Glass Act: September 5, 2014

So you’re back at school.

Another eight months of handing in assignments and/or correcting stacks of first-year sociology mid-terms.

Another eight months of learning about the world.

As anyone who has completed “higher education” can tell you, the most memorable lessons will be learned in unexpected places, in the habits you adopt and the world view you continue to weave.

I would like to participate in the landscape of your learning by offering three strategies that I discovered through wine.

1. Be where you are.

Wine reflects the place where its grapes are grown. Established wine regions use appellation law to compel wine makers to comply with regional standards for the right to name their wines correspondingly. (“Appellation” is French for “name.”) Bordeaux, Champagne and Rioja are all appellation wines — named after the places where they are made.

A recent appellation initiative by the Nova Scotian wine industry has set standards for making wine that best takes advantage of the viticultural conditions here. They named our appellation Tidal Bay.

Ten wineries in Nova Scotia now make Tidal Bay. Each winery makes theirs a little differently, but all Tidal Bay is light, off-dry, aromatic white wine — a reflection of the salt air and cranberry bogs and apple orchards of Nova Scotia, a reflection of our place in this moment.

2. Start slow.

Take your time getting to know the wine you drink. It will open up, revealing more about itself, and more about you, than you might otherwise notice.

Take Avondale Sky Winery’s 2013 Tidal Bay ($20, at the NSLC and Bishop’s Cellar). Grab a couple friends and enough glasses to go around. Pour a few ounces in each glass.

Take note of the colour, the clarity of the wine. When you tip the glass on its side and roll the wine around, notice the textured pattern (the “legs”) created by the liquid streaming down the inside of the glass to pool again in the bottom of the bowl. Are the rivulets thick or thin, fast or slow?

These things tell you about where the wine is from and how it was made. For now, though, just notice.

Next, without having disturbed the wine too much, take a small sniff, enough for a first impression of its aroma. What do you smell? It’s OK if you’re not sure, or if you are only able to pick out vague aromas (“smells fruity” or even “smells like wine”). Try it with wine that’s not ice-cold, as it will release its aromas more easily.

Don’t judge the wine at this point, but make it work for your love: Give it a good swirl to expose more surface area to oxygen, which will help release its bouquet.

Inhale deeply. How has the aroma changed from the first sniff? I get red apple, lime and a little rose on this Tidal Bay. After another swirl I find a hint of caramel and, as usual with Tidal Bay, a little salty rock around the edges.

Finally, taste the wine.

Or rather, feel it. Let it pool in the front of your mouth and then stream toward the back. Notice how it wakes up your gums and the tip and sides of your tongue.

Did you like what you felt, what you tasted? What specifically did you like? What turned you off? Talk about your impressions with your friends. Help each other discover more. Chances are, each person in the room will have something different to say.

Take a second sip. Take another.

3. Geek out.

Tidal Bay standards guarantee a few things about our bottle.

Rules determine how much of what kinds of grapes can be used to make Tidal Bay. The primary varietal must be one of four: l’Acadie Blanc, Seyval Blanc, Vidal or Geisenheim. This one is a blend of l’Acadie Blanc and Geisenheim.

All grapes that go into Tidal Bay must be grown in Nova Scotia, and the maximum alcohol content is 11 per cent.

Both are good things: adding value to local agriculture creates economic stability, and it turns out getting too tipsy over a pre-dinner bottle of wine is not very cool. (That's a lesson for another day.)

They are also not unrelated. Our relatively short growing season does not allow fruit to ripen — and therefore develop sugar — to a degree that would make high-alcohol wines. (Yeast eats sugar to produce alcohol.)

So, in a sense, I’m suggesting you approach the scholastic year the way we approached this wine. Know where you are starting from, take it slow and do your research. This year will be overwhelming and exciting; challenge yourself to genuinely engage with your environment.

You will find unexpected worlds of enjoyment right under your nose.

This column was originally published by The Chronicle Herald.