Wine Talk

Snooth User: PAPRINCE71

need wine lesson 101

Posted by PAPRINCE71, Jun 11, 2010.

I'm new, i would like to know all i can about wine, where do i star???

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Reply by VegasOenophile, Jun 11, 2010.

Reading through topics that look interesting to you on these forums is a good place.  There are lots of websites and generic "encyclopedia-type" books you can find cheaply on the basis of varietals, growing regions, etc.  Or just ask specific questions and the group will answer. :-)  A votré santé

Reply by PAPRINCE71, Jun 11, 2010.

a la votre my friend, that sound good...

Reply by Manoavino, Jun 11, 2010.

It may sound silly but when I was getting started many years ago I got a lot out of the "Wine for Dummies" books. They are fun and easy.

Reply by StevenBabb, Jun 11, 2010.

i second the wine for dummies book.... everyday language... good read..... but it does gloss over some things...

SOTHEBY'S ENCYCLOPEDIA OF WINE...... you can find it on amazon new or used..... it's a complete guide to everything on wine regions, varietals, growing and viticulture.... they keep it pretty up to date with new volumes every year or every other year.... it's a handy tool for even master sommeliers..... i study it regularly....

Reply by Carly Wray, Jun 11, 2010.

Hi there, you've come to the right place! Don't miss our Wine 101 series - there will be a new installment every week.

And I have to second Manoavino; I got my first "Wine for Dummies" book in 1995, and it was a great help. I still have it!

Reply by zufrieden, Jun 11, 2010.

A lot depends on your taste and style.  If you want either the intellectual or layperson approach, there are plenty of well-written introductory books and encyclopedias available. Most of my own books now focus heavily on France and to a lesser extent, Germany and Italy, so these are not the best recommendations to someone looking to branch out in all directions (which I think is exactly what you should do - in order to develop your own interests in regions, varietals and producers).

I started my serious foray into wine using The Oxford Companion to Wine (Jancis Robinson) and a number of books by Hugh Johnson which were popular at the time.  Sotheby's Encyclopedia, by the way, was another favorite.

Of course, some of these books are dated within a few years and might end up as doorstops.  But that's a small price to pay for a lot of information on a most captivating subject!

Reply by TheWineBitch, Jun 12, 2010.

I have some great tips and tricks on my blog currently at .  I happen to believe that wine is a definite exploration. There is no silver bullet to finding the perfect wine for YOU. Try to get a tasting book, or even a cheap little journal, take notes on tasting and keep labels. If you like a wine's flavor and makeup and you go onto other varietals withing the same vineyard or winery, you might find yourself actually finding something you really enjoy. Once you've found your varietal, explore from there and then move on to the next varietal. Happy tasting!

Reply by heartsleeve, Jun 14, 2010.

My advice would be to start with a wine you tasted that you really enjoyed.  Google it, find out where it is from, who makes it, what grapes they use, any special techniques or process in vinifying it.  Everytime you read something about that wine you dont understand, dig deeper until you find the answers to all your questions.  Each step in the discovery process may lead you down another path, but keep reading, and keep tasting.  I call this following your nose, and sooner rather than later, you will have a nose for wine.

It is a lifelong journey you are embarking upon -- ENJOY THE RIDE!

Reply by Uwe Kristen, Jun 14, 2010.

I recommend attending a beginner's wine class. There are many fantastic wine books available but the information can be intimidating if you don't put it in the right context.

Reply by Winelines, Jun 15, 2010.

This is all great advice. I'd add the comment that following a writer whose style you like can be a good step. Modesty forbids me to mention Wine Wisdom on The World Atlas of Wine and The Oxford Companion to Wine offer a vast wealth of information but the best advice is to try as many different wines as is possible and make notes. Nobody else need see them so make sure that what you write is what you feel! Find a good retailer and let them know what you're doing - unless they're mad, they'll help you with ideas of what to try etc. It's a long, lovely process. I've been at it over 40 years and I learn every day!! If you grind to a halt, email me!

Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Jun 15, 2010.

Ditto time -


Wine for dummies is a great resource, and what we have here is a pretty great resource too!

Reply by Matchupichu, Jun 15, 2010.

I like to read biographys on people's experiences in wine.  This gives me (I feel) an understanding of wine from someone else's point of view. By comparing/contrasting my personal opinion (feelings) with what that writer feels, I feel that I can sort of take a step back and understand the whole picture.  I especially like Kermitt Lynch, a truly great wine writer.  However, if you are looking to learn varietals, customs, and just general knowledge of wine (which I am beginning to understand that you are) I'd stick with what the majority have said to read: Wine for Dummies, it is on my bookshelf as well, and it has been a tremendous help!  But you don't have to take my word for it!  

Reply by jkamer, Jun 15, 2010.

Hello.  I'm fairly new to the wine game.  A few years ago I decided that most malt beverages just didn't have much flavor.  I began looking into the many varietals of wine.  Our local grocery store (I know, I know) began selling "Crane Lake" wines for $4.00.  We tried at least four varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Merlot and Pinot Noir.  They tasted quite nice and I began using them in most of my cooking.  After receiving a subscription to Wine Dictator, I mean Spectator, I became more curious about higher priced wines.  We did a taste test with $6 to $16 wines compared with the Crane Lake.  We decided that wines beginning at about $12 gave us enough greater enjoyment to justify the expense.  We use the higher priced wines for our "special occasions" and the Crane Lake for everyday.  I'd like to solicit opinions as to whether or not we actually have palettes that can distinguish gerat wine from run of the mill.  We have tried some of the Spectator recommended $15-$30 wines and have a hard time identifying the various flavors that the experts mention in their descriptions.

Reply by Matchupichu, Jun 15, 2010.

Jkamer,when I started drinking wine, I though ten dollars was too much to spend on wine, albiet I was 19 with a fake ID.  But as I started to drink more wine I found that I grew tired of the 2 Buck Chuck and Rex Golliath and started to visit wine stores to educate my thirsty palette.  This is where I recieved some of the best information on wine.  You may want to start going to your local wine shop and develop a relatioship with that person, once they get to know you, they can start reccomending wines that youmight enjoy and that are also in your budget.  I admit, I do spend more on wine now than I did last year, but that doesn't mean that you have to.  However, once you start comparing higher quality wine with lower quality (this doesn't particularly reflect in price), I think you might be able to tell the difference.  Also, what experts mention in their descriptions on wine on pertains to their palette.  Unless you feel that their tongue tastes things exactly the way your tongue does, I would ignore what they say and listen to what your tongue tells you what it tastes, but don't forget to let your nose do some of the work as well!  Hope this helps!

Reply by jkamer, Jun 19, 2010.

Thanks, Matchupichu.   I appreciate your answer and it does make sense to me.  There is a wine merchant at our local "Farmer's Market"  known as the "North Market" and we plan to start spending more time there. 

Reply by Beaconheath, Sep 30, 2010.

Hello, jkamer.

I'm also new to wine, and, like you, I can only taste fermented grapes, not flowers, apricots, grass, or leather.

I would defend the use of budget wines at my stage, where the object is to learn to appreciate the difference between, say, cab and shiraz (rather than, say, between one company's 1993 and 2004 vintages).

Actually Crane Lake took five silver medals and three bronze at the 2010 California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition (results can be viewed here:  Other budget labels placed well too, including several belonging to the Bronco Wine group, like Charles Shaw etc. (info:, Barefoot, Bota Box, Carlo Rossi, CK Mondavi, Gallo Family, Oak Leaf (Walmart), Sutter Home Family, and Tisdale--all selling wines for less than $7/bottle.  These results tend to get confirmed three and four times over by other competitions (a list of various important wine competitions can be found here:  If expert judges who have tasted hundreds or thousands of wines score budget wines side by side with pricier ones in a blind tasting, basic quality isn't the issue.

The big volume producers in CA know their business: where to source and negotiate for good grapes, how to identify credentialled winemakers looking for work, how to ship and market their products.  They sell appealing wines of genuine varietal character.

Does that mean there's no difference whatsover between a budget wine and a full-priced one?  No.  The huge concerns draw their grapes from lots of vineyards all over the state and blend them into predictable (--predictably good--) wines.  Connoisseurs, however, have tried all these and grown jaded with them.  They look for the individuality, the never-tasted-before nuance, that comes from grapes grown in a unique, small-scale terroir.  Also, very few budget wines win double golds or get best of show.  And, because Pinot Noir vines require so much manual attention, it's hard to find cheap Pinot Noir of top quality.

The question, then, is whether it's worth paying from double to ten times the price, just to get that extra 5% of uniqueness or perfection.  For me, probably not.  For someone with lots of experience in wine and plenty of cash on hand, maybe once in a while.

Reply by dmcker, Sep 30, 2010.

Quite a few problems with your analysis, Beaconheath, even though it's good that you're applying a questioning mind, and I definitely agree with some of the things you say.

You can search the forums for threads discussing the value of and problems with wine competitions and fairs. What industrial wine producers do to their wines is another issue that has been discussed some but could benefit from further discussion here. And 'connoisseurs' aren't all 'jaded' and only looking for some quirky new nuance. Etc.

Unfortunately I have to run out the door to work right now, and can't give this discussion the time it deserves. Hopefully someone like GregT will weigh in, and I'll try to check back in a day or three (busy project right now)...

Reply by Stephen Harvey, Oct 1, 2010.

I have to agree with dmcker, the generalisations about wine can be a bit dangerous.

One of my measures with a wine is does it perform consistently?  Many cheap wines can have a great [and often once only] vintage.  Many reasons for this market economics, marketing ie over deliver once and then sell a couple of dud vintages to the punters, dumb luck etc etc.

Currently the world glut of wine which sees supply significantly exceed demand does allow for many great bargain wines which are over delivering on quality.

Large producers do have benefits of economies of scale and often allow winemakers to produce small batch wines and therefore great wines can be produced at a relatively low cost.

The other thing to remember is that a high score for a wine is a point of time score and many cheaper high scoring wines will have little benefit from any bottle age, so what you get is all you are going to get.  A really great wine will often give a different experience from year to year and often evolves into a better wine in the glass.

AS to what you taste in a wine, it comes from thinking hard about the wine.  My 14yo daughter loves to try and find bouquet nuances in all wines we try and she is not bad.  The thing to remember is that there is no right or wrong answer to what you see, smell and taste in a wine.

So as many Snothers have said in this thread and other threads, wine is a journey and you find many different routes to take and all are fascinating and different.  Forming opinions and being prepared to debate them without taking things too serious or personal is a great way to learn.

Reply by GregT, Oct 1, 2010.

Steven and Dmucker both made good points and I'd like to add that there's no reason one needs to start out by learning the difference between shiraz and cab.  The whole idea of selling wine by variety really came about in CA in the 1970s, so it's not like that's some traditional way to learn about wine.  Moreover, there's no reason to imagine that particular grapes always and forever have particular characteristics once made into wine.  Some do retain their individuality more than others, but it's a matter of degree rather than absolute.  One of the problems is that people get the idea that "grape X tastes like . . ." and then they try a wine made with that grape from somewhere else and they criticize it because it lacks "typicity".  They feel all sophisticated in saying so but what they're really saying is that the wine didn't conform to their preconceptions.

"Connoisseurs, however, have tried all these and grown jaded with them.  They look for the individuality, the never-tasted-before nuance, that comes from grapes grown in a unique, small-scale terroir.  Also, very few budget wines win double golds or get best of show.  And, because Pinot Noir vines require so much manual attention, it's hard to find cheap Pinot Noir of top quality"

Beaconheath - I'm not sure that's entirely correct either.  You might be surprised if you taste wine with so-called connoisseurs.  It's not like most people have any idea whether a wine is from a small vineyard or not and I think that's the wrong approach anyway.  The people who know that such and such wine comes from such and such vineyard may rhapsodize about the limestone or granite that they claim they can taste, but IMHO that's about 90% BS.  I've yet to meet anyone who can taste a wine w/out knowing what it is and proclaim that it's grown in this or that soil.  And that includes some of the best winemakers in the world.  If I tell you that the wine is from some particular place and vineyard, you may convince yourself that you're tasting the character of the vineyard, and people who love Burgundy and German Riesling do that all the time, but I think most of that is the power of suggestion. 

Nor is it a matter of Pinot Noir requiring so much manual attention.  Problem is that we in the US focus on a very small number of grapes - for reds that would be Cab, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel, and we forget that there are thousands of grapes.  It's why you get these threads where someone tried a Malbec and they want to know if anyone else has.  Pinot Noir and Zinfandel and even Merlot can be difficult to grow.  PN ripens early so it is often planted in areas that are cooler, with earlier frost.  But in CA it can make a pretty big wine.  People compare those to Burgundies and complain because it's different.  Tasting some of those blind or for the first time, you'd never identify them as the same variety.

Merlot can be a real problem and Zin too, as it ripens unevenly and has its own set of problems.  And it's completely different if grown in different countries. 

The point of wines like Crane Lake, etc., is to have a reliable product on the market.  Think of it as something like a fast food place.  The idea is consistency above all.  Gallo made hundreds of millions of dollars doing that.  They didn't market by variety, they would call the wine something like Pink Chablis or Hearty Burgundy, but every bottle was the same.  You do what you need to get that effect, meaning you "correct" the acidity, the sugar, the alcohol, the dry extract and everything else about the wine.  In other words, you take out everything that would have made the wine unique precisely because you DON'T want it to be unique. 

I'm not saying that's per se a bad thing.  But that's not what some people are looking for when they drink a glass of wine. If you get a Whopper, it's the same in every state at every time of day.  If you go to an old-time diner where they actually cook instead of opening cans, you can also get a burger, but unless they bought frozen patties, it's not going to be the same as the one down the highway.  And if they made their pie w/out opening canned apples and pre-made crust, it's not going to be the same as the pie down the highway either.  It's not expensive food, but it can be honest and good.

Wine too.  You don't have to pay a lot of money for a good bottle.  In my case, if I'm buying wine, I want the equivalent of that diner.  Sometimes it's a big misfire, but not always. 

I'd suggest that if you want to learn about wine, you look in that direction.  And I really wouldn't worry about trying to identify various flavors or smells.  Most people can't do that either.  You can practice by tasting your coffee, your orange juice, your steak.  Even if you go to Starbucks, you can try four or five different coffees.  It's just about paying attention and one of the problems with Americans is that we have spent 40 years not paying attention to what we're eating.  Salt, corn sweetner, and fat is the basic diet - that's in just about every packaged food sold.  So when people come to wine they think it's a very complex experience but actually it shouldn't be.

Anyhow, best of luck!

Reply by Stephen Harvey, Oct 1, 2010.

Greg makes a great point

replicating stuff works - look at software, cars etc

Let me take cars

The world is full of very competent safe Japanese cars, Toyotas, Mazdas, Nissans.  Affordable and get you from A to B. No debate they do it very competently, everytime you drive one it is the same experience, safe reliable affordable

But do you want a trip or a ride

There is NO justification on logical grounds for a Ferrari 454, half a mill plus of over the top Italian extravagence, but hey it is a buzz, drove one once for ten minutes. It was an Oh Shit experience.

I had the same experience when I had my first Penfolds Grange [20+ years ago] and my first d'Yquem.  As Austen Powers would say.... "Yeah Baby"

There is no rational explanation for why, but thats how I found it?

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