by Erica Trabold
Earlier in the week, I found myself down the rabbit hole. The descent into Youtube’s chaotic anti-gravity was prompted, initially, by clickbait — a link in an email from a mailing list someone else had subscribed to and forwarded to my inbox. Subject line: “Fwd: Pascaline Lepeltier, Mardi Gras Party, Oysters Bienville + Sicily & Sardinia.”
I opened the email and scrolled. I clicked on the frozen still of Pascaline Lepeltier swirling a glass of white wine. From the safety and comfort of the other side of a virtual mediation, I could learn something from one of the world’s leading sommeliers. Doing so would take me eight minutes and 41 seconds.
In the video, Pascaline taught me how to taste wine — not to overswirl, oversmell, or otherwise overthink whatever I may be drinking. Wine, she suggested, should be approached with ease and enjoyment. That philosophy lodged like a cork in my memory, I embraced the Tasting Room exercise that arrived in my physical mailbox a few days later.
Tasting Room advertises itself as a wine club for millennials. A millennial by definition and by nature, I clicked the bait. I gave over my credit card information in exchange for a six-mini-bottle exercise meant to help me put a name to the kinds of wine I enjoy.
I opened the box and placed the first two mini bottles — both whites — on the provided placemat. I logged into the platform and clicked through the prompts on my screen. All I had to do: taste each of the wines and indicate which I liked more. The exercise felt effortless. I liked the sweeter notes of the Chardonnay.
When I moved on to the reds, I tried harder to decide if I preferred one wine over the other, liked both, or disliked both. Tasting Room offers these four options throughout the exercise; the set-up is genius. When a child is presented with two options you’ve devised — a popular parenting technique — the child will choose an outcome that pleases you without realizing how heavily you’re directing that choice. Simply feeling like there is a choice changes the way we respond to most situations. We’re more likely to play along when we feel we have agency.
But every day, those choices become increasingly more complicated, clouded by all the advice we’ve received and filtered and remembered in fragments. There are the things we know we’re supposed to like and the things we’ve been told to avoid. And goodness, everyone’s advice is different.
I wanted this exercise to be simple. I decided to always choose one wine over the other.
While I may not have had a complete vocabulary to describe what I was drinking, I had my preferences to guide me. I tried to uncloud my own judgement, to trust it. I kept choosing the Bordeaux.
At the end of things, a “wine profile” explained that choice. The page provided a vocabulary I may not have come to on my own — “earthy, savory reds” — and I could use it to approach menus and conversations with a little more confidence. I came away knowing more about what I like and dislike.
This week in The New York Times, Frank Bruni reminded me that “[w]hat a person genuinely, viscerally enjoys, regardless of its cultural bona fides, carries little weight.” Depressing, but true. What’s culturally expected often keep us from trusting our own intuition or celebrating our idiosyncrasies. But if this exercise has taught me anything, it’s that what I enjoy should carry more weight, and it can.
In the week since my first Tasting Room exercise, two full bottles of wine have arrived, physically, in my mailbox. I’m ready to uncork them and see if they taste good. To me.