Wine Don't Bite

Dismantling the intimidation factor in wine
Nov 21, 2017

When I tell someone I work in wine, they often respond, "Oh gosh, I don't know anything about wine!"

It mystifies me. I don't meet criminal-defense lawyers and tell them, "Oh gosh, I don't know anything about the penal code!" It's my job to know as much as possible about wine, to tell stories about it and to distill geeky information into something palatable and engaging. Your job is to enjoy it. (And if I ever find myself in a legal pickle, I would hope I can count on qualified counsel.)

So why the intimidation around wine, which is supposed to be about pleasure? I equate it to that feeling you get when you're around someone who works in fashion—that self-conscious unease when you think your Payless shoes and Forever 21 dress are being scrutinized. Wine and fashion are things that many people encounter in their everyday lives, so when someone else can be considered an expert on them, it creates a sense of insecurity: I have clothes. I drink wine. I should know more about them.

Wine may feel highbrow—and often has a price tag to match—but I try to push against that impression when I'm speaking with wine novices. I say this: Wine is an agricultural product. The people who make it are farmers. There is nothing more humbling than being at the mercy of your land and Mother Nature, tirelessly working in the vineyards or scrubbing vats in the cellar preparing for that year's harvest, with the simple aim of making fermented grape juice that tastes good and reflects your particular plot of earth. No one is wearing a suit and tie, let alone a tastevin, while doing that.

Even in regions that may be regarded as snooty, people do not lose sight of this agricultural ethos. Sure, when I traveled to Bordeaux and visited châteaus, I found myself in many swanky tasting rooms and hyper-modern cellars. But the vintners I met got the most excited when they put on their mud-splattered boots and showed me around the vineyards. I'll always remember Christian Moueix's face light up on one of my visits as he tried to teach me how to prune a vine (a humbling moment that confirmed I should just stick to writing about it).

All this to say: Wine comes from grapes. Grapes come from vines. Vines come from the earth. Just like the tomatoes you put on your salad. Don't let anybody make you feel like wine is out of your reach. Enjoy it, learn about it, but don't sweat it. Cheers!

You can follow Emma Balter on Twitter, at twitter.com/emmabalter, and Instagram, at instagram.com/emmacbalter

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