It’s easy to be intimidated by wine. There is just so much to know! Yet there is a strange inherent embarrassment for wine beginners. Why?
Why Learning About Wine Is Embarrassing
When I first heard wine described as having a “hint of tobacco and vanilla” I assumed tobacco and vanilla were actually added to the wine. Or at the very least, the soil the grapes were grown in. Which made descriptions like tar and ink a little hard to swallow.
On my first wine tour, I felt silly realizing, nope! It’s the qualities that naturally occur in the soil and aging vessels that bring flavor profiles to wine.
I also felt grateful I had not let my inside voice out that day. Just watch and learn kiddo, watch and learn.
My First Winery Tour
After my very first winery tour at Duckhorn Vineyards, I was hooked. Hooked because it wasn’t just dry facts about making wine. In a winery tour, you also hear the story of the people behind the wine. People who dedicate their lives to pursuing their passions. #Inspiring
At Duckhorn, I learned of a couple who moved to Napa in the 70’s with three young kids. At the time, Duckhorn was only the 40th vineyard in Napa. To put that into perspective, there are now approximately 475 vineyards in Napa and that’s not counting nearby Sonoma.
Back then, vineyards were focusing on the sure bet. Cab was king in Napa. Duckhorn made a bold choice and became the only vineyard to focus on Merlot in Napa.
Putting out 800 cases first vintage Merlot was a risk. Placing a premium price on a first release was even riskier.
The gamble paid off. The 1978 Duckhorn “Three Palms” Napa Valley Merlot released at $12.50 a bottle. Widely considered one of the best wines of it’s time, this inaugural Duckhorn Merlot laid the groundwork for Merlot in American.
In the tasting room at Duckhorn that day, I realized it was ok to make up my own mind about wine.
I’d seen the movie Sideways and came in thinking, gross Merlot.
I left, thinking WOW Merlot!
First, Duckhorn Merlot is decadent and yet approachable.
“I liked the softness, the seductiveness, the color, the fact that it went with a lot of different foods; It seemed to me to be a wonderful wine to just enjoy. I became enchanted with Merlot.” — Dan Duckhorn
Second, I fell in love with Dan and Margaret Duckhorn’s story that day. Thanks James Cluer MW for this inspiring glimpse at passion, risk and reward.
Something I learned on the Duckhorn tour planted and image of resilience in my mind. Harsh, rocky soil is good for wine. It forces vines to dig deep to find the strength grow.
Metaphor for life via wine. Wine not!
Now, back to the original question. Why feel embarrased or silly while learning about wine? My own personal theory, we feel like we’re being watched.
While watching someone drink wine is likely not intended to be a form of scrutiny, to wine beginners it can feel that way.
False Sense of Scrutiny
Let’s break that down shall we?
Wine begins with making a decision. What type of wine to choose? Wine lists are complicated. Often for beginners, it’s a guess and see scenario.
Bottle arrives, cork is pop. Then a toast. Tradition calls for looking into another persons eyes and saying “cheers, salute or chin chin.”
So there we are, looking at each other. A decision made. Then a value judgement. Is it good?
Eating, we look down at food. Drinking, we’re looking up. Having to make a decision about something new, then being watched while tasting that decision. Not so comfortable.
Silly? Maybe. Still that’s what got me initially.
No one from the kitchen comes out to watch the first bite of food. Yet there the waiter or worse, well informed Sommelier stands watching to see if you like that wine. Ugh, give me a minute!
Thankfully, it gets easier quick. Plus, there is that perk of getting to drink wine that makes everything feel just fine.
Stop Embarrassment, Pick Up a Glass
The first thing wine beginners need to know, is not knowing, is normal. Even for those of a deep bacchanalian nature. Short of becoming a Sommelier, knowing all there is to know about wine is difficult if not impossible.
Watching Sour Grapes on Netflix is the quickest way for a wine beginners to gather the courage to take a gamble on lifting a glass.
Because the very people beginners might feel scrutinized by, experts and collectors, are shown making mistakes. Oops!
SOMM is another highly enjoyable documentary that dives into the world of the Sommelier.
It helps to know, with all their training and expertise, sometimes even a Sommelier, can get it wrong.
When it comes to learning about wine, if you’re feeling embarrassment at least know, you’re not alone. Wine is a steep learning curve lush with facts, science, history and geography. New terms and concepts.
Truly the only thing that really matters, is learning enough to know, what wines you like and how to describe them. But that’s an entirely different post coming up in another Wine Wednesday.
Oh and just in case you were wondering what MW after James Cluer’s name stands for, it means he is a Master of Wine. Fun fact of the day! Cheers