How to reverse-engineer your wine knowledge

It's funny to me that the longer amount of time you spend on something, the more familiar you assume the rest of the world is becoming with it, too.

I don't think anything could be further from the truth. This phenomenon must be an extension of the idea that we as individuals assume a great deal of ourselves exists in everyone else. What do I mean by that? I mean that to a certain degree, many of us assume that because we feel a certain way or think a certain way, that everybody else either also thinks that way or should think that way.

The older I get, the more I realize how vastly false this is. Don't believe me? Take a peek at the political situation in the US.

OK, now you get it for sure.

And I suppose that's where my frustration lies in observing the more apparent world of wine education. You know, I see these high-end, sommelier-ridden wine club videos fly by, and they're still explaining to people why winos do the swirling thing. I THOUGHT EVERYONE KNEW THAT ALREADY. I guess not, and it's on my own sense of selfopocentricism for not seeing that.

I mean, yes, I swirl wine all the time. It's like a nervous tick. I used to go on dates and swirl endlessly until I realized it was quite distracting to the person sitting across the table and it was indeed just that: a nervous tick.

So, what am I really driving at here? Hey, maybe my learning curve was just steep, and I had the fortunate circumstances of a supportive community wanting me to succeed in an area that I had little experience in, along with my own desire to succeed in those early wine jobs.

Maybe I am tired of scrolling Instagram, looking for original and unique content, sometimes finding it, but more often finding that each "influencer" is still just explaining what a grape varietal is, exposing some new or obscure grape varietal, describing wine using ridiculous tasting notes that honestly cannot represent the smell or taste of wine appropriately, or sounding like a wannabe textbook.

Maybe I just personally find this information mundane at this point, but I don't think that's it. It's still exciting to discover new wine. It's exciting to discover a new vintage from a familiar producer. I'm as excited as I've ever been to crack new bottles from parts unknown. I'm honestly not jaded. Promise.

So what am I missing? What is it that I feel needs to be out there for people who want to take on a new relationship with their wine? If I am going to be critical of what's already out there, do I have the solution?

See, if you took a person off the street who otherwise had no notable interest in wine and put them in a room with me, and somebody asked both of us to describe the grape varietal Mondeuse Noir, we'd both know the same amount about the varietal: absolutely nothing.

So, in that scenario, what makes us different?

Well, since we're here and I'm not doing anything else, let's count the ways. Assuming that the person off the street would remain indifferent, perhaps they could at least hear everything there is to hear about the varietal. Its origin. Its characteristics. Its seasonality, or its expected course of ripening in various climatic areas. Its colour spectrum when it becomes wine. Its tannic tendencies. Is it a high sugar-producing grape. Is it a high acid-producing grape. What does it look like on the vine. Which producers are using it in which regions. Are any of these attainable to taste. Why is it used, why is it not used. On and on. This is the kind of information I see that's out there for anyone to obtain. I could honestly google this all right now.

Now, here's my approach.

Before I knew anything about this grape varietal, my immediate thought would be HOW CAN I GET MY HANDS ON SOME? How can I actually get my nose in it and my lips around it?

That's it. Everything else comes after. This has been my approach from Day 1. I believe that I work in reverse from most people.

See, most people I see out there treat wine like they treat buying a car. They want reviews. They want a description. They want an idea of how the car drives, how the wine tastes, how is it similar to cars I've driven before or wines I've had before.

Most people out there first want to know IF THEY EVEN WANT TO TRY IT but stuffing their brains with ideas that simply SYMBOLIZE knowledge and sensory experience of that particular wine.

I'm arguing that this is ridiculous and incorrect. See, it's fine if you're working as a sommelier or in a wine shop and you're looking for repeat customers. I get it. People come in, you've got 60 seconds or less to match up their tastes or their mood with something tangible that they can drink. If they like it, they like you, they come back, they buy again. That's business. I get it.

But I'm not running a restaurant or a wine shop. Not anymore.

I'm running a revolution in how we learn about wine.

If you want to get really good at this wine thing fast, you gotta be bloodthirsty to just get your senses directly in the wine itself. Plain and simple. If you see a wine you literally didn't just taste this morning or yesterday or five minutes ago, your first instinct needs to be, "let me fuckin' taste that shit." Everything else will follow.

You need to be excited to stick your nose in that glass and just enjoy whatever comes at you. You gotta get to the point where smelling anything is exciting, without conditions.

The most powerful thing in your relationship with wine is your direct relationship with wine itself.

Words, reviews, tasting notes, and even the mountain of technical information out there can simply not replace this moment of direct interaction, where you share a deep and meaningful moment with a wine and put it in the bank of your natural sensory memory. And once that's done, I fully encourage that you seal that sensory experience with as much of the technical information on the wine and related topics that you can. It only serves to strengthen the experience. And everything you read about that wine after your experience has occurred will be tied directly to the actual smell and taste of the wine.

If you'd prefer to go the other way, worry about your "precious" palate and preferences, you might take in a lot of information that has no meaning to you, pre-judge a wine, taste it without tasting it, or with only an expectation or hope for what it might taste like. And at that point, the only thing that will make the wine stick in your brain, is if you like it. And now you have one piece of information, which isn't really relevant information at all, and that is the simple fact of whether you like it or not.

I think that's just sad. And very, very boring.

Try it my way. Reverse-engineer your knowledge. Start with the fucking wine. Isn't that the important thing? Start with the wine. Know the wine. Build up the little hamlets and cities of knowledge around the actual experience of the wine. It will be amazing how quickly you develop a metropolis of valuable wine knowledge in your mind.

Start with the wine. End with the wine.

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