My wine journey is fueled by the knowledge that no matter how much time I devote and how much I study, I’ll never learn everything there is to know about every wine on this planet. This is a topic that can a life-long endeavor. Some of those learnings are pretty straightforward. Smell the unmistakable scent of fresh cut grass? It’s a pretty good bet you’ve got a Sauvignon Blanc in your glass. Most observations and learning in the wine world, however, are far more nuanced and many subject to judgment. Turns out that’s a great thing.
An unexpected benefit that has come from wine education is that I’ve had to get really comfortable with being wrong. I’m an introvert by nature, so speaking up in a group has always been difficult. The prospect of speaking up and being wrong has always been downright frightening. But you can’t get good at identifying and deconstructing wines by yourself, it takes a Villages. It takes calibration of your palate and experience and judgment against others to build the proper foundation for evaluation and understanding. And it takes the whole group willing to speak up and risk being wrong in order to truly learn from each other.
Alina Tugend, author of the book Better by Mistake, notes that there are a number of benefits that can be derived by those not afraid to be wrong:
It moves them out of their comfort zone. A study of schoolchildren showed that students who were praised for trying hard selected harder material to learn than those who were praised as being smart because those who were praised for being smart we more reluctant to take on material that might change that perception. With thousands of wine grape varietals being cultivated across thousands of winemaking regions, it’s a huge wine world out there. If you are afraid to move out of your comfort zone, you are going to miss most of it.
It allows them to learn more and earn more deeply. Research tells us that when we see mistakes not as a failure to learn but rather as a guide to what still needs to be learned, we better learn the underlying concepts. Being open to mistakes means we are open to the information we need to do better.
It keeps them humble. Those who believe they are above being wrong become complacent. Those who aren’t afraid to be wrong never stop questioning and challenging. They also are more empathetic to others because they recognize how often they screw up as well. Since learning about wine comes best through a community of others on the same journey, questioning and challenging, but doing so with empathy, serves the entire group well.
As I run through deductive tasting grids, make recommendations, discuss viticulture and vinification, and pronounce foreign producers, varietals and regions over the years, I’m going to be wrong. A lot. But I’m good with that. Being wrong means I’m still growing and learning. Being wrong means I’m still exploring and expanding. Being wrong means I am learning about wine the right way.