There is a false notion that permeates wine culture at almost every level. That notion is that there is a level of knowledge that is attainable that will enable a person to know about every wine that exists. Now I know that most wine experts (a word that is past its expiration date IMHO) will say that this is not so, but it is conveyed in wine media of all kinds and by many individuals. My wine Twitter feed includes a number of people who purport to have a very deep knowledge of a very wide variety of wines. I have my doubts.
The reason that this is a false notion is that the sheer numbers relating to wine have grown so large and are so widely distributed around the globe. The California Wine Institute (LINK) has figures on its site for world wine production through 2012 – it shows 25,721,000 liters of wine produced world-wide (LINK). WineSearcher.com (LINK) shows about 3,600 wine regions in the world. There are probably around 100,000 wine producers in the world (this number is a bit difficult to nail down). The number of labels that you find in a decent wine store grows each year, with mega-stores like Total Wine and Spirits carrying upwards of 9,000 wines.
How is anyone going to know about all of these wines?
For someone who is new to wine appreciation, or even for seasoned collectors, it can seem impossible. Most end up narrowing down their focus to a few regions or varietals, or even a single one. I have a friend who only drinks Kendall Jackson Chardonnay for example. Most collectors focus narrowly, some are more expansive, seeking out a wide variety of wines from various locations, vintages, and varietals. Those who focus will likely have a more in-depth knowledge of the particular area or areas of their attention. Those who explore more widely will have a more superficial knowledge of a variety of wines, regions, and varietals.
Unless you are in the wine business, you will not have time to taste and understand the thousands of wines that are out there, or even the hundreds on the shelves on your local wine retailer’s shelves. And even if you are in the wine business, it is doubtful that you will need to know about every region, varietal or producer. The idea that one needs to have so much knowledge can drive people away from the enjoyment of wine, and that serves no one.
My recommendation is to find your own way into and through the many types, styles, and iterations of wine. You may just have a glass or two a week of whatever is being served, or you may be an avid collector of all things from the Piedmont in Italy or Napa Valley in California, it does not matter. There are ways for you to access information about your own desires and preferences.
I tend to be an explorer. Even though I drink wine every day, blog about wine, and will be doing wine-related tours in the near future, I do not spend hours and hours pouring through information about wine. I tend to be an explorer – trying all kinds of wines from various regions – but I also have my preferences and I spend more time exploring those in greater depth as time and my wallet allow. Writers like Eric Asimov of the NYTimes work for me, because he explores a variety of wines from different places. I also enjoy Kermit Lynch, the amazing wine purveyor in Berkeley, whose newsletter (LINK) is very informative and focuses mostly on French and Italian wines.
But you will find your own sources. I try to keep my blog as general as possible, but since I travel a lot, I write about the wines and the wine culture where I travel, so there may be some posts that do not interest everyone.
the world of wine should not be an impenetrable maze of secret or obscure or overwhelming information. It should be accessible, enjoyable, and allow each wine enthusiast to savor the experiences that he or she discovers. Whether that is a focus on First Growth Bordeaux or on trying to sample each of those 3,600 wine regions in the world, it should be an enjoyable experience, or what’s the point?
I would love to see some comments on this post – what do you think? What is your approach to wine?
3 thoughts on “WINE ENJOYMENT SHOULD BE ACCESSIBLE AND ENJOYABLE, OR WHAT’S THE POINT?”
Jim: A good thought provoking post by you. I believe that whether one focuses on a varietal, a specific region, a combo of both or is an “explorer” at the end of it all, whether one is an expert or not the main question. It seems to me that the better quality question is “Am I drinking, sharing wines that are enjoyable?” Over the years I have come to the belief that wine serves three utilitarian purposes (the “noble truths”)–to enhance the taste of food, to enhance a social experience with friends and to taste good. Anything else can quickly become an ego experience that can spiral into something that is less than satisfying. Along the way I personally enjoy the “learning”, but that is just “me”. I have also noticed that while my tastes have changed dramatically over the years and as long as I stay close to the “three noble truths” about wine stated above life just seems like a higher quality experience. And so it goes.
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I like the “Noble Truths” concept very much. The other day, someone shared with me a story about sharing wine. They said that sometimes, people tell a very long story BEFORE pouring the wine, which detracts from the experience (let’s have some wine already!). So the moral of that story is to pour the wine, then tell the story.
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A wonderful blog and also comment by Steve. As someone who has journeyed from Country Quencher and Cold Duck to Chablis and White Zinfandel, I then worked diligently to acquire a taste for the good stuff, too many to name. Friends and Fun were paramount and then came the food. On my 40th birthday I had my first wine pairing dinner at the Saddle Peak Lodge. I took my first bite without the wine, it was delicious. Then I took another bite with the wine, a whole new world opened up for me. I made everyone at the table taste my food and sip the wine. Sharing that experience with my husband and our friends was amazing! And for heaven’s sake, pour the wine first then share your story. I have been to many tasting rooms where they are talking and swinging the bottle around!
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