One of the more remarkable things about wine is the reverence that people seem to have for it. And I don’t just mean among geeks; you see this in people with no special relationship to wine. Even among novice wine drinkers, there is the idea that there is something rather special about this ancient and noble beverage, that it merits special handling and that there are some things that are simply not done.
I think I first had this thought in a great pub in Greenfield Massachusetts called the People’s Pint where I found myself one night, alone and with an evening to kill. I was seated at the bar and watching as the barman routinely pulled beer from more than one tap into a single glass—effectively mixing two or more beers together to make a new one of his own creation. It occurred to me that this would never happen with wine. But why is that? It seems that beer is something it’s okay to play with—but wine is just too serious for that sort of thing. There are rules! Wine must be respected!
I agree that wine should be respected, but there are some things you can only learn about wine by playing—perhaps experimenting is a better word—with it. In the years that Chris and I have been recording these radio wine segments, we’ve added lemon juice to white wine in various doses to discover how higher concentrations of acidity affect the way wine presents itself. We’ve also mixed one wine with another to get a sense of how and to what purpose winemakers create blends. We’ve tried tasting wine out of opaque black glasses—in which color can’t be perceived — to gauge how our tasting apparatus is informed (or misinformed) by what our eyes lead us to expect.
This reluctance to experiment is even more strange when you consider that winemakers do it all the time. They’re forever tinkering with ways to make their wine more as they think it should be; in some cases with simple low tech maneuvers, in others with serious engineering. But what about the rest of us? Couldn’t we be allowed a play date or two with our wine?