Wine Education evolution of the wine novice

Posted on January 9, 2012


Evolution of the wine novice

“Wine is confusing! Wine is complicated! I will never understand wine!”

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“Wine is confusing! Wine is complicated! I will never understand wine!”  That is the mantra of every wine novice. It almost seems impossible to fully understand it all.  It all starts pretty innocently, drinking wine.  It takes a while to get used to the taste, and the next thing you know you start drinking wine without really thinking too much about it.  Then somewhere down the road things change.

1. You start to drink more wine and become interested in knowing more about what you’re drinking.

2. You surround yourself with people who begin to talk about wine as if it were poetry, and to not be left out, you too begin to take an interest.

3. You start to work with wine, a bar, restaurant, shop or wholesale.  Now you are also forced to know more.

4. Lastly, the one I wish was my introduction. You inherit millions of dollars and don’t know what to do, so you start buying wine.  So that it seems as though you know how your spending your money, you start to learn more about wine.

Whatever the reason is, you are now reading this because something, somehow or somewhere drove you to learn more about wine.  And at first you said, “Wine is confusing! Wine is complicated! I will never understand wine!”  Look at yourself now, I bet you know much more now than when you first went to the store and asked for a Cabernet Sauvignon because it sounded more sophisticated than asking for a red wine.  And as time passed, you started to ask for a less tannic wine, or a fruitier or a drier wine.  As you started to understand your palate you started to develop the language that would allow you to articulate your likes and dislikes.  You knew that you enjoyed a Cabernet Sauvignon because it had “a bite to it”, and it had a “full bodied mouth-feel” but that was about it.

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Then one day you are at a dinner party and the host decides to “decant” a prized bottle from the cellar, and its FRENCH!  So much French written on the bottle that all you get from the label is the word “Chateau”.  Everyone is oohhing and aahhing over the label, the vintage, the magnificent garnet color, the aromas and flavors.  And all the time you are trying to see if you can pick out a cassis aroma that someone gawked over.  Of course you remain silent and act like you totally pick up on the smoke and leather, all the time wondering why everyone is so mesmerized.  You taste it and it’s nothing like the Cabernet Sauvignon you had from Vons the other night. In fact you don’t really understand why it’s supposed to be so good, it just tastes dirty.  But as an aspiring wine connoisseur, (and someone who wants to be in the “in crowd,”) you need to find out why that bottle was so praised.  So on to the internet.  Whoa! You learn that you drank a bottle of 1989 Chateau Haut Brion, one of the first growths in Bordeaux.  You go on to to read that Bordeaux uses primarily 5 grapes, and one of them is your favorite, Cabernet Sauvignon.  You are in a state of shock, all this time you thought Bordeaux was a grape.

At this point you really begin to believe your mantra, Wine is confusing! Wine is complicated! I will never understand wine!”  So as someone who doesn’t give up, you begin to visit your local Vons and instead of buying Cabernet Sauvignon you begin to drink Bordeaux.  You have bookmarked several wine pages on your browser and you are now starting to learn about other regions. You learn that Burgundy makes Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  You learn that Syrah and Shiraz are the same thing but just from different parts of the world.  And you are starting to feel more comfortable.  In fact, now you actually smell the cassis, smoke and leather.  It is becoming easier for you to carry a conversation with your wine savvy friends.

At this point you have passed a huge hump and now consider yourself somewhat of an advanced wine drinker.  You overhear a conversation while sitting at the bar, two people are discussing the wine selections and are at a loss as what to order.  Being familiar with the selections, you chime in your two cents and recommend the Albariño from Rias Baixas.  You go on to explain how great it is with seafood and it’s so lively and crisp.  The two wine novices take your recommendation and you feel like the hero.  You go back to your seat, glowing and feeling very confident.  “I’ve got this wine thing”, you say to yourself as you sip on your Cava from Penedes.

Everything is hunky dory.  You now meet up with a wine club and do blind tastings.  You have visited wine country several times.  You even took a trip to Europe and got to taste Grand cru Burgundy from a barrel.  This wine thing is a sintch.  A friend then tells you that you should go and sit in for a Wine & Spirits Education Trust certification.  No problem, your ready.  So there you go, off to take your WSET exam.

The first question: If you were to replant a Merlot vineyard with Pinot Noir, what would be the fastest method?  
Question number two:  Name all the Grand Cru Vineyards of Chablis.
Essay Question: Explain the Brettanomyces and its effects on producers in the old world.
Your Answer; Wine is confusing! Wine is Complicated! I will never understand it!

 At this point you have emptied your tea cup, and started all over again.  But this time with much more vigor.  Because at the end of it all, it really doesn’t matter if wine is confusing or complicated!  Wine is also enjoyable and fun.  Your new approach is no longer one of conquest or ranking yourself against others.  You now have come to peace with your mantra, and see wine in a different light.  You remember the days when you drank wine because it was enjoyable.  It was fun talking with friends and sharing stories over a glass of wine and exploring something new.  You are reminded of your childhood favorite cartoon, GI JOE, when he says “and knowing is half the battle”.  The other part is just having fun; not knowing is fine too.

Creative Commons License photo credit: tjraekun

Wine is confusing, wine is complicated and it can feel as though you will never understand it.  But wine is not a parameter to measure yourself against.  It is just fermented grape juice.  Some people may know how to ferment it better than others. Some people may know how to write or discuss the qualities of the fermented juice better than others.  Some people have a knack for selling it and teaching others about the fermented juice.  The fermented juice should not drive you mad.  Just drink it, enjoy it, learn about it and let it do what it does best, bring you happiness and well-being.  Take your time, learn about wine. Wine education should be fun, because knowing is half the battle, the other half is drinking and enjoying it.



  1. Cynthia

    This is so true Maurice! Great perspective on how overwhelming wine education can feel at the beginning, but how fun it is when you start to have a better understanding. “Your new approach is no longer one of conquest or ranking yourself against others. You now have come to peace with your mantra, and see wine in a different light.” Perfect!

  2. Melissa

    Oh man! I STILL feel like a novice…even after years in the industry! I don’t feel confused by it all, but I often feel overwhelmed… Thank you for taking the time to remember what it was like in the beginning (or quasi-beginning) stages of wine-intrigue. 🙂

    • Maurice

      Don’t kid yourself, you know plenty. You know enough for what you need to know now. Just enjoy it and it gets easier.

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