When Wine Is Way Too Complicated


"Some Assembly Required"

The other night I was (accidentally) watching an infomercial about the newest, hottest, most decked-out universal remote control ever. I think it does everything but order out for pizza, and it has so many buttons and dials that it’s surely a gadget-guy’s dream come true.

But it’s certainly not my dream come true. It gave me a flashback to all the times I’ve struggled to figure out the buttons on our own universal remote so that I could watch a DVD, switch from the CD player back to the satellite, order a movie, or just turn on the darn TV! The problem is that this stuff is just way too complicated.

Now some things should be complicated — brain surgery, for example. There are a whole lot of facts and theories and techniques that I’d want my doctor to know before he/she stuck a scalpel into my gray matter.

But a television should not be complicated. And neither should wine!

I didn’t realize wine had gotten way out of hand until a good friend joined us for a blind tasting (it’s not the wine drinkers who are blind, but the wines, which are hidden in brown paper bags).  I think a Blind Taste is a blast: it’s like a cross between Trivial Pursuit and Beer Pong, except that you’re throwing out guesses instead of ping pong balls, and like Beer Pong, you end up kinda tipsy. At our blind tastings we all sit around a big table so we can hear each others’ thoughts, opinions, snide comments and drunken ramblings. And we also take turns explaining our analysis of each wine as we finish each flight (not flight as in “airplane”, but flight as in “two or three wines served side-by-side”).

So about halfway through this session, which means after a flight of Macon Villages vs California Chardonnay, and then Southern Rhone vs Australian GSM, I glanced over at my friend and saw — panic, confusion,and frustration in her face. She was most certainly not having a blast. In fact, she told me later that she felt like the kid hiding in the back of the classroom, slouched down in his/her chair, thinking, “Please don’t call on me, please don’t call on me.” She didn’t want to talk because she thought she’d look stupid, say the “wrong thing”, or (shades of Middle School), be laughed at by the cool people who knew the “right answer.”

First of all, we should all know by now that there is no right answer when it comes to wine tasting. We all pick up different sensations with our nose, mouth and brain, and we all interpret those sensations from the perspective of our own, unique experiences. Case in point: back when my children were young, we were tasting Viognier, which you may know is a white wine that can be intensely aromatic, floral, and (sometimes) cloying. I swirled my first glass, stuck my nose right inside, and said, “My God, this smells like wet diapers!” The wine was very pungent, and not in a nice way, and what it most closely resembled in my recent experience was the smell of my kids’ wet diapers. Some of my companions were puzzled and others laughed, but the point is that my comment was every bit as valid as the wine geek who talked about “violets and honeysuckle”. And I still don’t like Viognier.

So what do wet diapers have to do with remote controls? Well nothing, actually. So let’s get back to my friend. Her discomfort was my fault: she had been intimidated because I hadn’t done a good enough job of un-complicating wine for her. I should have helped her realize that learning and talking about wine is just an activity we do to further our enjoyment of wine, and our comments can be as simple as “I like this wine because it’s sweet and fun to drink,” or ” I don’t like this wine because it reminds me of my husband’s dirty socks.”

It’s that simple: talk about wine like it’s any other beverage (would you get worried about analyzing soda pop?). And if you reach a point where you want to go beyond the basics, then you can read some books, maybe take a class or two, and hang around other people who want to talk about and enjoy wine. Trust me, wine is not rocket science — or a universal remote control…

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