An Open Letter to Normal Wine Lovers

Do we wine nutters drive you crazy?
An Open Letter to Normal Wine Lovers
Matt Kramer says the stages of wine obsession can lead us down a fanatical road. (Jon Moe)
Jul 19, 2016

Dear Normal Wine Lover,

Like writing to extraterrestrials who, mathematically, we assume must exist, I calculate that you're out there, too. But I'm hard-pressed to recall, at this point, an actual sighting. Everyone I meet now seems to be a wine nutcase.

You may say, understandably, that wine writers, like psychiatrists—who famously insist that everyone they meet is crazy—extrapolate from a deeply skewed sample group. Surely that's true.

But how then do you account for my next-door neighbor, who when I first met him was an utterly normal, beer-and-basketball kind of guy. He had no interest in wine. He drank it mostly to please his wife, who for her part barely rose above rosé. Then they moved next door to me. That was what might be called their primal error, which I'm sure they now rue bitterly.

"So, I understand you write about wine," he affably said upon our first meeting. I allowed that, why yes, I did write about wine for a living. "Don't know much about the stuff myself," he cheerfully admitted. "But if you've got any tips, I'd be happy to hear 'em."

Now, I didn't willfully seek to transform him from a regular guy into a wine geek, but that's what happened. The transformation over the years followed what I now know is a predictable pattern, a wine version of the Kübler-Ross five stages of grief.

Not long after I steered him to a few good wines selling for exceptionally tasty prices than I heard him bemoan his wine fate at restaurants he once innocently enjoyed. "We were at such-and-such last night," he would say. "And we had a Chianti that wasn't anywhere near as good as the one you had us buy. And they wanted, like, three times the price we paid for your wine."

Over the months, then years, this was followed by yet more disillusionment over the inadequate selection or disappointing producer choices of various restaurant wine lists around town. "They didn't have any Mencía wines on the list," I once heard him say. "I mean, how can any good list not have anything from Bierzo or Ribeira Sacra?"

From there, of course, came the inevitable wine vacations to Napa and Sonoma. After every trip, the UPS driver would stagger to his house freighted with cases of one or another expensive Cabernet. "It was a tiny producer, but we managed to get on the list," he would report triumphantly.

Inevitably, as part of the Kübler-Ross five stages of wine grief, my neighbor finally arrived at Burgundy. This, I know for a clinical fact, is the terminal stage. No amount of talk therapy or even hard drugs can bring you back to normalcy once you reach this point.

This final stage of wine grief is characterized by hallucinations of seeing ever-tinier Burgundy producers charging ever-higher prices; fantasies of non-existent wines hopefully and grandly described as "pre-arrival;" and a particularly fascinating delusional pathology wherein victims scratch frantically at their wallets to find $500 to pay for a single bottle of wine. (Wine epidemiologists now report a variant of this condition localized in certain zones in California, with the greatest reporting incidence occurring in and around Napa Valley.)

But this business of wine nutters driving normal people crazy doesn't occur only at the extremes of wine vicissitude. Take, for example, rosé. I'll bet you're drinking it right now—and enjoying it, I'm sure. If ever a beneficent Bacchus had bestowed upon us an innocent wine pleasure, it's surely a cool rosé sipped in the summer heat.

But did you know that your rosé, which almost certainly arrived in your hands in a clear glass bottle, could well be "lightstruck"? That it could well display off odors of cabbage, wet cardboard and even sewage? All that from a rosé, no less.

And what, you ask, is "lightstruck"? Well, it's real enough. Wine (and beer too) is sensitive to ultraviolet wavelengths. Bottles that are green (good) or amber (better) filter out the wavelengths that photochemically create such bad smells. Clear glass bottles do not. But rosés sell on their come-hither hue, so clear glass is their marketing magic.

So what's the hubbub? Fluorescent light can emit similar wavelengths to sunlight. And there's no question that sunlight is really bad. What's more, sunlight works really fast. Laboratory experiments (likely funded by the bottle manufacturers) show that a bottle of beer or wine stored in a cabinet that's a foot or two from a fluorescent light will indeed suffer the off-flavor consequences of being "lightstruck."

Here's where the wine nutters make your life a misery. Because of these experiments, which are unequivocally correct, they paranoically extrapolate that all fluorescent light, at whatever distance from your wine, will adversely affect your once-pristine rosé.

Are there any real-world experiments in, say, a typical retail shop, that prove such a thing? Not to my knowledge. For what it's worth, no rosé I've ever bought has shown any such "lightstruck" effects. But wine nutters live at the edge and, typical of the breed, they're sure that dangers lurk.

So I ask you: Do we wine nutters drive you crazy? I fear that we do, especially us evangelical sorts. (Yes, I know that I recently urged you to seek out Canary Island wines. I mean, how nutty is that?)

But my intentions were good. And don't worry about the fluorescent lights, OK?

Your well-meaning wine pal,



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