With Wine, There Are No Stupid Questions

Sometimes the only way to know which wine to buy is to ask questions. You won't look stupid if you do. (Photo: antoniodiaz/ Shutterstock)

Wine can be intimidating, but it shouldn’t be. After all, it’s just fermented grape juice. For some reason, the thought of sounding like an idiot about wine leaves many people afraid to ask questions, to try something new, or to admit they don’t understand every term when it come to wine.

But asking questions doesn’t make you sound stupid. Questions make you sound like you're curious, or that you want to make sure you're buying something you like. They make you sound like you want to further your knowledge about wine. They make you sound like you have a mind of your own.

I saw an article that’s seems to refute that, and the author was working hard to keep the intimidation factor high. 11 Things You Should Never Say in a Wine Shop on Thrillist warns readers not ask certain questions, “unless you want to sound like a jackass.” It was reprinted on HuffPost Taste and truncated to six things (with the word jackass changed to idiot).

I was especially surprised by the byline: Gary Vaynerchuck. Vaynerchuck’s approachable Wine Library TV videos helped take the intimidation factor out of wine for me. I’m trying to figure out why he would want to keep people from asking questions in a wine store. It’s not his usual style.

Here are some of the statements and questions that, according to this list, should never be uttered:

I want this because the label is pretty.

  • GV’s response: Remember, the money they spent on a designer was money they didn’t spend on the winemaking.
  • My thoughts: Most winemakers spend money to have their label designed whether it’s pretty or not. I don’t see how Vaynerchuck’s response makes any sense. Aside from that, when I was very, very new to wine, I chose new wines based on two things: price and label. I had nothing else to go on. I would go into the wine store with the goal of buying six bottles I’d never had before. Labels would catch my eye. About 15 years ago, I tried my first sauvignon blanc, not because I had any clue what the grape was, but because a monkey on the bottle caught my eye. If you’re the adventuresome sort who's trying bottles just to see what they’re like, the label is as good as reason as any other to take a gamble.

I don't like dry wines.

  • GV’s response: In wine, “dry” is the opposite of “sweet.” Do you mean that you don’t like tannic wines that dry your mouth out?
  • My thoughts: Why should this statement “never” be made in a wine store? How is the person supposed to discover new wines without giving their preferences? Even if the person is using a wine term incorrectly, the only way he'll learn what dry means is to talk to someone who can explain it.

Rieslings are too sweet.

  • GV’s response: Dry rieslings are literally some of the most profound wines on the planet. Seek them out without preconceptions.
  • My thoughts: Again, how is someone going to learn if they’re afraid to say something this common for fear of sounding stupid? Yes, there are dry Rieslings, but not everyone knows that so they can “seek them out without preconceptions.” The person who does not yet know is not an idiot or a jackass.

“Do you have, like, a $10 Champagne?”

  • GV’s response: No. There’s no such thing. But let’s talk about prosecco...
  • My thoughts: Vaynerchuck’s response on this one is fine. I would think anyone wanting a $10 Champagne really wants a $10 bottle of some sort of sparkling wine and would benefit from learning about Italian prosecco. My issue is that asking that question does not make you an idiot or a jackass. Someone afraid to ask this question would probably spend more money than they wanted to on a bottle of sparkling wine and not be given the chance to learn about prosecco or maybe cava, a Spanish sparkling wine.

A couple of statements out of the 11 seemed like they would be made by someone who was uneducated but trying to impress like “I’m a serious wine drinker. I only drink red.” But, the majority of things the article warns to “never” say should absolutely be said. Questions should be asked. Learning should happen.

Asking questions is not only okay, it’s necessary for you to find a wine you’ll enjoy. Making statements about your preferences is also necessary for you to find what you're looking for. If you have a misconception, the people working in the wine store should be happy to educate you without making you feel stupid. If they do, walk out of the wine store and know that you've discovered who the real jackass is.