There comes a time in most of our lives when we realize it might be time to leave the cheapo wine jugs of our early 20s behind. But the world of wine can be ridiculously daunting, and it's tough to know where to begin.
To give you a head start on your wine education, we asked 12 experts what advice they would give to a beginner looking to learn about wine. They also gave us some tips on how to get past the challenge of finding classic wines that aren't super expensive. Take it away, sommeliers!
- "I often suggest having a dinner party with a themed wine selections, e.g. if the topic is Pinot Noir, make sure all the guests come with a bottle of Pinot Noir from all different regions. That way, everyone gets to try multiple samples of the 'themed wine,' without having to bear the whole financial burden."— Arthur Hon (Sepia Chicago)
- "I think if you take a little time while you're drinking wine to grab a book and do a little research on the region or the grape, that's a great way to learn. It's also fun to drink a bunch of wines from one region and really get to know it." — Jason Wagner (Henri, The Gage Chicago)
- "Find a wine bar, or a cool restaurant, and start to be a regular. The staff will more than probably start to have you try a lot of different things—then find a good wine shop, and build a relationship with the people there. These shops may organize a lot of wine tastings, where you will try wines you can't afford yourself! And if you are really really motivated with no experience, the best way to have access to these wines is to become a cellar rat in a wine restaurant! Finally, I really like the Guild of Sommeliers website—really an wonderful community, a unique data base of information—for less than $100 a year, you can find all of the information you need."— Pascaline Lepeltier (Rouge Tomate, NYC)
"The best way to learn about wine is to drink more! Tasting is the only way you are going to understand it better. The more you can taste the more you can relate to it. Also, visiting regions and wineries is a great way to not only taste wine but to familiarize yourself with geography."— Savanna Ray (Wildwood Restaurant, Portland OR)
"There's no "best" way to do things but what has worked for me is to taste as often as you can and not just wine; food, beer, spirits, juices, jams...Really be thoughtful about what your senses are telling you. Wine is sometimes expensive, but not always. You can find classic examples of Sauvignon Blanc from areas other than Sancerre, like New Zealand or Quincy. Classically styled Albariño from Rias Baixas is still relatively inexpensive. You can even taste excellent versions of Merlot from Bordeaux by exploring the satellites of Pomerol and you likely won't pay more than $25."— Davis Smith (Acquerello, San Francisco)
"As far as finding reasonably-priced classic wines, the best shortcut is to follow experts. I'd say the most widely-available is Decanter Magazine. You can trust these guys. In classic areas of, say, Northern Rhone, Southern Rhone, or Burgundy, you have to get off the standard path. You can still find classic wines but it's not going to be Cote-Rotie, Chateauneuf-de-Pape, or Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru Village. Instead of Cote Rotie; go for the wine of Vienne. As far as Chateauneuf, there are a multitude of villages around it that have very similar styles: Sablet, Seguret, Vacqueyras. And for Burgundy, you have to go for secondary villages instead of the standard choice, but the options are there; for instance the village of St. Aubin, for white or red. Reds are incredibly rare (in both planting and quality), but one can generally find quality reds in the 1ers Cru of Les Frionnes, or Sur le Sentier du Clou."— Scott Cameron (Atera, NYC)
"Read wine books, blogs, and publications. Also, taste as much and often as possible. Most importantly, have an open mind."— Patrick Cappiello (Monte Rio Cellars, California)