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Wine 101: 5 Tips To Start Learning About Wine

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What you need to know about wine

Your journey begins here

Written by Carlos Smith

If you’re just beginning your journey into wine, it’s not unusual to feel like you’re on information overload. While the world of wine may seem overwhelming at first, the more you learn, the smaller (and better) it gets. As the industry is constantly evolving and changing, any time is the right time to begin imbibing wine knowledge. And there are now more resources available and a larger demand for wine knowledge than ever before.

Still not sure where to start? You came to the right place. Here are 5 simple tips to make the most out of your wine journey:

1. Find Your Focus

First, it’s important to learn how different wines present themselves to you and your palette. Although it may seem counterintuitive, the quickest and easiest way to progress is to focus on a specific grape or wine region. Resist the urge to shuffle selections in favor of concentrating on one area. For instance, take the red grape Pinot Noir. If every time you go wine shopping, you pick up a different bottle of Pinot Noir, you will soon create a subconscious template for how Pinot Noir presents itself to you. Before long, your instincts will guide you through its defining traits. You may not yet know how to verbalize it, but when you do learn about other grapes, the contrast will be astounding. By simplifying your focus from the start, you’ll gain a deeper understanding—one that will pay dividends down the road.

 2. Know the Old and the New

The defining categories in wine today are “New World” and “Old World” wines. This division will outline any wine’s origin and the expectation for how it will perform in your glass. New World wines are generally driven by intense bold fruit flavors and/or oak flavors. Old World wines typically focus on earth-driven flavors that range in boldness. Of course, New and Old World wines share intrinsic wine DNA, so you will always find overlapping flavors and characteristics. And as winemakers grow more innovative and seek to set themselves apart, there are a growing number of examples that challenge these conventional notions and regional traditions. However, identifying the differences between Old World and New World is a solid first step.

3. Follow the Science

Learning about how the winemaking process influences wine structure is essential and (like winemaking itself) it also takes time. The science of wine begins at fermentation and winemakers guide their wines through the fermentation process to achieve specific styles of wine flavor and structure. Did you know that if you were to crush wild grapes up, the naturally occurring yeast on the skin will automatically begin fermenting into wine? But it’s certainly not that easy.

Complex relationships like the balance between acid and sugar, the grape tannins (which account for a wine’s mouthfeel), and something as seemingly simple as a wine’s color (whites deepen in color as they oxidize while reds lighten) can tell you a lot about what is going on in your glass. Like any field of study, these concepts expand in complexity as you delve deeper. But don’t stress it; focus on the basic science of winemaking to build a strong foundation.

4. Go Beyond Books

Wine books can be a fun and helpful tool, but to truly digest the information, you must plant seeds into your long-term memory. A great way to do this is by opening up a bottle with your book. For example, while reading up on the Spanish wine region of Rías Baixas, sip on an Albarino which hails from the area. As you're studying, taste the wine slowly, contemplate the flavors, and savor the sensations you experienced along with the information you absorbed. You may not immediately remember everything, but the goal is to forge strong neural pathways in your brain – pathways to quickly access this information later on. Of course, there are other ways to accomplish this, and visiting the region itself is the best and most immersive way. But however you learn, make this internalization a fun part of the adventure. At the end of the day, a little concentration and meditation can go a long way.

5. Stay Curious

The most common mistake in learning about wine (and almost any field of study for that matter) is latching onto an idea and stubbornly applying it to every scenario you come across. Very frequently, as soon as you gain confidence and dig deeper, you’ll discover other concepts and ideas that turn your initial understanding of wine upside down. So much of the mysterious allure that first draws us to wine stems entirely from tribal knowledge passed through the community. And there is nothing wrong with that. But wherever you are on your wine journey, never forget to stay humble, keep an open mind, and remain curious. Oh, and don’t take it too seriously or you’ll miss out on the fun! 

Remember, the world you are embarking upon is unlike any other industry on the globe. There’s no formula. Fine wine cannot be replicated. And any number of factors can drastically impact a wine’s taste and success. So, where do you start? What do you like? If a wine is generally accepted or recognized on every corner of the earth, then it’s worth learning about. The choice is yours and the knowledge you gain can be forever. Cherish it, utilize it, and carry it close to your heart wherever you go. After all, a journey into the world of wine is a journey of self-discovery.

~

Carlos Solorzano-Smith is the founder of Aspen Cellar Consulting, Aspen Hospitality Group, and a prominent sommelier based in Aspen, Colorado. Recognized as an industry expert, his expertise is only matched by his passion. Carlos began his career in hospitality working for various luxury hotels and high-end restaurants across the nation, studying wine under the tutelage of top master sommeliers. In 2018, he launched Aspen Cellar Consulting, which has helped clients worldwide enhance both their wine collections and wine knowledge. In 2021, he launched Aspen Hospitality Group, a restaurant partnership dedicated to offering incomparable dining experiences.

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