Understanding wine is hard work. We study maps of wine regions and their climates, grape varietals and their characteristics, and delve into various techniques for making wine, trying to understand their influence on the final product. Then we learn a complex but arcane vocabulary for describing what we’re tasting and go to the trouble of decanting, choosing the right glass, and organizing a tasting procedure, all before getting down to the business of tasting. This business of tasting is also hard. We sip, swish, and spit trying to extract every nuance of the wine and then puzzle over the whys and wherefores, all while comparing what we drink to other similar wines. Some of us even take copious notes to help us remember for future reference what this tasting experience was like.
In the meantime, we argue with each other on Twitter fighting over whether a wine is terroir-driven or a technological abomination, typical or atypical, over-oaked or under ripe. We scour Wine Spectator’s Annual Top 100 looking for who’s up and who’s down and bitch about inflated wine scores and overblown wine language.
In other words, we really seem to care about getting it right, identifying a wine’s essence and properly locating it in the wine firmament. Why? Why not just relax enjoy the wine without the sturm und drang?
It seems to me the best explanation of all this struggle is that we enjoy it. We don’t study wine and endlessly converse about it because we want to understand it. Rather we try to understand it so we can have these conversations and a reason to study it. We appreciate wine because careful attention, the weighing of complex considerations, and the discovery of something new are themselves pleasurable. And wine is the perfect vehicle for this because it is subtle, difficult to predict, and maddingly elusive.
Like a game, wine appreciation is fine-tuned to be just the kind of struggle we want to be captured by.