In most areas of life, mystery is a good thing. Literature, film and science depend on mystery for their very existence. It’s what drives an unfolding plot and the dogged search for an explanation. Religion is loved in part because it lends mystery to life. Yet, when it comes to wine, mystery is something everyone thinks we would be better off without.
Perhaps this zeal to eliminate mystery comes from wine’s position as a cultural symbol of sophistication. Perhaps people feel if they lack wine knowledge they appear unsophisticated so to relieve a sense of collective inadequacy we need to make wine into something ordinary and accessible. But, more likely, wine’s complexity seems like something nearly unmasterable and just too much work. So people involved in the selling of wine try to sell it as something as comprehensible as orange juice or soda.
But this attempt to demystify wine betrays the secret of all motivation–the fun is in the mystery, not the mastery. One of the loveliest facts of life is that the more you learn, the more there is to learn. Learning increases a sense of wonder because it expands the facts on which to build horizons. That is surely true of wine knowledge.
Wine is phantasmagorical, constantly mutating, reacting to geographical and environmental conditions, and changing shape depending on who you are, when you drink, where you drink and with whom. And always with the sense that there is something else there to be uncovered. Demystification means knowing exactly what your getting. Wine is fun because it can never be reduced to a set of fixed characteristics that one could simply know.
All those confusing labels, exotic locales, varying vintages, and proliferating varietals are stage setting for the unexpected and the astonishing. To demystify it is a crime.