The ancient Romans and the Greeks saw wine as a way of enhancing life; Robert Louis Stevenson called wine "poetry in a bottle"; and Benjamin Franklin said "wine is proof that god loves us".
Alcohol trends may come and go, but wine has long been romanticised, growing from a simple fermented grape juice to a multi-billion dollar worldwide industry infused with prestige across a variety of grapes.
In Australia, the older and wealthier you become, the more likely you are to drink bottled wine, according to the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education. Almost 50 per cent of the most economically advantaged Australians name bottled wine as their alcoholic beverage of choice, but it doesn't always mean they understand it.
Outsourcing your wine choices
In a world where knowledge is king and time is poor, outsourcing your wine choices to a broker who will both purchase wine for your own palate and explain the choices to you makes sense.
At worst, you won't look like a fool by serving up corked wine at your next dinner party; at best you'll appear knowledgeable and ahead of the wine trend pack.
"Not everyone needs a broker, but if you want to be serious about buying wines it is essential as we can tell you what not to buy," says Pierre Durand of Langton's, Australia's only wine brokerage firm.
"Everyone knows something about wine in this country and they can say if they like it or not like it. Our job is to guide and advise new wine buyers.
"As a broker we negotiate directly with a few hundred wineries, so we know what is available in the market at all times. We also have years of market data for those collectors who see wine as an investment."
What do you want?
The premise is simple. As a client, you speak to your broker and discuss your likes and dislikes in wine and how you intend to consume it. Do you like full-bodied red wines, buttery whites, or do you prefer a clean, crisp flavour? Or do you simply know nothing? Will you be consuming nightly, at dinner parties or only on special occasions? Is it for an investment, to keep your cellar alive with variety, or for immediate consumption?
With $200 to spend, I ask Durand to choose wisely on my behalf. I don't like chardonnay, as I have long associated it with rich butter oak flavours. Red wine makes me ill, thanks to allergies. He educates me on the former, with talk of lighter chardonnays not aged in oak and more suited to my palate. Thankfully he leaves the latter well alone.
The beauty of such a brokerage firm is its relationship with both emerging and established wine brands. The better the relationship, the better for you. Wines are ordered via an account set up for you online and are then delivered direct from the winery to you.
Durand is determined to change my thoughts on chardonnay and asks that I trust him. He chooses wines from Western Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and South Australia for my order. Three chardonnays, a petit chablis and a pinot gris, all for under $30 a bottle and in his words, "based on elegance and finesse, no fruit bomb, no heavily oaky wine or creamy cheese-style flavours". They are all sent via Australia Post, and tracking numbers are emailed to me with each postage lest I fret over their delivery dates.
If I understood wines I could potentially have sourced them myself but these wines won't be found online and they are priced well because the wineries allow them to sell it verbally, not at a printed cost. (Not that you heard that from me.)
If I wanted to know more in order to brief Durand better I could attend wine master classes in a private tasting room with my broker and both international and local wine makers, or just let my broker attend for me and pass on the information based on my reaction to my first wine order.
As they say in the wine world, the test is in the tasting. I first try the 2012 Dandelion Vineyards Twilight of the Adelaide Hills Chardonnay. It must be good, as the bottle is gone before I know it. Next up is the 2013 K1 Arneis by Geoff Hardy, a rare north-west Italian grape cultivated by a handful of viticulturists worldwide. In fact, it almost became extinct after World War II.
I love being able to throw this information into conversation, and again Durand has chosen well as my best friend and I fight over the last bottle. The 2014 Pinot Gris from Josef Chromy in Tasmania was a gamble, and I may need to discuss the intricacies of what I do and don't like with Durand over my final bottle, a 2012 Petit Chablis by Domaine William Fevre.
That's the beauty of a broker - together you can discover your own palate and choose what to order again and what to put back on the shelf. Durand is like a guide for my ultimate wine cellar, if I had one (and he's French, so there's added kudos). For now he can be a guide for my wine rack instead.