After my depressing tasting with Virginia, I went to take a nap and try not to slit my wrists. As I came down the elevator, I noticed this strangely wonderful smell that immediately took me back to a different time. I cannot explain the exact aroma, but if made to explain it, I would say it smelled like sand, sea and suntan lotion all combined in one whiff with this intense windy finish. I know it sounds bizarre, but this smell was so enticing that I had to turn around and head in the opposite direction of my meeting to see if I could find a sight to match the smell.
Keep in mind, I had never been to the Breakers or West Palm Beach, for that matter, until about 3 years ago when I started training with Virginia. So this smell I was smelling wasn’t reminiscent of Florida. No, the smell was reminiscent of something different, something that brought back childhood. I don’t know if anyone has ever had one of these moments where a smell was so strong in such a good way that it almost made you cry because it brought back such great memories, but this was that instant for me. Although I couldn’t put my finger on what the memory was, I knew it was a wonderful one.
Regardless, I had to get my “moment” under control and go meet Master McNamara for my second tasting of the afternoon.
The tasting situation: a little better, but not much.
White #1 was Alsatian Riesling; I called it Gruner Veltliner from the Wachau in Austria.
White #2 was Chablis Villages, and I said Savennieres.
Gewurztraminer was the 3rd, and I called it as that, but said Alsace instead of New Zealand.
For reds, I called a St. Estephe for Chilean Carmenere; Vino Nobile di Montepulciano for Australian Grenache and Australian Shiraz for an Australian Cabernet Sauvingon.
Forget being humbled, now I’m just annoyed and shaken up.
My advice from all of the Master Sommeliers was to relax and listen to what I was saying. I was doing well describing the wines, but I wasn’t hearing my own descriptors to use them to make the correct deduction. Very frustrating, but I needed to hear it.
The good part of the day came at night when I got to work the Palm Beach Wine Auction where I opened 30 bottles of Mumm Cuvee R Lalou and decanted 30 bottles of Leoville Las Cases 1990 and 1996. Just opening these bottles alone got me feeling great about the service portion of the exam.
After a long day and night of travel, tasting and working the floor, I headed back up to my room via the same path that had that enticing smell. The scent was still there, and I stood for a few minutes, not so much thinking about how I knew it, but just basking in its aroma.
As soon as I walked into the elevator with this magical scent lingering behind, I knew. I knew so well that the hair on my arms stood up.
If only that smell could have been a part of my blind tasting, I could have named vintage, region and producer.
The smell was the months of August 1976-1993, in Garden City, South Carolina when our family would go to the beach for two weeks with my grandparents and aunts and uncles and 12 cousins, and two friends named Lena & Johnson. That smell, the one of sea, salt, sand and suntan lotion, makes me think of some of the best vacations I ever took with most of the people I love and loved more than anything in this world.
While the day would not go down on the books as a remarkable wine study day, it will go down as a day that ended with me thinking about what really matters in life and what really doesn’t.