How to learn about wine
So, you’re interested in learning more about wine. Me too. It’s one of my favorite past times. Before you jump in, it can be helpful to understand your goals. Are you a hobbyist just interested in foundational knowledge about wine? Are you hoping to become a wine enthusiast? Or do you want to become a wine professional? The paths you take can be vastly different depending on your goals. This article covers both the beginning and intermediate hobbyists.
How to learn wine about for hobbyists and newcomers
No matter which goal you choose, get as much hands-on experience with wine as you can. While you can still just enjoy a glass of wine, start drinking wine in a more deliberate and mindful way. You will be surprised how much this will increase your wine knowledge.
Learn a few wine terms
There are hundreds of terms people use to describe wine. Some you will likely know already. Color, clarity, and acidity are probably terms you understand already. And, vintage and aroma probably also make sense. Don’t worry about knowing them all at the beginning. But, learn the basics. Just a few terms will serve you well.
Pick a term or two each week, just the ones that excite you. Then, focus on understanding those terms in relation to the wine you’re enjoying that week. That way you’ll get hands-on experience with the terms. And, you’ll never forget them.
Pick and stick with a wine tasting approach
Start by being deliberate. Enjoy the wine using a similar approach each time. Start by noticing the color, then the aroma, and finally the taste. You can use Winosity’s tasting notes to take you through a tasting process for wines. You should use a process like this for all kinds of wines, ones that you really enjoy, those you don’t prefer, with large commercial wines and special occasion wines.
You might start with the wines that are made near you or that you have access to. Over time, however, seek out wines that are different from your usual. Don’t be afraid to try wines that are new to you. If you don’t want to pick a vastly different wine, pick a grape you’re familiar with but that was grown in a place you don’t have much familiarity with.
Fun wine comparison ideas
You can taste a single wine in a single sitting or compare wines to each other. At Family Meal, Winosity’s cooking show, we compare two wines per course of food. Sometimes the pairings are the same grape grown in different areas. At other times, we try the same wine from different years.
You can do more than compare wines to each other. You can compare wine and food pairings against each other. We sometimes try vastly different wines to see which is better with the food. Get creative. But, if you need a bit of help Winosity’s wine recommendation engine has over 500,000 wines to help generate ideas.
Most tasters start by thinking about the grape the wine is made from. But also, pay attention to who made the wines, where the grapes are from in the world and what year the grapes were harvested. You may notice patterns across these characteristics too. For example, a grape grown in a warm part of the world will make a very different wine from grapes grown in a cold place.
What does this wine remind you of?
Learning to taste wine for its technical characteristics is an important part of learning about wine. But, there are other aspects to consider. What does the wine remind you of? Think about other wines and other foods that the wine reminds you of. If you’ve had a similar wine before, what were you doing when you had that wine? Is that the best time and place to use that wine? What events would they enhance?
Asking yourself questions similar to the ones above is a great way to learn how to pair food and wine. It’s also a great way to learn when to buy specific wines. That way you’ll always be the person that shows up to the party with the best wines!
There are wine textbooks for all levels of wine interest. The books I’ve selected here are all ones I own and that make good quick references if you have wine questions.
The Flavor Bible is a compendium of hundreds of ingredients and the flavor that pair with them. For each ingredient, there’s weight: light-medium, medium-heavy, etc. This matches to a list of common wines. For example, a light white would be a Riesling and a heavy white would be a Chardonnay. In this way, you know what to pair with what food.
Drink Progressively lists wine by body and color. So, a 1R is a very light red while a 1W is a very light white. And, 10R is a very heavy red. You can guess what a 10W is, I’m sure. Each section gives you a list of wines along with some characteristics. It’s a very handy book, in my opinion.
Wine tasting tools
You don’t need a lot of gear to taste wine well. But, it’s fun to have. So, don’t feel bad if you get sucked into the rabbit hole of wine swag.
Let’s start with glasses. Some champagne flutes and some medium bulb wine glasses are the absolute minimum. How many you have is up to you. I’d suggest you have enough for the average number guests you might have. But I highly suggest that you have medium and wide bulb glasses so you have glasses for red and white wine.
Another basic is a wine key, also known as a corkscrew. Any style is fine. And, it doesn’t have to be fancy. A free one from a winery will do. Just make sure there’s a foil cutter.
The final item I highly suggest is an aroma list. You’ll often smell or taste things in wine that you can’t name. An aroma chart will help jog your memory.
If you want to kick your game up a notch, get an aroma set. These are little vials that have the same smells and tastes you find in wine. This is a great tool if you aren’t sure of what you’re getting from a wine. You can match it to the vial and verify.
Another great tool to have is an aerator. It doesn’t have to be an expensive one. But, giving a full-bodied wine –like a Tannat or Petit Sirah– some air can completely change its characteristics. But you can also just swirl in your glass.
How to learn about wine at the intermediate level
Once you’ve got the basics, you can begin more formalized. That’s not to say that you forget the basics described above. And we recommend you have the tools listed above. Just begin to add these additional steps as time permits and as your interest grows.
When you just start learning about wine, the focus is on understanding what you like and how to enjoy wine more. Once you have an intermediate level of wine knowledge, you begin to learn how wine professionals think about wine. And, you’ll being to learn where your opinions diverge from the mainstream view. And, that’s OK. Unless you’re serving a glass to someone else, the only palate that matters is yours.
At this stage, you can decide whether you want to take formal courses, learn be reading seminal wine texts or do some self-learning.
Perhaps the premiere wine writer in the work, Jancis Robinson, has two of my favorite wine books. The first I’ll recommend is The Oxford Companion to Wine. This is a wine encyclopedia that covers over 4,000 wine-related topics with bite-size synopses. It also has some useful features such as wine region maps and list of wine varieties that are permitted in each controlled appellation.
You might want to read this tome from cover or just keep it around when you’re drinking a bottle and come across a word you don’t know. It’s easy to use as a quick reference.
The second book I recommend by Robinson is The World Atlas of Wine. While the Oxford Companion has entries about many wine topics, the Atlas is focused on the geography of wine. It has detailed maps of 230 wine regions with descriptions of climate, grapes grown, and more. Do you want to know where Curico is? This book has the answer.
These are both great references. But you’ll find they have their gaps too. For example, the wine atlas doesn’t include some lesser known wine regions that produce stellar wines. For example, the book notes that Mexico has the oldest wine industry outside of Europe, but there’s only one page for the whole country. Or, the fact that Puget Sound AVA isn’t discussed in Washington State. You’ll need to find specific books about the wines from these areas as these bog reference guides don’t really cover them.
Wine Folly is another great reference guide. It too covers many wine regions. It also includes a wine basics section with content about winemaking, tasting wine and serving wine. Use this book if you’re interested in trying wines from a region you’re just discovering. It will suggest where to start.
All of these books are wonderfully illustrated and make great coffee table books. There’s the kind of book to have around the next time you have a wine tasting event.
The Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) is great for the hobbyist. The course is offered by franchisees in many larger cities in North America and Europe. You can also take the course online if you choose.
There are four levels of qualifications offered, but most a serious hobbyist might get the most from level 2 or level 3. Level two provides a comprehensive discussion of the major wine types, their characteristics, and the regions where you will find them. Level three builds on the detail in level 2 and add also covers vineyard and winemaking activities. You might also consider a sommelier certification. These courses have a much larger focus on wine service. The International Sommeliers Guild (ISG), based in Canada, offers intermediate and advanced certificates. The intermediate and advanced certificates are similar in content to the WSET Level 2 and 3 courses, but the Advanced also includes beer.
Although there’s a lot to know about wine, it’s also possible to teach yourself a thing or two. Here are two ways to become your own wine teacher.
If you have an interest in wine, do the research and write the course you’d like to take. For example, do you love an uncommon grape such as Madeleine Angevine. Write up the information you’d care to learn about the grape. You could even post this content to the web as a slide deck, a video or a podcast. There are likely others that have the same questions you do.
You can also set up educational tastings. An easy way to do this is by region. First, select one region you like and focus on 8 wines from there. Set the tasting up to be four sets of two wines each.
I think it’s more interesting to do pairings of wines that are similar. For example, the same grape grown in two different vineyards or that represent two different winemaking styles. But, you can try any of the wine comparison ideas mentioned above.
There are many tools to help you no matter where you are in your journey in learning about wine. This article covered books, courses and wine accessories that will make you a better wine taster in no time. And Winosity is here to help. Use the Winosity app as a checklist during your formal tastings. And use it to find new wines to explore.