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Surprising Science

The Geek’s Guide to Status, Prosperity and Passion

The Consumer Electronics Show is over and Mat Honan, senior reporter for, is depressed.   He wrote a lyrical piece about the  melancholia created by a three-day Bacchanalia of consumer electronic excess.  This is a man devoted to technology and trust me,  he needs a hobby  (

I submit five reasons why wine is the perfect divertissement for the Nerd.

Wine is…


Wine has a direct connection to hard science.  Fermentation is a combination of biochemistry, microbiology and organic chemistry.  Terroir, or the distinct makeup of soils that give a wine its character, is a product of geology.  Interested in how we taste wines and how experts like Robert Parker influence wine quality, style and price?  Brush up on organoleptics and brain science.  Geneticists sequence the grape genome to find the true origins of certain wine varietals

There are gadgets, too.  Want to instantaneously age your wine?  There’s a device for that. Preserve your bottle after you open it?  Use argon/nitrogen gas to do it.  The corkscrew is a marvel of mechanical engineering that’s been around for more than 200 years.


Nerds revel in detail.  Wine is rife with it.  Look at appellations.  An appellation is a distinct winegrowing region with highly individualized characteristics that are believed to be responsible for the particular qualities of that wine.  Champagne has its chalk and limestone soils, Amador county, California, has diurnal shift.  The Mosel river valley has steep riverbank vineyards. The US has 200 of these alone.

Then there are microclimates.  Each appellation may have dozens of climatological anomalies responsible for differences in wines produced within the same region.

Not intricate enough?  There are hundreds of wine grapes. In Italy alone, wine is produced from 1,000 different grapes.

 Wine grape migrate, too.  Malbec and Carmenère were once considered the “lost” varietals of Bordeaux.  Now they are the most interesting wines from Latin America.

Still not convinced?  All of these elements combine from year to year so the wines you get – even from the same grapes and regions – will be different from vintage to vintage.  I think you get the point.


After spending 96 consecutive hours writing code, sometimes a Nerd just needs to get out of the house. You  know –  to meet new people – people who don’t collect action figures or comic books or Dungeons and Dragons miniatures.

Yes.  I mean women.

We cannot get around this point – women like Olivia Munn, Eliza Dushku and Felicia Day are out there, but the vast majority of Nerd culture has both X and Y chromosomes.  Nerds  want women.

Wine knowledge makes you more attractive to women in three ways.  First, it gives you panache.  Knowing about wine means you’re sophisticated.  Second, it shows you understand luxury and therefore, comfort.  Everyone loves comfort.  Third, if you understand wine, you understand sensuousness – appreciating what your senses have to offer.  Women want men to appreciate this.

It also makes you the Alpha-male if you take control of choosing the wine.  That’s never a bad thing.

Here’s the thing about wine, though – it is an inherently social activity, to be sure, but it also enhances solitary activities.

Simply put, wine won’t make your square-headed girlfriend jealous.  You can sit at the computer and play Star Wars:  The Old Republic for 9 hours and your glass of wine won’t complain.  It won’t ask you when you’re going to get off the internet and come to bed.  It’ll never ask you to take out the garbage.

What I’m talking about here is paradox.  You want to be around others?  Wine.  Want to write, listen to music or surf the internet by yourself?  Wine.


Speaking of paradox, it’s well known that Nerd culture is obsessed with the mystical. Superheroes and fantasy are essential components of the Nerd universe.  Sure, it’s fun to argue about what superpower you would have if you could and how you would use it for good or evil. It’s also interesting to think of magic as organic, as in the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.

But let’s be serious – all that is fictional.

Wine, however, has a genuine connection to the mystical.  The first grape that Noah planted after the flood –  was the grape.  Then he got drunk.

Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana.  Communion is based on the idea that by a priest’s blessing, wine actually turns into the blood of Christ.

And it’s not just Christianity that sees wine as spiritual;  wine is integral Judaic tradition. Eccesiastes 9:7 says,  “Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do.”

Even religious traditions that foreswear wine have used it as a symbol of spirituality.  Rumi, Muslim mystical poet, uses wine as a symbol of love and religious ecstasy.

Whether it’s celebrating birth, encouraging love or commemorating death – the trinity of human mystical experiences – wine has been a fundamental part of life for millenia.


Mystery and ritual bring me to my final point.  Justin Celko, of, has zeroed-in on what I agree is the central, defining characteristic of Nerd civilization:  passion  (  This is where wine culture and Nerd culture merge in resounding, explosive, illustrative glory.  Nerds will come to blows over who was the better Captain of the Starship Enterprise, Kirk or Picard.

Wine geeks are exactly like this.  They are passionate, nay obsessed, about fermented grape juice. Wine cellars are often part of divorce decrees! One sip of wine can lead a man to a lifelong search to repeat the pleasure of that experience.

Mat, take heart.  Allow me to pour you a glass of wine.  You’ll forget all your troubles.


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