In vino veritas. In wine, ‘there is the’ truth. Pliny the Elder may have been on to something when he wrote those words centuries ago, for wine certainly has the curious property of being able to add a certain bit of lucidity to any situation. However, far beyond its intoxicating effects, wine is unique in that so many different disciplines are encompassed in its enjoyment. Wine is entwined with history, geography, epicurean delights, agriculture, and the local culture of nearly every region in which it is made.
When I named my website (and subsequently, this column), Truth In Juice, I wanted to address the fact that at its most basic level, wine is fermented grape juice. While many trends in wine consumption are the product of the media, the wine trade, and peer influence, we must remember that above all else, a wine’s primary purpose is to provide enjoyment. Whether that enjoyment stems from the taste of the wine, the experience of sharing it with friends, or philosophical reflections on the history and geography of the wine’s place of origin, we ultimately drink wine because we enjoy it.
However, I am firmly of the belief that it is far easier to enjoy something of which you have knowledge, as opposed to blindly enjoying a product that may be confusing. Wine is paradoxical in that while there has never been a better time to be a wine consumer, many of the factors that contribute to the overwhelmingly positive environment enjoyed by wine connoisseurs also make wine appreciation a massively complex undertaking for novice consumers.
There are more than 6,500 wines available to consumers in the American market today, and the amount of good wine that we have access to as consumers in today’s marketplace is unprecedented. Wine making techniques are continually improving, and conscientious small production wine making is becoming increasingly more common. At the same time, importers and distributors are becoming ever more selective with their inventories, while broadening the geographic scope of their search for new wines. As a result, we are continually exposed to new grape varietals, and wines from countries that were not even on the radar of most oenophiles in the not too distant past.
In this column, I hope to make readers much more familiar with the subject of wine, and to serve as a guide in the crowded landscape of the modern wine market. I also hope to remove the perception of pretension that often surrounds informed wine consumption. Wine lovers who like to discuss their passion for wine are often derided as “wine snobs,” but I’d like to point out that while the language of wine writers and wine critics is varied, and may be archaic at times, the best writers and critics are simply passionate, educated wine consumers.
In my experience, these writers and critics are not trying to demean or belittle one style of wine to the benefit of another. Rather, they are advocates for wine as a beverage, and are constantly trying to introduce consumers to something new, whether it be a new grape varietal, new wine region, or new style of production. Ironically, by applying the label of “wine snob,” society limits civil discourse on the topic of wine, and renders it a subject that people are reluctant to discuss, thereby restricting the accessibility of wine, and ensuring that a culture where wine lovers can be labeled “wine snobs,” will continue to thrive. We all drink wine to enjoy it, but when wine is simplified to the extent that there is no appreciation for the history or story associated with the grape, a large component of wine’s true intrinsic value is lost.
I became enamored with wine during my sophomore year at Dartmouth College, and it has been an integral component of my life ever since. In my opinion, there is a history and romanticism associated with wine that is not found in other beverages. I love the nostalgia associated with great vintages, and I love the fact that wine incorporates so many different facets of society, from the agrarian aspects of the vineyards, to the chemical and scientific side of winemaking, to its place in gastronomic and epicurean circles. As a history major, I continually find myself entranced by the histories and stories of wine producing regions, wine estates, and the winemakers themselves.
I have taught wine education classes for the past five years, and have interspersed employment stints in the wine industry with my current work as a sales and marketing consultant. I find that wine is a great enhancer — a simple pleasure that can offer a “pick me up” on bland days, and make the finer moments in life seem extraordinary.
While there has never been a better time to be a wine consumer from a global perspective, the Vermont wine industry is also enjoying a tremendous swell of recent growth. There are now 22 wineries located in the state, many of which were established in the last 4 years. The state’s sixth wine distributor, Artisanal Cellars, was established in 2007, and is thriving in its fifth year of operation. Shelburne Vineyards’ 2010 Reserve Marquette was recently awarded “Best in Show” at the International Cold Climate Wine Competition. To that end, this column will intermix commentary on both Vermont wines, and wine that hails from more established wine producing regions. You can expect to read wine reviews, commentary on industry trends, blind tasting results, and more within this column.
I want to examine the common perceptions and myths that are associated with certain grape varietals, wine regions, and styles of wine, and determine the degree of validity found in each. Additionally, interactive features such as quizzes, and responses to submitted questions will be featured. However, this will not be possible without feedback, so please, share your comments, and encourage your friends to do the same.
So, in closing, explore and enjoy. With so many different types of wine out there, life is too short to focus on one. I look forward to sharing an explorative journey of the world of wine in the days and weeks to come.
Vermont resident Peter Kenseth will be writing on Vermont wine and wines in general every other week in the Rutland Herald. He can be reached at www.truthinjuice.com.
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