Wine Ink: On intimidation
Do you know your Txakolina from your Albariño? Or how about what fermentation or carbonic maceration is? Do you know what grape grows best in Central Otago and Rio Blanco? Do you even know where Central Otago and Rio Negro are? If you do, great. If not, no worries, all it says is that there is still a lot about the world of wine out there for you to discover.
But for many of us, the idea that we don’t know enough about wine, that we aren’t “expert” enough, can have a negative impact on our ability to get the most from our wine experiences. Some people even eschew drinking wine at all because it seems, well, elitist.
Intimidation is a word that comes up often when talking with people about wine. They don’t know about the differences between grapes or regions. They’re not exactly certain how grape juice magically morphs into wine. They don’t know why one wine is so expensive, while another that is less expensive is the one that appeals to their own sense of taste. And we, those of us who write about wine, only seem to exacerbate that sense of intimidation by prattling on about esoteric, confusing and often geeky wine things.
If I had one piece of advice to give wine drinkers it would be: Drink for yourself and drop the intimidation. There. That was not so, hard was it? Sure the world of wine is filled with jargon and jingoism. And there are wine snobs out there who will try to intimidate you by using, often incorrectly, wine words that are designed to make you feel small. But isn’t that true in other pursuits as well? Don’t sports fans, or music lovers or foodies all do the same thing? And don’t they all have their own language as well?
If you are not a football fan, a Bronco fanatic talking about the zone-blitz, or Cover 2, or the RPO (run-pass option) is as Greek to you as a Xinomavro (a Greek red wine grape). Never play an instrument? Then what do you say to a musician who is describing an epic arrangement where the “middle D resonates, while the intricate passages swirl around it”? Is that any harder than picking out the pucker you feel in your mouth when you drink a tannic cabernet? And in the food world, the language and techniques of the new molecular gastro cuisine are much more indecipherable than regional variations in pinot noir.
The point is, a perfectly played run-pass-option can be a thing of grace and power, a well-orchestrated musical change can be emotionally uplifting and a carrot-ginger caviar can taste really good. Even if we don’t understand the patois of those pursuits. And all of those things, the power and the grace, the emotions and the taste, can be found in the experience of drinking a great bottle of wine.
Of course, that is not to say ignorance is bliss. Rather, you have an opportunity to derive greater pleasure from oenology (the study of wine) if you just take the time to explore and look a little deeper. Instead of just watching the game, or listening to the concert, or tasting the food, if you examine how wine is made or where it comes from, or from which grape it is produced, you’ll have a lot more fun. And it’s not intimidating.
In fact, it’s simple really. Start with the bottle. Read the labels. They can provide a wealth of information and only you will know where it came from as you spout it to others when you pour them a glass of your wine. And when you taste a wine, speak from your heart. What does it taste like? Blue raspberry snow cones? Apple pie? Gasoline? You can develop your own language that relates only to your own palate and your own experiences.
And don’t be afraid to talk about it out loud. Tell those who you are drinking with what you think and listen to what they have to say about what’s in their glass. You’ll be amazed by how similar your responses may be. Perhaps the words and the descriptions may be different, but the experience often resonates in the same way.
And ask questions. Particularly when you are with someone, like a wine store clerk or a collector, who knows more than you do about wine. Most folks love to share.
It may be a big wine world but don’t fear it. Embrace it.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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