Ex – pert
A person who has special skill or knowledge relating to a particular subject.
Having or showing special skill or knowledge because of what you have been taught or what you have experienced1.
Last week I had a relatively spirited discussion over the definition of the word “expert” and how it applies to the world of wine over some steak and Chardonnay. On one side of the coin you have those that are described, either by themselves or others for whatever reason, as experts because they have a wealth of knowledge… vintages, producers, varietals & varieties styles, so on and so forth. On the other side of the coin you have those that know themselves; their taste buds, their likes, their dislikes which have no dependence upon the “experts.”
On this particular night it was assumed, for the sake of debate, that you needed a certain amount of knowledge to be an expert that surpassed your own likes or dislikes. You needed to have been taught or schooled in some way. You needed to have the experience. This could apply to sommeliers, some wine writers, wine makers, wine growers and the like. Simply being a consumer was not enough to qualify you as an expert.
Seems to make sense right?
Now, does that assumption coincide with the definition. Yes and no. A person with that special skill is an expert but so is that person who has been taught based on experience. So how do you separate the two?
The fact of the matter is that term “expert” is relative as it applies to wine. It means everything and nothing all at the same time depending on your audience. Our audience last week was a beer drinker who liked wine but did not see that her personal tastes mattered more than anything else; for whatever reason there was always going to be someone else’s opinion that was going to supersede her own. On one hand she was right. There might be someone who could rattle all of the producers that were a part of the 1855 classification in Bordeaux. That person might even be able give her a pretty good suggestion of a wine she might enjoy but that doesn’t mean that she was going to love it.
Hell, I had to look up 1855 to make sure that I got the year right… and even then I am not sure if I can trust the interweb fully.
In a world that is entirely subjective it is hard to nail down who the experts are. Truth is there are a bunch… roughly 7 billion or so. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t anyone out there that you can trust, it just means that you need to be able to trust yourself as much as anyone else. There are plenty of folks that will try to market their level of expertness to you, especially in the form of ratings and reviews, but that source needs to be reliable and unbiased. Like a good friend giving you a recommendation, they will give you their honest opinion because they probably know you better than you do in some ways.
Fluid nature of wine, pun intended, can make it extremely easy AND difficult to understand depending on your personal level of geekiness. Go ahead and talk about subtle hints of this that and the other thing while you are sipping on a wine. Just make sure that it is something that you actually enjoy.
1 – Merriam Webster Dictionary