Language and Wine
Language is defined by words, their pronunciation, and the methods of combining them to be used and understood by a community, ours being the wine community.
The other day, I was having a conversation with a winemaker about an atypical varietal he chose to grow in his vineyard. A few minutes in, his friend who had tagged along, looked at us both bright-eyed, and said, “I have no idea what’s going on right now,” a reaction which mirrored my own when traveling in a foreign country, watching a butcher explain something to the woman in front of me about the meat he was gesturing towards. There’s definitely a stigma associated with wine because of the way people have chosen to approach it. Playing one of the leading roles in fine dining, it can often be associated with snobbery and being “bougie” (not to be confused with Bugey, haha). But what if we approached wine as another language you can learn?
It takes the same initiative to learn about wine as it does to learn languages—a person has to be willing to memorize, willing to ask questions, and willing to make mistakes throughout the process. A non-native English speaker will learn both vocabulary and grammar by memorizing a string of words, testing out which orders can be communicated and which cannot. This is the same approach that an adventurous wine drinker can take. Say someone walks into a wine store and ask for “Mer-lat,” because they’ve seen their friends drink it before or they’ve seen it on a sign in the wine aisle at the grocery store. They may not have the developed vocabulary to buy the wine that they like because they simply don’t know the words yet. After multiple trips to a wine shop with helpful staff, this once novice wine drinker might learn that they prefer Merlots from Napa Valley, or perhaps a Bordeaux blend, or maybe even a Mencia from Ribera Sacra. Once the foundations of wine terms are set, they can choose what they like and can focus on asking for a regional style, or producer, because they understand that these regions and producers generally entail specific styles. This process is very similar to learning the nuances of a foreign language, like how the process can entail unfamiliar connotations.
Since the language of wine is like learning any other foreign language, wine stewards and store clerks should play a large role in wine education by working with what they understand about the customer, and helping to translate that into a bottle to fit the client’s desires. Perhaps if everyone saw wine as a new language, both wine enthusiasts and new wine drinkers could gain a better understanding for the world of wine.