What is wine to you?
That is not a silly question to ask. We’ve made wine for decades and poured to over a quarter million tasters in our winery, often 50 – 100 a day. It is easy to have a cursory conversation about wine in general, and terribly difficult to have an in-depth understanding between people about wine specifics.
If you and I agree we like or dislike a certain wine, we have both just validated each other’s opinions, and we find commonality. If we don’t agree on a glass of wine then one of us obviously has a problem, and far too often it is safer to assume it’s the other person who has the errant taste. The next time you hit it off with a stranger at a winery, look to see if you have the same taste or at least philosophy in wines. I’d be willing to bet on it.
In all my days, I’ve never heard anyone order Assam iced tea with 3% residual sugar and Jujuy lemon slices. No, it is iced tea, please. Sweet or unsweet? Lemon? Fairly straightforward. Not so with wine! In fact, the very specifics are the wherefore and wherein of the wine itself. So, let us talk about wine more specifically to define what it means to us.
Do you drink wine for the alcohol?
Well, of course, we all do. Have you seen a lot of non-alcoholic wine on store shelves? Grape juice isn’t wine, and the Greek & Aramaic words that describe the two have been different since before the old testament was written. Alcohol itself is not the reason though, or else I’ll point out the axiom “liquor is quicker”, and also point out it is way less expensive to get a buzz with liquor if that were the deciding factor.
Do you drink wine because it is classy and seems exclusive?
There is way too much pretentiousness in the wine industry already. Liking wine because you should like opera and thoughtful indie melodramas may be good advice for aspiring millionaires climbing social ladders, but for the rest of the world, it sets a terrible example and excludes most of the human race from the table. This conversation needs to be more inclusive for us to bond over wine.
Almost daily and for over a decade, I have witnessed people in our tasting room demeaning other tasters as stupid. Even complete strangers to them. Call the toast burnt, call the soufflé fallen, call the chicken undercooked, but call “not liking ham” or thinking “pie is better than cake” opinion, cause that’s all it is.
Do you drink wine because it goes so well with food?
Now we’re onto something. Now we’re getting to something tangible we can compare. For many cultures and people, the wine glass never stands alone. It is a social enjoyment, a part of a meal.
No one thinks of eating just the hamburger bun; they want the meat and lettuce and onion and mustard and what-have-you as well. Few look forward to a big helping of just dressing. Turkey, gravy, maybe some green beans, and pie all make up the image and salivation. For many people, wine is a wonderful component of a bigger meal choice, and the specifics of what wine are chosen are like the choice of adding jelly to peanut butter or the disaster of putting ginger-shrimp on an ice-cream sundae.
Talking about food with wine, indeed, tasting wine with a smattering of foods, is the only way I bond with friends & family over wine, and the way I’d suggest anyone new to wine explore what they might like.
Do you drink wine because you like the taste and experience?
There you go. Now we can talk about wine. We can learn why we like the wines we like, leave the judgmental snobbery behind and come to understand why the person next to us adores the wines they do. We can share in the experience that is a bottle of wine. You don’t have to like opera to understand she’s got a beautiful voice, even if she’s singing in German. You don’t have to like Bluegrass to know the mandolin is in tune and played well. You don’t have to go to Juilliard to know you like, or don’t like, some song. Trust yourself.
You don’t have to be a sommelier to like or dislike a wine. Try to remember the term “sommelier” originally meant “napkin holder”, if that helps.