A blog about life, language, writing, and other trivia.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Tips for Teaching Yourself about Wine

I'm not yet ready to turn this blog into a wine-only blog, though that's what it's been in principle for quite a while now. I may still have other things, even rhetoric- and writing-related things, to say in the future. For now, though, here's a recently-run column from Bill Stimmel and me (it ran in the Bowling Green [OH] Sentinel-Tribune):

People always ask us how we learned so much about wine. And while we admit that we have much more to learn, the simple answer is that we read about, taste, and talk about wine as often as we can. In this column, we want to elaborate on these simple strategies, which can help you build your experience and knowledge and which in turn will offer you heightened satisfaction from your wine drinking experiences.

When learning about wine, reading is vital, and there are many different sources of good information. For general information, books are indispensable resources. Sources like our favorite, Karen MacNiel’s Wine Bible, are full of information and tips about winemaking, world wine regions, wine purchasing and storing, major and lesser-known grapes, tasting techniques, and pairing wine with food that are a must for building basic knowledge. There are also a number of wine books devoted to more in-depth information, focusing on specific subjects like wines from a single grape or region, though we recommend these as supplements to the required general reading. And, for more time-sensitive and topical information, a periodic publication like Wine Spectator would be a perfect choice. Even the internet is full of information that is only a Google search away (though you need to make sure you wind up on a site run by a person or people who know what they’re talking about).

Tasting, of course, is a key counterpart to reading, and any tasting is better than none. But there is a way to maximize your learning from tasting: taste systematically. While it’s ok to go to a tasting with whites and reds from all over the world, it’s also important to seek out—or engineer for yourself—opportunities to taste together (or over a short period of time) many wines from the same grape and region. Doing so helps you develop a sense of a grape’s and a region’s signature qualities (body, color, aroma, flavor, etc.). You’ll be surprised at how proud you feel the first time you’re able to note that a California Sauvignon Blanc has New Zealand-like tropical fruit, or that a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon has Bordeaux-like earthiness. And, with focused tasting, it doesn’t take all that long to learn to do so.

Finally, it is vital to talk about wine with fellow wine lovers. Sharing your wine experiences and interests with others, and listening as they share theirs with you, can stimulate curiosity, broaden your knowledge, and create a sense of community that can only make drinking wine more fun and more satisfying. After all, wine, like food, is a way of bringing people together to celebrate, to build friendships, and to cement social and cultural bonds. It is, in short, a way of making us more human.

So take our advice. After all, the world needs a little more humanity.


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