The overwhelming number of wines, of course, is exactly what you adore about wine once you master some of it—your sea of nonsense words is a Bordeaux lover's endless, delicious smorgasbord. Your current dislike of the lack of correspondence between price and value may turn to glee when you discover a great bargain. Snob appeal is the dark side of desirable commodities. And so on.
When I spoke with Michael Wirzylo, at Surdyk's, he gave me his take on it. "Wine is interesting because it defies so much of conventional wisdom in America," Wirzylo told me. "It doesn't follow brand identification. Even if there's a golden wallaby today, it may not mean the same in a decade. There's also a great cross-current in American wine culture that acts at cross-purposes to itself: There's a desire to be more European in our consumptive practices, but also a desire to have it demystified, democratized, which is in some ways anti-European. This makes wine a pretty lively thing to be interested in—elite critics or elite individuals do not hold all the cards."
As they do in, say, Hollywood film production. There's never only King Kong remakes or Julia Roberts vehicles, there's never a forced diet of sweet pablum; instead there is always the option for something never-tasted, something made by an anonymous farmer, far far away.
"It's both an artisanal and a technological item too," continued Wirzylo. "It relies on a human hand and nature to make, but also relies on the human hand to sell. It passes through many hands, through many passions, through the legacy of prohibition, language barriers, and a million things. That's what makes it so compelling."
Finally, dear Baffled, if you're wondering why I only provided you with French, German, and American shortcuts, snubbing South America, Spain, Australia, Italy, and everywhere else, it was only because my goal here wasn't to add more fuel to the fire. I merely wanted to give you a place to start. If you go the route of either befriending a local wine clerk or working with those vineyards for a year or two, wine will get less hard. You will suddenly start to see the same bottle twice, you will know what is in it, you will find a rock to stand on, and the pirates won't get you.