down to the vintage (blind in the most recent two cases, which I’m not sure is any more attributable to ability than it is to dumb luck). Of course, there’s less to “hide” generally when it comes to Riesling, and no idea if I could repeat those experiences as the same wines develop and age over longer periods of time. But I certainly find identifiable markers that are very difficult to describe in words. And I tend to “see” wines as I taste them, almost like stacked graphs with the secondary notes sitting on top of the primary aromas and flavors. But then, I also like potty humor so I don’t see it as cause to make me the subject of any serious study! 🙂

    Congrats on the WBA win, by the way!

  3. Jamie,

    My experience is similar to yours. I can recall the taste of a wine, but only if I am remembering features of the context–where it was tasted, with whom, etc.–and these contextual features are always recalled via a visual image. I also recall mental notes I made about the wine–e.g. if it was light bodied, supple, and fresh I remember those judgments and they are accompanied by very vague taste and smell impressions that lack particularity. I other words, I suspect I’m using my cognitive representation of a wine to reconstruct in the imagination a generic light bodied, supple, fresh taste. The taste and aroma memory doesn’t have the specificity of an occurrent sensory experience.

  4. Jamie,
    It’s a good point. In my view most people will remember a wine in association with an occasion or the people they were with when they tasted it. Wine is for sharing and unless you are a professional taster it’s unlikely that a wine’s individual taste characteristics will linger in the memory without some kind of external association.

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