Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Too Sensitive Or Not Sensitive Enough?

Been thinking about this quite a bit as of late. Also tried thinking of a way to write/say this without people getting their knickers in a twist or sounding as if I’m pointing out a fault or pointing out a preference but then it occurred to me, twisting knickers is one of my favorite pastimes, that and as someone that has had my cheeks exposed after having my own twisted over and over again….well pardon me as I pull the floss from my ass and step upon my own soapbox for once. Okay it’s been more than once but whatever.

“I was glad there was that chili oil there. I poured that over the top and it was much better”

I stood there, my mouth agape, eyebrows nearly at the bridge of my nose my face so scrunched, listening to the recantation of a coworker eating a pizza that both Randy and I thought was one of the most subtly delicious we had ever had the pleasure to tug between our teeth. Randy had gone first, he and his wife checking out the new pizzeria attached to Michael’s On Naples, one of the best restaurants we have in Long Beach. Randy and Dale came in the next day, their energy so effusive and infectious…not to mention I have a very real respect for their palates, I knew I had to check it out. Once I did, once I sunk my grill into that mildly salty and toothsome crust, the supple and creamy, ultra-mild burrata cheese spreading its sweet milky flavors across my tongue, the tender and subtly spiced mortadella lending its meaty lean and the sprinkle of crushed pistachios, just one more bit of crunch and texture. It was simply sublime and I spent the next few weeks after taking that pizza for a spin in my mouth, telling everyone about it. My coworker went and honestly felt that it was bland, needed something and ended up squirting chili infused olive oil all over the top in order to find pleasure in it. 

I spent days thinking about this. How could something two of found so completely perfect be deemed flat and dull by another one of “Us”? I know this shit rarely bothers others, in fact I know for a fact my coworker never thought another thing about it but…well I did and I even went back, this time to try it with the spicy oil and see if it did in fact make my perfect pizza even better. Hunkered down with my smoky-just-out-of-the-fire crust, the toppings gently placed upon its warm surface, the cheese beginning to ooze and the thin slices of mortadella starting to sweat and release its oils into the crust. I indulged in a chili oil free piece, sunk my teeth into it and let each and every little nuanced bit of flavor skip across my palate like a pebble across a pond. Slightly charred bread, milky cheese, green notes from the crushed pistachios and that haunting fatty, groan inducing spice from the lacy sheets of meat. Could have died right there…well okay, might have wanted a glass of Champagne and the wickedly wet and powerful kiss but short of that? Well this was a bite of sheer perfection in my book. Now if this back arching moment could be made better with the introduction of just one more component, well hell I was so in and my hands were almost shaking as I grabbed that bottle of oil and gingerly drizzled it across the next piece.

Dead. Everything I loved about that sultry bit of pie was rendered dead with the addition of that oil. It was as if all the notes just became one long flat note and after three bites I could not, did not, wish to continue eating that pizza. What the hell?! How was this better to him? How could he find more pleasure in this pile of bread with spicy oil….as you could not taste any of the subtle flavors underneath…more interesting or palatable than that knee weakening, “taste all of me” thing that I was getting from the piece of pizza I had experienced just seconds before? Left the rest of that piece on my plate and grabbed another, oil free one to revive me and as I sipped on my glass of Verdicchio began to understand….too sensitive or not sensitive enough?

“Randy, that’s not at all hot” Me after watching my boss tuck into a plate of Mexican food. His nose was running, eyes beginning to water as the rest of us snarffed away completely unaffected. I too am a bit of a baby when it comes to spice but he was suffering far more than I and way more than the rest of the team at the table. He kept proclaiming how spicy the food was, the rest of us shook our heads, wondering what the hell he was talking about…until my own tongue began to protest. I never got the runny nose and would never have outright called the dish “spicy” but I too was feeling a bit of a burn and was absolutely captivated by those around the table that were feeling nothing at all. The Scoville scale had not changed from plate to plate. The actual amount of spice was not different, so why the vast and pretty extreme difference in reaction? Too sensitive? Not sensitive enough?

Funny thing when you start talking about palate sensitivity, everyone gets their feathers up and takes offence to the very idea that you are saying your palate is in any way more sensitive or astute than theirs. I get it and I don’t disagree. No one wants to hear that anyone tastes or feels more than they do, it somehow implies a deficiency and who the fuck wants to hear that noise? I get it but to ignore or worse, act like it’s not a fact? Flat out lie. And I would like to also point out, to be too sensitive is just as much a deficiency as not being sensitive enough…trust me I’m a chick and hearing either of those, bad.

I once told Sir Charles Olken that I think I might have a problem with primary. I said it not only to take some of the heat off my shoulders but also to try and explain the way wine presents itself to me. I find that my palate reacts to primary fruit in a way that I personally don’t find appealing. Just this trouncing of brown or spun sugar that, much like that chili oil, makes everything taste one note to me. When that happens, much like that chili oil pizza….I reach for another slice. On that same note, I find that my palate reacts to wood tannin in a way that gives me nothing but bitter. In truth, if a wine is heavily oaked, (and I mean from anywhere, don’t start giving me shit about new world versus old here, not the point, like at all) I find that there is this horrifically unpleasant bitter note that rides along the sides of my tongue and absolutely refuses to let go…sucks and there is not a chance in hell I want to take another sip of that. Does that make me a better taster? I think not….

But I’m not alone here….

“I tested that wine you said had a bit too much sweetness for you. It did have a bit of residual sugar” a winemaker/employee that refused to believe that I got some sweetness on a wine he brought into the shop. “How did you even get that?” he asked, little sugar measuring machine in hand. “Well, I just didn’t love it” was the only thing I could say. When he tasted it he got no cumbersome sweetness, I did. Who was right?

We both were.

Machines and years of tasting aside, we all have our own palates and some of us need a little more pop to make an impression, others crave the “let me pull it out of you” kind of palate experience. Read all you want, slurp away on samples and defend as you must but there is no one palate that has it right. Not mine, not Randy’s, not our domestic or Italian wine buyer, not some blogger or wine writer. Just as each one of us craves a certain touch, kiss, refinement in speech, arch of the spine…for all the rhetoric and bickering, no one has it more right than you do. Find what speaks to you. Talk to us. Don’t be afraid or intimated, tell us what you want. 

I loved my unadulterated pizza, my fellow wine professional did not. Was I too sensitive or he not sensitive enough? Neither. We both had it right…for Us.


Wayne Young said...

Yet another mystery regarding taste: Here you say you hate wood tannin yet you loved those oaky Sauvignons that I found horribly over-oaked.

There is no right answer besides "Everything depends".

Alfonso Cevola said...

at least it wasn't truffle oil. but that's a whole 'nother sotry

John M. Kelly said...

Oh my dear Sam - you just don't get it, do you? It's not about who's right, or wrong, too sensitive, or not sensitive enough.

It's about how many points you give that pizza! And about how many people you can get to buy that pizza because you gave it that many points. Is it investment-grade pizza? Because we only want the very best. This is Amurrica gol-darnit!

Thomas said...

I'm a 05 on this post, but I'm usually a 50 on Left Coast pizza ;)

chris said...

Good post and advice, Sam. "Find what speaks to you."

Ron Washam said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,

But rhetoric and bickering is where all the fun lies. Why have a comments section otherwise? Perhaps you're too sensitive to rhetoric and bickering. I like putting chili oil on STEVE! And it's fun to toss a little extra salsa on Puff Daddy.

I have a lousy palate. But it's an educated palate. Some folks don't know much about wine, but have very astute palates. That's so much of the fun about wine. I don't care that people have an opinion about wine, about how it tastes or smells or whether it's sweet or not, but I often care if that opinion is based on knowledge and experience, or just based on "cuz I said so."

And Wayne has hit on a good point. I always say, the answer to every question about wine and winemaking starts with, "It depends." As do questions about bladder control.

I love you!

Samantha Dugan said...

I did love those Sauvignons but there was no wood tannin there. This was not about oaky wines, as in the flavor of oak, (which I can take in certain settings....but not like those ones, can't remember the guy's name now. Big guy, overalls and hands rough and the size of boat oars. Those wines I found horrifically over-oaked)but I do hate it when the oak dominates the finish leaving me with nothing but coconut, vanilla and bitter, Blech. And you are right, it does depend but I've been in arguments with people that tell me thst I can't possibly be getting sweetness on something because it only has "whatever" residual sugar. Fucking tastes sweet to me and that could be because I am too sensitive to sweetness....or they aren't sensitive enough. Or, maybe it is sweetness from high alcohol, that will get everyone all fired up!

Agreed. What the hell is with everyone slopping shit all over something that dominates and, for some of us, ruins the flavor? Too much garlic, fucking blue cheese, (which I adore...in some places) or as you mentioned truffle oil. These things, if not used deftly, can take something lovely and destroy it.

Miss you puddin'. I don't use scores, not that there is anything wrong with them but...I would give that pizza an "Oh my fucking gawd".

An 05?! Jesus, I suck. I can live with that but that pie, I will fight you until you get your ass out here and try it. Brilliant, period. It is a brilliant piece of food.

Only way your going to have a truly passionate relationship with wine. Guess it's not unlike sex in that way. Say what it is you want and divine pleasures await you.

Ron My Love,
Oh I know, you like the bickering and you are probably correct...on this, I am most likely too sensitive but it does get those tiny hairs on the base of my neck standing erect and vibrating when people start telling me, or anyone for that matter, what they are or are not tasting or able to taste. Drives me batshit and frankly, pisses me off. You and Wayne make my point perfectly, it does depend and the sooner people get that the sooner we can all stop acting like we know more than someone else. There is a certain grating human that thinks he has it all figured out. As if his scientific background gives him an edge or in someway makes him better at this shit and the truth is, wine is not science, just as love or passion are not....what gets you off is often way different than what does it for me or the person sitting next to you at the tasting bar. That is the only fact when it comes to this crap.

webb said...

Actually, this was helpful. I am still not sure what I like in a wine, and get frustrated when I don't taste what someone describes. Let's see. Now I know that taste buds are different - right? Means more research, i.e., tasting. I can do that.

And nix the chili oil - permanently!

Samantha Dugan said...

Exactly! That and find a wine shop where the people are going to help you discover what it is you love and keep you in wines that will continue to thrill you.

Romes said...

Well, I guess I will get to evaluate my sensitivity with hopefully both Michael's pizza and some champagne (kisses could be good too) next wednesday night - I'll bring the za.

I said pencil me in - airline tix have been purchased so put it in ink!

Good post - I'm probably overbearing when it comes to people not tasting what I taste, but I try to not be "that girl". Maybe I need to be punished with kisses!

Thomas said...


My typing sucks: that was supposed to be 95 not 05. Screwed up my joke.

Samantha Dugan said...

Awesome! I had you in ink just to hold your spot but thrilled to hear you will catching that flight and heading out for a night of grower Champagne!!! Well that and late night chats on my couch, with some pizza and such. So excited.

Okay, well I feel much better now. I knew I was half smashed when I write this but, but 05 seemed a tad harsh. Thanks for clearing that up and soothing my ego!

Samantha Dugan said...

"Wrote" sheesh, my typing suckith too.

Lisa said...

Great post, Sam. Really great.

I still can't get over that pizza thing, either. I wanted to slap him when I heard what he did. Chili oil? On that perfect pizza? Sigh...

Samantha Dugan said...

Howz it girlie?! Yeah I wanted to smack him too but the more I thought about it, the more I had to assume that it wasn't a perfect pizza for him. He needed more.....something to make it taste good and it really did flip the fucking switch for me when thinking about what wines get people off and for what reason. Enjoyed your pictures from the road!

TWG said...

Does your coworker always put hot condiments on his pizza? If so that would partly explain your differences.

Samantha Dugan said...

No he doesn't. I think that the pizza and its subtle flavors just tasted dull to him. I thought it was brilliant, he needed more. Kind of explains the difference in our palates, (he is the new world buyer but loves all wines) with wine as well. I respect the hell out of him and his palate but what he finds in balance or traditional or not sweet I don't. Just found the whole thing really interesting.

East Coast Pizza Daddy said...

Dear Ms. Samantha--

You are precious few minutes away from being branded as a super-taster, one of those people with thousands more taste buds than us mere mortals.

The super-tasters find great delight in foods that the rest of us find too bland--like Burrata (love the texture--still looking for the flavor) or poached chicken.

I'm not sure, however, if the taste buds thing has anything to do with prefering Chablis to CA Chardonnay or to the reasons why some people do not like Zinfandel.

Juat be sure to bring the hot pepper flakes when next time you and I sit down to pizza.

Samantha Dugan said...

Pizza Daddy,
I'm no super taster I assure you. I know that sounds like a good thing to a lot of folks but that would be a disaster to anyone in our field. Don't super tasters have problems with things like pickles and vinegar? Well if true I know I'm not in that camp as I adore all of that stuff.

I don't see how certain sensitivities couldn't affect wine tastings though Charlie. How, when talking about taste buds, could food, as in their sweetness or spice level be any different than the way we taste wine? Kinda like the way some people oh and ah when a plate of something comes out and it is covered in chunks of garlic...to me, mucked the whole thing up and everything now tastes like nothing but. My palate reacts the same way to lots of sweet fruit or aggressive oak. Dunno..

Oh and if you come near my perfect pizza with those chili flakes I will be forced to punish you!