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I want to learn about wine!

  • p

I am looking for a good introductory book about it and I am interested how others began their own self-education quests. I am NOT looking to break the bank on this. I just want to have a more educated approach to my purchasing and drinking.

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  1. There's a Windows on the World (RIP) book on wine that's a pretty good overview.

    2 Replies
    1. re: mc michael

      This book is by Kevin Zraly and is called The Windows on the World Wine Course. It is an excellent book for beginners, and even for those who have some wine knowledge. It is an easy read and packed with information in a readily available form. We bought a copy for all of our adult children when it first came out. It may not be in print any longer, but should be readily available from remaindered book sellers.

      1. re: Jeremy Newel

        I could never get into the WOTW book, although many, many people seem to like it a lot! It's gone through several editions, and is probably readily available through Chowhound's Amazon link.

        Someone mentioned Oz Clarke, who is also good. And the Dummies book ain't half bad.

        Taking it a step further, there is an interesting book by Hugh Johnson and James Halliday that explains the choices made all along the trail from growing the grapes to fermenting and finishing the wine.

    2. Check out books by Andrea Immer and go to local wine tastings, if available.

      1. I started off as strictly a big food fan, but if you are having a good meal, a good bottle of wine is just a natural.

        My best best advice is to taste a lot of wine and try to remember (sometimes difficult if you've tasted 20-30) what you like.

        Couple of different paths I would recommend.

        If there are any adult ed places in your area some of them do very good basic wine tasting courses. Look into the class though and make sure the instructor is really good. A good instructor who is maybe even cracking out a really good bottle from his/her own cellar makes all the difference. Ask to speak to people who have taken the class. If they don't rave, go elsewhere.

        I am sure there are some good books out there too and another hound out there should be able to help. The only thing I use is the Robert Parker Bible whose name eludes me right now. Also, the cult of Robert Parker is a bit overblown. There are plenty of excellent wines out there from small producers at reasonable prices that never make it into the Wine Advocate or the Wine Spectator.

        There are also all sorts of other tastings out there that can be great:
        - Local wine stores (some even have a big annual tasting)
        - Big organized tasting events or wine/food fairs
        - Many restaurants also have tasting nights

        Keep in mind that these others are all basically trying to sell something either the restaurant or the wine. And you will have to be more discerning and really focus on what you like.

        Lastly, and I can not say enough about this. Find a good local wine merchant with some passion. Anybody who talks down to you, or speaks in too much pretentious wine lingo should be avoided.

        Check out the local wine stores and ask to speak to the wine guru. Tell them you are relatively new to wine, but would like to learn more. Ask them to recommend a few good wines in your price range. Beware of anyone pushing really expensive stuff. Any wine guy that can't recommend a few really decent bottles in the $10-20 range is taking you for a ride.

        That said, if there is a pricey bottle once in a while that a trusted wine store recommends, it can be worth it.

        The Wall Street Journal also runs an excellent wine column every Friday in their weekend section oriented towards basic wine appreciation.

        Good luck and happy tasting!

        1. Jumping ahead a little, you might also check out some good glassware--Reidel and Speigel (?) have been discussed in some detail on the Not About Food Board and/or this board.

          1 Reply
          1. re: mc michael

            While we're jumping ahead (and to be completely pedantic), it's Spiegelau. Good, sturdy, inexpensive glassware for when you're ready to quit using your highball glasses for wine tasting.

          2. I've recently started my own quest down that road, and I received the same very good advice from several people, which is this:

            Don't buy single bottles, buy cases.

            Even if it's not something stellar, you will learn much much more about why it tastes the way it does after you have it at a few sittings. One tasting is just not enough (especially if you don't yet know what you're looking for).

            Plus, you'll get the case discount.

            21 Replies
            1. re: Caviar

              I have to say... I disagree.

              Nothing worse then getting stuck with a case of a wine you don't like. The only thing to do at that point is make Sangria.

              In fact, I often a case of assorted wines; most wine stores will give you a case discount as long as you are buying 12 bottles.

              If there is something in the mixed case that I like, then I will pick up 3-4 more bottles or even a case.

              I also think that spending $30 a glass on riedel wine glasses that you will probably break anyway is money that could better be spend on better wine. I actuaully own some 19th centurey antique wine glasses that I save for very special occasions, or very special wine.

              Otherwise the 4 pack for $12 glasses from Target make the wine taste every bit as good as Riedel. And unless you look real close, it is hard to tell the difference!

              I have even met wine snobs that have the whole Riedel selection and buy the Riedel hype that different wines taste better in the glass that was specifically designed for that wine. Can you say "marketing ploy" to get people to by 12 different sets of glasses.

              Just like Chowhound is about the food, for me, its about the wine.

              1. re: StriperGuy

                I completely agree. Until you know what you like, buying a case can easily turn into money wasted. First decide the type of wines you do like, the vineyards/wineries producing the taste you like then consider cases. AND if you do consider cases, if you don't plan on drinking a lot of wine in a short period of time, think about storage. It doesn't need to be much, just a cool & dark space, but you don't want a lot of vinegar on your hands.

                1. re: sistert

                  I just can't shut up on this thread : )

                  A cool dark place is the best place for sure to store wine.

                  Key factor: keep the bottles lying down!!!

                  Quickest way to get vinegar from your wine is to leave it standing up which allows air to get in.

                  When the bottles are on their sides, the cork stays wet and keeps the air out.

                  1. re: StriperGuy

                    The exception is sparkling wines which should be stored upright.

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      Why is that, Melanie?

                      1. re: Jim Dorsch

                        Champagne producers have done quite a bit of research on this one and were surprised at the findings. The reason for storing wines on the side is to keep the cork moist and elastic to ensure an airtight seal.

                        In the case of champagne, unless the outside environment is extremely arid, the vapor pressure inside the bottle is sufficient to keep the cork moist. The high acidity of champagne wine erodes the cork and causes it to become less elastic if stored in contact with the cork for more than 18 months. This was considered to be a greater risk for breaking the seal than drying of the cork.

                        Iirc, these were released about 6 or 7 years ago. Since then I've kept all sparkling wines stored upright. I like the taste of aged champagne and will often keep them for several years. The ones that have been stored upright have been fine so far.

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          Wow... I never heard that info. Guess I've been out of the scene too long. I love finding out things like that. I guess that means I should change my storage for sparklers and maybe drink up some that have been laying down several years. I guess this holiday season I will have to break out some of those I have been saving for awhile. Finally a good excuse! ;-)>

                          1. re: the rogue

                            I only did a cursory search but wasn't able to come up with CIVC's (the Champagne producers assn.) research. It wasn't on the website either. Maybe someone else can locate it and give more precise details.

                            Again, my recollection is that it only really makes a difference for long term storage (12+ months).

                            P.S. Do tell us how those older champers are drinking!

                            Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                              Just changed the orientation of that Magnum of 1990 Vintage Cliquot I have been saving.


                                1. re: Melanie Wong

                                  Hey, I'll take my Vintage Cliquot any way I can get it. ;-)

                                  1. re: StriperGuy

                                    Yikes! I'd better get to my wine locker soon! My prized bottle of Bollinger 1990 R.D. has fallen (on its side) and it can't get up!!

                                    Thanx, Melanie! On a similar tack, I'm pretty sure I'd read the same advice once about vintage port (i.e. keeping it stored upright), but the champagne reasoning wouldn't seem to make any sense in that case. (Maybe it's just to keep the sediment settled at the bottom?) Anyone have any notion why this would be?

                                    1. re: Mark Lee

                                      In the case of fortified wines, the higher alcohol content is felt to erode the corks during long term storeage. Madeiras should be stored upright because not only are they high in alcohol, they're extremely acidic too. Vintage Port is stoppered with extra long, top quality corks to hold up through extended aging. I don't see a need to store them upright. The sediment will settle completely with three days upright before opening and serving.

                                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                                        Screw caps will eliminate all of these issues.

                                        Link: http://www.google.com/search?q=screw+...

                                        1. re: Caviar

                                          Preaching to the choir! Here's a link to a post on an Oz Riesling that morphed into a discussion on screw caps for wine. Some interesting facts and links included.

                                          Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                                    2. re: StriperGuy

                                      Lucky you to have those mags! The 90 Veuve Cliquot is lovely and getting better. I've tried it 5 times or so since release and I like it more each time. Still very youthful from 750s when last tasted in January. I've linked a recent tasting note for the 90 Dom which is ready to drink, whereas your wine still has a long life ahead.

                                      At the release party for the 90, we had the chance to try the 55 from double mag (or I guess those would be jeroboams in Champagne speak), and it was still fizzy and alive! They'd probably been stored on their sides all these years . . .

                                      Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                    2. re: sistert

                      How long is it ok to store wine (mostly white) in the fridge. I know 55f is the preferred temperature, but will the cooler temperature harm it.

                      I'm not into buying a lot of wine in advance, but I do usually have 8-12 assorted bottles of pretty good wines, about half of them dessert wines. My basement would work; it's as cool as a cave. But I hate going there and would prefer to keep it in the kitchen.

                      1. re: saucyknave

                        Most whites are fine for a year or two in the fridge.

                        I am a huge dessert wine fan. Sauternes, Port, Sherry, Riesling, Icewine, etc. Dessert wines, because of their high sugar content (which acts as a preservative) do in fact age well. Ports of course can be laid down for 50 years and may even improve for the first 10-30.

                        Most whites do not age well and should be drunk "fresh" certainly within the first 3 years after they are bottled. Roses even more so. Don't buy any rose more then 2 years old!

                        Even more important than keeping wine cool is to avoid cooling them and warming them repeatedly. Surest way to spoil a wine or beer for that matter.

                        I would probably not store red's in the fridge. Unless you plan on keeping them for 3+ years, the bottom of a dark closet is fine.

                        If you are really cellaring reds or the rare white that does age well then off to the basement or even climate controlled storage.

                        Some red fans will actually cool a red for 10-15 minutes to "cellar temperature" before drinking. Too much trouble for me.

                        Wine snobs (I do not include myself in that category) say Americans drink whites too cold and reds too warm. That reds should be consumed at 55-60F and whites at about 40-45, not fridge temp at 35 or so.

                        Don't worry too much about this stuff, in the end it's all about the wine... enjoy.

                        1. re: StriperGuy

                          Thanks, I'm not "cellering" anything when I keep them in the fridge, just trying to keep them at their best until I use them. I don't refrigerate port, sherry, or anything that is fortified, but I do ice wine, banyuls, jurancon, etc.

                          As you seem to share my taste for sweet wines, try the Jurancon sometime. It's a reasonable priced but relatively complex sweet wine with a slightly acidic finish that keeps it from being cloying.

                          1. re: saucyknave
                            Stanley Setphan

                            Do you have any reccommedations for ice wines?

                            1. re: Stanley Setphan

                              Funny that you should mention it... I swear I was sipping on one as I read chowhound just now.

                              I picked this up when I was in Corning NY and did a day of tasting around the lake.

                              The one winery that really stood out was Hunt Country Vinyards. I am sipping their 1999 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine and it is excellent. Actually the best Ice Wine I have tried from any producer.

                              I have tried a bunch and usually prefer Sauternes or other late harvests to Ice Wines.

                              Just as good, and less money was their Late Harvest Vignoles from 2001.

                              They also had a Cabernet Franc (red) which blew me away. I just would not think you could grow decent red wine grapes that far north.

                              I have tried Jurancon and found it very nice stuff indeed.

                              If folks want a Port tip, try any year of the Warre's late bottled vintage (LBV) stuff. You essentially get a vintage port, which can be quite pricey, for about $25. By the way many other LBVs are not worth drinking.

                              Also, if you ever see a Botrytis wine by McGuigan, an Aussie producer, buy every drop you can get. Every bit as good as an excellent French Sauternes at 1/3 the price.

                              Here is a

                2. j
                  Janet A. Zimmerman

                  A couple of books with different approaches might be helpful. Leslie Brenner's book "Fear of Wine" has some good features -- a great chart of grape types and which wines they're found in, and straightforward explanations of the French appellation system. She also has a nice chapter on food and wine matching. Jancic Robinson's "How to Taste" focuses on just that -- tasting the various components in wine. She starts out isolating a single quality in wine, say, fruitiness or acidity, then suggests two wines to taste that fall at opposite ends of the spectrum for that particular quality so you can learn first hand what that element brings to a wine. I haven't read the whole book, just glanced through it, but it looks worthwhile. Andrea Immler's book for beginners is supposed to be good as well.

                  Books are, of course, not a replacement for actually tasting wines, but I think a couple of nice basic books can add significantly to your education.

                  1. Here's my $0.02 for what it's worth:

                    #1 Beyond books, I've gotten some of the best information from the wineries themselves. If you're in an area that has even one that offers tours, GO! The tours are typically free, the tasting (depending on your state) are also usually free. Learn what it is you like, no what society dictates.

                    #2 As stated earlier, find a wine merchant/wine store that has staff who are really into their products. I happen to be blessed with a wine/liquor store where the owner is deeply into his one and happened to hire a young man who is also well versed. They both listen to me with interest, love to suggest things they think I'll like based on past conversations (and 9 times out of 10 are dead on), and take the time to explain about wine in general. From malilatic (spell check!) fermentation to why Portuguese tawny ports taste different from Austrailain ones. Develop a good relationship with your wine merchant and you will be in great hands.

                    #3 Though I don't think you learn much at large wine festivals, it does give you an opportunity to taste a lot of wine.

                    #4 Keep notes. When you taste a wine you like or don't, write it down and expain. You can then track your findings, noticing trends in your taste buds. You do/don't like the smokiness of barrel aged. You do or don't like heavy floral tones (perfume in the mouth).

                    One thing we've been having fun doing is have a wine of the month tasting. That is, we'll dedicate the wine drinking for an entire month to one type of wine. Maybe it's Pinot Grigio, maybe it's Late Harvest Reislings. We then get to taste the subtle differences between how one wine maker creates the wine versus another. Again, keep notes.

                    Have fun!

                    1. Try "Making Sense of Wine" by Matt Kramer. And look for an organization near you that runs tastings. (In NYC I'd suggest Executive Wine Seminars, especially their introductory sessions.)

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Alan Emdin

                        You will also need a reliable merchant, someone who will work with you. This is probably not the biggest, cheapest store in town, but rather a quality local source. You could get suggestions by posting on one of the wine bulletin boards: Parker (Squires) or Robin Garr, for example. You need a store where you can walk in at a quiet time (NOT Saturday afternoon, I suggest) and have them put together a mixed case of bottles in your price range. Keep track of what you liked and didn't, and tell them on your next trip.

                        1. re: Alan Emdin

                          I also like a wine merchant who will work on you in coordinating wine and menu.

                      2. For an all around introduction to wine you could do much worse than Hans Priewe's "From Grapes to Glass" (I hope I got that right). It is a nicely illustrated large format book that most of the B&N shops in my area (NYC) seem to stock - have a look. Many like Andrea Immer's or Matt Kramer's books but I'm not a fan.

                        I also disagree with those who say buy wine by the case. At your stage you want to try as many wines as possible and not get stuck with somthing you dislike. Buying a mixed case to get a discount is another story....

                        Visiting wineries can be educational, but I have heard tons of BS dished out by tasting room staff/tour guides, so be careful.

                        Joe Moryl

                        1. When I first started exploring the wide world of wine (as soon as I turned 21, coincidentally....:) ), I was fortunate enough to be living down the street from a GREAT little wine shop in Somerville, MA (The Wine and Cheese Cask, for those Bostonians or ex-Bostonians in the know), and though they didn't have a regular tasting schedule like other, more distant shops like Marty's or Brookline Liquor Mart, what they did have was a friendly, knowledgeable staff that was always ready to make a suggestion whenever I strolled in to try another bottle. I really think that that's the most useful resource you can have when you're first starting out as a budding oenophile.

                          However, to put in my own rec for a intro wine book, I remember picking up a book by Oz Clarke, that covered all the major wine regions and wine types, in a very accessible and clear style. Afraid I can't recall the exact title (though I suspect it's out-of-print anyway), but if you can find any of his books, they're a pretty good place to start.

                          1. I saw one of those daily calendars that was called "For Wine Lovers" and it gave a daily instructional. Saw it at Linens and Things in Costa Mesa, California, but I didn't catch the name of the manufacturer.

                            1. To answer your question more specifically, I started learning about wines after I ordered a German Gewurtzaminer (SP??) in a restaurant where my friend worked and liked the flavor. And, then a few years later, I concentrated on learning more while dating a Kitchen Designer who had that passion because he was in a wine group with a Cordon Bleu-trained chefs. What we shared was that we were both interested in the quintessential elements of good food and wine.

                              Here's a suggestion. Don't learn it alone all the time. Have your own "tasting" at home with four or five friends. Each brings a bottle in the same category of grape (maybe your first lesson alone) and of differnet price levels. Then, instead of just drinking them, you all write down the name and maker of the wine on a paper, then rate them on a scale of 1-7 (or whatever) in your own humble opinion. And, each tells what they taste and what their opinion is. There are clubs you can join, too.

                              I'm still learning.

                              1. I highly reccomend the following book. It is both an introduction to wine and a guide to tasting it and forming your own opinions. It also teaches you to understand wine language such as flavor word descriptions, body styles, the main grapes, etc. It takes a whole bunch of readily available wines at decent prices and describes what they taste like then you try them and learn to relate the terms and language to what you taste.

                                It is written by one of the only nine women in the world who has qualified as a Master Sommelier and who was named Best Sommelier in America.

                                Just so you know where I am coming from. Many years ago I worked for and ran several fancy wine shops and studied wine from when I was literally 5 years old. (My father gave me my first pewter wine tasting cup for my 5th B'day and had me tasting and talking about wines from then on. Would this be considered child abuse today? LOL. I started working in the wine industry as soon as I was legally able to and was sent to study at a vineyard in France at age 17 for several months.)

                                I think this may be the best starter guide for wines ever written.

                                Great Wine Made Simple: Straight Talk From A Master Sommelier
                                by Andrea Immer
                                Publisher: Broadway Books, NY in 2000
                                ISBN 0-7679-0477-x

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: the rogue

                                  But her new pocket guide to wine is revolting.

                                2. The Andrea Immer book is indeed a good choice. Also do look at the most recent edition of The Wall Street Journal Guide to Wine. Authors Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher talk about their own experiences and it has a very friendly, come-join-in style about it.

                                  There's no way to tell where anyone lives on this thread, but some might like to know that Gaiter and Brecher will be the guest hosts at Wine South 2000 in Atlanta at the Gwinnett Civic Center on Sept. 28th and 29th. It's a big fest of wine, food, music and art. Check out the web site at www.winesouth.com for more info.

                                  Good luck and have fun exploring!