How to get into wine!
I had a couple of queries recently from people asking me how they should go about developing a knowledge of wine. It’s a good question. With so much readily available information, the challenge is often how to consolidate and distil everything into meaningful sips. Not all of us have time to gulp down the plethora of tasting notes, books, journals and market information written on the subject. Not all of us want to. So, I thought I’d set out how I might best advise anyone who is looking to deepen their wine knowhow.
1) Enrich your library!
Don’t worry, I’m not about to suggest a ridiculous undergraduate style reading list which must be consumed before the commencement of Michaelmas term! We all have better things to do. But I do think it is worth investing in a book or two. There have been countless volumes written about the fermented grape, but if you purchase one text, then, in my opinion, it should be ‘Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book’. Now in its 43rd edition, it is revised and updated every year and contains a fantastic overview of the worldwide wine market with various key insights, vintage charts and market data. It can now also be downloaded to you iPhone or Android and is a useful companion to all interested drinkers whether beginners or buffs.
2) Surfing the winewide web
As with many aspects of research, the internet is both a blessing and a curse. Never has there been so much information about everything. Never has there been do much guff. Often it can be quite frustrating to decipher which content is meaningful and reliable. However certain sites are worth a look. Jancis Robinson has built up quite an online following. Her website offers some fantastically helpful articles and well-written reviews. Wine Folly is a friendly easy-to-use resource. With colourful maps and guides it serves as a great way to break through all the technical detail and jargon. The team behind the digital offering have now produced a detailed guide, which should be added to the list.
3) Befriend a decent wine merchant!
I’m not one to criticise supermarkets. Everyone uses them and they have played a brilliant role in broadening the variety of wines available to us all. But they have their limits. Ask the difference between a picpoul and a pinot grigio and one is liable to be confronted with a rather blank expression, which is fine. Supermarkets are there no more to advise on soil types and varietals, as they are on shoe size or skin type. Time then to find a specialist who can counsel you on which bottle to have a go at next! There’s many a local wine merchant who would be only to keen to strike up a conversation or suggest the best red for that Bolognese; the most suitable white for that freshly caught piece of fish. They might even get you out of your comfort zone.
4) There’s an app for that!
One of the best (and most trendy) ways of developing your palate is to download the latest wine app. There are plenty to choose from with varying levels of functionality. I still find that the best one for me is ‘Vivino’. Seen a label you don’t recognise? No problem, just take a snap and, in an instant, it will tell you all you need to know, including the average price. As far as wine enthusiasts are concerned, it really is the best thing to happen to mobile phones since Shazam!
5) Back to school
For those who really want to get behind the label, there are few better substitutes than enrolling on a short wine course. The best, in my opinion are run by the WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust). Its industry-recognised programmes are staggered at various levels from beginner to diploma level and offer the student a comprehensive set of practical tutorials for a very affordable price. They hold numerous sessions all over the country. Find one. There’s probably one happening in a hotel or on a Zoom call near you!
6) Develop a sense of adventure
Whenever I go to an industry tasting, I often find myself excited and depressed in equal measure: There’s just so much to try, but not enough time to taste it all. But you don’t need to be wearing an ISO glass around your neck to get stuck in. Most good restaurants these days have great wines on offer just begging to entice you. Some you won’t like, some you will. A few will disappoint, others will thrill. So, the next time you’re online or sat in a decent eatery (which could be a little while yet), I challenge you to ignore past preferences! Go for the wine next to the one you would normally order or the one with the label you don’t recognise. Be bold, be daring. Nothing is ever learned from drinking the same glass time after time.
However you approach it, remember wine is not an academic exercise. It is there to entertain and intrigue. So try anything you like, drink with good friends, forge lasting memories, but above all have fun!