Learning About Wine
So you want to learn about wine and don’t know where to start. This article is a good place to begin your adventure. The world of wine can be an intimidating and complex field, but the best way to get to know wines is to dive right in, try a bottle, and become familiar with its subtle nuances and tastes.
Firsthand experience is the best way to go about attaining a better appreciation for wine. The following are a few ways to get some real hands-on experience that will have you enjoying -- and learning about -- the grape in no time at all.
Take a wine tour at a local vineyard
Who better to go to for advice than the winemakers themselves? Many vintners will happily play host to visitors, and will go through the details of how they produce their wines and what makes their wines special. The best part about these tours is that you can expect to enjoy some samples with an opportunity to buy. Good vintners should be delighted to tell you about the nuances of each of their bottles and will make suggestions regarding food pairings.
If there isn’t a vintner near you, plan your next holiday near a tourist-friendly wine region. These regions extend throughout the world, from California’s Napa Valley to Northern Italy. You might also consider a trip to southern Ontario’s Niagara River Valley or the Loire Valley in France. It’s a wonderful experience to combine travel with wine tasting.
Try a different bottle each week
Make a point to select a different wine each week or month. Before purchasing it, research the varietal, the bottle and the right foods to pair it with. If you make tasting a regular event at your place or at a restaurant, you can experiment with different varietals and learn what works best with various dishes.
Ask the clerk
The great thing about serious wine shops is that they employ people who really know the products they sell -- unlike some retail stores where you probably know more than the kid at the cash. Once you’ve found a knowledgeable distributor, ask some questions: What’s good? What works with my dinner tonight? Why do you recommend this? A good wine clerk will have answers to all of these questions.
Learning through literature versus social events…
Ask the sommelier
A sommelier is a trained expert who has gone through years of instruction. He is employed by a restaurant to explain all the details regarding the wines in the cellar. It’s the sommelier’s job to make recommendations; feel free to take a few moments and pick the sommelier’s brain.
Use the trade media
Viticulture is big business and there’s a plethora of resources that deal exclusively with the subject of wine. While reading magazines and watching shows about wine may not be the absolute best way to learn, these resources will certainly give you some guidance.
Some of the top wine magazines include Wine Spectator, Decanter, Food & Wine, Wine Enthusiast, and Wine International Magazine.
Some of the best TV shows you’ll find are The Thirsty Traveler, Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello, Good Eats with Alton Brown, and Dave Does. Keep your eye on Food Network for other productions.
Read the label
Another great place to find out about tasting nuances and food pairings is on the product itself. The label usually provides a quick hit of information on what to expect from the bottle and what to pair it with. Labels may also provide you with information about the growing region and the serving temperature.
Order by the glass
If you’re settling in for a multicourse meal at a restaurant, instead of ordering a bottle, try ordering a different glass for each course. This is great way to learn more about different varietals and how they stand up to different foods. As above, ask the server or sommelier for suggestions.
Visit a wine bar
Wine bars are a cool place to relax and sip some great wines. They’re sophisticated and laidback -- think white tablecloths, cozy ambiance, cool jazz, and a great wine list. It’s the perfect place to sit and chat about wine, possibly with people who know more than you do.
Take a class
Quite often, local colleges offer classes in wine appreciation that are hands-on and allow you to sample different wines. A good beginner’s class will give you a better understanding of the wine vocabulary, a sampling of the major varietals, instructions on how to pair wines with food, and what to look for on the label.
Moreover, your local retailer might also offer tasting nights that allow you to learn about a handful of wines.
It’s a good night if each one of your friends brings a bottle…
Host a tasting party
Get a few friends together at your place on a regular basis for a potluck dinner or a wine and cheese party. Ask each of your guests to bring a bottle and tell them to be prepared to explain their choice, and why they thought it would work well with a particular cheese or dish. You might also want to try tasting the wines blindfolded to get a better appreciation of what you’re drinking.
One final note: Be sure to invite at least one guest who understands something about wine so that they can explain why a bottle does or doesn’t work with a particular food. This will help you and your guests learn.
Visit a wine expo
Many big North American cities host annual wine shows. These are usually professionally run expositions where you can meet with wine producers and sample their products. These expos also usually have quick tasting courses that allow you to sample and learn.
Keep a wine log
One final tip that you’ll want to keep in mind for all of these occasions is to keep a log of your wine-tasting experiences. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but you do want to devote a page to each bottle you try. Paste the bottle label in the book and write down your tasting notes as you enjoy the wine. A well-kept log is a handy reference to your own experiences with each wine -- not just what someone else thinks. What’s more, a wine diary is very useful when planning an evening of drink and grub.
From bottle to glass
The point of wine tasting is to get out there and fearlessly try different things. When you’re tasting wines, you’re going to love some and you’re going to hate some, but the most important thing is to learn why you love and hate them. This will help you build a great base of wine knowledge that will last a lifetime.