By Michael Eigen
I wish I can take credit for the term I’m about to write about but I can’t. I had lunch with an old friend and a new friend the other day and the new friend was conveying the story of a dinner party she attended. Her sister and her “oenophile” husband were there as well. The husband was quite anxious to share his love and “knowledge” of wine with the rest of the table. He proceeded to pull out pages of notes he had downloaded from Wine Spectator and then extolled the virtues of the wine in elaborate prose, making sure everyone was able to taste the “cola” notes on the front palate. My friend told me that her shin was black and blue from the under-the-table kicking going on between her and her sister. And while I’m sure they appreciated his enthusiasm and effort, all they really wanted to do was drink some wine. I guess the first rule here is to know your audience.
They termed him “The Douchelier” which is both mean and awesome. Here’s a guy that is obviously interested in learning about wine – or at least thinks he is – but is totally doing it the wrong way, on every level. As I’ve written ad nauseum, learning about wine is a long, hard process that does in fact have a method. Nowhere in my very methodical wine education has a printout from Wine Spectator ever reared its head. It’s not really how you do it. So how do you do it Mister Know-it-all?
Simple, start at the beginning. Realize that you know nothing and ask the right questions. Most importantly, drink lots of different wine in an organized manner. Different wines means wines from different places. It means red wines, white wines, rose wines, dry wines, sweet wines, fortified wines. In other words you need to try everything, because if you want to be an expert you need to understand the broad before you understand the finite. It’s not a matter of not liking white wine or red wine, you need to know what they’re about in order to ascertain if they’re good. It takes a while and those tasting notes in the magazines or online end up being useless. You have to establish your own benchmarks for what makes a wine good, and what makes a wine good to you (see my rant on scores for more on this).
This led me to another thought; I’ve noticed that when I’m with knowledgeable wine people the thing you never hear people discuss are the “notes”. I cannot recall being at a wine dinner where we really go into too much detail about that type of thing. Tasting, especially blind tasting, tends to center around qualitative aspects of a wine such as terroir, balance or maturity. Part of that comes from experience but a lot of it comes from the realization that those terms are really inconsequential to the ultimate experience which is drinking wine. Intellectualizing wine can not only take the fun out of drinking, it can even blind you to whether or not you actually like the wine. This happens to novices and experts alike.
There are many times when a group will be deciphering a blind wine, taking it apart to figure it out and at some point someone will have to ask: “But do you like it?” It’s important not lose the forest for the trees. Wine is meant to be enjoyed, and for many, the Douchelier and his ilk do not add to that enjoyment.