Trying to learn about wine can be intimidating. From learning to taste with your nose (really?!) to pairing it with food, nailing the terminology and pinpointing the year and varietal, sometimes it’s hard to see the world of wine as a glass half full. With the help of some seasoned wine experts, there may be hope in navigating through whites and reds without sounding silly or snobbish.
Desmond Ho has been a wine enthusiast for a decade. His journey began when the late John E. Levine, one of the founders of what is now the Vancouver International Wine Festival, was conducting a weekly wine tasting at a local wine store. He taught Ho how to learn about, understand, appreciate and love wine.
Valerie Stride is WSET Advanced Certified (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) and the writer of the wine-centric blog The Demystified Vine.
I talked to Ho and Stride to get some helpful tips for people who want to learn about wine, but don’t know where or how to start.
Desmond Ho: Look for your nearest LDB/VQA/wine and spirits store and see if they conduct free wine tastings; use social media as a conduit to find this out.
Valerie Stride: Almost every liquor store hosts wine tastings, and some even do them on a weekly basis. Usually reps come directly from the winery to assist with the tastings. They want you to try their wines, and it’s a great excuse to sample without buying a whole bottle.
D: Go to these tastings and taste ALL the wines. I emphasize this because a lot of people say that they are either a white or red wine drinker. Many times it’s because they haven’t tried a wine of the opposite type that they have liked or because they had a bad experience and decided they only like a particular type. There are many varietals within a type (red or white) and they are very different. To deny oneself the opportunity and delight of discovery because of a particular bias would be a loss.
V: Merlot from France tastes very different from the Merlot coming from South America or even Canada. Get out and explore how a varietal expresses itself from varying world regions. Compare and contrast them to see what profiles you like. You’ll be happy you did.
D: Wine tasting is as much about the people involved as it is the wine itself. Strike up a conversation with whomever is doing the pouring of the wine. Get a feeling for their expertise and knowledge. Some reps don’t know much about the wines that they represent, while others not only know their products but are passionate and well versed about the wine scene.
V: Ask questions. Most reps will know at least a bit about the product they are pouring. One could inquire about the sweetness level in order to suss out if the wine will be dry or not. Additionally, many people are developing an interest in organic wine making, and this is another popular question these days. Lastly, ask about food pairings to develop an understanding of what wines go with what foods.
D: Develop your own wine ‘vocabulary’ by using your own words to describe what you taste when trying a wine. Don’t be intimidated by someone using words like ‘bouquet’ or ‘aroma profile’ when describing the characteristics of a wine. What matters is that you are able to describe a wine in a manner that makes sense to you. Rest assured that your vocabulary will increase over time the more knowledgeable you become.
V: Learn to make associations between what you smell and taste in your glass with everyday foods you eat. For example, red wines will frequently have aromas of red berries. Check out your local city for introductory wine courses that will help you familiarize yourself with the basic verbiage associated with vino. Most of all…have fun and explore!