Wine Education 101
Learning about wine is a bit like following sports. There are rules, specialized terminology, players, coaches and all sorts of interesting trivia. In the same way that anyone can enjoy shooting hoops or tossing a football around, we can all enjoy a glass of wine without knowing anything about what is being consumed. But once you know a bit about what you sip it becomes more interesting, much the same as watching a sporting event is more exciting when you know why everyone is cheering.
When it comes to wine, it is easy to become overwhelmed with information. An endless stream of critics ratings, coffee table books, magazines, newsletters, web sites and classes are available everywhere. These can all be helpful, but the best way to learn about wine is just to taste, compare and find out what appeals to your unique palate. In the world of wine, there is truly something for everyone. It’s just a matter of learning what is right for you. Be careful how much you learn, because you may end wanting a job in the wine industry – at least a volunteer gig (or more).
Professionals in the wine business such as sommeliers, winemakers and wine critics are all highly adept at what is called “taste memory.” This is a skill, like any other, built with practice. Taste memory is simply the ability to recognize and remember different flavors. Think about what a strawberry tastes like. Most people can recognize the flavor of strawberries whether they are in a bowl of ice cream or on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It is the same with wine. With experience, the flavors you enjoy or loathe in wine become easier to identify and recall. You will be able to identify characteristics of California wines as well as those from other countries. (and even the regions and appellations)
An excellent way to build wine knowledge is by frequenting a wine shop where a well-trained staff member gets to know your individual preferences and can make suggestions. Many retailers offer tastings at little or no cost. Tasting a small amount of several wines at the same time is a great way to pinpoint the characteristics that appeal to you and the flaws that do not. Before you know it, you’ll be saying things like “I don’t care for the barnyard aroma in this Burgundy.”
In the Know! Are You Getting Great Wine Service?
If you are lucky enough to live in an area where wine is made, visiting local wineries is another way to taste, compare and learn. If not, start planning that next vacation getaway around a wine area that is of interest. By the end of even a short trip to wine country, your wine savvy will increase exponentially. There’s nothing like seeing the process to whet your palate for further expertise in the delightful world of wine.