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Nov 11, 2008 09:51 PM

learning about wine by tasting

I'm reading "Great Wine Made Simple" by Andre Immer. In the book, she suggests the reader taste 6 wines back to back in order to taste the differences. Then she suggests tasting 2 rieslings (a dry and a sweet) to know the difference in dryness, 2 sauvignon blancs (high acid and low acid) to taste for crispness, 2 chardonnays to taste oaky-ness and lastly a low tannin pinot and a high tannin Cab. That's a total of 14 wines and that's only the first two chapters...

Now this is my situation; I want to taste the wines in order to expand my knowledge but it is increasingly hard for me. For one, I am in college and 14 bottles of decent wine does not come cheap. Also, getting a group of friends to participate and split the cost is also difficult because all of my peers rather get wasted off redbulls and vodkas. So that won't happen. Are there any wines sold in tiny sample sizes or something? I've though about maybe going to a wine tasting, but I'm still 20 and that would be an issue.

The other thing is that next january I'm studying abroad in France and wanted to learn as much as possible about wine so I could go over there with some basic knowledge. that is why I am reading that book. What should I do?

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  1. Just drink as you're able, perhaps focusing on a single type of wine for a week or two...Whatever it is, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Cabernet. It's nice to focus on single varietal so you can discern both the similarities and differences between producers.

    France. Where? What an education in so many ways that will be. I lived there in my 20s. Buy the book, "French Wine for Dummies," written by Ed McCarthy. Very clear, great overview and wonderful regional specifics. It's in paperback. Taste and travel the country as much as you can.

    1. 1) Take things slowly.

      2) I'm a bit confused: if you are only 20 and cannot go wine tasting, how are you going to buy the bottles of wine in the first place?

      3) Don't worry about 14 wines . . . just take two at a time. And remember, you don't need to spend $20-40 per bottle. Conversations with a good wine merchant will be able to point you to good examples which are UNDER $10. Yes, I know that can add up, too, but I would urge you to put feelers out there -- I'm willing to bet there are other students and/or friends who would like to learn too. Honest.

      And, as Maria Lorraine says, "France. Where?" ML is ABSOLUTELY right! Wherever you study -- even if it's in Paris -- travel into the countryside and taste whenever and wherever you can. Another book you may want to get is a paperback edition of the World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson. I don't think the current (6th) edition is in paperback, but there are earlier editions which are. The vineyards of France haven't moved, and there is something that is amazingly wonderful about seeing how the vineyards are laid out on the map and seeing them in person that -- well, I certainly learned a lot doing that when I was in my 20s. Besides, they are often so detailed (especially in Bordeaux, Burgundy, and the Rhône), you can use these as road maps . . . just don't drive on the tractor trails!

      1. I am very envious of you right now. I'm also still a bit of a wine novice myself, and I understand being on a budget. Go to a good wine store, tell the merchant exactly what you want (an oak-ey chardonnay, or a sweet riesling) and give them a price range.

        "Wine for Dummies" books have been a great guide. I have the 4th edition and it really helped me prepare for my trip to Napa. Now I'm on "French Wine for Dummies." I also plan to pick up the other Dummies wine books.

        As for the 20 thing...that is another issue.

        1. A well-stocked wine shop should have 0.375 ltr "half-bottles" available. However, you will be limited for two reasons: many wineries do not produce halves, and even really good wine shops don't stock that many. The wine shop staff should be able to help you with some of Immer's suggestions (you'll need to rely on the salespeople to read-between-the-lines, based on their inventory).

          I'd think about posting a note on the Campus' main bulletin board, looking for people to join a new "wine tasting group." You are likely to make some new friends, along the way.

          Depending on your storage capabilities, you can pick up a Vacuvin pump with a handful of stoppers and hold your wines over for a few days. This does not help with the initial cost, but will spread the usage of the wine over more days.

          Beyond those suggestions, all I can come up with would be to head to a few wine bars, off campus. Talk to the proprietors about what you want and try to interest them in doing tastings along the lines of Immer, as most do so along some other lines and these are often driven by their distributors.

          Given the criteria, it will not be as simple as it should be - sorry,


          6 Replies
          1. re: Bill Hunt

            Just to clear somethings up, I will be staying in Lyons. I will definetly start a post about places to check out on the wine and culinary side.
            Also, yes I'm 20, but buying wine is pretty simple for me sometimes since I look older. I assume a tasting would be harder to get into.

            Love the book suggestions, keep them coming.

            What do yo guys think of wine tasting sets like the one below?


            1. re: blackplatano

              Back in MY youth, if one could walk up to the bar, they were served. I had not even considered that aspect. I see the problem.

              The link that you furnished has a blocking page. None of the Zip Codes, that I knew, worked. Is there one, that we should enter to access the site? I'll be glad to comment, if I can, but cannot get past that blocking page.


              1. re: Bill Hunt

                Just click on "show all" then click one of the retailer and then "continue". Your help is appreciated.

                1. re: blackplatano

                  I think the "sets" will teach you VERY little . . .

                  The way to learn about wine is NOT to taste one of everything, which is what these so-called "sets" do (e.g.: one bottle each of U.S.-produced Pinot Gris, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay, and Chenin Blanc). What this will teach you is how THIS Sauvignon Blanc tastes, or how THAT Riesling tastes. It will NOT teach you what Sauvignon Blanc tastes like, or what Riesling tastes like.

                  What will teach you what, for example, Sauvignon Blanc tastes like is to taste several Sauvignon Blancs -- some Napa, Sonoma, New Zealand, and Bordeaux as well as the Loire Valley of France . . . and MORE than one wine from each region! And here is why:

                  one Sauvignon Blanc = one taste.

                  Tasting many Sauvignon Blancs -- even if only from, for an example, Napa Valley -- will teach you what is the grape, and what is the winemaker. One wine might be 100% fermented in stainless steel, and held in stainless until bottling; another might be 100% stainless fermented, but aged in oak; another might be 50-50 fermented in stainless and oak, but all aged in oak; another might contain residual sugar, or might be Botrytis-infected; or aged sur lie; or 100% Sauvignon Blanc, versus a blend of, say, 80 percent SB and 20 percent Semilion; or . . . or . . . or . . . .

                  Then, when you add in the differences INHERENT in the grape (and thus wine) between -- again, as an example -- the Sauvignon Blanc grown in Napa versus that in Sonoma, or in New Zealand, or in the Loire, or in Bordeaux, or in . . . .

                  If all you taste is one example of a type of wine, all you have learned is what that ONE wine tastes like. You have learned very little about that TYPE OF WINE is like . . . .


              2. re: blackplatano

                From Lyon you will be able to hit the Northern Rhone valley
                vineyards going South and Burgundy going North. However,
                in my opinion, it is not necessary to visit wineries to enjoy
                wine tasting in France. Start first by trying to find a Carrefour
                hyperstore. Essentially, they are the size of 2 or 3 Costcos.
                You will be amazed by the cheese and charcuterie selections
                (ever seen stores with hundreds of different cheeses?) but
                their wine selection is decent. There are a lot of decent
                wine types at very reasonable price points, say in the 6 to 12
                Euros range. After a few weeks of sampling, then try to move
                on to a more specialized wine store. For a large city like
                Lyon, there should be quite a few.

                1. re: blackplatano

                  If you're going to Lyon, please start by leaving off the "s"! Lyon is the culinary capital of France, and they take their food very seriously. They are also very close to both the southern end of Burgundy and the northern Rhone. Two of the friendliest areas in France.

                  You are in for a real treat, and an amazing education. And in France you are already of legal drinking age.

                  Your link leads to a request for a zip code in Minnesota. Cannot tell what you are referring to.

              3. i think that you should visit some wine stores when they're offering free tastings and like someone else offered a good wine bar that will have a nice selection to drink. get a notebook too!! start simply with sight, smell and taste. try to make mental connections with other things you've smelled and tasted in your past. most important, have FUN and don't be obnoxious. enjoy!