Think back to that first sip of wine: Did you like it? Hate it? Did your palate jury call a recess to further deliberate?
If you feel intimidated in tasting rooms or wine shops while others are discussing minute flavor notes like black pepper and hints of forest floor, but are intrigued enough to try to learn a little more, this is the article for you.
Wine will always boil down to a matter of personal preference. If you can answer the question “Did you like it?,” you already have a wine palate. You know what you prefer, which is what the whole search for that ultimate sip is all about.
Don’t be afraid of difficult, unfamiliar wine terminology; even the most refined wine enthusiast had to learn it at some point. What really matters is that you want to learn about wine, which is a great way to make new friends and have fun along the way.
1. Start tasting with two simple goals: To try new wines and have fun doing it
You may show up to your first wine tasting feeling completely intimidated. The tasting notes card that lists all the flavors you’re supposed to taste in each sip could read like gibberish to you. You might think the wine just tastes like… well… wine. That’s okay.
Just keep in mind that the more you taste and the more wines you expose your palate to, the more you’ll pick up those more subtle notes of coffee, dark berry, chocolate, oaky-ness, tobacco and rose.
It just takes time, and as long as you’re trying new wines and having fun doing it, it’s a win-win.
2. Find a job that will pay you to learn
You’ve certainly passed by — and hopefully sampled wine from — demo tables in stores. Ever thought of swapping places with the person who pours the wine? Distribution companies will essentially pay you to learn about wine and teach it to passersby. Most companies let you take home what’s left over. You may even find plenty of new varietals to share with friends!
Local wineries are often looking for tasting room associates, which is a way to learn about wine and augment your income on the weekends.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask for a taste
If you’re at a restaurant, your waiter or the sommelier can make pairing suggestions. For instance, if you order the rainbow trout, the staff might suggest pairing it with Vermentino. But you may not know if you like Vermentino because you’ve never tried it before.
If you’re unsure, just ask for a taste. This is a great way to try before you buy and expand your wine horizons.
4. Find a local wine club or group
Wine is not the cheapest hobby out there, and it can get pricey to experiment with new wines. If you join a wine lovers’ club (Meetup.com is a great place to find them) you can experience many new wines and share the cost with other enthusiasts.
And since wine is a great hobby for facilitating friendly conversation, learning about wine makes it easy to find new friends.
5. Experiment with tasting wine alongside different foods
Finally, certain wines can be more difficult to enjoy when paired with incompatible food flavors. For instance, some sweeter wines like Gewurztraminer might pair best with sweet desserts. You’ll taste the best flavors of spicy wines like Syrah when paired with heavier fare like pot roast or flavorful cheeses like Havarti.
Before writing off a varietal, try pairing it with a compatible dish and see if your palate picks up the nuances.
About the author: Shannon Cutts is first and foremost a birdie mama (to a very pretty and quite precocious grey parrot named Pearl.) She is also an author, freelance writer, speaker, mentor, nonprofit director, and lover of wine and retro threads.