My fellow recent viticulture and oenology graduates will be able to confirm that there is a certain standard reaction that is evoked when you tell people what you have studied. It usually comes with the assumption that you can get them free or discounted wine in some way, shape or form (I said viticulture, not magic). But besides that, people generally think that you are some kind of wine expert. Now don’t get me wrong, some of the people that were in my class I personally considered to be wine connoisseurs by the time we finished our fourth year, but most of us still had a lot to learn about wine and the industry as a whole. But for some reason there exists this general idea that we, as university graduates, know everything there is to know about the who’s who in the zoo. Even when I explicitly tell people I did not study oenology, but viticulture and soil science, they still believe I possess this other-worldly knowledge about wine. Yes, I have two years of theoretical oenology under my belt, but I now publicly declare that I am no wine expert.
But I can declare until I am blue in the face, most of my friends will insist that I have more knowledge about wine than they do, therefore I am dubbed the connoisseur in our group. Even my dad has adopted this idea, as he now simply refuses to check the wine for faults when we are at a restaurant (this is when he likes to tell the waiter that I am the expert, because I studied wine.) So there is no escaping this role and I have learned to embrace it.
For one, when we are at a restaurant and my friends or family would like to order some wine, they will almost always ask me to choose a “good” bottle and therefore I get to enjoy whatever I think is a satisfactory bottle of wine. Also, I get to pick the farms we visit for wine tastings and in this way I get to tick all my favourites off the list or visit them again when I take another group of friends.
One of the places my (limited) knowledge does come in handy, is with the technical details of winemaking or the industry. For example, explaining what the tasting assistant meant by “new fill barrels” or what cultivars are used in a Bordeaux blend. But these are little bite-sized fun-facts that anyone can Google and find out for themselves. The problem usually only comes in when they ask me to take the lead at the tasting. As I am not really a shy person, I have no real problem communicating with the tasting centre’s staff, but when it comes to the tasting itself I do not want to be the white-haired judge with the gable to bash. And there is absolutely no need for that. I try to tell people that they should just decide whether they like a wine or not. Who cares if you can’t smell the dew-covered-early-spring-orange-blossoms and the succulently-sweet-litchis-imported-from-Hawaii on the nose of your Riesling- most of the time I can’t smell those ridiculous descriptors either.
To me, wine tasting is a personal experience. From the moment you set your first sight on a wine, you immediately start forming your own opinion about it- and that’s the only one that matters. The initial smell, the combined mouth-feel and lingering aftertaste should be your guide to deciding if you like the wine or not. And if you like it, drink some more and if you don’t, spit it out in the spittoon- life is too short to drink bad wine.