By Dan Sims, From The Wine Guide
Wine. The word itself can be intimidating and confusing, conjuring up preconceptions of snobbery and elitism. All this when it should act as a calming and soothing elixir, which we all need from time to time; for me, rather regularly.
Taking your first steps to learn more about it can be as daunting as the connotations of the word itself as there is simply so much to take in. Regions, grape varieties, climate, winemaking, soil types, clonal selections (snore) all play a significant role in the finished product that is poured into your glass.
Teaching people about wine is at the core of what we do at The Wine Guide, and we’ve seen first hand, on many occasions, the glazed eyes, blank stares and questioning looks when people sit down and take their first tentative steps to a greater understanding of the whole wine ‘thing’.
Truth be told, you can never learn it all, and anyone who says they really know everything about wine is quite simply stretching the truth. We prefer to think of it along the lines of travelling along an endless road; it’s just that some people are a little further along that road than others.
So why learn more about wine? For one, it is the second most widely consumed alcoholic beverage on the planet. Two, it appeals to every socio economic group on the planet. From the mega wealthy to us mere mortals, put a glass of wine in front of us both and we’re equal. But truth be told, the best reason is the simplest; it increases your enjoyment tenfold. Think about it, when was the last time you really concentrated on the flavour of Coke? What does it taste like again… err, Coke? Also, consider the extra level pomp and ceremony you can enjoy at your next dinner party (ahem).
But before you get to this hedonistic level, there are a few basic fundamentals to start you on your way and this all comes back to understanding what you like and why. To start off, break wine into three easy categories; light, medium and full-bodied/flavoured. Regardless of anyone’s wine knowledge, most can appreciate this simple concept. If something is ‘light’ in body, its, well, not heavy. If a wine is ‘full-bodied’, it’s rather intense and big, or not light. Right?
So the next time you’re having a glass of wine, ask yourself the question; is this light, medium or full bodied/flavoured? And then the most important questions: Do you like it and why? More often than not, the reason someone likes a wine will be the exact reason another person hates it. Wine is and cannot help being subjective and far too often we’re made to feel guilty or, worse, intimidated if we don’t like a wine we’re told is good. Don’t. It just may not be to your particular taste, and that’s okay as long as you understand why.
Hands up who’s ever said: “I don’t know much about wine but I know what I like?” It’s something I hear quite a lot. I often reply with: “Great, then what do you like?” “Ummm, I don’t know,” is, more often than not, the vague reply.
So ask yourself, what style of wine you like? Light, medium or full-bodied? This is a great starting point as if you can understand which wine you like, why you like it and be able to communicate the reasons why, we honestly believe you're three quarters of the way there. As for everyone else, go read a book.
This concept also translates to food and wine matching. More often than not, lighter-styled dishes tend to go better with lighter-styled wines; full-bodied or full-flavoured dishes tend to go better with full-flavoured/bodied wines. Makes sense, doesn’t? Yes, there are always exceptions to the rules but hey, it’s wine; it can be somewhat complex at times, but mostly it’s about applying common sense.
Until then, there are plenty of books you can read that are brilliant reference guides for taking your first wine steps (nothing better than reading a book on wine before bed, you’ll be out like a light in no time).
One of our favourites is Hugh Johnson & Jancis Robinson’s World Atlas of Wine. A brilliant guide to the classic wine regions of the world, it not only shows you the great wine countries and vineyards, but also discusses the grape varieties and styles that can be found within.
Another brilliant book is The Oxford Companion to Wine. Written by Jancis Robinson, Master of Wine (MW), this in-depth encyclopedic book will answer virtually all and any of your wine questions.
These two books are the bare essentials to any wine library and a great starting point for your wine journey though remember, always think in terms of style; light, medium and full.