Wineducation: Exploring Wine

Ten Tips for Growing your Wine Knowledge

My suggestions do not need to be chronological. And they are only ‘suggestions’: Not written in rock and certainly not universal. But, here’s what I would aim to do, if I sat down and thought about how I could best grow my knowledge base around the world of wine, if I were starting from scratch. I have concocted a mix of various practical and intellectual threads. This involves being online and hands on. So, pucker up and bottoms up, as it were.

wine and laptop pcThe Internet: so important a tool in the quest for knowledge that it should be used at every stage of wine exploration. Not only are there descriptions and pictures of grapes and wines, but also of the characters involved and the places where these mysteries are made worldly. This single resource is the one reason I think everyone can know everything they want to know about any subject on the planet. Wikipedia is an amazing research tool. I would use as base camp. As with all published words and spoken words, there may be errors or conflicts but that is the human dimension manifesting itself. Part of the puzzle to unravel.

Less is More: With wine, like most things in life, less is more. Go for quality over quantity whenever you can. Record your wine experiences by photo or steaming off and collecting labels. Make a short note about name, region, price, notable taste/aromas. Score out of 20. Keeping notes will focus your attention. You are looking for comparisons, similarities, differences. ‘Course, we all know, it’s almost impossible to follow any route-plan, like the one below, as you’ll not be able to find ‘this’, one day or want ‘that’, that day. It’s the principle of finding out through a process that is the important point, here, not strict adherence to a ideology. You don’t have to follow that gourd, any gourd will do, that fits the purpose.

Well I say he is The Messiah: And I should know, I’ve followed a few. (Monty Python).Oh no servers down

While opinions can help us make sense of the world, help us define who we are, even protect us, there can also be  a cost: Too inflexible and they can shield us off from a world of experiences that we might otherwise be open to, and through which we can grow. Trying to be objective and avoiding making ‘I don’t like’ statements sets us along the right open minded path. While ‘I don’t likes’ can provide neat pigeon-holes into which subjective, short-term opinions can be easily placed, they are hard to rework later, should you (and you should) change your mind as you look to widen your horizons. Risk is an essential aspect towards achieving a full and complete life experience.

So here are 10 suggestions involving wines as well as words:

world grapes chart

Read about Grapes: Record a little information about each one: Its colour, the styles of wine it can be used to make. places they are grown and some producers. Try them. For whites, look to Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc initially with either Pinot Gris/Grigio or Riesling. For reds it’s Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah (Shiraz). Where you go next is not that important but aim to learn a little about a new grape each month: after about 20 years you will be able to slow down: you may run out!

Tastes in Wine: Research why wine tastes of what it does. How it is achieved. What are the factors affecting differences other than grape. This leads to issues of style, terroir, tannin, acid, sugar…don’t panic. Come back to it over and over in bite-size (or sip-size pieces)  After some weeks, open a wine you know and like, taste it every day at the same time for up to a week, to see how flavours changes with exposure to air. By just changing one variable you are a scientist!
Talk: Make discussing wine a part of your social life. Even if it’s in an online forum, it all helps. In restaurants & wine bars, record the details of the house red (even if you didn’t like it!). Talk wine with like minded people. See if they can make recommendations. It’s harder than you think to remember wines. They can have funny names, some unique, others standard, odd labels, weird bottle shapes, corks, stelvins, vintages, made up names. And we lack a global template to make it all standardized. Good. That’s why the journey never ends and there’ll always be room for joy and disaster: The best of dramas. Join a wine club. Collect labels in a scrapbook (best thing I ever did, wine-wise). Just take your time.

Read about Wine regions: Learn a little about aMoody lit vinyards and beyond vista new region or sub-region once a month: Throw a dart at a world map to the North and South of the Tropics and you should hit something, if you can’t decide where to investigate. Let Wikipedia tell you the rest. Don’t worry; you won’t run out of them! Find out what grapes are grown there. What are the wines called? Who are the best producers?

Taste without Food: Try a grape you know; perhaps Syrah (Shiraz) from 2 different regions. Australian, Californian or South African Shiraz and French Syrah makes a for a good contrast. Syrah is notoriously varied (good but potentially confusing) but always easy to drink due to low tannins and food friendly (the best of both worlds).

Taste with Food: Try a fruity New world red: look for an Argentine Malbec (fruitier) or Califiornian Zinfandel (spicier). They absolutely lend themselves to pairing with a red wine sauce or peppered steak (respectively: hint, hint).
Steak and red wineTaste lesser known wines: Try a light red wine, lightly chilled, such as a from Cotes Du Ventoux (Grenache) in France or a Bardolino (red grape blend) from Veneto in Italy. Maybe you should see what all the fuss is about in a Sangiovese from Chianti in Italy or a Tempranillo from Rioja in Spain. And once you have done that, do the same with white grapes. Did you ever try a Viognier from the South of France, a Pinot Gris from Alsace in France (Grigio in Italy) or a Riesling from Australia yet? Then you can go back to reds: How about Barbera, Docetto or a Nebbiolo? And so it goes…

Taste and Our Chemistry: Open a red wine you know and like. Taste it every day for up to a week, at a different time of day, to see how flavours changes, according to external factors created by your own chemical make-up. Body chemistry is affected by mealtimes, menstruation, emotions, moods, even the lunar cycle so you should see a very wide range of responses when you mix up all the variables.
Taste: Go off the reservation. For every 5 bottles of wine that you buy for which you have an expectation of the taste or style, buy 1 bottle that you are uncertain about. That way, you will grow and develop your sensory appreciation of wines. Seek out and decipher red blends, such as Cabernet-Merlot, Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre (GSM), Tempranillo-Cabernet Sauvignon. And white blends like Chardonnay-Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier-Roussanne or Gewurztraminer-Riesling.

Read and Taste: Keep exploring new territory and experiences. New Grapes. New Regions. New Producers. New Styles. New Quality levels. New food Partners. When drinking ask 2 simple questions. Do I like it, and why? Answer those and you are on your way.

Oh, and though it’s a little glib to say ‘you can never be wrong about wine’, so I won’t say it; it sincerely doesn’t matter that much, because after the facts are down, like it or not, at the end of the day’s sampling, after all’s been said and done, whether safe or controversial, and the water (or wine) has long passed under the bridge of aspiration: wine is a beguiling series of subjective mysteries, floating around on an emotional sea of hopes and dreams, where even the most highly respected tasters in the world can’t agree about the flavours and therefore the most important elements, during blind tastings, because they are, each one, chemically different individuals (which is all you really need to know to take away the fear of getting it wrong).


Previous post:

Next post: