Once when I was complaining to a friend that I kept coming up against the same psychological issues, he replied, “Well, that’s a lot better than discovering a new one every time. Be careful what you wish for.”

True. Yet I think all of us, at some point, get bored with ourselves, tethered to the banal agony of our particular patterns and habits. I’d been feeling this recently about my responses to wine, noting tired impressions and overuse of the same sorry adjectives and analogues.

For help I turned to Matt Bolinder. That’s the Matt of Matt’s Coffee, the Pownal-based wood-roaster of specialty coffee, and of Portland’s Speckled Ax, a coffee shop that actually brews great coffee.

Matt has often impressed me with his comments on coffee subtleties, as well as with his perspicacity into wine. He was also the 2010 Northeastern Cup Tasting champion (having attained the only perfect score in the competition) and sixth-place finisher at the nationals.

Given that there are roughly three times as many volatile aromatic compounds in coffee as in red wine, this is not a palate to trifle with.

So, hoping to recalibrate my own sensitivities, gain a different perspective on taste and just have an encounter with a giant of discernment, I brought him four wines for us to taste together. We each took silent notes and then compared.

A question that frequently came up regards the prospect, controversial in both coffee and wine worlds, of “objectivity.”

Taking its cues from the wine/beer media’s 100-point rating system, there are now coffee review outlets that assign numerical values to these transcendent collaborations.

I say farewell to that bath water, but I’ll hold on to this baby: There remains great value in attempting to bring a scientific sort of precision to assessing what something tastes like.

I’m a romantic, and tend to trust my emotional, impressionistic reactions to wine. I feel that’s an important perspective (though I’ve come to it in part because it plays to my strengths, which don’t include precise flavor identification at the highest level), but it’s not a comprehensive one.

We commiserated on how the terms professionals use to describe wine or coffee can be helpful at a classification level but off-putting to customers.

Who wants a wine that tastes like an armpit, or a “vegetal” coffee? Yet these aspects are, truly, present.

The four wines Matt and I tasted, at times joined by Speckled Ax barista Bethany Moran, were in retrospect imperfectly chosen, because they don’t come close to representing the gustatory breadth that wine expresses.

But their relatively limited palate of aromas and flavors provided an interesting field on which to explore the three tasters’ convergences and divergences.

Moreover, these were all wines that, at an emotional level, we liked. 

Aizpurua. B Getariako Txakolina 2011, $16 (Crush)

Joe: Peach and starfruit aromas, tangerine. On palate very lemony, sea salt, with intense racy acidity and pronounced spritz. Tremendous energy, terrific dry white.

Matt: Crispy, minerally. I always look for fruit. This has lime but little fruit. It’s weighty but not at all syrupy, with a touch of sweetness. I love the combination of spritziness and viscosity. Seven-Up for adults.

Suavia Soave Classico 2010, $14 (Pine State)

Joe: Very blank nose, though a bit of Honey-Nut Cheerios. Quite full mouthfeel, with a kind of textural acceleration and expansion through mid-palate and finish. Starts earthy, then comes pine and garden tomato, scallion, but most prominent is huge Granny Smith apple. Lollipop?

Matt: Smells sweet – apricot – but doesn’t taste sweet. Fruit much more muted than I thought it would be. Cantaloupe, apple. (Bethany said “pear,” and Matt concurred.) Candy-like, but not cloying.

Chateau Halie Bordeaux 2008, $16 (Wicked)

Joe: Raspberry nose, keen eucalyptus, black plum. On palate supremely dry: cedar planks, unfinished, sawdust even; camphor, blueberries. Austere but classic Bordeaux.

Matt: A little dusty. Muted cola. Blue fruit: tart blueberries. Pleasant vegetal flavors.

Schreckbichl Colterenzio Lagrein 2010, $18 (Easterly)

Joe: Prune plum, tar aromas. Blueberries, wild bitter herbs, menthol, clove, Darjeeling, bitter chocolate. Hefty. A food wine: steak, tomatoes.

Matt: More body than the first. Plums. Cola and above all black cherry. Dense, but no fat.

Bethany: Cherry Coke. And cocoa.

By the way, if you’re wondering how all of this scrutiny affects what ends up in your cup, we ended our wine session with Matt preparing an espresso for me, from Nicaragua Maragogype beans grown on a farm he and Bethany visited last spring.

Those 1.5 ounces of liquid were so impeccable, so consummately right, they put me in mind of Plato’s Forms. On an ethical level, this is the liberation of those beans’ truth from the bonds of humans’ inattention and misuse – bonds formed when we, however unintentionally, fail to sense clearly enough what is required in a given moment.

Most coffee roasters, most vintners, most chefs, most everyone fails to rise to the occasion. But when the occasion is joined, something very important happens. We’d be fools not to try for this, fools to ignore what can happen when we just pay attention. 

Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. His blog, soulofwine.com, continues the conversation, and he can be reached at:

[email protected] 


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