When I tell people I’m in the wine business it usually elicits one of two responses. The first is “you lucky bastard”, the second is a roll of the eyes – “you’re one of those”.
I’ve always felt we can take as much out of wine as we like. Obviously the complexities of a wine (if it’s there at all), the history that goes with it, the food pairings and so on are there for those who want it. More clearly what really matters is whether you like it or not. Yes or no.
But it also seems to me that there is an assumption amongst many folk that anyone who is serious about wine is therefore a snob. In this country, certainly, many people see wine as something fancy for fancy people. Beer or hard liquor are the drinks of the ordinary decent Brit. This problem never came up when I was living in Australia. Blokes and Sheilas discuss the intricacies of Yarra Valley soil types around the barbecue while necking Castlemaine (and refusing to talk about the rugby).
Despite being one of the most important wine markets in the world, the UK’s attitude to wine is, or appears to be, quite polarised. People either think spending more than a fiver on a bottle is pointless or won’t touch anything which isn’t at the other end of the spectrum. Both these philosophies are nonsense and when you put the two of them together you have two blind men arguing about the colour of the sky. There are, of course, a great number of sensible people who fill the void left in between these two lines of thought.
Interestingly, one of the first things customers say to me is “I know nothing about wine other than what I like” before rattling off a list of facts and bottles they’ve drunk which shows they know and have experienced an awful lot. Why do people feel the need to play down their knowledge of wine? It’s not necessarily modesty, it’s more shyness – or a reverence to wine as a topic. This doesn’t seem to apply to things like food, the housing market, rugby or finance. It does apply to fields like fine art which are seen as being equally wanky. I think people are worried about being seen as some kind of snob by virtue of being a wine lover.
It’s easy to see why. Wine is a field with an incredible amount of bullshit attached to it. People in the industry, I believe, often make it more complicated than it needs to be in order to give their profession, and themselves, credibility. They also guard their knowledge jealously and get very defensive when challenged about anything. Those who aren’t trained wine tasters often go along with this because, possibly, they think they’re unable to see what others claim to experience in wines but must be there because other people claim to see it and at the same time the market attaches a high value to these products. I’m not saying this latter group are emperor’s new clothesing it just that analysing a wine is something that requires a level of practice that most people with proper jobs are unable to invest. Zero shame in that.
You might get more appreciation from a bottle of something fancy if you take a wine course in the same way you’d get more out of your Ferrari Enzo if you took a driving course with Sebastien Vettel.
Anyway, here’s really no mysticism about it. Either you like the wine and think it’s worth the money or you don’t. There’s nothing wrong with either line of thought but snobbery and reverse snobbery are equally wrong. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. This applies the same to £6 Beaujolais as for Yquem.