The world of wine is often complex for the newbie. How to navigate the hundreds of varieties and appellations, the vintages … and then how to choose the right wine and food pairing from the thousands of estates and vintners?
There is no secret, you have to study to get better at anything. Becoming a wine connoisseur takes time, a true wine bougie is made, and just like wine…it takes a bit of time to mature into a good one 🙂
Depending on your learning preferences, time, resources and energy, here are 5 ways to make progress in your wine knowledge and tasting.
1. Take oenology classes
The most serious way to progress is obviously to take courses in oenology, or, broadly speaking, tasting and knowledge of wine. Intermediate and advanced WSET degrees are recognized around the world. These short and intensive courses set the stage before continuing with longer courses. And why not become a oenologist one day?
2. Immerse yourself in books about wine and tasting
Many books on wine and tasting are published or reissued each year. Some of the classics, in no particular order, are:
- The Oxford Companion to Wine – Jancis Robinson
- How to Taste Wine – Pierra Casamayor
- Oz Clarke: Grapes & Wines: A Comprehensive Guide to Varieties and Flavours
- The Wine Bible – Karen MacNeill
- Windows on the World Complete Wine Course – Kevin Zraly
- The Wines of Burgundy – Clive Coates
3. Participate in wine tastings and shows
Salons, Master class, winemaker meetings … many events allow city dwellers to taste wines from all regions of the world for a minimal price, or even for free! Better, if you can free yourself during the day, and you are truly passionate, make a business card, start a blog and go to tastings events for professionals and bloggers.
A good way to find out about the tasting events closest to you is to visit your local wine store and ask whether they organize tastings. Usually, passionate wine merchants organize dinners and master classes, sometimes even in in the presence of prestigious winemakers.
4. Visit the vineyards and meet the winemakers
There is nothing quite like going om a field trip and meeting the producers to learn more about wine. You can choose specialized operators ( WorldWideWineTours and GrapeEscapes, for example), but most wine producing regions are full of domains and producers opening their doors to visitors and amateurs. It’s best to plan ahead and call them or visit their websites to determine their availability and make an appointment. Avoid visiting during the harvest period (September and October in Europe, August to early October in North America) and ask to take a tour in the vineyards and the winery with the producer. The majority of winemakers do not charge for the visit, so consider buying a bottle or two (or more) at the end to thank them.
5. Learn for yourself, thanks to the Internet and wine merchants
The most economical and flexible way is obviously to DIY. Using a tasting method and Internet resources, you can progress at your own pace in the knowledge of wine. By following the advice of your local wine merchant, you can buy bottles and learn for yourself how to recognize the main grape varieties and soils. Start with the best-known appellations (Burgundy, Bordeaux, Sancerre, Prosecco …) and look for information (varietal, climate, vinification …) on reliable sites.
To progress faster, taste the wines in pairs to understand their differences. Start with the obvious (Rhône vs Bordeaux) to gradually approach the subtleties (2 Burgundy wines of the same vintage and the same producer). Also try to sample in several, small workgroups, to compare your impressions and motivate you.
For your online self study, the Internet also offers various types of MOOCs. Check out:
- edX’s Grape to Glass
- Coursera’s Wine Courses
- OWU: Open Wine University
- FUN MOOC – Vine and Wine
- Not technically a MOOC but let’s not fot=rget about the Free Wine Course
Finally, even if you progress alone, you will still have to eventually consider enrolling in a MOOC or oenology courses … if only to validate your progress.