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Introduce me to Wine

I am almost ashamed to say as much as I drink wine, I no not alot about it. I know what I like and what (kindof goes with what)...but I want to really know wine. Does anyone know of a way I can become more knowledgable on wine (the process it takes to make it, what really pairs up best with what dish, so on and so forth). Im thinking a class would give me the most "hands on" experience. I live in portland so somewhere in the vicinity would be nice. Any suggestions are greatly appreciated. Thanks.

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  1. You are in luck. Take a drive south down the Willamette Valley and into some of the best Pinot Noir growing areas in the world. Stop in and tour the vineyards, this is the fun part. You will learn each vineyards techniques and possibly quirks which set them apart from others. I advise going with friends. Right now the vineyards should be ramping up for harvest, so a good time to venture out there to see some action.

    Good luck

    1. Check in with Erin Ransom at The Wine Cellar or Vino Vixens. She does wine classes and check the foodday section of the Oregonian. They usually post wine classes. Erin has an upcoming How To Look Like a Wine Snob in Under Two Hours class coming up Sept 28th at the Wine Cellar, (503)643-5655 for info. I've taken it in the past and it's a lot of fun.

      1. You're going to have to read some books.

        There are a million "Wine 101 For Dummies" books out there, and while they all do a fairly decent job of explaining the basics -- grapes, regions, techniques -- they all pretty much suck as books. Try to find one that has a minimum of cutesy graphics and sidebars and "Gee, did you know?" intrusions, and a maximum of clear text. Pictures are a good thing only if they actually illustrate what various grapes, regions, and techniques look like, and are not marketing materials inserted to look pretty.

        Be aware that wine literature has more pompous snobs and idiot marketers than any other field of human endeavor. My basic rule, when choosing a wine book OR a bottle of wine, is to try to avoid anything that appears to have been inserted with the sole thought in mind of displaying "classiness" or Olde Worlde Charme. That means elaborately scrolly fonts, big brass gates, silly French where it doesn't belong, etc.

        A good place to begin is a tasting course, which can be found in book form. You'll probably start with the difference between two whites, say a California Chardonnay and a white Bordeaux or New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or something, and progress through the different grapes and regions.

        After that, I strongly recommend getting the hell out of the weeds of Wine 101 and diving into a more personal book, one that may be a bit over your head in some ways, but will teach you not so much what to think but what it means to have a relationship with wine. Books like <i>Real Wine</i> by Patrick Matthews, <i>The Accidental Connoisseur</i> by Lawrence Osborne, and the surprisingly good <i>Bacchus and Me</i> by Jay McInerney.

        Then you need to get a good wine atlas and go over it cover to cover. Several times. There are several to choose from. I would NOT recommend any of the annual wine guides you see, from Robert Parker on down; they cover way to much stuff you'll never, ever see in a shop, unless you live in New York or Los Angeles and routinely pay $50 and up a bottle. The most important thing when you're starting out isn't the difference between all the different makers and vintages in Côte-Rôtie; it's the difference between Côte-Rôtie and Australian Shiraz and California Syrah. The way to learn these things on your own is to read and taste, read and taste, wine against wine. Trying to compare two wines tasted a month apart is a sucker's game.

        Oh, and if you're not having fun you're doing it wrong.

        1. Find a wine bar that has daily- or weekly-changing taste flights and spend a lot of time there drinking.

          1. Read, sip, read, sip, read, sip, read, sip . . .

            1. Get a copy of Great Wine Made Simple by Andrea Immer. It is excellent for learning the key differences between different types of wines, as well as similar wines from different areas, and how climate changes the flavor profile of wines. It is also chock full of tasting excercises to illustrate and re-inforce what you are reading.

              She also has a book devoted to wine pairing, called Great Tastes Made Simple.

              1 Reply
              1. re: djohnson22

                Seconding this recommendation. Reading this book really helped me put taste characteristics into context. Such that I can scan any wine list and pick oout something I know I'll appreciate, or I can recommend a bottle for the table if people can express what they're looking for. I may still be a dilletante, but I can talk intelligently about wine and make good picks.

              2. I agree that flight tastings are a great way to get a hands-on learning experience-- esp. on a slower day when the sommelier can talk you through the different wines.

                If you can ever get away for a weekend, check out some Oregon wineries (which I'm sure will have tasting opportunities) ~ there's some good stuff to be had there.

                Bookwise, I'd say go to a bookstore and browse through the wine-education books yourself to see which one is most info-taining to you. Sometimes it's just as much about what writing style the reader prefers as it is how knowledgable/entertaining the author is.

                And agreed with above, have fun while learning it!

                1. As a fellow wine novice I highly reccomed "Making Sense of Wine" by Matt Kramer. It really takes you through the history, the culture and the basics of wine. Its more of a narrative style, which means you'll want this book and some kind of wine 101 or atlas style thing. I've been using the Windows on the World Complete Wine Course by Kevin Zraly and it's working for me. I don't really have anything to compare it to though.

                  1. PCC has a lot of wine classes too. Practically every wine shop in Portland does a friday through sunday tasting usually focusing on a specific region or winemaker. That's a good way to try something, and get to know your local wine merchant who can be very helpful in guiding you.
                    Also, if you have some friends who, like yourself, are interested in wine but don't know a lot about it, you can create a tasting group. Get together once a month or every other month or whatever works for you, rotate homes so everyone shares in hosting duties and have the hose choose a varietal or region. Everyone brings a bottle and a food to pair with it. For example, you could pick Alsatian white wines and bring some cheese, or Oregon Pinot Noir and bring some smoked salmon. It's fun and you can learn a lot.
                    I can't recommend books enough. I've enjoyed thw Windows on the World book too, it's a great introduction and not too complicated. I've been reading A Life Uncorked by Hugh Johnson this week and it's also pretty good. More of an autobiography, but his chapter on Champagne made my mouth water. Have fun!

                    1. join a wine club or wine making assoc as an intern

                      1. Another option is some reference material - I would heartily recommend "The Wine Lover's Cookbook" by Sid Goldstein which is normally listed at $22.95 but can be purchased on Amazon for $7.00. This is a bible for simple straight forward pairing information. Each wine is ID'ed by Typical aromas and flavors, then base ingredients (protein) which best work with the wine, then bridge ingredients (flavors, styles, spices etc) which help connect the food and wine through therir interaction in flavor. This book is one of my favorites.

                        1. Interesting posts, but there's really only one way to learn.

                          First, let me say that you could spend your whole life learning and not know everthing there is to know, and even the most knowledgeable experts get humbled on a regular basis.

                          You can read a lot about wine, and sure that will tell you some things, but wine is not about the printed word, it's about drinking, and more than that - tasting.

                          The only way to really learn about wine is to taste with people who know more than you. That's it in a nutshell.

                          It's hard to tell who really knows more than you and who just talks a good game, but no matter where you live there are people who love wine and are more knowledgeable than you. Taste with them as often as you can. Invite them to dinner, join their tasting group. Be generous and it will come back to you. And don't worry about being wrong - you will be on a regular basis.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Chris Weber

                            There is no wrong unless you're playing a guessing game or the wine is corked or otherwise spoiled.

                            If it tastes good to you, enjoy it. If it doesn't, remember that most professionals have been trained to find and appreciate what's good in wines that aren't overall so much fun to drink.

                          2. Try a decent red Rioja or Ribera del Duero from Spain with grilled lamb chops. Talk to your wine store people for a recommendation.