When asked about the best way to learn about wine I have a simple answer: taste as much as you can.
There are so many wines from so many regions that it is a lifetime’s work to be an expert in more than a couple. Every wine is different every year, and wines from the same varieties grown in the same regions display distinct differences caused by how vines are grown, the weather and land and skills of the winemaker.
If you open a bottle of wine with dinner every night of the year then you’ll only have experienced 365 wines, a drop in the ocean of world wines. And how much will you remember of each bottle?
So it makes sense to attend wine tastings where you can sample many more wines than one could afford to buy and drink for oneself. And in order to remember details of the different wines, taking notes is invaluable. Of course you’ll record the name, vintage and cost of each wine, but you should also write down your impressions.
The idea of writing tasting notes scares many, but there is nothing to fear. Your notes are private to you and will help you remember the taste of each wine, what you thought of it and whether it was value for money.
Wines rarely taste of grapes but you’ll find flavours that remind you of berries, vanilla, various fruits, leather, tobacco and so on.
You can create a database of notes on your computer, use the unbeatable Cellar Tracker software online at www.cellartracker.com or use a old-fashioned ruled paper notepad.
Or how about a proper tasting notes book? The Wine Journal by Jennifer McCartney is a small hardback book with 252 pages laid out for recording wine details and comments. In a 28 page preface Jennifer gives wine tasting tips, demolishes some wine myths and has a glossary. The book is beautifully and produced and looks and feels good. Full colour pages that remind me of wallpaper with their repeated patters of vine and grapes, and (strangely) olives on a branch separate sections.
The pages for notes have headings: Wine name, Price, Tasted where & when, Vintage, Country region, Comments, Shared with, Served with, and Overall rating with 10 white boxes to enter your score. However there is no mention in the book about scoring wine or how to use these boxes.
Unfortunately the book is too large to fit in a jacket pocket and, at 16 ounces, rather heavy for a handbag so I can’t see people taking it to tastings though it’d be good for those who frequently entertain at home. The publishers claim the book “is the ultimate resource”, which it isn’t, and someone should have spotted the howler when it names “the most famous winemaking region in America” as “Nappa Valley”.
Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing (November 11, 2010)
Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 4.6 x 0.9 inches
Weight: 16 oz.
Disclosure: The writer received a review copy of The Wine Journal from the publishers.
Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape. Now available as an eBook.
The Wine Journal
A solid well produced book to keep details and your impressions of more than 250 wines
Pinot Noir Glass
Riedel (pronounced 'ree-dell) make wine glasses that geeks demand, Yes, they're expensive but if wine matters then a good glass will show it to its best. This one is designed for Pinot Noir and there are specific glasses for most varieties and wines. Treat yourself.