What is the best way for a beginner to learn the basics about wine?
Of course, you’re not going to expend a lot of energy studying something unless you’re really interested in it. Not for everyone are the arcane intricacies of Major League Baseball pitching averages, or the works of Shakespeare—or wine, for that matter. But some people do get “bitten by the wine bug” (I certainly did), and for those of us who realize one day that we want to learn more about this wonderful beverage, there are many ways to do it.
For me, reading wine books was my introduction to the world of wine. There was no Internet back when the bug bit me, but there were plenty of good books — and there still are today. Too many to recommend any particular ones, but my advice would be to go down to a good bookstore and sort through the wine aisle. Books have a way of “speaking to you.” You look at the covers, front and back, scan through the pages, and if it’s the right book for you, you’ll know it.
It also depends on where you want to start. There are books that offer general approaches to wine tasting and appreciation. Others will take you through the worldwide geography of wine: countries and regions, including the grape varieties that grow there. There are even books on the technical aspects of viticulture and enology, although these probably aren’t for the novice. Whatever book you start with, it’s likely that — if it turns you on enough — you’ll look for something to follow it up with. And then you’re off on your adventure.
There also is a tremendous array of wine magazines these days. Some of the better ones include Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and Wine & Spirits. All offer a comparable format: tasting notes and reviews, articles, opinion pieces, news. Magazines are a good way to keep up with what’s happening now.
But today we have the Internet, which offers more information than anyone can possibly absorb in a lifetime. And with Google, you can get answers on almost anything within a fraction of a second. Some good places to start learning about wine on the Internet are the various wine blogs from Jackson Family Wines: Kendall-Jackson’s, for example.
Another useful stop on the Internet is Alltop, which provides handy links to dozens of wine blogs.
But reading about wine, whether through the printed page of books and magazines, or through the digital words of the Internet, can take you only so far. Ultimately, what will teach you the best and most long-lasting lessons is to actually taste wine. Wine lovers are lucky these days to have multiple ways to taste the wines of the world, without necessarily having to pay the (often high) price of a full bottle. There are wine societies and tasting clubs in most urban areas, as well as wine bars where you can sip your way across the world. The better wine stores often offer tastings, sometimes with a visiting winemaker. Check with your local wine shop to see if they can steer you in the right direction.
By far the best and most pleasant way to taste wine is to visit the winery! This isn’t always the easiest thing, if you don’t live near a wine-producing region, but the fact is that all 50 U.S. states now have licensed wineries within their borders. So if you live in, say, Minnesota or Florida, you don’t have to drive all the way to California, Oregon, Washington and New York, which are our top domestic producers.
Of course, if you do come to California (and we have to admit we’re a little biased in favor of our home state!), you’ll be more than welcomed at our various wineries. The beautiful Kendall-Jackson Wine Center, in Santa Rosa, just 60 miles north of San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge, is a great place to taste, to learn about wines and vineyards and wine-and-food pairing, and much, much more. We hope to see you there!