Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow
In November 2012, I grew a Movember moustache. I hadn’t sported one since 1972 and it drove me nuts. I couldn’t wait until December 1st to shave the damn thing off. I felt obligated to keep it for the month since I had contracted to grow it on the understanding that family members, friends and colleagues would actually put good money down to support the cause of prostate cancer.
The itchiness was one thing, but worse, it affected the way I tasted wine. I say “tasted” advisably since you taste with your nose. Without a shadow of doubt your nose is your most important organ — when it comes to wine tasting. You can smell four hundred molecules of a substance, but in order to taste that same substance you need at least twenty-five thousand molecules dissolved in the saliva of your tongue. Which shows you just how acute your nose is, relative to your palate.
Your tongue is a blunt instrument; it registers only five basic tastes: sweet, sour, salt, bitter and umami (a Japanese term for a sweet and sour taste, like soy sauce). The real work of differentiating tastes is done at the top of the nose — little hairs that receive the message from our taste buds and fan out those five basic tastes to all the hundreds of flavours we can identify. But unless your nose is clear you’re not going to taste properly. That’s why food doesn’t taste great when you have a cold and your nose is blocked.
My wife Deborah insists we have a teaspoonful of fish oil at breakfast as a nutrient supplement. It is obnoxious stuff and the only way I can get it down is by holding my nose when I swallow. And then immediately I take a swig of orange juice to neutralize the taste before my brain finally reacts to what I’ve ingested.
So how does my erstwhile, unlamented moustache come into it? When I’m tasting wine I habitually rest the rim of the glass against my philtrum. (In case you’re rushing to the dictionary to see if I’m doing something obscene, the philtrum is the groove between your nose and your upper lip.)
When I grew my moustache I lost my groove.
The wiry hair pushed the rim of the glass away from the usual angle at which I hold a glass under my nostrils. First, the scratchy sound of the bristles brushing against glass was distracting and then the itching started, and somehow familiar wines began to smell different. I kept the moustache scrupulously clean but it had a smell of its own. Not of soap but rather feral, like a dog that’s been left out in the rain.
I had thought if I ever felt moved to keep the moustache that I would become accustomed to it, to the point where I wasn’t even aware I had one. Rather like those French winemakers of my acquaintance who smoke through tastings. They’ve gotten used to appraising wine through the filter of tar and nicotine.
What was most disturbing is that my awareness of my hairy lip and the way that it made me change my tasting routine somehow became the wine’s fault. I was just not enjoying the daily ritual of tasting. I don’t know if this was reflected in the scores I awarded but I do know that my threshold of patience was lowered. I was quickly irritated by plastic corks, any suggestion of oxidation, the merest whiff of corkiness or a wine that was blatantly overpriced.
But now the moustache has gone and all’s right with the world. I’ve got my mojo back. Oh, and I raised $1,000 in pledges for prostate cancer research.