Photo by Joe Roberts
At first glance, a dog seems an unlikely teacher to turn to for a tutorial on the finer aspects of improving one's wine appreciation skills.
For starters, dogs lick themselves in places that for most of us wouldn't rank highly on the list of things that ought to taste good. They're are fond of rolling their heads in the stinkiest, nastiest gunk within any given mile (and if you think the stench coming off overapplied perfume or cologne can ruin a good tasting, try a whiff of wet-dog-rolled-in-recently-deceased-snake). And as for they're preferred greeting methods – well, sticking one's head in people's crotches, or one's nose in a pooch's butt doesn't exactly scream “learned society,” does it?
Unlikely teacher? Make that least likely teacher...
And yet - despite the incessant licking, leg humping, and butt-sniffing - among the qualities that endear them to pet owners everywhere, canines posses more than a pawful of lessons on how we might take more pleasure out of our next encounter with a glass of the world's greatest beverage. For those willing to take the time (and ignore the butt-sniffing), a veritable treasure trove of wine appreciation tips awaits the dog lover (and we're not talking about being better able to detect traces of “Cat Pee” in your next glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc).
Alternate your sniffing
Take a dog's claim to fame – its nose. The benefits of superhuman qualities of scent notwithstanding (you don't need a dog's sense of smell to appreciate the aromatic qualities of an Alsatian Gewurztraminer, for example), we can learn a lot from how a dog takes those sniffs. When a dog smells something, she doesn’t take a long, drawn-out, overly-pretentious sniiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiffffff. She takes a burst of short, concentrated sniffs. Sniff… sniff-sniff… sniff-sniff-sniff-sniiiiiifff. Turns out there is a good deal of merit in that approach, if you really want to smell something thoroughly – and in the case of wine, its aroma is where you will get about eighty percent of your enjoyment and appreciation. Shorter sniffs help to focus your olfactory senses, and may also help to keep your sense of smell from fatiguing too quickly. The sharper and more focused your sense of smell, the more pleasure you're likely to get out of any glass of vino set in front of you.
Focus, focus, focus
Most dogs, while certainly loveable, were stubborn as all hell – to the point where the majority of their thought processes could be summed up in one sentence: “Hey guys – this is what I want to do now!” Ever try to move a dog from a spot when he is smelling it during a walk? If not, it's a worthwhile test of your personal frustration level's upper limits (especially if you're in a hurry during the walk). A walked dog will frequently stop in his tracks, plant his nose into a smell, and lock all four powerful legs so rigidly that it would take a tow truck, steel cables, and an act of Congress to move him from whatever he is sniffing at that moment. When a dog is smelling something, really smelling something, nothing can break his concentration. At that point, there is no walk, there is no leash, there is no master – there is only the smell. When looked at another way, that stubborn vice can be seen as a wine tasting virtue. If you want to experience everything that a wine has to offer, you’d do well to imitate the concentration that the average dog gives to any random odor in which he takes interest. With that kind of focus, you’d be on your way to wine-tasting pro status in no time.
Be in the moment, and trust your gut
If dogs are all about one thing, it's the now. We may never be able to read a dog's mind, but it's a safe bet that when she's chomping down on her favorite treat, she's not secretly worrying about the stock market or second-guessing the ingredients in the biscuit you just gave her for rolling over. Serve her something she doesn't like, and she's not going to spend one second contemplating whether or not she should like it, either. In other words, dogs make a decision and then go into it one hundred percent. They don't waiver, second-guess themselves, or fall prey to “analysis paralysis.” The message for their wine-loving human owners? Go with your instincts. You don't need to be a wine tasting pro to know when you dislike how a wine tastes, and spending heady amounts of brain power contemplating if a wine is supposed to smell like sweaty socks or moldy cardboard probably isn't going to make you enjoy the stinky experience. Conversely, if we like a wine, then who are critics or snobby dinner guests to tell us that we shouldn't? Take a lesson from the pooch – if you like it, go with it; and if you don't, send it back.
Savor your pleasures
Finally, we can learn a lot from our four-legged friends about what not to do when enjoying wine. One need look no farther than doggie mealtime to see this valuable lesson in action. Once a dog stops smelling something and actually decides to start eating it, he is a shining example of an epicurean's worst nightmare. Dogs don't eat food so much as they inhale food. Dogs eat with such rapacious, voracious gusto that you would think there was a pack of famished, foul-tempered velociraptors waiting a mere seven inches away, poised to rip away any remaining tasty morsel should the pup take more than fourteen nanoseconds to devour them. The tastier the treat, the less he chews (or breathes) before swallowing - which is exactly what you don’t want to do when enjoying a wine. Taking your time, and savoring what's in your glass, are two of the most basic tenets of wine appreciation – and they're hopelessly lost on our poor canine friends.
Now, go walk that dog. After you enjoy that glass of vino...