Education for Wine Lovers Dinner with the winemaker A popular type of wine event is the winemaker dinner, a multicourse dinner at which a winemaker or winery executive is the guest of honor. Wine drinkers pay a fixed price for the meal and taste various wines from the featured winery that are matched to each course. As far as learning goes, winemaker dinners rank below seminar-style wine tastings but above many informal, reception-style tastings. These dinners offer the chance to taste wines under ideal circumstances — with food — but
we find that most speakers disseminate very little information of any value and give you little opportunity to ask questions.
Blind man’s bluff One of the favorite diversions of wine tasters is tasting wines blind. Before you conjure up thoughts of darkened rooms, blindfolded tasters, or other forms of hanky-panky, let us explain that the tasters are not blind, the bottles are. Or anyway, the bottles have their faces covered. In blind tastings, the tasters don’t know the identities of the wines. The theory behind this exercise is that knowing the identities may prejudice the tasters to prefer (or dislike) a particular wine for its reputation rather than for “what’s in the glass,”as they say. Sometimes, extremely skilled tasters taste wines blind and try to identify them, in an effort to sharpen their tasting skills even further. If you don’t know enough about wine to be prejudiced by the labels, there’s little point in tasting blind. Nevertheless, there’s something about blind tasting that really helps you focus your concentration on what you’re tasting — and that’s always good practice.
Visiting the wineries One of the best — and most fun-filled — ways to learn about wine is to actually visit wine regions and, if possible, speak to the winemakers and producers about their wines. You get to immerse yourself in the region you visit — experiencing the climate firsthand, seeing the soil and the hills, touching the grapes, and so on. You can walk through the vineyards if you wish, visit nearby towns or villages, eat the local food, and drink the wine of the region. You discover that there’s something special about the people who devote their lives to making wine. Maybe it’s their creativity or their commitment to bringing pleasure to the world through their labor. Whatever the reason, they are exceptional people. We have found some of our dearest friends in wine regions throughout the world. When you do plan to visit a winery, you usually need to call or write ahead for an appointment. The major exceptions are a few of the large wineries in California that offer scheduled tours or self-guided visits. Many wineries in the United States do have tasting rooms that are open every day during the busy tourism months and on weekends during the winter. In these tasting rooms, you can sample wines (sometimes for a small fee), buy wine, and buy souvenirs such as T-shirts or sweatshirts with the logo of the winery imprinted on them. If you visit wineries that are less geared toward tourism — which is the case in most of the rest of the wine world — you can simply sample the wines, talk to the winemaker or proprietor when he’s available (you have made an appointment, right?), take an informal tour of the winery, and buy some wine if you wish (an especially nice idea if the wine isn’t available back home). Don’t know the language? No problema. Don’t let your limited (or nonexistent) ability to speak the local language prevent you from visiting wine regions. These days, English is the nearly universal language of the wine world. Even if the person you’re visiting doesn’t speak English, he invariably has someone available (his wife, his son, or his dog) who does. Besides, wine itself is a universal language. A smile and a handshake go a long way towards communicating!
Armchair Travel Traveling around the world takes time and money. Alternatively, you can travel through the wine world from the comfort of your living room, letting the written word carry you to faraway wine regions. Many retail wine stores sell wine magazines, newsletters, and books. You can also find wine books in or near the cooking section of most book stores.
To taste, perchance to drink
In wine circles, tasting and drinking are two different activities. Tasting involves thoughtful evaluation of a wine’s quality, flavors, texture, aging potential, and so on; if more than a couple of wines are being tasted comparatively, usually tasters spit the wine out in order to keep their thinking clear. Drinking, on the other hand, involves consumption and sheer appreciation, without any particular analysis of the wine other than the judgment that you like it. (If you don’t like it, you don’t drink it.) Unless you’re a professional in the wine business, you don’t ever have to taste a wine seriously; you can just drink it. However, many wine drinkers
have discovered that wine tasting can be a fun way to learn more about wine.
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