Disclaimer: This op-ed piece is not about the political correctness of which glassware to use for various types of wine or occasions. The subject of glassware is merely meant to illustrate various attitudes toward the wine world as a whole.
We’re ruled by fashion. The wine world is just as caught up in it as any other industry. From the color and style of wine we choose to the vessel we drink it out of (to even choosing to drink wine at all), the pendulum is in constant motion from trend to trend.
Punch Drink Magazine recently put out an article about the rise of the “tavern glass” as opposed to drinking out of fancy, hifalutin (and breakable) Riedel wine stems. My first thought is, “Absolutely.” Spend more time with the wine in your mouth instead of looking at it through expensive crystal. We have no time for the gatekeepers and the rule makers of the wine world who try to sell wine as a status symbol. Wine to me is communal—a catalyst in bringing people together, in a similar (but not identical) way that food does. Wine nourishes; it is not supposed to be exploited and twisted and manipulated just to suit a bank account somewhere.
But then I consider my role as a wine educator. If wine, glassware, and the general attitude toward wine are all crashing down off their lofted pedestals, will wine education also get the hook offstage? If the world is trending toward a “don’t think, just drink” mantra, is there any sense in learning about maximum vineyard yields, or soil types, or cold soaking, or century-old barrels that outlive the winemaker who uses them? Drink, be merry, and… don’t think too much?
And yet, I think that perhaps the pendulum isn’t exactly swinging back the way it came—back to the weird post-Prohibition era when all we drank was Thunderbird and Carlo Rossi Hearty Burgundy, which gave way to all the obscene flavors and colors of Boone’s Farm.
I think the pendulum might be finding a third path. Much of the wine world has fallen head-over-heels for things like natural wine and orange wine. We haven’t stopped questioning what went into our wine, who made it, where it came from. We shell out on a new pét nat without blinking an eye, or for the latest Martha Stoumen, or on a Teroldego we’ve been pining after. Institutions like WSET are seeing all-time highs in enrollment numbers around the world for those wanting formalized wine education.
I love that we’re headed for educated, thoughtful drinking out of Mason jars. But I also love that you spent $90 on a single Zalto glass. If you’ve found pleasure in it, then it was worth it. I love that all your glassware was dirty, so you just drank from the bottle. I love that all your glassware was clean, but you drank from the bottle anyways.
But most of all, I love that you had your wine atlas open as you drank. I love that you did a bottle share with your work friends and you talked about what you were smelling, tasting, experiencing. I love that you didn’t care about using the “right” wine lingo (is there such a thing?) because you were too invested in experiencing the wine on your own terms. I love that someone brought Heggie’s pizza, someone else brought pork rillettes, and you brought a bag of Doritos to dip in Raclette fondue. I love all of that.
Wine education is not supposed to be a tool to wield power over others. Just like we do with so much of Nature, humans have squeezed this simple agricultural product into a mysterious, intimidating, intangible thing meant only for certain classes of society. But in the meantime, we also stumbled unwittingly into art, cultural intricacies, history, lore and legends, geological fascinations, and all the complexities Nature lays out for us to discover.
If the pendulum is swinging, I’m hopeful that it’s pioneering a new direction. This “enlightened drinking for the masses” trend is fascinating, joyful, and so powerfully rewarding. Fill up that red Solo cup, grab your Chex Mix, and crack that nerdy reference book open. Drink with joyful curiosity, and don’t let anybody tell you you’re doing it wrong.
If you’ve made it this far down the enlightened drinking path, here’s your reward: keep an eye out for exciting things happening in June. If you’ve been to France 44 in the last month or so, you’ll know that we’ve got major construction happening as we build our new Event Space. But in the meantime, we’re bringing our public classes and events out into the world! Subscribe to our Dojour page and you’ll be the first to know what’s on the horizon.
And don’t forget the cheese. If the wine world thinks it’s hot stuff with all their certifications and pins, it could maybe learn a thing or two from the cheese world. Cheese pros are fanatic. Instead of competing for the most pieces of paper or most letters behind their names, cheese pros are all about relationships and connections (and delightfully bizarre competitions). It’s pretty amazing that we’re able to offer experiences at France 44 like deep-dive classes into funky washed rind cheeses, artisan English cheddars, or meet people like Andy Hatch of Pleasant Ridge or David Lockwood of Neal’s Yard Dairy, right here in Minneapolis.
The Daphne Zepos Teaching Endowment is an incredible non-profit we’re throwing a fundraiser for in a couple weeks. Daphne passed away in 2012, but she was nothing short of a zealot who spread the gospel of cheese everywhere she went, creating thousands of passionate cheese disciples throughout her many years of teaching and selling cheese. Our own France 44 Cheese Shop probably would not exist without her influence, and it’s because of her legacy that the DZTE sets up cheese professionals with once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to travel, learn, study, and bring back knowledge to share with the rest of the cheese-crazy world.
And if you’ve made it this far down this rabbit hole of a blog, you have no choice but to buy a ticket to the Wine & Cheese Tasting event we’re throwing in support of DZTE. You owe it to a future of learning about and eating delicious, unique, incredible cheese.