Some of you will have embarked on a wine-tasting course recently – after all, autumn is traditionally the time to focus on acquiring a new skill. All credit to those who run the things, but I wonder if they are actually the best way – or, and perhaps more to the point, the most enjoyable way – to learn about wine.
I say this because I’m trying to learn Spanish at the moment, and rather than poring over textbooks and trying to master my tenses, instead I’ve been practising with the help of an app and focusing on trying to make myself understood, while grabbing hold of unfortunate native speakers and subjecting them to my execrable grammar and accent. (Fortunately, it turns out that the Spanish are very nice.)
The trick is simply to plough on, and pretty much the same applies to learning about wine, too. Too many people apologise for their lack of wine knowledge, but even if you work in the trade, you’re never going to know everything there is to know about a region such as Bordeaux, for instance. And if you do know a lot about that, it probably means you don’t know a whole lot about Greece, say, or Chile.
The key thing is to be open-minded. Buy something unfamiliar every time you go to the supermarket. In restaurants, order wines by the glass, rather than by the bottle, especially when you’re dining à deux or on your own. Taste and keep some kind of record of what you find, and what you like and don’t like so much (apps such as Vivino are good for this). Taste wines comparatively and notice what’s different about them – you can do that just as easily with a group of friends as in a class.
I’m not saying classes don’t have value – they definitely do if you want to get a wine qualification; it’s just that you can, if you wish, take control (to use an unfortunate expression) of your wine education yourself and it can be equally rewarding. Like travelling solo rather than as part of a group.
You might want to buy a couple of books, of course. One major go-to reference book that conveniently pulls everything together in one place is the just-published new edition of Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson’s magisterial World Atlas of Wine (Mitchell Beazley, £50), now in its eighth incarnation, or Rajat Parr and Jordan Mackay’s The Sommelier’s Atlas of Taste: A Field Guide to the Great Wines of Europe (Ten Speed Press, £30), which explains really well why wines taste as they do.