Wine, expertise, and the burden of pressure

Five years ago, I was given a bottle of sake. It was a gift from a couple for whom I'd hosted a wine tasting. They told me it was a particularly good one. I put it into my Eurocave. It's still there. I'm never going to drink it.

One of the things wine people love to say is that special bottles should be opened and enjoyed for their own sake. You shouldn't save up wine for special occasions, but open it on a rainy Monday evening and let the wine be the star. No pressure, no pretences - just enjoy it!

That's easy advice for an expert to give, but this bottle of sake has made me realise that it's useless advice to anyone who knows nothing about wine.

By that logic, I should just open this sake and drink it. But I know nothing about sake. Is it too old, or too young? Should it be chilled? Served in wine glasses? Decanted? Is it best with food or by itself? How will I know if it's actually any good, compared to other sakes?

It's the same for people who don't know about wine. Opening a special bottle, especially when it's one that they didn't buy themselves, for no apparent reason - it's simply inconceivable.

In fact, what they want is a context to make it special, to make it memorable, to justify its status - they are asking experts to give them the suitable endorsement, a reason that is appropriately grand for this intimidating bottle of wine about which they know nothing - not a breezy line about just opening it on a whim. Because in such a scenario, the risk of disappointment - that they don't get it - is just far too great.

Another big realisation I had about this sake is that I could easily find out about it by searching online. But in truth, I don't care. I'm sure that sake experts could make a compelling argument about how good this sake is - assuming it is - and how much I would enjoy it. And perhaps that I should I just open it on a rainy Monday evening and enjoy it for its own sake.


And that's why so much great wine ends up festering in the bottom corners of wine racks in middle-class homes across the world, surrounded by a fast-moving succession of affordable brands and supermarket labels that are open, drunk and enjoyed with no burden of pressure.

Richard Hemming1 Comment