A former student of my wine appreciation class at Southern Oregon University asked me an interesting question the other day: Was it better to be informed about wine, or to go blithely along drinking whatever one liked as long as it was pleasurable and within budget?
My entire life has been devoted to evaluating wine, and it's hard to turn that off. Though I might not go too deeply into an evaluation in a social setting, I can't help but look at wine critically whenever I am given a glass.
As I told my former student, this sense of evaluation comes from information and experience, and is not exclusive to wine. Not long ago, in Eugene, I had dinner with a couple of friends at a nice restaurant. As the courses were served, my friend had something to say about them all — sometimes complimentary, sometimes not, but everything he said was born out of a solid foundation. My friend, a terrific chef and wine personality, simply could not turn off his evaluators. I was grateful for the cuisine and company and left it at that, but I was also aware that I had learned quite a bit about the preparation of well-made cuisine.
This phenomenon is also true in the film industry. My son, who works in film, looks at movies at a much deeper level than I do and comes up with wonderful insights I never would have gained on my own. He helps increase my appreciation of what I had just spent two hours watching.
Being mindful in the enjoyment of wine increases the fullness of the experience. I have heard this time and again from students who have attended my classes. I think providing tools to understand what one is experiencing in wine is a very great gift.
Over the years, students have told me that because they were educated in wine appreciation, they went from being mere acceptors — folks who accepted wine given to them without questioning what was in the glass — to seekers of new experiences with finer vintages. This has been true with students who ultimately got into the wine business as well as those who are using their tools to increase their enjoyment of wine.
Wine continues, after all of these years, to hold a certain fascination with me. I understand that not all wine drinkers will be attracted to an information-based experience, but more than ever, especially in the exploding Southern Oregon wine scene, the opportunity to explore is one for the taking, and will reward you time and again.
Lorn Razzano is former owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland and still works there part time. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.