Wine and Walnuts

A blog about eating, drinking, cooking and reading in the not so Deep South

Cheap and Easy Ways to Learn More About Wine, Part Two

Image by David Niblack

Image by David Niblack

Earlier this week I wrote about 5 cheap and easy ways to learn more about wine via online resources.  Today’s post is about 4 other great, but more labor-intensive, ways. These are by far the best ways to learn, because it involves actually experiencing wine, and who doesn’t want to do that? 

Because no matter how much you read or study wine, it won’t really start to make sense until you get your taste buds in on the action.


This is, hands down, the absolute best way to learn about wine and what you like.  And what you decidedly don’t, which is also very good information to have.  Many tastings are free or have a very minimal charge, and the folks pouring are usually very in the know about all things wine. And they’ll happily answer any questions you have.

I’ve gotten out of my comfort zone many times, expanded my wine smarts, and tasted many wonderful wines at tastings. Plus you meet lots of other wine lovers, so maybe you’ll make some new friends.  Or drinking buddies.

If you go to enough tastings, at some point you’ll discover a favorite wine, or a favorite wine region, or a favorite varietal, and your world will be all the better for it. 

There are many, and I mean many, wine tastings to choose from here in Wilmington, NC, more than I could get to in a given week even if I tried, so start exploring!

Become a regular at your favorite restaurant

And by regular I mean, at least once a week, consistently.  (I’ve worked in so many restaurants where folks come in and complain if they can’t get a table, announcing in a whiney voice, “but we’re REGULARS,” yet when you find out how often they come in, it’s like once or twice a month or something.  For this tip to work well, you have to actually BE a regular.)

If you are a regular at a favorite restaurant with a good wine list, the staff will eventually become familiar with what you like, and, if you express interest, you will get great and informative advice on other wines you might like that fit your preferences. And some that may just expand your preferences.  I’ve seen this in action many, many times, in every restaurant I’ve worked in.

What happens is, your server gets a bead on what you like, suggests something similar that just got on the list, or, tips you off to something they’ve personally tried recently, or the owner will clue you in to something they got that’s not even on the list yet, and so on. You’ll get the inside scoop. You get it.

Become a regular at your favorite wine store

Restaurants can be great places to explore wine when you’re a regular, but finding a favorite wine store and shopping there frequently can be even better.  If you find a wine shop with a knowledgeable staff, you’ll be amazed by how much you can learn, and how many great wines you can discover, if you engage with your salesperson.  It’s the same principal as above, essentially. 

Once you’re a regular, the staff at the shop become familiar with your preferences, and then you get a personalized experience every time you come in — suggestions just for you, based on your likes and dislikes.  Some shops even have databases that record every wine you buy, so if you go in and can’t remember what you bought last time that you loved, your salesperson can just look it up for you. Also, you’ll be able to special order wines, and wine shop staff will often call you when something comes in they know you’d like, and so on and so on.

These last two tips are such good ones because, restaurant staff and wine shop personnel have so much inside knowledge about all kinds of wines you just can’t get unless you work in the industry, and they get to taste many, many amazing wines in the course of their daily work.  So you want to access their big ol’ wine brains. Seriously.

Start your own tasting club

Here’s one I’ve been wanting to do for, oh, just forever, but haven’t gotten around to yet. Since I work in a restaurant, plus go to lots of tastings on my own, I feel like I’m expanding my knowledge all the time, but this would be a great way to do it in the comfort of your own home, among friends.  How fun would that be?

You can set it up any way you want to, and the themes you could choose are endless.  For example, you could invite some friends over and sample a few new world Pinots Noirs, say, choosing a couple from California and a couple from Oregon and noting the differences in style and flavor profile between regions and/or winemakers, or, choose a new world Pinot, and one from France, and compare the differences, or compare and contrast several oaked Chardonnays with a few unoaked ones, or, do an all white tasting with a Riesling, a Sauvignon Blanc and a Chardonnay, noting how the different varietals express themselves, or do an all red tasting along the same lines. 

Or, you could compare bubblies from different regions — Prosecco from Italy, Cava from Spain, Sparkling wine from California, and champagne from France.  Now that’s a tasting I’d want to go to.

I could go on forever with ideas here, I’ve got hundreds of ‘em, but you get it.  Heck, you could even have an all boxed wine tasting if’n ya wanted to, why not?!  (I’m listening to Drive By Truckers right now, so perhaps that’s why that idea popped into my head. I think the line, “good thing your liver‘s made of leather” is what did it.)

So there ya go, a few more cheap and easy ways to learn more about wine.  So start tasting!


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About The Author

Kimberly Houston


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