I’ve spent the better part of the first half of the year learning about… finance.
That is, now that wine is my “job,” (it feels really cool to type that) I needed another outlet, something about which I’d been passionate and wanted to learn more, to idle away the time learning during the down time (not that there’s much of it) when I’m traveling, or unwinding during the several seconds it takes me to fall asleep at night after chasing around my five year old daughter for the better of the day.
You know… a hobby.
Because I’m a geek (and for other reasons that I might get into here at a later date), I chose Finance. It’s amazing how deep the financial rabbit-hole goes, how much of it is related to human psychology, and the volume of parallels I’ve found in, for example, the world of investing with the world of wine media and wine scores.
During my drinking-from-the-Financial-knowledge-firehouse, I encountered this thread on the BogleHeads.org forum, titled What do you wish you had learned sooner?
It’s an amazing little forum thread, full of life, savings, and investment lessons gleaned from the cruelly sharp-focused prism of the kind of hindsight that can only come from mistake-making, coupled with the heat-induced etching into one’s memory that is the hallmark of losing one’s money to a stupid idea. I became somewhat fascinated by that thread, and it “bleeds yellow,” as in yellow highlighter, the kind of thing that you read and want to highlight because there’s so much to learn form it that it can only really be digested in chunks.
And it got me thinking, what did I wish I’d learned about wine sooner?…
There are so many potential answers to that questions, I’m not even sure where to start. But I’m fascinated as to what YOUR answer to that question would be. I’m not saying there’s a perfect way, or that mistakes don’t lead to knowledge or enlightenment on the topic of wine (far from it – and the homework is awesome, because it involves drinking). But we all wish we’d wasted less time checking out the tacky tourist traps and more time enjoying the stellar view and humanistic stories during our journeys into wine’s deep forest territories, right?
For me, it’s a tough call but if I had to promote one thing to the number one slot, it would be that when it comes to enjoying the my personal tastes trumps every iota of wine recommendation advice available from any critic, pro, or expert. Period.
Many, many, many moons ago, I once spent an entire day driving around PA state wine stores (already an exercise in wasted time if ever there was one) with a copy of Wine Spectator’s top 100 list (already this is getting embarrassing, and we’re still in the first compound sentence of this paragraph), from the first, last and only issue of Wine Spectator I’ve ever purchased, trying to find any of the high-scoring wines on the list.
What a colossal waste of some of my short time on this planet.
Not because those wines might suck (they probably didn’t), not because I shouldn’t have purchase some of them (not that the PLCB stores would have had any of them in stock anyway), and not because the wines would have been overpriced even if I’d found them (some would have, but not all of them).
No, it was a total waste of time because I lacked any context on the wines whatsoever. Really, the blurbs in WS about the wines didn’t tell the story of those wines. They numbers next to each of those wines didn’t tell me whether or not I’d like them, or if their styles, approaches, flavors and aromas would suit my personal tastes.
I wish I’d just trusted myself, and my tried-and-true method of deeply learning about anything (gaining experience, supplementing with book learning, relying on my judgment, and moving at a slow-and-steady-wins-the-race tortoise pace) instead of trying to use some short-cut.
How about YOU? What do you wish you’d learned about wine sooner?
23 thoughts on “What Do You Wish You’d Learned About Wine Sooner?”
I wish I'd learned that you don't have to pay a ton of money to get a really pleasing bottle of wine. One game my wife and I played (when we had money) was to purchase the Latours and d'Yquems and pricey Napa Cabs so we could see what the fuss was about, then try to find similarly pleasing bottles for $15-$20. While it is a challenge to find all those layers and excitement in that price range, you definitely can find maybe 3/4 of the greatness for less than 1/5th the price.
Jon – great one to mention, there. Underscoring this, I've had more than one winemaker tell me that the $30/bottle range is where real magic can happen, because if they can sell a wine for that price it usually opens up more (and higher quality) winemaking and grape growing/buying options for them, translating into more interesting wine.
It's interesting also to think about how much "profit" a winemaker wants to make on the bottle. The packaging itself is usually the most expensive of all the cost of goods. If you roll up all the costs, including wine, an expensive heavy bottle and complicated labels can cost $15 per bottle. Since I drive all my costs into the asset value of the bottle until it is sold (realizing the COGS upon sale), that asset value creeps up slowly as I amortize storage charges. And note that the $15 does not include any compensation for any "employees", marketing costs or permits and fees. So, yes, $30 would probably elevate the winemaker above the "giving-it-away-just-to-keep-making-wine" level, providing compensation for keeping winemaking the day job, an also giving a certain amount of profit. (Sorry for the rambling…)
Jon – no worries, I love the ramblings! I would add that we are assuming here a certain standard of viticulture and viniculture that is not practiced (for economic reasons) when it comes to bulk wines and bargain-priced wines, and the raising of those standards and packaging and presentation, etc., when hitting that $30-or-so price point.
This is not exactly what you meant, but I wish I would have started blogging (and reading blogs) sooner. As you know, there are a ton of blogs out there now and it is damn near impossible to weed through them. It also seems as though some blogs/bloggers (present company excluded, of course) benefit as much (or more) from their longevity (i.e., how long they have been writing) as from the quality of their content. (I hope this did not come off as whiny, that was not my intention at all–just an observation from a relative "newbie.")
TDC – No, not whiny (not entirely, anyway :). I think I understand what you mean; some people logging (on any topic, I suspect) get to a point where it feels that the passion that got them started no longer comes through, and the results feel like they're phoning it in.
I would challenge, though, that it's impossible to weed through blogs. Sure, there are probably some hidden gems yet to be discovered or get the following that they deserve, but I think generally speaking anyone who is getting into the wine blog-o-world can start to separate the wheat from the chaff fairly quickly. I've always felt that way, that the best stuff usually rises to the top and gets recognized, either through formal recognition like the WBAs, or through gathering a more sizable following, or both. Case in point: you got a WBA finalist nod this year, well-deserved IMHO…
Oh – and to add one more thing, longevity in some cases (maybe in most cases, actually) I think *should* be rewarded; it's awfully difficult to produce good content consistently over a long period of time.
What do I wish I had learned sooner about wine? That just because I don't like over-oaked Chardonnay that tastes like buttered banana taffy, doesn't mean I don't like Chardonnay :)
@WineWonkette – Amen. :) Buttered banana taffy… I almost did a spit-take on the monitor!
Wine in general would be the answer. I didn't know a thing about wine until I had almost reached 22. How my life would have changed had I realized this was in the industry I'd want to work in the rest of my life. If my parents had been wine advocates, I could have saved so much time.
barrelthief – how's life? I wouldn't say that you could have saved too much more time… you're still pretty young and you've already hit a mature wine road looooong before most of the rest of us did it.
My complaint is slightly less out of my control: I wish the legal drinking age were lower. My step-Mum called my career before I left high school, and while she's absolutely accurate in that I'd follow in my mother's footsteps and deal with wine for a living, being too young to legally drink when I graduated high school was a bit of a hindrance to my career path. I ended up studying other things I deeply enjoyed, but couldn't work for me as a career, before getting into wine. If legal drinking age were lower, perhaps I'd've been on a more direct path towards my dream career.
While I'm at it, I wish that private wine and spirits shops were legal in Ontario, too. It's a similar situation to Pennsylvania, except importing from the United States costs ridiculous amounts of money more, Quebec has a similar system to Ontario, and where I live, provinces that do allow private liquor stores are about a twenty hour drive away.
MG – yeah, PA also sucks in that regard. I'll add that I wish I'd known how much better shopping for wine was in nj and de sooner…
I wish I'd learned to take wine a lot less seriously a lot sooner. Relaxed, and just let wine knowledge slowly accumulate in my head, after having realized that the field is so enormous and so complicated that my contributions and expertise would be ridiculously meaningless. I wish I'd learned sooner that there is nothing new to say about wine, only original ways to say what has already been said twenty times before by folks more talented and qualified than me.
I wish I'd learned earlier to be more humbled by wine and far less opinionated.
This from an old guy whose been doing this for a lot longer than he expected.
Ron – sage input, my friend. You're hitting on a topic upon which I will touch next week, actually, which is that the field of wine appreciation is broad and deep that it might as well be infinite. Which to me is exciting, because it means we should never get bored in its pursuit (unless, of course, we read wine blogs!).
Wine is endless and endlessly interesting. I've forgotten more than I'll ever know again. In 35 years of loving wine, I've never been bored, not for an instant. Of course, wine blogs are boring, for the most part. They're not really about wine, they're almost always about the blogger–their dreaded Journey to Discover Wine. Yawn.
I think I've reached the point where I am comfortable in my wine skin (as it were). I don't strive to be an expert, or thought of an expert, I have wine as my constant foil, my constant companion. There is always a difference between wine as career, and wine as hobby. I was damned lucky to make it a career, stupid as it was, and I think you're damned lucky as well to have found your natural calling.
Ron – thanks for that. I feel lucky. Lucky doesn’t pay as well as I need it to just yet, but it’s tough not to feel lucky to be involved this deeply in the wine world.
What do I wish I had learned about wine sooner? I wish I had learned about wine sooner. I didn't really start drinking it until my mid-30's. It's never too late, but if I had it to do over again, the career choice might've been very different.
Drew – it’s a bit like investing, I guess. If you start earlier, things usually end up better for you :-) Having said that, I suppose we should just be grateful that we get the time with it that we do.
great thought. trust your own palate. a valuable lesson to learn.
My lesson was that it's not about finding the worlds greatest wine that will blow your mind. It's about finding wines that become intertwined with a time and place in your life. The supermarket wines you discovered in college. Rioja reminding you Barcelona. Drinking the wine from your wedding on your anniversary. Scent is tied to memory, and there are bottles in my cellar that evoke more memories than a photo album. I wish I had understood this lesson sooner, and collected more memories in my cellar. Alas, I probably would have drank them too fast…
Gabe – thanks. I can personally attest to what you're saying here, since it was a lobster and potatoes dinner paired with a Chardonnay from CA, in a style that I'm not even that into, that got me started on the whole wine thing in the first place! Because the person who cooked that dinner later became Mrs. Dudette :-)
30 years of drinking the great RED wines of the world, I wondered about WHITE wine, so embarked on the WSET program and now have the Diploma and a very good knowledge of white and red wines ;)
Copa – and there we see how some simple curiosity can turn into total immersion! :-) Cheers!
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