Ok, so there are only 240(ish) people in the whole world who really really know wine, and even they could never learn everything. They are called Masters of Wine, and they are badasses.
By smelling and tasting a sip or two of and unmarked wine, they can tell the tasting notes, where the wine is from, what year it was made, what kind of wine it is, and sometimes even the exact vineyard.
I can’t imagine living with those kinds of taste buds in a world where McDonalds exists. It must be torture.
You don’t have to be a Master of Wine to learn about it. But there are a few things that can help you decode the wine aisle, and get you started on your journey to being a semi-wine snob.
Drink what you like.
As you learn more, your taste buds will change. The most important thing is just to drink and compare wines. Get an idea for the flavors in the wines you’re buying. Are you shopping at CVS on the bottom shelf? Ok. That’s fine. Next time, try a different bottle. See if you like it. Remember what you like, but always try something new.
Read while you drink.
Open your browser and Google the name of the wine you’re sipping, with the word “tasting notes.” Then you’ll start to understand why you like that wine. Once you know the tasting notes, you can branch out a bit. If it says “jammy, fruit forward, full bodied,” go to a wine store and ask for a good wine in your price point. Buy a few bottles, see which ones you like!
Try new things, preferably in a group.
One of my favorite things to do is send out an email to some friends that says “Pinot Grigio tasting party at my house. Bring a bottle from a wine store.” We will get together and eat, and have a few different bottles of the same type of wine. That way, we can see the differences in the tastes and regions. Don’t forget to read about it outloud as a group while you drink!
Take a local class.
Even if it’s a wine vendor who is pedaling only their wines, you’ll still get to taste several bottles over the course of an evening.
Comparing wines, one after the other, is the main way you learn. This is what makes one wine different from another. If you’re just drinking a few glasses from one bottle of a sauvignon blanc from New Zealand with your meal, you won’t know what a pinot grigio tastes like, and how it’s different. It’s only by comparing sips, back to back, that you can really learn which is which.
And next time you pick up a glass of your friend’s wine and taste it, you can be that snobby person who correctly guesses, “Is this a sancerre?”
Take a real wine course.
So this is where I am on my journey. I’ve taken college classes, I’ve hosted wine nights, I’ve had dozens of wine flights. I’ve participated in wine tourism in California, Greece and Italy. When I’m at home, I read about wine.
I have always wanted my wine certification, but I wasn’t sure which one to get. I chose WSET (Wine and Spirits Education Trust), and not to become a now-popularized sommelier, because I have no interest in being in the wine industry. I don’t want to be a server, a wine buyer, or work at a restaurant.
I just love wine, and I love learning. So I put the two together, and with WSET, I can set my pace and take the courses when I want to. I just took my level one test, and next year I will take my level two test.
Drinking isn’t my favorite thing, flavors are. I love the subtlety that comes from a glass of wine, the way that it interacts with our food.
If you’re a well-balanced human, there are a few ways you can indulge—food, sex, wine, art, music, travel, etc. Wine is one of the most ethereal, abstract ways of experiencing life. It’s something unattainable, difficult to understand, and enjoyable, all at the same time. It’s honestly like good gambling—every time you buy a bottle, you’re betting money that you will like that wine.
I always bet, and I’m rarely wrong, now that I know what to choose.