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How to learn about wine?

How to learn about wine?

Old Dec 26, 17, 4:34 pm
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How to learn about wine?

One of my co-workers recently asked me how to learn about wine and what to look for in tastings, etc. I gave him a few suggestions, but I'm interested in other thoughts. So, for someone who knows very little about wine, what would you say he should know?
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Old Dec 26, 17, 6:03 pm
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One of my friends learned a lot about wine from a wine appreciation class at university years ago. I've picked up a lot about wine just from practice. I ask about wines when I'm at a restaurant where the server or bartender seems to know his/her stuff. I compare what I've been told with what I taste, and I file that information away as knowledge I chat with friends to compare experiences. I've also picked up a lot about wine and wine craft from visiting wineries -- admittedly easy for me as I live not far from Napa, Sonoma, and other wine regions.

Last edited by darthbimmer; Dec 27, 17 at 1:39 am Reason: clarity
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Old Dec 26, 17, 8:17 pm
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Wine is a beverage to be enjoyed. Unfortunately, too many people get intimidated by the jargon and allure of the elitism too often found by those who appreciate wine. Tell your friend to ignore that nonsense and just enjoy a nice glass of wine regardless of what he or she knows or doesn’t know!

If he or she wants to get more familiar with the wine jargon, learn about the different grapes and wine regions, etc, then it’s easy to look online for summaries of the different wine regions, what grapes are grown and used to create the most common wines, and what flavors and tastes are associated with the various wines. Going wine tasting is another great way to learn as you try different wines. Dining at a restaurant with a sommelier and asking questions about what and why wines pair so well with the food is another good way to learn. Don’t be afraid to ask!

The biggest intimidation factor to my mind is when people use exotic descriptors to describe the wines they drink. The vocabulary can scare off people. Don’t get scared. Describe the wine using the words you know. Other people may taste the same thing but use different vocabulary than you—that’s OK! Don’t worry about it. If confused, you can ask.

My biggest lesson—don’t assume white wine is for fish and red wine is for meat. That’s not always right and is often wrong!

My second biggest lesson—-understand that the more expensive the wine, the more likely it will taste great and even better when it’s older...but not necessarily any better than a much cheaper wine when it’s younger! Spending a lot on a bottle of wine is most often pointless if it’s younger...so enjoy a cheaper wine if it’s younger!

My third lesson—-not everyone will like the taste and flavors of older wines. That’s just the way it goes. On the other hand, a lot of people who think they don’t like a certain type of wine (Cabernet) will discover they really will like an older one.

My final lesson—-don’t assume all wines from the same grape taste the same. There are many STYLES of winemaking that can make the same grape (i.e. Chardonnay) taste wildly different from another.

Experience will teach everyone even more.

I say all this as a major wine fanatic with a graduate certificate in winemaking from UC Davis—even though I’ve never been nor ever will be a winemaker! I just love wine. But I also love to see more people discover wine and enjoy wine and not be intimidated by wine.

Good luck!
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Last edited by bhrubin; Dec 26, 17 at 8:27 pm
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Old Dec 27, 17, 1:33 am
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I've done a few wine tasting/appreciation classes, and it's a great way to learn about - and taste - a variety of wines. I was stuck on Old World red wines but found out I love New World Sauvignon Blanc (particularly NZ ones)!

The place I go to has different classes, from professional ones to those covering regions (e.g. just Australian wines, just Burgundy ones (yes I still call it that)), to food matching ones and one that concentrates just identifying on the scents. Haven't done the professional ones, but have done a couple of certification ones. It's all fun and casual. And no one minds if you spit or swallow.

Have your friend do an internet search for classes where you are. But there are also websites from the wine marketing boards of various countries; they give good backgrounders to the wines/regions of their country.

Examples:
Wine Australia: https://www.wineaustralia.com/au/dis...ustralian-wine (booklet to download)
Barossa Valley: http://www.barossa.com/wine

Last edited by DragonSoul; Dec 27, 17 at 2:22 am
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Old Dec 27, 17, 5:05 am
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There are a lot of wineries near us in PA, but I suggested that he may not want to start with those, as having been to a few, they are all very similar and are usually staffed with people who know very little about wine.
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Old Dec 27, 17, 7:49 am
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+1 on what @bhrubin said.

I'd also add that it's helpful to get one of those sheets with lists of flavors and flavor categories. Pay attention to the flavors you taste when sipping a glass and look at the sheet to put words to flavors you may have trouble describing. Do it often and you'll see you get better at it.

http://www.piwine.com/media/home-win...asting-Aid.pdf
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Old Dec 27, 17, 8:57 am
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I've thought about learning about wine other than thru consumption as well.

Thinking that signing up for an entry level sommelier course is the way to go. If you're going to spend time, you might as well spend money to get expert instruction and insight, rather than fumbling around what can be a complex subject I'd imagine.

Depends on what your needs are and how far you'd want to take it I guess.
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Old Dec 27, 17, 10:34 am
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Originally Posted by KDS777 View Post
I've thought about learning about wine other than thru consumption as well.

Thinking that signing up for an entry level sommelier course is the way to go. If you're going to spend time, you might as well spend money to get expert instruction and insight, rather than fumbling around what can be a complex subject I'd imagine.

Depends on what your needs are and how far you'd want to take it I guess.
I think an "entry level sommelier" is a contradiction in terms and will probably be very advanced for someone who is just learning the basics. I'd suggest more like a community college wine appreciation course or just a local wine appreciation club.
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Old Dec 27, 17, 11:30 am
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One great way to learn a lot about wine and the entire industry is to read the book "Cork Dork". Its very entertaining and you'll learn about wine along the way. It follows a writer as she attempts to become an "entry level sommelier"

Another method that can work well is to find a wine shop near you that does regular tastings with higher-end wines (>$30). In that manner you will taste good wines and learn from the staff as well as the fellow tasters. There is nothing a wino loves better than to talk about wine and help others learn.

One fascinating thing that irks me no end - there are a lot of corked wines being poured at tasting rooms and wineries. Never assume they know what they are doing, or trust their sense of smell.
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Old Dec 27, 17, 12:01 pm
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If it is someone you are willing to socialize with, host your own home tasting. What I've done in the past was buy six bottles of wine (three white, and three red). Run the gamut of semi-sweet to intense dry. Part of the fun was to pick wines that are in the $7-13 each range, to show the guest that serious money doesn't have to be spent to enjoy a decent wine.
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Old Dec 27, 17, 2:21 pm
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There are shows about wine and wineries on Netflix that I have watched while drinking wine. With that said, my best advice (because it's what I did) is to buy different wines in a local shop with or without the aid of shop attendants until one learns what they do or do not like. So buying the more affordable bottles is suggested with this method. In my short wine drinking time I've purchased bottles over $50 and at all points below that, but a good wine is what the consumer likes, higher cost does not mean a person will like it any better.

Tastes develop and change over time so one year I may appreciate Merlot and the next I'd rather have very cold white wines around, or, it could happen in the same day. . . The cool thing about wine is that there is so much and in so many varieties that it doesn't get old, there is always a new adventure in a newly discovered wine.

Just go drink some!

Hawaiian "cooking show" from the old days showing how to cook with wine, enjoy!
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Old Dec 27, 17, 2:23 pm
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So much good advice in this thread!

I was initially intimidated by the idea of drinking wine. Not only did I grow up in a household that did not consume alcohol, I live in a part of the country which still often looks askance at those who imbibe as being some kind of drunken sinners.

Having said that, I have managed to learn a lot about wine. We've done a lot of tours at wineries, large and small. While this is a lot of fun, it is (for me) only one part of learning about wine. Tours are great for telling you about the type(s) of grape(s) that are grown there and whether or not this winery produces all of their own grapes or buys from other sources to supplement their production. Tours also show you all kinds of behind the scenes things like big barrels or large metal vats and how they're used in the process. This is all good info for learning about how these things can affect the composition and taste of the wine. This can also be overwhelming at first, but it's good stuff to know eventually when you're thinking about which wine to buy next based on what you've tasted and liked so far.

As stated above, not all wines made from the same types of grapes taste the same. Different years can have vastly different tastes. Disliking some types of wine does not mean that a person has a defective wine tasting gene. Spending more money on wine does not improve its flavor. Most of the wines we buy for home use are between $9-20. Drink what tastes good to you. Your wine tastes may change over time. (Mine have.)

Oh, and when sampling wines at home, start with the dry wines first.

I enjoy tasting new wines, and I hope your friend enjoys the adventure as well! :-)
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Old Dec 27, 17, 6:58 pm
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Originally Posted by gfunkdave View Post
+1 on what @bhrubin said.

I'd also add that it's helpful to get one of those sheets with lists of flavors and flavor categories. Pay attention to the flavors you taste when sipping a glass and look at the sheet to put words to flavors you may have trouble describing. Do it often and you'll see you get better at it.

http://www.piwine.com/media/home-win...asting-Aid.pdf
Thanks! I'll pass that along.
Originally Posted by CAWineNerd View Post
One great way to learn a lot about wine and the entire industry is to read the book "Cork Dork". Its very entertaining and you'll learn about wine along the way. It follows a writer as she attempts to become an "entry level sommelier"

Another method that can work well is to find a wine shop near you that does regular tastings with higher-end wines (>$30). In that manner you will taste good wines and learn from the staff as well as the fellow tasters. There is nothing a wino loves better than to talk about wine and help others learn.

One fascinating thing that irks me no end - there are a lot of corked wines being poured at tasting rooms and wineries. Never assume they know what they are doing, or trust their sense of smell.
I did suggest he frequent the local liquor store that offers wine tastings each weekend.
Originally Posted by Moderator2 View Post
If it is someone you are willing to socialize with, host your own home tasting. What I've done in the past was buy six bottles of wine (three white, and three red). Run the gamut of semi-sweet to intense dry. Part of the fun was to pick wines that are in the $7-13 each range, to show the guest that serious money doesn't have to be spent to enjoy a decent wine.
I'd ponder that, but he moves to a different office in a few weeks.
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Old Dec 27, 17, 9:22 pm
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Originally Posted by Moderator2 View Post
If it is someone you are willing to socialize with, host your own home tasting. What I've done in the past was buy six bottles of wine (three white, and three red). Run the gamut of semi-sweet to intense dry. Part of the fun was to pick wines that are in the $7-13 each range, to show the guest that serious money doesn't have to be spent to enjoy a decent wine.
Serve 6 wines to someone not used to drinking wine?

Do not even think about doing this unless either you have a designated driver or a great homeowner's insurance policy.

Also, I question how much general information about wine can be learned this way. 6 random wines out of the thousands available? It might be more educational if you were to focus the choices, like 3 zinfandel followed by 3 Gewürztraminer, or 2 merlots, 2 cabs and 2 zinfandels. Hell, I've done winery tastings where we tried 6 Gewürztraminer, going from dry to way too sweet.

Learning about wine isn't done in a single evening, or even a 6 session course at the community college. Those can help you identify broad categories of wine you like, and really, "good wine" is what you like, not what Wine Spectator or NY Times says is good. I've had chardonnay that was $120/bottle and I hated it. I dislike chardonnay in general, but rarely dislike a zinfandel. What I like best is old vine zinfandels from Sonoma County. How did I get to the point where I can be so specific? A father who always let me have a sip from his glass, a couple courses with a master sommelier, and whole lot of weekends in the California wine country getting to know some of the winemakers.

Not everybody cares enough to delve so deeply into wine. For somebody who just wants to learn to enjoy a social glass, I'd suggest making a list of flavors you like, or dislike, and deciding on a price limit, and then finding a quality wine shop (which won't be in Pennsylvania!) and asking to talk to the wine buyer or other knowledgable staff. Tell them about what you like, dislike. Buy a couple bottles to try at home where you can relax and not be embarrassed if you hate it. Find out the suggested temperature at which to serve that particular wine, try it with food, maybe share it with friends.
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Old Dec 27, 17, 11:31 pm
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Okay, if we're just going for general wine tasting 101, then we need to determine if the person prefers sweet or dry wine. Then we can go from there.
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