Demystifying wine: breaking barriers or losing charm?
Updated: Feb 12, 2022
A simple scroll down my Instagram feed and I am met with various smiling faces promising to demystify wine for me, or make it more accessible. Accounts such as these urge the wine industry to condemn the mysticism surrounding the drink in areas such as marketing, expert reviews and tastings, and instead champion placing emphasis on its pragmatic elements. And, I understand it. I used to subscribe to this idea that the vocabulary and culture surrounding wine had been overly complicated. I felt that it caused a certain exclusivity around the topic, limiting the potential for my passion to be discovered by others. Which, all still holds a semblance of truth to this day. Yet, just when my tendency to steer away from the ethereal side of wine began to take form, it halted abruptly.
Thinking back to my initial discovery of wine, I realised that it was not reading about which chemical compounds react during fermentation, nor was it comparing the pros and cons of corks versus screwcaps that ignited my fascination. No, it was the experience of tasting something like nothing I had ever done so before; the poetic nature of the descriptors; discussing my glass in a way that transcends what is inside by relating back to past memories and moments. I found magic in the "convoluted" discussions and the tinge of divine to the industry served to further spark my curiosity. In short, I was utterly charmed by mysticism.
Whilst I continue to understand the merits of highlighting the more scientific side of winemaking and agriculture, I cannot help but be perturbed by the potential loss of this fascination from wine culture. Surely there are others, like me, who were drawn in by the alluring language. Removing this could therefore prevent people with this inclination from discovering their passion for wine in the future. The sense of wonder that I feel when met with this side of wine might be akin to that which another person feels when analysing the chemical makeup of a specific bottle. It is magnificently personal and equivalently valid. Ultimately, my boss' favourite saying does, in fact, ring true: "it's just a drink". One which we all treasure experiencing, in our own styles and one which will be experienced by future industry experts and casual drinkers alike in a way that is inherently personal. Why prevent one set of attitudes from discovering wine in the approach that appeals to them?
In the case of making wine more accessible, I believe this is an overlapping, yet distinct topic from demystification. There are certainly problems with accessibility into the industry and perhaps also to the appreciation of wine at a certain level. But, I would argue that it is not the sublime language at the cause of these issues. Replacing fantastical phrasing with more pragmatic, or scientifically prone language does not serve to make wine equally accessible to everyone. On the contrary, there are cases where writers who approach the subject through a more scientific lens inadvertently become less approachable as they delve deeper into the minute details of winemaking processes, straying further from the tasting experience that unites all wine lovers. Without wanting to oversimplify, I would suggest that attempts to make the industry increasingly accessible are more likely to be a successful when embracing the numerous approaches to finding pleasure in wine, rather than labelling one as "correct".
To disentangle wine from its romanticised past is to risk the industry losing its charming character. Poetic ramblings of tasting notes prevent the drink from taking itself too seriously when alongside purely pragmatic comments. Without hints of mysticism, wine becomes devoid of feeling, which does not accurately represent the experience of tasting - the most central pillar of the culture.