In this day in age everything comes so easy. If you want to know the capitol of Paraguay, you google it. To know when to use “capital” or “capitol” you go to dictionary.com. If you want to learn how to put up dry wall, you YouTube it. If you’re lost and need directions you WAZE it. If your kid breaks out with red bumps, you go to WebMD. No matter what you want to know the answers are at your finger tips.
Learning about wine is not quite the same. Sure you can go to Wine Folly and learn what it means when your white wine turns brown. Wikipedia will tell you the DNA of your favorite grapes. Each region has their own sophisticated web page describing in detail the history, terroir and climate of their region. Unfortunately, learning about wine is not the same as learning how to put up dry wall. You can acquire all the textbook knowledge online, but the real magic is in tasting. Here are my 6 tips on how to learn more about wine.
- Drink French Wine! In order to really understand wines from the new world, you need to know where they came from. Most of the wines we see in the market today originated in France. The great thing about French wines, is that they are loaded with regulations. While conservatives might say regulations are bad for business, I say they are great for wine. It allows the consumer to know what the wine is like. French regions are subject to rules and regulations controlling grapes, viticulture and vinification. They are held to high standards. These standards were put into place so that wines will show the best expression of its grape and terroir. Once you understand French wines, France’s regions and regulation, then you are on your way to mastering wine.
- You must experiment! Most wine drinkers like a certain style of wine, and drink the same style over and over. There are thousands of styles of wines in the world, and if you narrow your selections down to your personal preferences, then you hinder yourself from learning. Try everything, you don’t have to like it, but you should try it. You never know, it might turn out to be one of those Life cereal moments; “Mikey likes it!”
- Join the Guild Somm. The Guild Somm is the most comprehensive up to date wine site on the internet. It is put together by the Court of Master Sommmeliers where they have a team of sommeliers constantly updating the information. It has a vast compendium of wine information along with podcasts, videos and an excellent forum. If you want to stay in touch, the Guild Somm is worth every little penny.
- Join a tasting group. I can honestly say that this is one of the most valuable pieces of advice. I started my tasting group in 2009 and it is still going strong, we learn something new each time. This may be difficult to find. And for some people it can be a bit intimidating. However, if you are really dedicated in learning about wine, the tasting group will push you to the next level. Learning from your peers is priceless. If you login to the Guild Somm website there are forums where you can search for a tasting group in your area. If you are not interested in joining the Guild Somm, then invite friends over to the house. Have them bring a bottle of wine in a brown bag. Blind taste with them. Listen to how they describe the wine. Discuss the wine’s characteristics and quality. Finally reveal the wine and see what you might have learned from your blind tasting and the group’s feedback.
- Go to school. Back when I got into wine, wine schools were hard to find. Today there are dozens. Many people learn better this way. I know I do. I’d much rather listen to a lecture, taste wine and ask questions than read a book. Each course has its specialty. Find the course that works best for you. WSET (Wine Spirit Education Trust or the Wine Smarties) is great if you are looking to get into retail, restaurant, wholesale or if you are just a novice. It covers the broad spectrum of wine from viticulture to describing wine. The Court of Master Sommeliers is great if you work in the restaurant industry. It focuses on theory, wine service and blind tasting. It is no so much a school but a certification entity. For everyday wine drinkers looking to get more acquainted with wine and possibly looking for a career in the wine industry, there are college classes available. In San Diego there are courses at San Diego State University where I teach 4 courses. You can go at your own pace. Then there are numerous online schools, some have live classes. The one I am familiar with is the Fox School of Wine in Utah. You can search online for wine classes in your area and you will come up with a great list. I recommend SDSU if in San Diego, I just know what they teach there. Maybe you don’t have the time to dedicate several weeks, then look out for my Prime Cru classes where you can come for a few hours and learn about a particular subject. A Sensory Master Class is coming in June, stay put.
- Travel! This is the best part of learning about wine. There are wine regions all over the world. Each region has a unique approach to wine. You can smell, feel touch, and experience wine. Travelling is all fun and dandy when we vacation in excluded beaches, but traveling to a wine region is so much more rewarding. From San Diego there are endless regions in all directions. Take a weekend and explore south of the border, Baja wine. Or drive out to Santa Barbara and do the wine trail. If you’re looking for something a bit different take a drive out to Arizona and see what Maynard Keenan from Tool is up to. Or better yet, stay home and visit a local San Diego winery. No matter where you decide to go, first hand accounts of the region, grape and wine is so much more interesting than sitting in a class and hearing an instructor babble about wine.
You thought learning about wine would be difficult. It is actually pretty fun. Think about it, study online the maps and history, take a class at an accredited program, drink French wines, try all kinds of wines, meet new friends in a tasting group and travel around the world. Who would not want to make wine their hobby? Better yet, make it your job!
“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”