Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Overwhelmed by wine education; I just want to drink wine

This is the way I like to learn about wine
Recently I attended an "educational" tasting of single-vineyard Barolo and Barbarescos. It left me feeling overwhelmed. Perhaps I experienced again what beginning wine drinkers face.

I went because I think I like Barolo and Barbaresco, and I wanted to taste some good Barolos and Barbarescos. I really am that simple.

As we know, wine is not that simple. It turns out that Barolos are not only different by which part of the Barolo region they come from: they're different depending on which part of the vineyard they come from. This wine tastes like this because it comes from a south-facing part of the vineyard on clay, whereas that one is from an elevated part of the same vineyard on sandy soil.

I despair. How can I keep track? I left that seminar feeling less confident in my ability to order a Barolo I like than before I got educated.

I won't say "how can anyone keep track" because someone can specialize in Barolo the way people specialize in Burgundy. It's possible to produce hyper-detailed topographical maps of the region with colors indicating soil types. Barolo sells for enough money now that there's a market, though limited, for that type of specialization.

For me, though, I sighed. Yet another part of the world where I will never know enough to help me order the wine I'll most enjoy.

You don't have to stop at Barolo. Chianti Classico wants us to learn how the wine tastes different from different communes. Monterey County published a beautiful poster a few years ago of the "thermal rainbow" so that we could learn the different average and high temperatures in different spots throughout the county. And of course it all matters.

But the wine world is so big now. After I started this essay I went to a tasting of German Pinot Noirs. The German MW who ran the seminar mocked the idea of a guy in England who dared to lump the great diversity of Pinot Noirs from her homeland into one banner of "German." She called that person "stupid." I have ordered one bottle of German Pinot Noir in my life, and while I liked it, I don't remember if it was from Pfalz or Baden. I am stupid.

It's all so much. My favorite type of wine education is to drink a glass of wine and THEN learn why it is the way it is. The desire to know more is what led me to write about wine in the first place. And yet I felt overwhelmed by wine education.

In between the two disheartening wine education seminars, I had a rare opportunity available only to journalists. I could sit in a room in Montalcino and order any current-release Brunellos I wanted -- anything at all, from a list of 133 producers.

I should have been overwhelmed, but instead I just ordered a bunch of great wines, tasted them and now I feel like I understand Brunello in a way I never did before.

In fact, I wrote a whole column about the experience, for Palate Press, where I usually try to sound smart. I wouldn't like to admit on that site for intelligent wine lovers that I did not know the site-specific details of even one of the wines I liked: not the soils, the angle of planting, the trellising system, nothing. I just liked the wines.

Now, in retrospect, I'm glad I didn't have some professional wine educator telling me more about the Brunellos. And I'm really glad no MW called me stupid (though the comments section is there and I'll bet it'll happen soon.)

Has this happened to you? Has there been a moment where you felt overwhelmed by wine education?

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Zzzz said...

It's tough dichotomy as there's too much for most people of say regions in France or Italy and then not enough in say... the rest of the world. I remember my mom being shocked to learn that they make white wine in Spain for instance. Likewise, I always laughed when my relatives in Eastern Washington told me they had great wine years ago. I've had to since eat those words several times over.

I don't know who strikes the perfect balance, but I guess it's something I try to do in my own writing and an aspect to yours that I appreciate as well. The worst is with certain writers who I read and come away thinking, "Was there MSG in that article because I'm still hungry" or then others where you just want to say, "It's awesome you know so much but Jesus, sort out your ideas and give me a linear argument and theory to follow."


Unknown said...

I recently participated in 4-day Master Class on the wines of the Rhone Valley, along with 9 other wine educators, in which we were told by the expert how to differentiate northern reds form southern reds. I thought I understood, but when the blind tasting results came back, I got them all wrong! I would have been much better off had they given me 5 northern reds and 5 southern reds and allowed me to sort it out for myself. I've found, regardless of the level of expertise, no one can really tell you how a wine tastes. Our words for our perceptions are far too inconsistent, even more so when two languages are involved.

Lots of exports say, "this wine taste like this because it comes from here," without any concrete reasons to believe them. I have yet to see anyone with the guts to instead taste the wines blind and say, "this one is from here and this one is from there." Personally, I think most of these associations of flavors with plots are presumptuous and gross oversimplifications.