Sunday, July 8, 2007

Wine and Cigarettes

Let’s start with a full disclosure on this post’s subject matter: I despise smoking. I smoked cigarettes for about two months when I was in the seventh grade. I did it to be cool and, luckily, quickly thought better of it. Against my own better judgment, I’ve also been known to smoke a cigar here and there, say once every year or two. Each time, I regret it for days, which is exactly how long it takes for the burning, dulling effect of the smoke to wear off my palate.

And now for a good non sequitur: I’ve been an undying fan of the films of Jim Jarmusch since the release of his first “major,” Stranger Than Paradise, in 1984. More recently, the 2003 release of Coffee and Cigarettes presented a quirky, edgy yet charming series of vignettes built around the [sub]culture of caffeine and nicotine. It’s up to you to decide whether the film glamorizes smoking or simply depicts it as a natural aspect of social interaction. For me, there’s something dodgily acceptable about the film’s C&C combination, at least in the setting of Euro-cafés, roadside diners and good, old-fashioned coffee houses. However, when the beverage of choice switches from coffee to wine – whether before, during or after a smoke – my acceptance level plunges straight to zero.

What’s my point? I’m not suggesting that the smoking/drinking combination should somehow be banned, the way of trans-fats in New York or foie gras (however short-lived) in Chicago. My point is this: there’s nothing more deadening to the palate, not to mention one’s sense of smell, than smoking cigarettes or cigars. The olfactory senses of taste and smell are the most important tools we have in pursuing the assessment, production or plain enjoyment of wine.

Hey, I’m all for personal choice, but why knowingly handicap yourself? As a casual imbiber or even an acknowledged wine connoisseur, if you choose to smoke, more power to you. Just know that you’re missing out on the full expression that each sip of wine has to offer. At the next stop down the slippery slope, as a member of the wine trade, be it as a sommelier, educator or sales consultant, if you smoke you knowingly diminish your capacity to perform your job functions. I wouldn’t want to take food and wine pairing advice from a smoker any more that I’d ask for music recommendations from someone who is tone deaf.

At the most extreme end of the spectrum, at least to my sensibilities, I am ever and always stunned when I discover that a winemaker smokes. Why is that a problem? As an example, a trained chef, in theory, could follow a recipe and turn out a perfect dish. But if that chef can’t taste the food he’s preparing, how can he be sure it’s at its best, that the ingredients are in balance, that the seasoning is properly adjusted. The same principles apply to the art and science of producing wine. A winemaker could just practice the formulas and principles he learned in oenology school or simply follow the same procedures and traditions that his father did before him. But if winemakers can’t taste every nuance in their fruit, can’t smell the air in their cellars or can’t detect the scent of spoilage yeasts in their barrels or reduction and volatile acidity in their wines, how can they make the best possible produce from what nature has given them?


Dr. Joseph A. DiLuzio said...

Just a thought on my buddy's excellent post, "Wine and Cigarettes." Duffer is far more PC than I so I was really cheered by his thoughts on these palate-deadeners. As Dave makes clear, he's not attacking cigarette smoking or the industry per se.
Not at all snobbily, he's really counseling against anything that could potentially interfere with the relatively subtle even fragile beauties of our greatest "beverage." Kudos to Duffer for his cogent analysis with his interesting quirky asides.
Joe DiLuzio

David McDuff said...

Cher Joseph,
Thanks for the kind words. There's really no need to apologize on my behalf though.... I actually was attacking cigarette smoking and the industry ;-)

HungryChic said...

Shola decided he doesn't like smoking either.

Great minds and all that... Now we need a study to find if those tongue scrapers in the oral care section at the pharmacy help or hinder taste buds.

David McDuff said...

Thanks HC, and good question. Common wisdom has it that our tasting abilities are at their best first thing in the morning, before a cup of coffee or brushing of the teeth. Scraping the tongue would seem to present one with a blank slate yet also to create an inflamed state of the buds which might numb one's tasting abilities. Sounds like a research project for Oral B.

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