Harry Gray writes, 'I’m a biostatistics doctoral student in my final few months at Cambridge University. I’m 25 and only last year converted to Wine. Like most people I don’t have a single favourite wine, though I do love most classic French and Italian style reds. However, I absolutely cannot stand Beaujolais, much to the disappointment of my wallet. Just a few weeks ago I passed the WSET Level 2 and will be starting the Level 3 in September. I’m looking to move into the wine industry after I graduate, attempting to marry data science and wine so that I can combine my academic skills with my favourite hobby (essentially avoiding real work indefinitely).' His (unedited) entry in our seminal wine competition follows.
The published entries thus far have been so enjoyable that it would feel dishonest not to acknowledge them in my own – thank you all for sharing and very well done. What’s struck me the most is how people’s wine experience hasn’t just changed their perspective about wine, but of their entire life itself. Picture this – a consumable liquid derived from a rather ignorable fruit, that in most cases is pretty cheap and accessible has changed people’s lives. Incredible.
I thought that this deserves something special, but I don’t think there are any days of the year left that aren’t devoted to some arbitrary event or other. So, I made a new calendar for it; it’s a lot like what we know except everyone’s calendar is relative to the date of their own wine epiphany. Instead of Before Christ B.C. it has Before Wine B.W., and instead of Anno Domini A.D. it has Anno Vini A.V. (yes I don’t know Latin, so correct me and be pleased with yourself). It’s very original and the patent’s pending, so no stealing.
In my B.W. years my relationship with wine was sporadic and short-lived. Every now and then I’d come across a style that I enjoyed, presumably introduced to me by someone far more cultured than myself. I’d then drink this for a short time afterwards but find myself not knowing any other style to order when I wanted something new. Embracing my ignorance, I’d then go back to beer and forget the whole thing ever happened.
Moving to Cambridge made me leave behind some of these old habits. All of a sudden, a cheeky Nando’s with the lads had become a formal dinner with the fellows, and simultaneously, the cheapest lager on tap was replaced by vintage port. Port wasn’t the cause of my year 0 A.V. though, however I should add that it was the cause of many other life ‘experiences’ (ones that would be more fitting in an article about regrets).
My year 0 came about through twelve wines. Every single grape was hand cultivated, organically, in alignment with my new calendar system. No of course not. But as ridiculous as that sounds, I actually can’t say with certainty that that wasn’t the case. That’s because I don’t know what any of the wines were. There were two flights – red and white – of six wines and they were all tasted completely blind. It was magical.
But before it was magical it was unbelievable, and not in a good way. I thought I knew what common grape varietals tasted like, yet without seeing the bottle I found that I could barely describe differences in taste (especially for whites!) let alone guess the wine. How could I tell them apart? I realised that all of this time drinking wine had been spent tasting the idea of what I should be drinking rather than listening to my senses. It was frustrating.
However, more than the frustration was the confusion. What on earth was everyone else talking about? Wet rocks? Barnyard? Rubber duck? Were they stringing me along? Was this the tasting for schmucks? Was I the shmuck? I was warned about this kind of society before coming here, and I’ve only gone and walked straight into one haven’t I. I was sniffing the contents of my glass whilst contemplating this when, from somewhere across the room, I heard “Turkish delight”. I had to stop myself half-sneer as it dawned on me that Turkish delight was exactly what I could smell from my glass. It had to be that German grape that I couldn’t spell, and it was (and I’m still not going to try to spell it). This small success felt amazing, maybe there was something to it after all.
Then, like any successful cult, they kept me coming back. I wanted to improve and understand. I wanted this secret skillset and was willing to pay the small weekly fee to learn. I wanted in. Wine seems to have a funny way of doing this regardless of which particular aspect you enjoy. One year later, I know the basics and still learn something new with every glass. It’s interesting to learn the practical output of winemaking techniques without the theory. Then, when you meet people from the industry you end up saying things like, “Carbonic maceration? I don’t know what that is, but I can tell you what it smells like.” It’s also fun to seem like an oracle to your friends when you can correctly guess which wine they have, and it can get you free drinks if you’re clever about it.
This brings us to the end of this article, and where our stories diverge. Whether you’re living in B.W. or A.V., I hope that you’ll try blind wine tasting. Let your senses take over, free your mind from subconscious bias, have fun with your friends, and laugh when you get things wrong – this is what life is after all. Thank you for reading this, I hope I managed to convey some of my experience to you. In any case it was fun to write. I wish you all the best in your wine journey and beyond.