Although we live in a youth-obsessed culture, there are a few professions where experience is still considered a desirable thing. Lawyer, doctor and sommelier are three that first come to mind. At least until recently. Now it seems as though every sommelier I meet has the gleaming white teeth and wispy goatee of someone not long out of his teens. Suddenly, the old '60s saying Never trust anyone over 30 has become a wine-service creed.
Where did all these new wine professionals come from? Did they drop out of college, or perhaps high school? Did they apprentice in France or obtain student loans to study the art of decanting? Most importantly, how much could they really know about wine after drinking it legally for such a short time? Wine, after all, is a complex subject, requiring years of study, tasting and travel to understand. And yet these twentysomethings have sped through the process in remarkable time, learning the names of the important producers, tasting the best vintages, creating interesting wine lists and achieving positions of considerable poweroften before turning 25.
How does someone who can't even legally rent a car acquire such influence? A few possible explanations occur to me. For starters, there are a lot of new young wine drinkers around: In fact, wine consumption in this country has grown to such a degree that by 2008, the U.S. will be the largest wine-consuming country in the world. And who better to give advice to the young than a peer? Then of course there are so many new wines that need explaining, made from obscure grapes from obscure countries (Tannat from Uruguay, Žlahtina from Croatia). Who can revel in such arcane facts more easily than someone who's just spent four years studying plant biology, econometric theory and Proust?