Wine & The Human Condition

You might be onto the fact that the niche I've gone after in the early days of this blog is wine writing that is less about wine tasting and more about how our condition as humans affects our relationship with the juice.

I always used to joke that I found it funny that there was no personality component to sommelier certification exams. I dropped out of WSET Level 3 because I found either A.) Skipping class and working the floor and practicing talking to people about wine or B.) Skipping class and spending 3-4 hours drinking wine with a friend and getting into the deep tangential conversations derived from the bottle itself were equating to much more usable and effective vocabulary and social skills where I really need them: with the wine drinking guest of mine.

Yes, sure, we've seen the footage of sommeliers in the service portions of their exams. They learn to keep their cool under pressure. But they don't teach them to pick up a People™ Magazine or a Popular Science™ once in a while just to see what the other half of the world is talking about. They don't tell them to stop listening to hip-hop and Ariana Grande for five minutes and switch it out for Miles Davis and Minnie Riperton and Donna Summer and Led Zeppelin and the Beatles and Kristofferson and Cash and Jarrett and Mozart and on and on. They don't tell them to turn off Netflix for an hour and switch out the Tiger King for "Pierrot le Fou" or "Blow Up!" or something with Sophia Loren or Jean-Pierre Léaud.

I think the floor of a restaurant is where the generalist becomes the master. She who knows a bit about everything now can more easily relate to anyone in the room. She is not so exclusively focused on herself or her own endeavours that she doesn't know what happened in Game 5 of the Conference Finals last night. She knows that Goldie Hawn was in town last week. She doesn't think of foreign movies as foreign movies the same way she doesn't think of wines from France as foreign wines. She tries to see the whole world, not just her world.

This is how she can relate to everyone on some level. Maybe she wants to challenge a table who is asking for punter juice by bringing them a wine that for them would seem to be coming out of left field. Instead of forcing her suggestion onto them, she notices one of the guest has a Bruce Springsteen t-shirt on. She doesn't know the boss that well, but she loves the song "Atlantic City" off of Nebraska. She says, listen, I don't have the wine you're asking for. Let's call that "Born in the USA." But I do have a wine that "blew up the chicken man in Philly last night."


The guest wearing the Springsteen shirt is now eating out of her hand. That guest will be so stoked that he was seen by someone, that his interests were noticed and recognized, that he's now willing to reciprocate the favour and see somebody else's interests and try a new wine that he was otherwise closed off to.

I've compared wine to everything. There's a bit of sleight of hand in opening people's eyes sometimes, but nothing is more joyous than when someone tells you something and you're able to convince them of the opposite and watch them expand their mind and palate right in front of you.

This is why I advocate for more than wine study. Yes, read every article on Bordeaux on the Decanter website while you drink Mouton-Cadet, and put on an album you've never listened to while you do it. Then watch a film with subtitles, for chrissakes.

Get out of your zone and into someone else's. They have as much to teach you as you have to teach them.

Most times, you'll be the one who has to take the first step. But you can do that.

The wine gods will thank you in myriad forms.

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