Tony’s diary: A tale of two professors

To enjoy wine to maximum, take your time… and maybe some fermented mushroom roots?

The best advice my old Professeur, the great Emile Peynaud of Bordeaux University ever gave his classes was that whenever we thought a wine was a bit ‘off’,  it was possible that it was actually us that were ‘off’ and not the wine.

He passed on to his students the accumulated wine lore of centuries; that tasting well, isn’t as easy as everyone thinks. Your sense of taste is so easily overridden by what you see, feel and hear. It’s so easily influenced by other people.

He gave the class – sons and daughters of Bordeaux Chateau owners, plus me – two glasses of wine, asked us to say which we preferred and why. We unanimously voted for number two and waxed lyrical about its superior class. He then revealed that both glasses came from the same bottle! We paid more attention after that. Works every time, that trick.

Professional wine tastings in most wine regions are conducted in silence, often in isolation cubicles, and wine labels are always masked. To focus solely on the wine. Maybe we were going at it too fast.

Wine tasting must happen slowly

Wines, he taught, do not necessarily reveal all their pleasures immediately. Wines that particularly fascinate do a sort of gustative strip-tease. You certainly can’t rush those. You must go slowly. Maybe we were not calm, relaxed and concentrating.

Wine tasting is possibly a form of ‘mouth yoga’.  Maybe we had some little infection in the nose. A cold? Sip a wine, holding your nose and you ‘taste’ nothing because it’s actually the nose that ‘tastes’. To really ‘get’ all a wine has to offer, the old hooter, the schnozzola, proboscis, conk – whatever – has to be in good fighting shape. So look after it, Prof said.

A while ago that got to be a problem for me. I have particularly narrow nasal passages, if you must know. And they started becoming more and more often bunged up. I thought I was actually losing my sense of smell. Disaster for a wine man. The ENT specialist was no great help. He offered to drill me out! What! Black and Decker job? (I fled).

I’m tasting better than I have in years

But luckily I have found a way … Today I’m at peak readiness for the upcoming tasting season*. Thanks to another great Professor; Bjorn Kristiansen of Oslo, via Manchester and Strathclyde Universities, his wife Joan and a small daily dose of their ‘Lentinex’. Joan is the sister of a close friend and I like Bjorn immensely, but he’s the quiet sort and I hadn’t realised quite how eminent he is.

It was only when Joan happened to mention that with Bjorn’s stuff, she had not had a cold for five years that I suddenly got interested and actually bought some… and I am still taking it two years later.

And I honestly think I’m tasting better than I have for years.  At 74 there’s certainly no other function in my body for which I would make such a claim!

Tony Laithwaite (centre) at a wine tasting with Hugh Johnson (right) and wine buyer Tim Bleach (left)

Google ‘GlycaNova’. And read what Björn has written about how he discovered Lentinex – all I can tell you is that it seems to have worked for me, and my tasting senses… and it’s something to do with fermented shiitake mushroom roots. 

So, anyway, learn to focus longer, calmer, slower on your wine, blank out noises and distractions around you, ensure your equipment is in fine working order and you’ll get much more enjoyment out of your wine    

*Why do I say it’s the tasting season? Well, when the sap rises in the vines, in spring, like now, you get this echo down below; the wines in the cellars get going too. They open up. And we can, at last, taste quite clearly what’s out there. If we do our tasting properly! So off we go. Bordeaux first stop. Then onwards, around Europe. The prospects are rather good. No one is claiming 2019 as a yet another wonder year, thank goodness, but then no one is tearing their hair over a disaster year. Volumes were a touch below average but there seems to be plenty of good wine available. There’s good reason Two major world wine markets have recently almost vanished. The USA, because of the 25% tariff slapped on in the trade war has cut purchases right back.  And China because of the Coronavirus, isn’t currently taking anything. Prices should not rocket up anywhere. Can’t say the same about taxes, exchange rates and import duties though, can I? Hey ho. ‘Stock up’ is my advice.

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About Laithwaites Wine

Laithwaite's began in 1969, when Tony Laithwaite took a job washing bottles in Bordeaux... and fell in love with real wine and the people who make it. When he borrowed a van to share these delicious wines with friends and neighbours at home, things went so well that boutique wineries were soon queuing to take part. Today we're the UK's No.1 home-delivery wine merchant, with over 1,500 wines to choose from... including red, white and rosé, plus Champagne and sparkling, beer and cider.

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