Many people have been asking me lately, “How can I learn more about wine?” So I thought I’d take a break this month from recommending wines to give you some tools to choose wines for yourself. For those with plenty of interest in the most intimidating of beverages, but little time to devote to serious study, it is not as hard as one might think to gain enough knowledge to feel confident ordering off a restaurant wine list or picking a crowd pleasing bottle off the shelf. I think if you follow these three simple suggestions, you’ll be shocked at how fast you learn and how quickly your wine self-esteem grows.
1. Stop buying wine at the grocery store. It’s mostly mass-produced junk. It’s a myth that serious wine shops only carry expensive wines – I guarantee there is one in your area that stocks dozens of wines under $15 that taste like something you spent $30 or more on at a large supermarket. Find your local wine haven, seek out a friendly employee and ask for a suggestion. Go back the next week and tell them if you liked it or not and see what else they suggest. After a few weeks of this, the wine geek you’ve been talking to will get to know your palate (and so will you), and you’ll probably broaden your horizons. Which leads me to my next piece of advice…
2. Try new things. As wine guru Gary Vaynerchuk of Wine Library TV says, “How would you know pizza is your favorite food if you’ve never eaten it?” If you’re drinking the same Cali chard or Aussie shiraz over and over again because you’re comfortable with it, you could be missing out on the viognier or petite sirah that is your wine soul mate. So next time you’re at a restaurant or wine bar, instead of ordering a brand name you recognize, take a chance on the one thing you know for sure you’ve never even heard of. It may be earth shattering or it may be awful, but either way you’ve just expanded your wine knowledge. But how can you make sure you’ll remember?
3. Write it down. Take notes when you try a new wine. If you don’t have a pen and paper handy, send yourself a text message. And don’t worry if your brief scribblings don’t sound professional, just write anything that makes sense to you. You’ll find very quickly that your notes will get increasingly descriptive the more you do it. “Yummy and lemony” will become “crisp and mouth watering with fresh flowers and clean citrus,” and “fruity but a little bitter” will become “dark berries dance with chocolate and coffee leading to a long tannic finish” before you know it. Trust me, I’ve been through the process myself.
If you’re still reading and think yourself capable of tackling these three tasks, I’d recommend checking out corkd.com or snooth.com – wine social networks whose most valuable function is keeping track of your tasting notes and comparing them with other like-minded winos. Sign up for an account, find a good wine shop, try some new things, and write them down; you’ll soon be on your way to wine expertise. Report back to me with your results!