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?