Category Archives: Books

Get Schooled

Perhaps you’ve recently had an “Aha!” wine—the swirl, sniff, and sip that paused the spinning world. Maybe you’ve long ago fallen down the wine rabbit hole, and then started following the wine event calendars at your local wine shops. Or maybe you have ten years of wine geekery under your belt, and have participated in a monthly wine tasting group for a few years, where you endeavor to explore a specific varietal or region each gathering.

Regardless of your experience level, take another step. Curiosity desires knowledge and experience. Below you’ll find a collection of next steps, starting with the simple and moving toward the advanced.

Book shelf of the obsessed

Read

The sheer number of wine regions and styles overwhelms many new to wine. Now is the time to get your hands on one excellent wine book, ideally a thorough and approachable romp through the core regions and styles. Importantly, reading this solid primer provides enough information to make the next steps more comfortable and pleasurable.

Recommendations:

  • Windows on the World by Kevin Zraly
  • The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil — Don’t let the title mislead. I find MacNeil’s writing creative and buoyant. Read all materials prefacing the wine regions, and then read a handful of core regions to whet your appetite. Move on to the next step before finishing the book.
Flight of Syncline wines

Flight of Syncline wines

Flights

Start seeking opportunities to taste 3-8 wines at a time. Tasting wines in isolation provides little insight. The connective and comparative judgments fall short when three weeks have passed between your two most recent glasses of Loire Sauvignon Blanc. Subscribe to a handful of local specialty wine shops’ newsletters. Most of them, at least the ones worth knowing, hold tastings either weekly or monthly. Whether it’s a flight of wines from around the world, or a comparative tasting of five Washington Syrahs, the experience will elevate your understanding of and pleasure with wine.

Wine School

I can hear the moans. “Really?” Yes, really. Sitting down at a table with other wine curious individuals and a reputable teacher will take your understanding and appreciation to new heights. Depending upon the course provider, the costs need not be prohibitive.

Recommended Courses:

  • Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) — provides 4 levels of study. Level 2 is a great place to start for anybody who has already endeavored in steps one and two above.
  • Research “wine schools” or “wine classes” in your area. Many cities have unique institutions serving their communities, some of which partner with broader institutions like WSET.

Wine Tasting Group

This step can arguably be placed anywhere in the process. However, I have found most who participate in wine tasting groups have at least participated in two of the three steps above, if not all. Having a grounding in winemaking, regions, and styles greatly enhances a groups ability to dig in to thoughtfully procured flights. Plus, where else do you meet a group of 8+ wine lovers who want to gather weekly or monthly to focus on the wines at hand?

Fin

Take another step forward. The beguiling bottles that await will not disappoint. It is often a rabbit hole experience, and a wholly more pleasurable one than what we’ve started experiencing since January 20th.

Tasting a vertical flight of Apolloni Ruby Vineyard Pinot Noir

Ruby Vineyard vertical at Apolloni Vineyard

Wine Literature Must Haves

In my previous post, Buying Wine, I mentioned the anxiety many feel when purchasing wine. The plethora of options at most wine retailers leads people to often reach for the comfortable–old trusty–or pick a varietal, price point, and label that aligns with their mood, and then speed out of that daunting environment. The following list of wine literature essentials will help move you from uncomfortable, to curious, to confident.

Wagon Wine’s must haves

Wine: A Tasting Course by Marnie Old

Marie Old, a sommelier based out of Philadelphia, has written the wine primer–the ideal introduction to wine. Covering varietals, winemaking, tasting, purchasing, and wine regions, this book is all encompassing without overwhelming. In fact, it can lead a wine newbie into the mysterious depths of the wine world, while still keeping the reader engaged, intrigued, and light on the toes. Tasteful graphics benefit and deepen the reader’s understanding. I recommend this book for anybody interested in learning more–anyone tugged by curiosity thanks to the experience with a delightful bottle, a first winery tour, or a life long enjoyment of wine without the accompanying awareness.

The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil

Does the original tug now have you bound infinitely to the glowing light, the mystery that is wine? Karen MacNeil has written my preferred reference book. I, however, fully encourage the passionate wine drinker to dive head first into this book and climb out at the last page. Many would recommend other books for this purpose and level of knowledge (Zraly comes to mind, and I do recommend Window’s on the World Complete Wine Course); however, I find MacNeil’s style and tone inviting, smile inducing, and profoundly insightful. I especially appreciate her writing in first segment, which covers varietals, winemaking, pairing, tasting, storage, vintage variation, serving…it is thorough. This is all covered in the first 110 pages before exploring the world of wine, the countries and regions any wine lover should explore. At 860 pages, this deserves the daunting title, though when you start reading your shoulders will relax, and your glass will swirl and tip back effortlessly.

Washington Wines and Wineries: The Essential Guide by Paul Gregutt

Does Washington have your attention? Do you wonder what all the hype over Washington wine is about–the high scores? Are you part of the industry, but need to deepen your knowledge of Washington wine specifically? Paul Gregutt, wine writer and now winemaker, wrote this thorough book which covers the history of wine in Washington, the AVAs, varietals, noteworthy vineyards, reputable and up-and-coming wineries. The second edition was released in 2010, and I would imagine a 3rd edition isn’t too far off (though I have no knowledge of this). Some of the up-and-comers of 2010 have arrived! The world of Washington wine is evolving rapidly. This book fills an important niche in the world of wine literature.

The Science of Wine: From Vine to Glass by Jamie Goode

This book explores the science behind most aspects of wine, including the vineyards (soil, pests, pruning, trellis systems, etc.), winemaking (oxygen, barrels, alcohol reduction techniques, sulfur dioxide, brett, closures, etc.), and our interaction with wine (tasting, psychology, saliva, flavor chemistry, etc.). While not written for the novice, Goode writes accessibly for those readers passionate about the content. A scientific background will benefit your understanding, but wade in to the depths even if you lack this expertise. This book deepened my understanding of the manifold factors influencing my experience with the wines I uncork.

Concluding Remarks

Remember, an excellent wine steward at a trusted shop will always prove invaluable, even to most wine fanatics. Wine stewards at any reputable store understand their inventory well, and familiarize themselves with the wines both academically and through tastings. No wine expert can taste every wine, and so wine stewards who passionately know and appreciate their bottles serve a needed niche. Take advantage of their knowledge.

Increasing your knowledge can reduce your stress and deepen your pleasure when both buying and enjoying wine. Cheers to the seductive allure of wine!