We’ve discussed before how elusive-and therefore daunting-wine can feel. And, while we’ve heard from many people a desire to know more and be more confident in their choices, there seems to be a disconnect between that desire and reality. We suspect that’s because the wine industry overall seems to project an “all or nothing” stance, meaning, either you become the connoisseur or you resolve yourself for a life of ignorance. Not so! As we’ve suggested, a little knowledge goes a long way, and, for the majority of us, it’s all we need in order to fully enjoy our wine experience. While I’m sure our readers agree that this blog is the be-all, end-all to wine education, we thought it prudent to discuss the various options for learning more about wine so that you can pick and choose your own path.
1. Tastings – A good first step, and a typically low-key experience. You can find tastings at local restaurants and other venues. In New York City, Wendy Crispell organizes entertaining boat tours around Manhattan Island that feature wine and cheese pairings and discussion. With most tastings, the focus is on fun first, education second. These are a great way to meet other like-minded wine drinkers while learning about wine. Often the buzz hits after the 2ndtasting, so the learning will be more high level.
2. Classes – More formal, classes offer added structure to the wine education process. Quality programs are offered at culinary schools and wine associations around the country. You might be in class with chefs and other professionals who need the learning for their work. These classes can get into the various nuances available in wine, and the focus is on education first, fun second. Often you’ll be asked to spit out each tasting in the provided spittoon, but, surprisingly, that doesn’t stop the fun. The expectation for learning being higher, these classes are often more expensive than the traditional tasting. We have done our training at The Institute of Culinary Education in New York City; their wine program is top notch.
3. Associations – There are many wine associations open for membership. Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) is one such association. Events, discussions, and a whole community are built around the love of wine. To find an association near you, use google: a search like “Virginia Wine Association” is a good start. These associations are non-profits, so you can feel good about your membership.
4. Books & Magazines – If you find this sort of thing interesting, there is no limit to the number of books and magazines out there. We have just two that have become our staples: Oz Clarke’s “Let Me Tell You About Wine” and Jancis Robinson’s “The Oxford Companion to Wine.” Clarke’s is a beautiful picture book, short, and succinct and perfect for us when we were starting this journey. Robinson’s is a tome of detailed information and almost too much for the casual wine fancier, but it is a big help when we’re doing our research.
You’ll want to double check what sort of information you’ll be getting in a magazine or book. We don’t find one-off reviews very helpful because for most of us, we don’t care how a particular wine from a particular vineyard from a particular year rates. Instead, we like lifestyle pieces and info about regions and information that helps us make connections.
5. Websites & Blogs – Same as Books & Magazines, really. Google “Wine Blog” and you’ll find a plethora of information. Remember the source: it’s much easier to launch a blog than get your book published.
6. Practice – This is critical. You have to go out and try what you’ve learned. So, we know that 2010 Finger Lakes Rieslings have peach in their flavor profile. It’s what we were told at tastings when we were up there. So, every time we taste a 2010 Riesling from that area, we look for peach. If it’s there, we go “yup!” and if not, we go “hmph.” We expect Zinfandels to be lush and fruity, so, when I tried Carol Shelton’s creamy “Wild Thing” Zinfandel, I recognized something was different. It takes practice and exposure to start to make the connections you need to have to understand wine better.
You’ve already started your wine education by reading posts like these; why not augment by adding one or more of the above suggestions to your “wine practice.” Overall, just have fun and, remember, you don’t have to know everything there is to know in order to appreciate wine. Keep it simple and put the focus on enjoyment.