Wednesday, March 26, 2014

You Already Know All You Need To About Wine

Twitter is the perfect platform for people wage spats on.  And embarrass themselves.  It usually starts when someone antagonizes another, quoting them out of context.  The rebuttal - also quite public - typically reflects the sting of being criticized out in the open.  Then the powers of social media ignite and followers pile on to different sides, amplifying the volume of the argument and hijacking the tone to new lows.  It's ultimately humiliating, yet this process is repeated again and again - even in the wine world.  That this happened again this week in full view of the twittersphere is not in and of itself newsworthy, but the participants did make it noteworthy.

David White puts this into context and describes the he said/she said on his blog, Terroirist, so I won't repeat the sordid tale here, except to say that three of the most important wine critics were all at the center of this episode - which pretty much guarantees the pile-on effect.  Robert Parker, Jon Bonne (San Francisco Chronicle), and Eric Asimov (New York Times) all took part.  David's article is short and funny in a did he/she really say that? kind of way and worth a quick read for context.

Celebrating this buffoonery isn't a point worth making, but something stood out for its familiarity.  At some point along the way, Eric Asimov tweeted this eye-catching comment: "Liking not as important as understanding."  I don't think his tweet is an overarching statement about the wine experience at all.  Rather, I believe this was an attempt to defend the tasting, which apparently featured some less-than-spectacular wines which Lisa Perrotti-Brown, the new Editor in Chief of the Wine Advocate, described in stark, harsh terms.

Having attended the same conference in 2010, I can't say I'm terribly surprised.  That week served to affirm my opinion that, broadly speaking, Napa wines are vastly over-priced, lop-sided, blunt instruments made by self-congratulatory trustafarians.

But I digress.  At the risk of hypocritically taking a simple tweet out of context (and taking the very long way round to the point), Eric's comment struck a chord because I often hear people comment that they don't know enough about wine to enjoy it properly.  My knee-jerk reaction is usually a wince.

I have enjoyed much of my ongoing education in wine and have found that, like any field of study, the more you know, the more you're able to appreciate the landscapes, history, stories, personalities, and the context in which the focal point is made.  It is pretty cool to stick your nose into a glass and trace that sensory experience back to the slope of a vineyard hillside or the weather of a particular year or the thumbprint of a winemaker.  But does that enable me to enjoy wine more properly?

No.

If anything, knowledge can hamper enjoyment.  Ask any restaurant employee how much they enjoy dining out.  Chances are pretty good that their thoughts are more occupied with analyzing the food and service than enjoying the experience.  And so it goes with wine. As fellow wine blogger Joe Roberts once said of attending a perspective tasting, it's "...the equivalent of having a joy vacuum attached to my wine-loving soul and turned on full-blast."

So, if you're ever encumbered by the idea that you don't know enough about wine to properly enjoy it, consider this: If you're not enjoying the wine you're drinking, it is definitely not because you don't know enough about it.  In fact, you probably have more of a discerning palate than you give yourself credit for.  The wine might just suck.  Regardless of the semantics, the truth is in your mouth, not in some nebulous yardstick of your knowledge.  If you can tell the difference between what tastes good to you and what doesn't, then you already know everything you need to know about wine.

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