The following is an excerpt from Steven Lane's debut book, "The Drunken Sommelier".
The book can be purchased here.
It’s the best feeling in the world.
But how could we make it better?
How could you finally get to the level where you feel comfortable having in-depth conversations about wine while you enjoy it, while you shop for it,
and when you order it at restaurants?
When you vacation in wine country?
From my experience, it all starts and ends with your approach.
Facts about wine are easy to obtain. There are thousands upon thousands of books and blogs and courses and online courses that want to give you facts. The same facts and techniques that you could literally find on YouTube and Wikipedia for free.
I am not here to give you facts. I am not here to spoon-feed you the answers. I am here to demonstrate the kind of thinking and approach that I used to go from zero wine experience to the sommelier of a Forbes 5-Star hotel property in 2 years. Or less.
I am going to share with you stories, thoughts, and ideas that I hope will demonstrate to you that wine is not nearly as difficult or mysterious as people would have you believe. Is it complicated, confusing and contradictory? Yes. In wine, there aren’t rules so much as there are guidelines, and the guidelines are meant to be strayed from.
I become frustrated when I see wine education programs that state things as facts, or as absolutes in order to try and make it look easy. The best we can do in wine is to try and establish a trend or a pattern, but it would be foolish to say that we can rely on an absolute in an industry that more resembles a kaleidoscope than a palette of primary colours.
My greatest progress was made when I stopped looking for a straight answer to my questions, and started getting comfortable recognizing that the answer to every question I could ever think of was,
“It depends.” Thanks for that, Iain.
It sounds so simple. But it did one very important thing for me: It made me comfortable with the unknown. It made my knowledge more humble. For example, if someone asked me what Chardonnay was like, instead of thinking that the Chardonnay that I had drank and read about was the answer, I would think, “It depends. Often in X region, it can be like this, but it can be vastly different in myriad forms here, here, over here, and also in places I don’t even know about yet.”
It’s an important distinction in perspective. When you look for a singular answer, your focus becomes narrow. It inherently closes the mind.
When you are comfortable with a broad answer, your focus is widened, and your mind becomes open. Now, you are thinking about how this little piece of information you receive fits into the bigger picture, knowing that the bigger picture is out there.
The other important distinction in approach I would like to lead with is that of preference versus discovery. If you picked this book up with the hope that I would congratulate certain styles of wine that you like and focus on the wines that I like, you picked up the wrong book. I’d suggest putting it down and maybe going for a beer or a cocktail somewhere. I didn’t learn as much as I did in 2 years (I’m still learning. We never stop learning!) by just trying to find wines that I would like. How the hell would I even have known what I liked? I learned a lot in a short amount of time by trying to understand every wine I tasted and read about, and trying to taste and read about as many wines as I possibly could.
You will develop your preferences. It’s only natural. And that’s OK. But this is where most people stop. And this is why most people never get very far down their educational path.
See, it really shouldn’t feel like work to get good at wine. This is the best part. Is it so bad to spend an evening with an entirely new bottle of wine that is foreign to you while you try it out with whatever you have in the fridge and read about it?
You don’t have to love every wine you try. If you want to get good, fast, it is important that you focus on understanding each wine you try as opposed to focusing on whether it’s good or not.
Nobody can ever truly say that a wine is good or bad. The closest we can get is consensus, but rarely, if ever, does everybody agree.
But we can seek to understand. Nobody can take away your perspective. And that should be to embrace each wine for what it is. Nothing more, nothing less.
Drink. Read. Over and over. Seek to understand. Do this, and it won’t be long before you’ve transformed yourself.
I am going to take you through my wacky thoughts, journeys, tales, and musings related to my time spent drinking, thinking, and learning about wine. Hopefully, combined with the approach that I’ve laid out, they will be helpful to you, and this will give you the confidence to finally take that leap that you’ve been dreaming about for so long, and be confident in yourself as a person who adores wine and loves to understand the expression of this beverage from as many nooks and crannies of the globe as possibly.
Give someone a fish, and you feed them for a day. Teach that person how to fish, and you feed them for a lifetime.
Wine is a beautiful thing. Let’s share it together.