One of my “jobs,” though more self-assigned than anything else, is to try and interest people in wine -- not just drinking wine, but talking about wine, reading about wine, and engaging with the wine world. One of my biggest obstacles? The wine world.
I am reminded almost daily what an insular, provincial bunch of blowhards we can be. It’s really just a microcosm of the greater world that surrounds us, though the narcissism, Napoleon complexes, and general sophomoric behavior does seem to proportionally exceed what one might expect to find amongst the general population. For now, I’ll attribute that perspective to the sheer amount of time I spend among these cretins.
So, why is it that so many people are battling for status in the wine world?
In a word or three, it’s because there is a seemingly simple but rigid hierarchy. For starters, there are those who know the “basic” facts: the first growths of Bordeaux, the Grand Cru vineyards of Burgundy, the cult winemakers of California. These are in general easily memorized facts that will instantly confer on you wine expert status from the 96% of the population who might now believe you know more than they do. Yes, you may in fact know more, but it’s fairly useless knowledge when you get into it.
Want to move into the next percentile? Well, it’s not terribly hard to do and there are many ways to do it! Why not start by drinking lots of old, expensive, or rare wine? That way the next time you are offered a taste of 1945 Mouton Rothschild, you can pithily opine on its relative merits while offering the oft-quoted disclaimer that while good, you’ve had better examples of this vintage. Who’s gonna argue with you? One of the other 4,000 people who’ve had the 45 Mouton on multiple occasions? For the sake of this discussion, I’ll go ahead and exclude the other 25,000 who have enjoyed multiple counterfeit bottles! Okay, folks. Simmer down. It’s just an educated guess.
Looking for another, more affordable route? How about just lying? Like I just said, the chance of running into someone who can challenge your opinions will be rare as hen’s teeth, and after all you’ll just be offering an opinion. Remember, wine is all about opinion; in fact, it’s pretty much only about opinion, with the exception of analytical analysis of things like residual sugar, tannin, acids, suspended dry matter. But we want to make sure people don’t discover that little factoid, so bullying is always a great way to come off as the unchallengeable expert. There are a whole lot of wine bullies out there -- there’s just so much information one can be super-confident and assertive about!
Alright, now what if you want to be better informed than 99% of the population? Well, now you’re getting into rather rarified territory, but you still have a pair of pathways open to you, education being the key to both.