Wine lovers versus wine tasters

Monday, 23 September, 2013
Shante Hutton,
Classification, we see it every day, female/male, young/old, white wine/red wine. And of course, wine lover/wine snob….but those two can be one and the same.
With every hobby and passion, one can turn it into a contest with opposing sides and a fair amount of competition. Wine is no exception. There are courses, awards and guilds that define wine drinkers and create wine connoisseurs. There are point systems for defining the potential and the status of a wine and there will always be that one person who uses the word unctuous.

Here’s how I started to enjoy wine:

1)    In the beginning: Wine smelt like cheap alcohol and tasted like cheap vinegar with a backhanding of burning. It was definitely something for old people or those with more money than sense.

2)    I moved to South Africa in 2010 and had an epiphany. There was so much wine around, why the hell was I not drinking it?

3)    I began, like many, on the sweet stuff. 4 Cousins, Muscadel and Special to Noble Late Harvests. I developed a strong bond with Fairview’s La Beryl Rouge, something that will never change.

4)    I then tried the really obvious wines. For example less nuance of lemongrass and more “oh my gosh, I’m bathing in the stuff whilst a giant lemon tickles my nose”.

5)    I went on my first adventure to Wacky Wine and though I was mostly doing the sweet bubbles, I thoroughly enjoyed Bon Courage’s Inkara 2009 range. Enter the next stage of my wine development – things were beginning to get serious.

6)    I started to be able to pick out flavours in wines. It didn’t just smell like alcohol and it didn’t just taste like something I would use to strip paint. It was almost miraculous, an angelic conversion some might say.

7)    My cooking skills grew almost adjacent to my wine drinking. In June 2011, I hosted my first food and wine pairing event and haven’t looked back. For me, food and wine is such a perfect match, it makes sense to me.

I now look back at how my taste buds have developed; I still get bowled over by unusual aromas, enjoying discovering other varieties and I love sharing my finds with my friends.

I haven’t taken any courses and part of me worries that if I do, I’ll lose my eagerness and my naivety. What if it all becomes too ordinary, too much like a habit. My intention was never to go to lofty heights with my drinking - there have been days though when I have been flying – I merely enjoy seeing how someone can go from hating the stuff to reveling in it. Not just tasting, but drinking.

In my quest to better understand wine writers/thinkers and drinkers, I came across an interesting article called The Death of Wine Critics and I was/am obsessed with these lines:
“Since when do you need more than five years to understand anything? Medical school is like only four years, right? And you let those people poke stuff into you. Bartending school is only a few months, and then they make hella good drinks. How long is beauty school? And those geniuses have scissors near your neck”
This will undoubtedly have people foaming at the mouth and calling me hypocritical, bothersome, “a naïve little girl”, but it makes so much sense. For me personally, If I want advice on wine, I want to go to someone who speaks my language and who can tell me in plain English that the wine was epic, had a gorgeous aftertaste and goes really well with butternut risotto.

But wine is a gracious mistress and allows for many varying degrees of wine lovers from those who drink it for the kicks, those who drink it because it makes a meal an occasion and for those who drink it because it affirms their studies. Wine was made to be enjoyed on many levels, although there will be the odd winemaker who likes to keep his creations for the elite few. Again, I won’t argue against that, each to-their-own.

I’m still finding my way in the wine industry and like any sector there are factions, clichés if you will – all of which love wine but some of which use it as a means to belittle those ‘less experienced’ than themselves.

It’s a melting pot. And this melting pot does have a tendency to boil over and that can often scare the raw ingredients which is dangerous for future drinking generations.

In short, I know wine…why? Because I drink like a fish (read whale). I make it my business to taste, savour, enjoy and, with my all, try and get my friends and family to enjoy it as much as I do - A little fact about myself, I often like to drink on an empty stomach because for me, a good wine should be like a meal, it should satisfy and it deserves all your attention. And that’s my part in the pot. I have no qualms with the other ingredients as long as we each recognize each person's benefits.

I think we can all agree with Johan Delport’s (the cellarmaster at Waverley Hills) statement, "Why does wine matter, because it is a way to change people's lives for the better."