There is a real boom going on in wine at the moment.
Wine has been around for 10,000 years, but it’s never been as popular as it is today.
More people and more people all around the world are enjoying wine. Where wine was in the past mainly enjoyed by the elites, it has now become much more mainstream.
This is also true of “wine culture”. Whereas even 50 years ago, only very few people really knew their wines, more and more people are getting into wine and wanting to develop their understanding of wine.
But how do you get started?
What do you do when you love wine and you want to take that passion further?
What is it you need to learn about first? What is it you need to know about to really get started?
If you’re starting your wine journey, here are 5 things you should do to help you get to the next level.
1-Develop your sense of smell
Your sense of smell is THE most important skill when it comes to wine.
It is not only used when you smell the wine, but it is also used when you taste the wine (through a process called retro-olfaction).
Developing your sense of smell will help you enjoy wine more, but it is also going to help you learn.
So how do you go about it?
A simple exercise to do at home or when you are out is to smell as many things as you can and concentrate on the actual aroma.
- Choose things from the fridge, the fruit basket or the spice rack. This can be herbs, spices, fruit, vegetables, cheese, butter or anything you can get your hands on.
- When you’re out smell the fruit in shops, flowers at the florist, try and concentrate on the smell of perfumes.
You’ll see that the more you do this, the better your sense of smell is going to get.
You can also download or sense of smell development workbook free by clicking here and you’ll boost your sense of smell in just a week.
2- Develop your taste buds
Contrary to what many people imagine, our palates can only detect 5 tastes. These are the 5 basic tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami.
In wine, however you will only find 3 of them: sweet, sour and bitter as the other 2 tastes aren’t present in wine. So, you need to train your taste buds to recognise and understand each one of these tastes. Why? Because as you taste new wines, being able to decompose how sweet, bitter (tannic) and sour (acidic) they are will help understand the wine, and appreciate it to the fullest.
The best way to do this is to separate each taste, and not having alcohol or flavours interfering.
To do this you’re going to need:
- 3 glasses, some water, a lemon, some sugar and a couple of teabags and an ice cube
To understand what sweetness is and how it is going to affect your palate, simply add 10 teaspoons of sugar to a small glass of water. Swirl the water around your mouth and spit it out and try and memorise your impressions (saliva becomes thicker, you get a feeling of warmth)
For the sour taste, squeeze all the lemon’s juice into another glass of water. Taste the liquid in the same way: swirl around your mouth and spit it out. And again, memorise what’s happening and what the taste is like (saliva becoming very liquid, an impression of freshness.).
Concerning the bitter taste, add a bit of boiling water to the 2 teabags, leave to brew for at least 10 minutes. Remove the bags and make sure you squeeze all the tea from them. Finally, put the ice cube in the brew to cool the tea down.
When the ice cube has melted swirl the tea around your mouth and spit out. Remember exactly what the taste is like (the drying of the inside of your mouth).
As you get better as identifying each individual taste, you will build up your ability to pick up these individual taste in wine, where they will be all mixed up in the same glass.
3- Learn the basic grape varieties.
There are hundreds of grape varieties that produce wine. Knowing them all is near impossible.
The reality though is that if you learn about the main grape varieties and their styles, you’ll be at ease with most of the wines found on restaurant wine lists and wine shops. These shelves and menus tend to feature only a handful of “famous” grape varieties, or blends of these famous grapes. So knowing a small set of grape varieties will actually help you buy a large set of different wines with confidence, knowing what to expect from these wines.
The top white grapes you need to learn about are, for white grapes:
- Cabernet Sauvignon,
- Pinot Noir,
- Syrah/ Shiraz,
For each grape variety, learn about what wines they are found in, what they taste like and what they smell like. This will help you know what to expect when ordering wines made from these grape varieties in shops and restaurants.
4- Learn to taste wine the proper way
This is a skill you need to learn as early as possible. Tasting wine isn’t just about drinking it. Devil is in the detail. When you learn to taste wine in depth, this is what you’ll start to see and understand.
I’m not talking a 10-15-minute event where they showed you how to taste. Wine tasting is a very important skill which is at the very base of wine appreciation and understanding. So make sure you master this skill!
There are a few ways you can go:
- Live course: There are many wine schools around the world offering courses. Make sure that what you are learning is the actual wine tasting skill. Not to be confused with an event to earn about an estate’s wines or a wine region.
- Video course: It exists a few good online video courses out on the web. However, do make sure that it is an in-depth course, not just a 30-minute discovery video. You can find a good one we’ve created here
- Books: There are many great books available in book stores or on Amazon. A Wine Tasting Course by Marnie Old, is particularly good. Lots of information, with lots of illustrations, very enjoyable and good.
5- Start recording everything
This might sound silly, or a bit too geeky. But the truth is that forcing yourself to take notes on ALL the wines you taste and drink will help you learn immensely.
Once you know how to taste wine properly, developing your vocabulary and really pushing yourself to describe each wine you taste with a few words, is going to turn your impressions into words.
Download an app like Vivino, it’s free.
The ability to get all a wines details come up without having to type them in is super helpful (and super easy). All you do is take a pic the label and add your tasting notes.
6- Join other wine lovers
Of course, you can learn about wine by yourself. You could regularly buy lots of wine, sign up to courses, read magazines and books.
But being able to share thoughts and discuss your impressions is also a great way to boost knowledge.
Join a group of wine lovers and taste wine wines together.
This way, you get to taste lots of wines without having to spend a fortune. You all put some cash towards a tasting, and buy a selection of wines you get to taste together.
Meetup.com is a great website for this.
You can find hundreds of wine Meetups; probably you have a couple in your city or near you. If there isn’t, not to worry, you can start your own group.
Even though learning about wine seems like a daunting and intimidating task, it doesn’t have to be.
Start with the basics, slowly build your knowledge and the world of wine will open itself up to you. Make sure you enjoy the adventure along the way, it’s an amazing journey!