A Wine Lover’s Education

Education in a Glass

Some people are subject to the tidal pull of music and/or wine. There are folks who can leave the radio playing in the background forever without listening, or drink a glass or two of wine, here and there, for a lifetime without curiosity. Then there are those for whom a note or flavor strikes a chord. They want to know why and how so they poke around. Maybe they start with Google, soon they are bookmarking pages, subscribing to newsletters and podcasts, buying books. They shop for wine (or songs) with relish, delighted and energized by their self-propelled scavenger hunt.

Because they are curious and enthralled, they learn; the more they learn, the more they find to spark their curiosity. With the blissful concentration of a toddler trying to build a tower of blocks, they absorb knowledge of structure and relationships without conscious effort.

The Unknown Unknowns

Around the turn of the Millennium, I walked into HMV Oxford Street and, after staring for a long time at brightly colored squares on a wall, chose two: Paul Van Dyk Out There and Back and Ministry of Sound presents Speed Garage. I had, you see, ‘discovered’ dance music and in the dubious bliss of utter ignorance picked the covers that looked appealing. (I had no idea what speed garage was; still not sure.)

Photo by Long Truong on Unsplash

This unscientific approach to musical autodidaction led me down a laser-lit rabbit hole into clubland where, for a number of years, I made an exciting and satisfactory living as a dance music journalist.

Perhaps there were more direct, dignified routes into that livelihood than via Speed Garage mixed by Serious Danger but my stance is that sometimes the best way to learn about a thing is to grab whatever filament or finger-hold presents itself and clamber on in.

This method calls for a brass-coated neck. I spent time publicly admiring the musical output of Lab4 and BK (Google, if you must) before wising to the sonic sophistication of the Belleville 3 and Gui Boratto. Hindsight’s fleeting embarrassment is offset by the riches of having to do the hard work of sorting myself. Not-knowing gave me a chance to learn, something easy to undervalue in the age of Google.

Face the Music and Drink

All this bears on wine. About the same time I was cuing ‘For An Angel’ on the Discman I made my first foray into regular wine consumption. Two-for-a-fiver at the cornershop on the far side of Finchley Road. One red, one white. The first label I remember was on a bottle of E&J Gallo White Zinfandel stolen out of my friend Clare’s mini-fridge.

A couple decades later I learned what ‘White Zinfandel’ is.

Photo by Vincenzo Landino on Unsplash

In those intervening years, I drank a lot of wine in a lot of places with a lot of people. Yellow Tail Merlot in my brother’s clapboard house in Eugene, Raptor Ridge Tempranillo in their elegant tasting room overlooking the Willamette Valley, ‘anything but Rioja’ with my pal Nick in his north London abode affectionately known as ‘The Hovel’ (there were books in the bathtub, the toilet didn’t work), Amic Rose Cava with my now-husband beneath a full moon at Pou de Lleo, Gavi on Ruth’s sofa, nature wine while glamping in Catalunya with Sarah, a bottle of 15% California Syrah with my other brother — which left my head feeling as if it had been cartoon-style flattened by an anvil, a bottle of something with my best friend as I cradled his infant daughter, one-Euro glasses of sherry on sticky summer nights in Jerez.

Much as the best bits of clubbing are the ones you can’t remember, some of the happiest of those occasions are the fuzziest. But, unlike 140BPM hard techno and all that lifestyle entails, wine rewards slowing down and paying attention. Pour yourself into a glass and stories emerge — ghost stories, romances, hard-luck tales, picaresques, triumph-over-adversity fables. Plus the history, geography, botany, geology, climatology, chemistry, agronomy, philosophy, physics and metaphysics that go into every bottle.

Photo by Alfonso Scarpa on Unsplash

The Way It Makes You Feel

One thing I learned from music journalism is that you never write about music. Not because of anything Elvis Costello said, but because praising chord progressions or parsing middle-eights will send any warm-blooded reader running. People don’t want to read about music, they want to read stories that capture the way music makes them feel. Good prose, in this context (to pilfer Orwell) is not a window pane but a mirror.

This made my musical ignorance if not an advantage, at least not a handicap. I couldn’t have written about middle-eights if I wanted to, so I had to write about the centipede crawl of a bassline or the way synths spun themselves into cotton candy.

Sharing appreciation does not equal feigning expertise. I never pretended to know more about music than I did; there were musicians who could explain anything that needed explaining, so I asked them.

This is my approach to wine, too. There are countless brilliant, highly educated, wonderful professionals who dedicate their lives to understanding the nuances of wine production, marketing and so forth. Vinediction is a platform for them, a way to share their wisdom.

Am I going to throw in my two cents? Sure. Every wine-lover is entitled to opinions and preferences, wherever they are on their learning-and-drinking journey. What’s more, everyone who appreciates wine brings a unique melange of memories and experiences that color their relationship with wine. That’s the fun of it. We all have something to share.

What sparked your interest in wine? Or in music? Share your memories in the comments!

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