IN MOVIES OF A CERTAIN KIND (the kind I most like) fog plays a prominent role. I’m thinking of films like The Third Man, Quai des Brumes, and Brief Encounter. Fog evokes mystery, doubt, and a vague anxiety – all lovely things when you’re longing to sink into something noirish.
Wine and fog have some associations, too. There’s the noble grape of Barolo, Barbaresco, Boca, and Valtellina known as nebbiolo (in Italian nebbia = fog). There’s also the celebrated fog of San Francisco, or more properly of San Pablo Bay which rolls up into the Napa Valley through Carneros and produces an effect in the area’s vineyards I suppose you could call pinot noirish.
There’s another way in which fog and wine are related – and that’s in the mystery, doubt, and vague anxiety all of us feel at one time or another as we try to find our way through the innumerable place names, soil types, grape varietals, and flavor profiles that wine confronts us with.
Wine is so very rich in detail that it’s notoriously easy to turn around once and discover that you’ve lost your bearings. While it’s often suggested that there’s something inherent in wine that brings this disorientation on, it’s hard to see how it differs from other fields in which there is much to know and the learning curve is correspondingly steep. Still, many of us having made a start quickly find ourselves adrift in an unmanageable cloud of detail, lost in something we might legitimately call the fog of wine.
And it’s not just newbies who become confounded. There isn’t anyone involved with wine either in the trade, as it’s called, or as a journalist (as I was), or critic, or someone who actually makes the stuff who hasn’t at one time or another found himself or herself embarrassed by wine, made to look foolish or downright dumb.
My own experiences along these lines fueled suspicion that wine had it in for me – but I’ve changed my mind.
Over the years I’ve sat at table with Burgundy experts who couldn’t correctly identify a Burgundy in a blind tasting. Ditto for a world-renowned producer of German riesling. You’d think he could nail that 30 year-old white wine for what it was – a German riesling – but, no. He couldn’t do it.
I stopped taking this kind of thing personally when I realized that wine wasn’t singling me out for humiliation. Engulfed in the mist you can forget there are plenty of others similarly befogged. Wine does this to everybody.
In practice, few who set out to pursue an interest do so to the point of mastery. More commonly we apply ourselves to subjects for just as long as we find them compelling, entertaining, and not too difficult. For me, wine has remained an obsession not despite its complexity and richness, but because of it. It feels wonderful to continue to be delighted by something for all the same reasons that attracted you to it in the first place.
As for the occasional humiliation? I’ve decided it comes with the territory.
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