Outside of computing (which I also teach) few ubiquitous activities evoke more fear and trepidation than the myriad aspects of buying and consuming wine. The impenetrable jargon, the endless choices, the cost, and the potential for social stigma keeps many people from learning about wine, or enjoying it more.
Wine publications and wine writers should be a safe harbor for those wanting to learn about wine, but instead most wine reviews read like a grocery list. Full of fruit flavors and other characteristics that are so far from universal that newbie wine drinkers almost always feel inadequate when they measure their own experiences against what they are reading. Even as a very experienced wine taster, I rarely find the same complexity with which most writers imbue even the simplest wines.
One of the greatest joys of wine, for me, are the sheer number of potential variations of grape, place, technique and vintage. One can never know everything about every wine. The same warehouse of wine choices that delights me, and so many other wine lovers, can bring sweaty palms and increased heart rates to those who don't know where to begin. The myth that there is the perfect wine for each food or occasion stymies those hoping to avoid a faux pas at any social event they are buying for.
"What holds so many people back... is the fear of "being wrong."
Plenty of people the world over are happy to enjoy wine that they choose based solely on price. Unaware, or unconcerned that critics, aficionados, or just plain snobs, wouldn't be caught dead drinking that well priced box or oversized bottle of wine. Anxiety in buying wine increases with cost, and while for some that may mean triple digits or more, for others it can kick in just going into the teens.
Above all else what holds so many people back from learning about, and enjoying wine more, is the fear of "being wrong." Those comfortable with wine will assure any who ask that there is no wrong wine, that like most things, taste is subjective and that all you need care about is your own enjoyment. While this important truth can not be stated enough, it is rarely the preface to reviews, wine list, or discussions about wine.
Who's responsibility is it to assuage fear and anxiety in regard to wine? Ours. Those of us that read and write articles like this one. Those of us that create wine lists, merchandise retail outlets, or even just throw dinner parties. We need to be aware of the potential damage our enthusiasm can cause to those looking in from the outside.
Wine lists and wine shops may be served by having a section of well priced wines for people to "explore." A safe place to learn about wines without busting the budget or having to learn about geography and geology.
Wine writers may want to check their verbiage for phrases and descriptors that readers may not identify with. Full disclosure for this one - My wine text book "Juice Jargon - How to talk about wine" advocates using simple, everyday words to describe wine, so I am more than a little biased.
As individuals, we need to be aware of what we may be doing to put off our friends and acquaintances from enjoying wine more. A subtle snub at a guests' proffered bottle can do more harm than we may imagine. The passion which drives us, may look like fanaticism to those who have not yet learned to hold sacred all that we may. Don't tone down your enthusiasm, just be aware of the impact it may be having on those around you.
Rediscover the world of simple, refreshing wines, especially Rosès and lightly sweet wines. While not only perfect for picnics and summer days, these wines may be more in the comfort range of friends and family. Learning to appreciate what they enjoy is just as important for them learning to appreciate what you enjoy!
Above all, as wine professionals, or those who just love to share their favorite grape juice, be aware of what it took for you to get to where you are and gently, sympathetically, and compassionately hold out your hands for others to follow.