There are many answers to this simple question. Here are five:
- Drink more
- Remember what you like
- Read a few of the many great books on wine out there
- Travel to where the grapes are grown (My personal favorite -also the least accessible)
- Go to tastings
Let's look at each in more detail, shall we?
1. Drink more: Duh! You're not going to gain knowledge without getting closer to the subject matter, right? But what this really means is to drink more diversely. Look, there are something like 10,000 new wine labels approved by the ATF every year - that's a veritable river of new options constantly available. Few gustatory experiences offer such incredible diversity. So, if you're in a routine drinking the same things over and over, stop it! Explore.
2. Remember what you like. That thing in your pocket? You know, your phone? Unless you're from the 1980s, it's got a camera on it. Use it. One of the most common lamentations I hear is that of failing memory. No surprise; alcohol impairs retention. So, go ahead and use that phone. Before long you'll have a catalog of
3. Read a few of the many great books on wine out there. I could shamelessly plug this blog, but there are way too many great books that are worth your time and money. One to consider: the original Wall Street Journal Guide To Wine by Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher. This was published in 1999 long before the Journal traded accessible writing for its current clubby hob-nobbery. At 14 years old, the specific wine recommendations and prices are outdated, but that doesn't matter a bit - this book remains a thoroughly entertaining and informative read.
4. Travel to where the grapes are grown. This is my personal favorite - and the most expensive - way to learn. But if you really want to understand why wines from a place taste like they do, there is no substitute for going to that place. Standing where the grapes are grown and the wine is made helps make the connection between the weather, geography, surrounding vegetation, people, and what's in the glass. But, hey, I can't afford to fly to Florence, Madrid, Milan, Paris, and Frankfurt just to get a primer on European wines. Which leads us to...
5. Go to tastings. Wine shops, bars, restaurants, and even grocery stores are getting in on the tasting action these days, so there's no shortage of formats and levels of formality. How do you find out about them? Talk to your favorite retailers and sign yourself up for The Juice, a weekly email newsletter with a rundown of local wine events. The real benefit of tastings is that there's typically a theme, like Italian reds or French Chardonnays. And there's always a handful of wines, so you can get a baseline on what those wines share in common and, more importantly, whether or not they resonate with your palate and wallet.
Finally, one of the most fun ways to learn is to have your own tastings - with your own theme and your own friends. We'll look at how to ensure a successful tasting in an upcoming piece. In the meantime, happy learning.