How Do I Even Begin To Learn about the World of Wine?
School's in session, on your terms: We're asking the Valley's top wine gurus to answer all your wine-related queries, tackling them one at a time each Wednesday, so we can all stress less and pour more. Today's teacher: David Johnson, the wine director at Oakville Grocery Co.
Hannah E Williams
UNCORK THE ISSUE: How do I even begin to learn about the world of wine?
SPILL THE JUICE: "Don't think of it as the 'world of wine,'" suggests David Johnson, the wine director at Oakville Grocery Co. "It becomes daunting. People think they have to know about everything. The truth is that it's an inch-by-inch-proposition."
NOTE THE COMPLEXITIES: Pick a focus region. Johnson suggests starting with somewhere familiar, or at least where you understand the language, i.e. America, Australia, or New Zealand, instead of France or Italy or Germany.
"Maybe you start off in Napa Valley, California, which is represented as the pinnacle of American winemaking," Johnson says. "Maybe you visit Napa, experience it, go to some tasting rooms, buy a good guide, research online, get with people who are authoritative: a lot of wine shops or restaurants have good somms [sommeliers]."
Push your boundaries. Identify grape varietals that you like, and then branch out, Johnson advises. "It's not better or worse, it's just different," Johnson says. "Keep your personal preferences aside while you're learning about wine and be open to new experiences."
Click through for the rest of Johnson's advice and his reading recommendations.
"Go to a lot of tastings," Johnson suggests, "Especially those where you can learn from the winemaker themselves or a knowledgeable sommelier because there's nothing like learning from the horse's mouth." He also cautions you to take it seriously and be responsible: "The one thing that could really dampen your enthusiasm is going to a wine tasting, over-consuming, and getting a DUI on the way home."
Ask questions. "Once you find somebody you like and trust, stick with them," Johnson says of sommeliers, wine retailers and other wine experts. He suggest letting them know your price range, likes and dislikes, and letting them help you expand your palate.
Take notes. "I keep wine logs, and I have dozens of these volumes, especially on great vintages that I've tried," Johnson says. "I want to be able to go back and remember all the things I've tried, and I like to try wines that I like with different foods that I like. It's like Garanimals: You match the tags. You find things that work well together."
TAP INTO THE GRAPEVINE: "There's never been a better time to research and find out things," Johnson says referring to the wealth of wine information available online as opposed to hefty and expensive wine volumes. Some tangible books he recommends:
Kevin Zraly's Windows on the World Complete Wine Course. "This a great book, especially for the general wine inquisitor," Johnson says. "It was a standard book a lot of us used initially."
The Culinary Institute of America's Exploring Wine. "Sure it's an academic book for culinary students, but it's pretty comprehensive," Johnson says.
Karen MacNeil's The Wine Bible. "It's concise, it's anecdotal, and a lot of people really get into it and enjoy," Johnson says. "It's somewhat limited in scope, because it's trying to cover the entire world of wine."
Hugh Johnson's Wine Companion. "My personal favorite wine book," Johnson says. "Nobody really writes about wine like Hugh Johnson, to me. I like to be challenged when I read: I don't like Wine for Dummies-type things. I want to hit that one sentence where I don't know what he's talking about and I have to go research it even further."
SWALLOW THIS: "The fun thing about learning about wine as opposed to learning about molecular chemistry is that we as humans find wine enjoyable to drink," Johnson says. "We've done it for 7,500 years. Most all humans will enjoy wine in some form or fashion: Dry wine, sweet wine, bubbles, jug wines. They'll enjoy it for the alcohol, for the flavor, or for the social setting, but for whatever reason they'll enjoy it."
Check back next week for Thanksgiving wine recommendations and leave your wine queries for the gurus below.
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