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Dec 6, 2006 02:17 AM

Making the next step

I have a good foundation understanding of wine: aroma, how it's made, etiquette, history, etc. Now I'm trying to make the next step into being able to really understand nuances, what wines to cellar, consistantly good labels, and so on. I would love any recommendations on how to make this step.

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  1. Sounds like saying "I've been thru all sex education courses at school, now how do I get started?"
    My suggestion may sound too brutal, but here it goes: Just do it.
    Pick a region, work your way up in the quality hierarchy (price is a rough indicator), keep the labels & basic notes (I like it, I like it a LOT, I don't like it, maybe some comments here & there). Whenever you can, by all means GO to that region, visit producers (just call in advance), talk to them, taste at their cellars.
    Ignore -at least, to start- wine critics, or your taste will be strongly biased.
    Go by your instincts.
    Again, pretty much like sex.

    1. I think I did a poor job of explaining my delima. I'm stuck in the cycle of going to the wine store buying a bottle or two that I haven't tried yet deciding whether I like it or not and that's it. I don't feel like I'm expanding my knowledge base other than finding a few wines here and there that I really like and those that I really don't like.

      1 Reply
      1. re: clemtgr

        Most of us (winos), have been at that stage, at one point, or another. It can seem overwhelming on analysis. I think that the point that RicRios made was: do not analyze it - just do it.

        Sounds easy, but it might not be quite so. What I did at that point was set up a budget and make a monthly trip to a very large wine shop across town. I'd make notes from several media sources, but mostly prowl the aisles with my shopping cart - about half-size to fit down the tightly packed aisles of wine. I would usually pick one bottle of wine, that looked/sounded interesting to me. I'd leave with two to three cases of wine of all varietals and price ranges, trying to stay within the overall budget. Then nightly, I'd sample the wines and make notes on each - varietal, producer, region, sub-region, etc. I tried to determine such things as my likes, food pairings, temp. to serve that wine, etc. and just experiment. It was great fun, and fun for my wife, and our friends, who got to help me with the wine, though it was really a personal journey and they were, then, just folk to help with the wine, that I could not consume. (This soon changed, as I became much more inclusive of others in my trip.) The upside was that I became familiar with wines, in general, and a few in specific, plus had great vicarious sojurns to far-away places. The downside, was when I'd stumble on a wine that I thought was fabulous, head back to the store to find that it was no more - gone, and that the new vintage didn't "do it" for me any longer.

        In time, I changed to 2 btls. of each, so I would have that extra handy when I hit the jackpot. Now, I have broadened my tastings, as much as I can. I attend wine dinners/tastings as often as possible all over the US and much of Europe. I wrangle "trade-only" access to events through my retailers and friends in the business. I am more likely to purchase half-cases, or cases, than I ever was back then. The economics have changed, but I still go out a few times per year and just buy a few totally mixed cases to expand from. There is too much worthwhile wine from far too many places, some made from varietals that Hugh Johnson probably doesn't know of (nah, HE knows of them), that one cannot ever know it all. It is a continuing education, with no real end. Even if one attains a Master Sommelier rank, or Master of Wine, there is still much to learn, but what a wonderful curriculum!

        One can do all of the reading, and viewing of tapes and DVDs that they wish, but it is in the experiencing of wine, that they will learn the most. To quote RicRios, "Just do it."


      2. scour your local paper and find stores that offer tastings. these are typically free, and usually during weeknights and saturday afternoons.

        also look for listings of restaurants that offer tastings. most often this is reasonably priced, has a theme and bits of food that pair well with the wine. it also has the added benefit of meeting other winos!

        1 Reply
        1. re: hotoynoodle

          When you're looking for wine stores that offer tastings you should ask if/when they do them for free. At least in SoCal, wine stores charge for their tastings (actually a reasonable cost, usually) but many also offer free tastings of what they happen to have open. Where we are, the city allows only certain hours of paid wine tasting events, so 'left-overs' are generally free the next day.

          But........ if I'm picking up your issue correctly, you need to read some of the major wine magazines and books on the subject. Also try following some of the wine blogs and message boards that are all over the internet. After a while you will learn whose recommendations to trust. If that's what you're looking for, post back and I can give you some specific recommendations.

        2. Are there any wine bars, shops, or clubs with tastings in your area? That's really the best way to educate yourself.

          1. My recommendation is twofold:

            1) Start studying the "wine literature" to identify the best VINTAGE YEARS for the varietals you're drinking. You'll find that focusing on the better years and particularly avoiding the poorer years will improve your tasting experience considerably...

            2) Start experimenting with FOOD & WINE COMBINATIONS... Now that you have an understanding of the "wine basics", start pairing different dinners up with different wines and start recognizing that there may be a wine you really enjoy but it's a god-awful match with a particular food that you enjoy. It's in the food-wine matching that wine (and food) reaches the "zenith", IMO.

            5 Replies
            1. re: Chicago Mike

              Vintage charts aren't useful for most wines. We just discussed that in detail here:


              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Yeah, I remember...

                I'm old school... I guess in a dying breed of people who actually think the climatological conditions of each vintage year is the single most important factor affecting the quality of the harvest and the wine...

                Imagine that... how could anyone ever be so "out of date"...

                New school is much easier... "Vintage doesn't matter"... how I wish I believed that! Unfortunately, almost 20 years of wine tasting tells me differently... someone could easier sell me the Brooklyn Bridge than convince me vintage years don't matter...

                1. re: Chicago Mike

                  Nobody claimed weather doesn't matter. The question is how useful vintage charts are.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Well by "vintage charts" I really mean "study the vintages"... If you don't have alot of wine pals to share information, then here's some places a newbie can start:

                    1) Read whatever you can by people who have done extensive tastings of each vintage...

                    2) CROSS check various chart services. Don't just take one source as gospel...

                    3) Lurk and ask questions in wine forums. A great one is the Wine Lovers Discussion Group (


                    4) Follow which years seem to be scoring highest in blind tasting results...

                    SO, let's say newbie wants to focus on California Cabernet... check the stories, the charts, check the postings and post a few questions about "which years are better" on a few forums...

                    From this you can get a good feel for which years are likely to be better than others and particularly which years are best avoided... over the course of a lifetime you'll probably find your wine satisfaction to be quite a bit higher if you stick with better years. Enjoy.

                    1. re: Chicago Mike

                      The vast majority of wines on the American market are made to be drunk upon release.

                      Many wine regions have such favorable climates that they only have good and better years. You can see that easily in this chart:


                      To the extent that in some regions some years are better than others, the effect is extremely local. Ch. Latour, for example, is famous for making good wines in difficult years. In 1986, hailstorms completely wiped out some vineyards' crops in Piemonte, and cold weather caused problems for everybody, but Gaja and Bruno Giacosa, among others, still made great wine.

                      This is all reflected in price and availability. Great Bordeaux from vintage with a bad rep is often a relative bargain. If a particular wine has a bad year, good retailers won't stock it.

                      Bottom line, vintage date is most often useful to tell whether a wine is over the hill.