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7 Tips to help you learn about wine

May 7, 2014 Brian Gurnham Chief Cork Officer

The task of learning about wine seems daunting, and why shouldn't it?  There are over a quarter of a million different wines produced each year from thousands of producers and dozens of countries.  Complex distribution systems, State regulations and import rules make wine availability dramatically different from State to State, and even from one wine shop to another.  But before you throw in the towel and just go with one wine you like, here are some tips that can help you work within all the complexity while adding to your wine knowledge.

Tip #1 Ask and share recommendations.  Seek out other aspiring oenophiles and solicit and share recommendations.  Anyone with a passion for wine will get genuinely excited about sharing a new find – in the trade we call tasting that amazing wine for the first time a winegasm – and who wouldn't want to share that!

Also, many wine retailers will have knowledgeable staff that can help direct you toward a wine that matches your profile.  If you like a fruit forward Cabernet from Napa; maybe he can suggest a less expensive alternative from Australia.  Be careful however, on occasion, wine merchants' recommendations may be tainted by higher profit margins or special incentives from a wine distributor.

Tip #2 Don't be afraid to experiment.  Learning about wine requires a sense of adventure.  Like Chardonnay?  Try a single varietal Pecorino from the Marche region of Italy.  Like light fruity Pinot Noirs?  Try a Garnacha from Spain.  Not every purchase will be a winner, and yes, you may wind up using a bottle for your next cooking adventure, but hey, everyone has kissed a few frogs in search of perfection.

Tip #3 Keep track of what you like.  I know this can be annoying and frequently the last thing you want to do as you pull the cork on the second bottle of that luscious Gigondas.  Trust me, with all of the free or inexpensive aps for the iPhone , tablets, and online cellar trackers, keeping a record of what you like and don't like can be easy and fun.  Even if you simply save and annotate your wine purchase receipt, it's important to learn and adapt from every tasting experience.


Tip #4 Don't be impatient.  Gaining a good understanding of wine tastes is much like learning a foreign language.  It will take some time, but like learning how to ask where the bathroom is in French, some phrases will make your travels disproportionately easier.  Focus on sweetness, aromas, acidity, alcohol and oak.  Once you've got these elements of your profile down, branching out becomes less of a shot in the dark.

Tip #5 Work with a wine.  Sometimes wines need a little help.  Make sure your whites are not overly chilled (lose the ice bucket), and don't be afraid to lightly chill lighter bodied reds such as Beaujolais and Pinot Noir.  If a wine is overly tannic, decant it and use an aerator, or even let it sit out overnight and try it the next day.  You will be surprised how much a wine can morph with a little coaxing.

Tip #6 Attend wine tastings.  If you live near even the smallest of towns there is likely to be a wine tasting event in your area.  Check out Local Wine Events and register for wine tastings, or visit Meet Up and search “wine”.  Also watch local restaurants as they will often host wine events.  If all else fails, host your own wine party!

Tip #7 Don't be intimidated.  True wine snobs are few and far between.  If you find yourself with a connoisseur who is more interested in themselves than sharing their passion with you – run the other way.  True educators love to teach and derive enjoyment from their students.  Regardless of your wine education level, always explore, ask questions, and taste!  You can never be faulted for wanting to learn.

 

Cheers

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