If you ever want to suck all the fun out of wine, get together with a bunch of wine lovers.
Let me back up…
I’ve made a lot of terrific friends through wine. All over the world, in fact. Almost to a fault, they have been kind, generous, hospitable, and generally wonderful to be around. And I say that even though I’ve seen most of them at their potential worst (that is, with a hefty load of alcohol in ’em). Lord knows they’ve seen me that way. It’s not always pretty.
In fact, one of the things I miss most about the breakup of the old wine forum paradigm is the loss of a central meeting place for the world’s wine geeks to connect. Some of my best experiences ever have been via meetings facilitated by the online wine universe, and I cherish and nurture those relationships even more now that the virtual vinosphere has splintered into hundreds of different, special-interest and single-language sub-fora.
One form of these social interactions is called the “offline,” wherein online wine folk congregate, usually over dinner, at a venue that allows (or even encourages) BYO. People bring bottles — usually far too many — they open them, they taste, they drink, they spit, they eat, and they chat. And it’s a hell of a lot of fun. (Of course, there are other forms of interaction as well. There’s the dinner, which isn’t unlike any other dinner except for the fact that it usually involves more food and wine than any reasonable human being should consume in a single sitting. And there’s the structured (or semi-structured) tasting, in which the bottles are brought with a purpose, often a thematic one.
So how do offlines go wrong? By including the “wrong” people. Despite the deluge of wine, what makes these events fun is the crowd itself. Why sit at a table with people you don’t like, whether over wine or a profound debate on Kant and aesthetics? It’s pretty simple, and the general rule of inviting people you’d like to drink wine with and letting Bacchus take his course has, for many years, fed the engine of the offline without incident. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, fun. How could it not be?
And yet, to read this, you’d think that not only everyone was wrong at offlines, you’d think that the entire institution was broken for a lack of constitutions and bylaws. Except that…damned few of these whiners and anal-retentive snobs actually get it. It’s not about the wine. (A formal tasting; that’s about the wine. If you want to have one of those, go right ahead. But don’t call it something it’s not.) It’s about the people, the camaraderie, the fun. It’s not about the size of your bottle or the girth of your wallet. It’s not about sucking every last bit of enjoyment from what is, after all, the ultimate social beverage. And it’s certainly not about living your wine life like some pointy-headed dictator, whining and bitching and crying when everything doesn’t turn out to your organoleptic and economic advantage.
Why would anyone drink with these people?