The acquaintance with New York Time’s wine critic Eric Asimov and his book How to love wine is like breathing out after holding my breath for a long time. It´s relieving to read a wine professional such as Asimov reflecting on the concept of wine anxiety, that kind of distance so many of us feel when approaching the wine world. It is something that probably most wine lovers, amateurs as well as professionals, have experienced at some point: that fear of making the terrible mistake of saying, doing or understanding wine in a “non-correct” way. It is as if, until you have access to what Asimov calls the secret language – “used to describe aromas and flavors that only a trained expert can detect”, you don´t have the right to even have an opinion.
So why speak in a way that others cannot understand? Wouldn’t it be better to try to address a bigger audience by using a language that even non-experts can relate to? Perhaps not. Perhaps there is an interest in keeping this language secret. It definitely creates an aura of exclusiveness to it, and perhaps the exclusiveness is one of the reasons so many of us want to be in this world. This is the heart of the wine cult: that aura of uniqueness that make us worship and long for wine. We all want to be in the special club. Personally I can relate to this: for long, the meeting with wine to me was similar to standing in front of a piece of art but not having the tools to understand it. Even though both art and wine can be appreciated without any prior knowledge, I always felt that I wanted to get deeper. I wanted to be a part of the club. But not mainly for the prestige of it, rather for its elusive nature.
The artist Francis Bacon said: “The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery” and I believe that can be translated into the wine world as well. Wine is one of those things which beyond its physical properties has a symbolic value, representing something more than itself. Wine is mysterious, hard to grasp, and probably this attracts us even more. Ever since antiquity, wine has in the mythology been connected to feelings of euphoria, to getting in contact with something bigger than the earthly life. After all, Dionysus, the protector of vine, grape harvest and winemaking, was only half human, and half god.
The big contradiction in the wine world is to Asimov that “amid all the confident authority with which we assert our opinions on wine, perhaps only one thing is certain: wine is ambiguous. The moment we think we have grasped the essence of a certain bottle, the wine changes”. The ambiguity can be hard to accept for a world that wants certainty and easy answers, and has little patience for nuance. However, just as many other things in life, wine is not easy: “The truth is that wine – good wine- refuses to conform to anybody´s need for certainty. Good wines are alive. They change. (…) Certainty is the enemy of good wine” (Asimov).
To me, where certainty ends, the mystery begins. Wine is enigmatic, intriguing, and there are just as many reasons to be intrigued by wine as there are people. Not all is about status and prestige. If the longing to be in the “special club” is the will of the ego, then the longing to take part in the mystery is the will of the soul. Other than snobs and elitists, I believe that the wine world is full of people just like me, dreamers and hopeless romantics, eager to discover new things and be exposed to new challenges. Or perhaps just to continue being perplexed.
Asimov, E. (2014). How to love wine: a memoir and manifesto. New York: Harper Collins Publishers