First Step: Discovering adult beverages — Whether the first drops of alcohol come from Mom and Dad’s liquor cabinet or out of a hose at a frat house, we all get our sea legs and learn the hard way. Chances are it’s not with the good stuff, but rather something cheap that’ll get the job done. At this stage, it’s not about appreciation, terroir or anything to do with sophistication. Alcohol is meant to serve one purpose—to get drunk off of. You don’t know what goes into wine coolers or Boone’s Farm? Who cares? Not the people drinking it.
Step Two: Learning Grape Varietals — Somewhere along the way you have the “lightbulb” moment. The first bottle of wine someone shares with you where you begin to appreciate wine is the first step on a life long journey of education. It starts with learning basic grape varietals and regions.
You probably aren’t willing to spend more than a few bucks for a bottle of wine, but that’s okay. Wine still gets you to where you want to be, but in style. If you’re dating, maybe you can impress your date by knowing a little bit about what to open.
Red wines are “smooth” and Chardonnay is “buttery”.
Step Three: Going Big — After taking baby steps with wine, now you’ve got confidence in your wine knowledge. Maybe the newfound enjoyment of wine leads to subscribing to a wine magazine with wine ratings. Or maybe it leads to recognition of wines in the wine aisle of the grocery store.
You start to identify the wines and brands that carry caché. Your dinner guests will ooh and ahh and giggle with delight as you bust out $50-dollar bottles of overly oaked fruit bombs. Your cellar consists of wines Robert Parker said were good and you’re not afraid to spend some cash on stocking your new cellar.
Step Four: Refinement — By now, you’re familiar with wine critics’ tendencies and have a broader understanding of wine regions around the world. You know the difference between a Fumé Blanc and a Pouilly-Fume. In fact, you have recently discovered that France makes wine. Better yet, you’ve discovered something called acidity in wine.
Now you’re starting to question what the hell Robert Parker is talking about. You start to appreciate structure and balance in wine, especially old world style wines. Turns out unoaked Chardonnay is not only good, but preferable.
Your wine+food pairing prowess is improving, and now your friends want to come over every night for dinner. You aren’t afraid to spend some coin on building verticals of Bordeaux in your cellar.
Step Five: Sophistication — Hopefully your best friends have wine cellars or you got in early on Facebook IPO shares because you want and appreciate the good stuff. You’ve moved beyond trends or what’s popular (or what Robert Parker gave 100 points), now you trust your palate and appreciate esoteric, small production wines expressing terroir. At this stage the producer matters, structure matters and terroir matters. Chances are you’re becoming a slut for Champagne and a slave to Riesling.
You may be drinking French and Italian wines predominantly. You aren’t afraid to drop $300 on a Grand Cru Burgundy because you appreciate where it came from, who made it and who imported it. You only open such bottles for other people who are going to appreciate it because $300 is a lot of money. You can buy three months worth of Boone’s Farm for that.
Step Six: Enlightenment — Neo from the Matrix is telling you you’re the One. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to find an outstanding wine. You know what bottle to open at the right time and can the story behind it. Chances are you can bring a $10 bottle from some obscure French producer to a dinner party and blow everyone away.
You love Champagne, but you’ve moved beyond drinking bubbles from the big houses opting for grower Champagne. Your preference in wines has evolved into low alcohol, razor sharp acid and familiarity with producers and terroirs around the globe.
You’ve come a long way since your first drink of alcohol.
No matter where you are in your evolution as a wine lover, there’s really no bad place to be. Wine can provide a lifelong journey of enjoyment and education. No one ever really knows it all, which is one of the great things about wine. It’s meant to bring people together over good conversation and hopefully good food.
And no matter where you’re at, there’s always something to look forward to. Maybe it’s discovering a new region or a new producer. Where do you think you are in your evolution? I’d love to hear thoughts in comments below.