January 30, 2024 | Vivian Shepard
Sipping on glasses of wine over a candle-lit dinner with my parents and splitting bottles of wine with my roommates on the floor of our college apartment are some of my newest, but most cherished, memories. However, before this past year, the mere mention of wine in conversation caused me to shut down and check out. If asked what I enjoyed about wine, I found myself at a loss for words. I grew up convinced that I needed extensive knowledge to talk about wine, let alone enjoy it. I pictured wine connoisseurs as members of a secret club that required a password.
To some extent, it can be true that some people want to keep wine complicated. Like so many other delicacies, wine is often associated with perceptions of pretentiousness. These attitudes can pressure people to act a certain way and use exclusive terminology. It can be easy to focus on the price and label, rather than the experience and how wine makes you feel.
When I first joined Compris, I knew next to nothing about wine. I felt embarrassed trying to describe what I liked and disliked. I closely listened as the team debated flavors, tannins, sensations, etc., trying to decode everything they said. Throughout the summer, I realized there's only one way to know which wines you'll actually like–and that's trial and error. The more I tasted, the more I gravitated towards certain types of wine. Dru and Ryan encouraged me to express my senses with each new wine without fear of intimidation and being “wrong.” This motivated me to talk to customers about the differences between our bottles in addition to my own preferences.
I wish I realized sooner that there are no right or wrong answers and no one's opinion is above another. Not knowing how to describe a flavor, sensation, and even emotion associated with a particular wine is part of the process. Asking as many questions as possible proved to be one of the most helpful strategies when it came to getting comfortable talking about wine. Not only do questions allow you to understand a bottle, but also appreciate the effort, skill, and terroir behind it.
Knowing that winemakers have to be passionate about the entire process, rather than the final product, makes me want to learn as much as possible. When choosing a bottle or glass, I know that asking for suggestions and explaining what I’m drawn to will always help. This is especially true when wine tasting. These people make and taste wine for a living. For the most part, they are happy to share their expertise, especially if that means giving you a pleasant experience that compels you to come back.
Engaging in conversation and even having light-hearted disagreements about wine are all part of the fun. Wine unites a community of all different levels of knowledge. Now whenever there's an occasion with wine, I look forward to picking out a bottle, especially one that will make my company happy. Over time, I’ve learned that even the most skilled winemakers and experienced wine connoisseurs had to start somewhere. The next time you try a new bottle or glass, remember to embrace the unknown with an open mind. After all, it’s just wine; it’s who you share it with that really matters.