Where to Learn about Wine?
Right Here is a Great Place!!
We are by no mean experts – in fact I would hardly call us anything other two people wanting to enhance our enjoyment of wine. How then can two novices be capable of teaching others about wine? Because we are eager to learn and enjoy wine – most importantly, we likely have the same questions and are already seeking the answer to these questions. I’ve always lived by the philosophy that the best way to demonstrate understanding of concepts is to educate others. That is our goal, to take what we’ve learned and pass on our knowledge to those interested in learning.
Court of Masters = Students. Achieving The Court of Masters Sommelier status is the pinnacle in the wine world. While I’ve never met one of these dedicate individuals I bet nearly all of the 236 individuals who have passed the Masters Exam would still consider themselves students of wine – forever learners. There is always more to learn, more to know, new wine making styles and varietals with wine makers continue to push the boundaries for what is possible with wine. Which is why wine is everything from an enjoyable beverage, an accompaniment for great fellowship, a hobby or passion, and for some a life-style. During our relatively short wine lives we have continued to learn on a daily basis interesting facts about wine, from varietal origination, regional influences on terroir, barreling techniques and why certain aromas exist.
So, where to learn about wine? We are going to take the practical approach on this one. Sure there are several great books that you can review (check out a couple of recommendations here) – but as someone who has gone through undergrad, graduate school and residency – books can get tiresome no matter how engaging they might be.
So let’s be honest, the best way to learn about wine is to:
TASTE More Wine!!
Where to learn about wine? Anywhere that you can get wine. Yes. I said it. If you truly want to learn more about wine (especially understanding the elemental differences in wine) the best avenue is to drink more wine. Correction – taste more wine. Truly understanding wine goes well beyond blindly consuming wine. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with drinking and enjoying wine – something we do frequently – to fully understand wine takes more than just “drinking”. In our experience tasting wine, in an effort to learn more, requires the following factors:
- Concentration – Identifying aromas, flavors, terroirs, etc requires concentration and possessing the ability to distinguish specifics of wine that can further your enjoyment of different varietals.
- Memory – Remembering key distinctions between Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir can help not only ensure that you are picking wines you enjoy, based on your palate, but can also lead to new exciting wines based on similar characteristics.
- Living outside your comfort – If you aren’t willing to try new wines, you’ll never learn what else you may enjoy. We have always loved Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon; however, with increased exposure we have realized how much we enjoy Syrah (Shiraz), Malbec, and blends. Additionally, we have never really given two thoughts about white wines – with openness to try different wines we have discovered some truly amazing Chardonnays.
Wine Bars or Tasting Rooms, Wineries, Formal Wine Tastings
Each of the following provide avenues in which to learn more about wine. All should be enjoyed for their uniqueness and what they can potentially provide.
Wine Bars or Tasting Rooms – We’ve had some truly remarkable experiences at tasting rooms. Some of our favorite experiences and wines have been discovered through tasting rooms. While each is different, they all are intended to provide a diverse collection of wine in (usually) an intimate setting. The staff is usually quite knowledgeable about the wines they offer which can help you experience wines that are slightly outside your comfort zone. For instance, if you tell the waiter you are interested in trying a red wine that has fruity notes, light-to-medium bodied, mild tannins and acidity – similar to a Pinot Noir – they may push your comfort zone towards trying a Nebbiolo or Zweigelt based on their similar profiles. While wine bars allow for trying new wines they don’t necessarily provide additional information about the wine other than what is presented on the bottle or what the waiter knows.
- Wine bars also provide great opportunities to try wine flights which can be a fun experience. The wines are pre-selected based on similar varietals, regions, profiles in an effort to exemplify the differences that can be obtained in wine.
Wineries – These can be hit or miss depending on the person serving you, the atmosphere, the wine selection. As with wine bars we have had some great experiences and we’ve had some truly regrettable visits. Wineries are set up so that you can experience what they offer – are they famous for a particular varietal or are they more interested in “mass-production”
- Person serving you – depending on how engaged the person serving you is plays a huge impact on how much you can learn. Do they take the time to explain where the grapes were harvested from and how that particular region impacts that aromas of the wine? Do they discuss what the winemaker is trying to achieve in the wine with respect to flavors or tastes? Or, do they just blindly pouring you wine and telling you how many awards that particular wine won the vineyard? A good server should provide you with information regarding the wine.
- Atmosphere – Is it loud and overcrowded or personal and engaging? Unfortunately, some of the wineries that we have been thrilled to visit have been set up to be largely commercialized that we’ve become more disinterested as we progress in the tasting. It is truly unfortunate when these experience take place because the ability to detect and assess wine is compromised by the atmosphere – and likely your personal mood!
- Wine selection – Do they allow you to choose the wines or is it a pre-select menu? Of the three, this is the least consequential since you can learn something from virtually any wine you taste. Often times, truly good experiences will allow you to go beyond the wine selection that incorporated into your tasting experience.
One of our truly favorite experience came not from the 3 extra tastings that were provided – but through the server understanding our desire to learn and providing us extra tasting to distinguish key differences in wines that came from 3 different vineyards. A truly unforgettable experience.
Formal Wine Tastings – Probably our favorite thing to do – especially a guided wine tasting. This incorporates everything that is important when learning about wine within a structured setting all to help further enhance your understanding:
- Learning about the wine – especially if different unfamiliar varietals are being tasted
- Tasting techniques – Visual, Nose, Taste
- Descriptors of the wine – fruit, spices, floral, barrel characteristics
- Pairings with wine – cheese, food
It also allows you to ask questions about aspects that may be unfamiliar to you. Most importantly it help educate you on what you are tasting – so that you may recognize those tastes or aromas in the future. Unless you’ve tasted gun smoke or dried leaves within a wine – it would be very difficult for you to detect that in the future. A word of caution – one of the first thing any good wine educator will tell you is that everyone is different and the fact that you aren’t getting cherries or blackberries etc within a wine doesn’t necessarily make you wrong. Everyone is different with different descriptors and associations to certain aromas. For instance, we were tasting wine one weekend and I described the wine as barbecue – straight up zingy barbecue. I couldn’t get past that taste within the wine – but my wife didn’t associate that to the wine at all. For some reason there are some sensations, tastes, or aromas that you associate with wines that no one else does. That is the amazingly fun part of drinking wine!
So where to learn about wine?
Truly ANYWHERE!! The beauty of wine is that you can learn about it anywhere.
During our experiences we have talked to experts and read about wine in an effort to gain a more thorough understanding. The following links are designed to be a starting point to help you better understand wine and we encourage you read them and let us know what you think. As previously discussed, we are forever learners of wine and are always seeking new information in which to broaden our understanding. We would love to connect with you if you have comments, feedback or thoughts.