The new year is a great time to resolve to follow your interests, deepen your hobbies, and become an expert at something. But getting into wine isn't just about knowing more stuff, it's also about knowing yourself—getting a better sense of what you like and what you're looking for in the wine that you drink. Here are five ways you can get more out of your wine experience in 2012.
1. Pick a Focus
The world of wine is vast and varied—you couldn't master it all at once if you tried, and buying blindly doesn't add to your wine knowledge in any organized way. Instead, train your mind and your tastebuds with a more narrow focus.
Commit to drinking only syrah (or some other single grape) for a month or two. Read our intro to the grape and tasting report, and commit to a mixed case, either focused on one region or sampling different bottles from a few regions to compare them. (Be sure to taste some examples from the Rhone in France to get a sense of the classics.)
Drink syrah (or whatever grape you choose to focus on) until you know it inside out: what the grape tastes when ripe, when less ripe, when aged in oak, when made in stainless steel. Drink syrah until you've discovered your favorite foods to eat alongside it, and until you have a sense of what you like best in wines made from it. Then, when you've explored and really gotten to know syrah, you're ready to move on to something new.
2. Read A Book
If you're a beginner, seek out an accessible guide, such as Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl's Drink This: Wine Made Simple, which helps you through tasting wine one iconic grape at a time, letting you know what you might find in each bottle.
If you're getting a bit more serious, it might be helpful to have a reference book on hand, such as The Oxford Companion to Wine, which can answer pretty much any question that arises along your wine journey.
3. Get Acquainted With Your Tastebuds
Though you can learn a lot from reading a book, there is absolutely no substitute for tasting and figuring out what you like. The most important task ahead of a beginning wine lover is to get to know your palate, and figure out what you're looking for in wine. Do you like rich, full-bodied reds? Or lighter ones? Are you excited about earthiness? Do you crave laser-sharp acidity in whites? Of course, you'll want different wines for different meals, but getting to know your taste can help you wind up with sips you're happy with more of the time.
One great way to get exposed to different wines and different regions is to attend the free tastings at your local wine shop. Check out their websites for a schedule, and don't be afraid to chat up whoever's pouring—often, it's a representative from the importer or distributor who knows quite a bit about each bottle.
One of the good things about these free events is that they're usually just a few bottles at a time—you won't overwhelm your tastebuds or your memory. Still, write down any bottles you like for later reference!
It can also be fun to taste in a group. Pick a theme and invite a few friends to bring a bottle or contribute to the bottom line.
4. Shop For A Shop
Check out different wine shops in your local area until you find one with knowledgeable staff who are interested in chatting about what wines you like. Don't assume every shop is good for everyone—you're really seeking a retailer that shares your taste and interests, whether it's a focus on Old World wines or lesser-known values. Ideally, you should be able to point at one bottle that you liked in the shop and be guided to others that might also appeal.
5. Protect Your Bottles, Practice Safe Storage
As a budding wine lover, you may be tempted to fill up the decorative wine rack you keep next to the stove or fireplace. Watch out! You may be cooking your wine and letting it oxidize by storing it in these warm spots, and then your prized collection won't taste its best. If you're not quite ready to invest in a wine cooler, be sure to keep your wine delicious by storing it in a cool basement (or your refrigerator.)
Are you hoping to learn about—and enjoy—wine more this year? How do you plan to go about it?