I am a self-proclaimed student of the vine; the grapevine, that is. I feel fortunate to have been the recipient of very good wine guidance for much of my adult life. A love of learning is easy to acquire when the subject is so deliciously fascinating. Nonetheless, I would not have the breadth of understanding and appreciation that I do without the helping hands I’ve found along the way.
Growing up in California, the corner of the US where the domestic wine production boom began, I was well acquainted with its presence at the dinner table. My mother willingly introduced me to wine at a young age, and by the time I graduated high school, I had begun to decipher between flavors I liked and disliked. I had an elementary understanding of the stuff, based primarily on personal preference, which would serve as a good launch pad for further exploration. My college years took me to Europe, first to travel and then to live, and although my wine exploration did not always delve into high quality bottles (I was very broke), I developed an extreme infatuation with the notable wine producing countries themselves, which has never worn off.
My years since college have been spent in the restaurant industry, where my passion for wine and food has evolved into a career which has taken many shapes. I’ve been a server, a manager, a wine buyer, a wine seller, and a wine consumer. I recall a time of mentoring at BLT Steak LA when I worked as assistant to a sommelier who referred to me lovingly as his “cellar rat.” Daniel Warrilow was his name, and I felt as proud to look up to him as I believe he felt being looked up to. He tried to instill in me a joyful appreciation of a plethora of different winemaking styles, and I admired his total lack of snobbery in a field that is plagued by it.
Of course, I understand that not everyone has been so lucky as to have unlimited tasting privileges and willing mentors to guide them through the process of tasting and buying wine. But rest assured, it’s not as difficult as it seems. On the contrary, it’s wine, and therefore, it should be enjoyed. To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin: “Wine is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”
Here are a few places to start if desiring to deepen your knowledge of the vine:
The best place to start learning is your own mouth. Try a variety of different wines from around the world and listen to what your taste buds are telling you. Figuring out what you like and why you like it is the first step in growing your palette.
Want to dig a little deeper than just your personal experience? Wine books abound these days. A couple favorites:
- Anything But Chardonnay is an approachable introduction to the most popular wine varietals and includes recipes and a food pairing guide.
- The Wine Bible is just like it sounds: a comprehensive tome with an in-depth look at all the major wine producing regions in the world.
Get A Guide
Find a local wine store and spend a little time there making friends with the staff and asking questions. I’ve made it a point to get to know the wine buyers at many local stores, and have always found them full of information and happy to share it. Oftentimes, retail stores will host tastings, as well.
Even if you can’t afford a week at a villa in Tuscany, you can afford a small piece of what the land there has to offer. The world’s best and most fascinating wines are typically from Western Europe. I always recommend starting with France because of the familiarity of many of its popular grapes, while Italy is a bit more daunting, due to its overwhelming number of grape varietals.
It may go without saying, but buying bottles of wine is an essential step in the learning process. Luckily, retail price for a bottle is significantly less than the glass price at any restaurant. There is a ton of great wine to choose from that won’t break the bank. I do the vast majority of my wine spending on bottles between $12 and $20, which works out to be $3 to $5 per glass. If you aren’t lucky enough to have a wine store in your local area, I would suggest getting online. K&L is a wonderful resource for online shopping.
Image via Seth Bauer