It was a typical Friday afternoon in the office. My co-workers and I were gathered for end-of-week drinks. As they casually poured themselves a glass of wine, I examined the labels, poured myself a small taste of something that appeared decent, swirled, sniffed and sipped.
When I looked up, everyone was staring at me. “It's hard to do that and not look like a wanker,” someone said.
She was right.
I tried not to make a huge production out of the tasting process, but there is something inherently wanky about the "proper" way to drink wine. I might as well have been wearing tops and tails, lighting my cigar with a $100 note and lamenting the underclass.
But that was just the tip of the wanker iceberg when it came to my journey to become an oenophile (that's a wanky word for someone who is a connoisseur of wine).
Not only did I spend a great deal of time researching wine, I also asked lot of irritating questions whenever I went to dinner – sometimes seriously delaying the meal. I purchased a wine app – yep, a wine app – so I could catalogue everything I tried. I spent hours in bottle shops, seriously attempting to take a look at every bottle before my lady friend realised that 20 minutes had turned into three hours. Even my two-year-old became exasperated. “Let's go, daddy!" he'd exclaim.
Could it be? Was I turning into a wine wanker?
Perhaps not quite, according to wine educator Sharon Wild, who runs the website wildaboutwine.com.au. “A wine wanker can be described as ... someone who collects or purchases particular wines because the wine is famous/highly priced/have received favourable reviews and then loves spruiking the fact they own and/or have tasted that wine.”
Well, that certainly doesn't sound like me, but that doesn't mean I'm immune to the pretensions that go along with the actual motions of wine drinking – the inspecting, the swirling, the sniffing and sipping.
You might be saying to yourself, “just don't do those things”. Well first of all, I'll ask that you not take that aggressive tone with me.
And second, Wild assures me you don't have to look like a wanker while you swirl and sniff. “Colour can be inspected effectively against any white background, like a notepad or table. The glass doesn't have to be raised to the sky in conductor-like fashion,” she says. “And swirling can be done subtly, it doesn't require much effort to swirl a glass properly at all - and it doesn't require exaggerated facial expressions either.”
And when talking about wine, the mere mention of boldness or exuberance can set off wanker alarms, so Wild recommends a simplified approach. "Speaking about a wine in terms of its basic components – appearance, smell, taste – rather than using jargon is a good way of empowering others to form their own judgments about a wine, thus heightening their experience of wines, rather than leaving them confused or intimidated.”
In fact, given the kind of minefield talking about wine can be, your best bet to stay out of wanker territory may be to just keep your mouth shut and drink. Wild suggests “sharing that special bottle of wine with friends rather than merely talking about it, not necessarily imposing your opinions about a wine onto your friends, not drawing attention to yourself at public wine tastings”.
That's the philosophy I tried to operate under when I attended the NSW Wine Festival, a cultural scrum where tastes of all types of boozehounds smash into each other. Some were serious swirlers and sniffers, all business. Some liked to hear themselves speak (“I don't know sauvignon blanc,” one woman wankily waxed. “I just know it as Sancerre.”). And others were just trying to get hammered at 3pm. But whatever their style, they were all looking to enjoy themselves – in their own way.
As for me, I kept my head down and focused on the wine.
“There are no rules … wine enjoyment is highly subjective,” Wild says. “Most important is actually learning more about wine. The more one tends to know, the less they perceive to know.”