Thursday, January 26, 2012

Various Ways to Appreciate Wine

This afternoon I was perusing my copy of the Oxford Companion to Wine (an exercise most students of wine will attest to engaging in on a near daily basis), and came across the entry for Michael Broadbent, one of the world’s truly renowned wine professionals. As prolific and near-celebrity wine writers go, Mr. Broadbent is as recognizable by name as Oz Clarke, Jancis Robinson, Hugh Johnson, and others of impeccable vinous standing. The entry on Mr. Broadbent detailed many of his titles and accomplishments over his years in the wine trade, but one portion of the entry struck me as rather peculiar (in a good way):

“His passion is not for wine consumption, or for the relaxed sociability associated with it, but for the rigorous analysis of each measured mouthful of wine (he sees his wristwatch as an important tasting accessory, monitoring how a wine evolves in a glass).”

This portion of the entry on Broadbent got me thinking about how people involved with wine, professionally or by way of recreation, judge others for how they think and communicate about wine.

When asked what it is about wine that they like so much, I trust that many, if not most, individuals in the wine-consuming populace will point to wine’s aesthetic pleasures. Plainly enough, wine is great because it tastes great. You’re likely to hear this sort of response from wine “laypeople” as well as professionals in the trade. I’d venture a guess that most wine drinkers came to wine by way of liking the way it tastes. After an aesthetic appreciation, delving deeper into the world of wine surely reveals the aw-inspiring complexity of the subject, from issues of viticulture, vinification, maturation, etc. Sometimes, however, it seems that we take for granted the fact that all people who work with wine view consuming it for pleasure as a primary reason for enjoyment. But what if wine’s good taste was not one’s principle concern?

I should admit that I did not become interested, enthused, or even obsessed about wine initially because of the way it tastes. Rather, I came to wine through an appreciation for its merit as a subject of study, and a respect of its incredible uniqueness. Wine truly does express a sense of place, and it may be the only mainstream beverage in existence today to truly do so. Use the term ‘terroir’ if you like (I know some don’t much care for it), but opening a bottle of wine truly is an experience of experimentation and learning. I believe wine tastes good, but I feel similarly about Cherry Coke (one of the only beverages that may be able to rival wine for the number one spot in my heart). In fact, if we’re going to use taste and aesthetic pleasure as the sole barometer for evaluation, there have probably been a few (or more) moments in my life when an ice cold Cherry Coke sounds more appealing than a glass of wine. Wine earn (and retains) top-notch standing in my book when I take hedonism out of the equation, and when I factor in my appreciation for how a bottle of wine came to be.

Although some of you may feel fine with me stating that I often prefer the taste of Cherry Coke to many wines, there will surely be others who find that such a statement makes me unqualified (or rather, unworthy) to take part in serious study of wine. It is to those (hopefully few) whom I’d like to invoke the aforementioned passage on Michael Broadbent. I think it’s perfectly acceptable for someone to love wine for reasons unrelated to the hedonistic pleasure it provides. As a subject of study, wine and issues related to its production are as vast and detailed as you’re likely to find in any academic discipline. In fact, it probably trumps many. I believe the world’s wine enthusiasts can be part of the same community of lovers and appreciators for a great many different reasons.

I’m “all in” on wine, and I have been for quite some time now. I’ve embarked on a number of educational “routes” through self-study and various academic bodies, and have begun spending money I have no business spending on a nice bottle to share with friends. I want to make wine my career, as is the case with a great many fine people I interact with daily on twitter, facebook, etc. We should all love wine, but not necessarily be forced to love it the same way.

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