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Wine 101

There’s an excellent article in this week’s NYT Dining & Wine section about wine — specifically, how to learn about wine. I highly recommend reading the article, but for you lazies out there, here’s a summary of what Eric Asimov had to say:

1. The best way to learn about wine is to drink it.
2. Open a bottle with dinner; eat and drink.
3. Take notes. No need to use flowery language; it’s most important to note whether you like it or not and how it tasted to you.
4. Repeat.

Ok, maybe that’s a bit simplistic, but I’m halfway through a bottle of burgundy on a semi-empty stomach so it’s a little hard to think any complex thoughts. But that’s really pretty much it.

Asimov recommends visiting a good wine shop and asking the salesperson to put together a mixed case of six reds and six whites. He suggests a budget of $250, which I think is very reasonable. Wine’s not a cheap pursuit, and while it’s not necessary to spend a ton of money, you don’t want to skimp — two-buck Chuck probably isn’t the best representation of cabernet sauvignon. The idea is to learn about a wide variety of wines and discover your general likes and dislikes by drinking them. After you finish the case, return to the wine shop with your notes and have them put together another case based on your preferences. Easy enough!

When it comes to wines, I have more enthusiasm than expertise, but I’ve amassed a pretty decent amount of knowledge over the past few years I’d like to add should you choose to embark on this tasty adventure:

1. If the people in a wine shop are snobs, walk right out. Wine folks are very passionate about wine, love to share their knowledge, and therefore tend to be really friendly. Purchasing wine can be intimidating, so why subject yourself to a smug bastard on top of that? I’ve only had a couple of bad wine shop experiences, one of which was in Georgetown, but that’s probably because it was Georgetown, after all.

2. Don’t bother with books and classes until you’ve tasted a lot of wines and have a good idea of what you like and don’t like — otherwise, they may just confuse you. After you’ve refined your tastes a bit and decide you really like chardonnay, for example, it’ll be that much more enjoyable and informative when you do take a class on that particular grape since you’re now ready to dig deeper into it.

3. Please, for the love of God, hold the glass by the stem! You’re not supposed to hold the glass by the bowl because the heat of your hand makes the wine too hot. You have no idea how many people I’ve seen — rich, so-called sophisticated people who everyone thinks are supposed to be wine experts because they’re rich — clutching their wine glasses like snot-nosed toddlers grabbing their sippy cups with sticky jam-covered fingers. Seriously, just holding the glass properly will probably gain you more respect with the sommelier. Or me, at least.

Here are few of my favorite wine shops in Chicago:

Just Grapes
560 W. Washington
312-627-WINE
What I love about Just Grapes is their two Enomatic machines, self-serve wine bars that dispense just the right amount for a tasting. It’s not free, but there’s something satisfying about filling your wine glass like you’d do from the soda fountain at Subway. There are over twenty wines rotated every two weeks or so.

Que Syrah
3726 N. Southport
773-871-8888
Lots of French wines, awesome name.

Lush
1306 S. Halsted and 2232 W. Roscoe
312-738-1900 and 773-281-8888
Every Sunday from 2-5 PM, Lush offers a complimentary tasting, usually of a single varietal. There aren’t many places that do such focused tastings for free.

2 Comments

  1. the budget babe wrote:

    Que Syrah must be THE single best name for a wine bar ever. I mean, EVER.

    Can you recommend a good winery in New England? Preferably near New Haven :)

    Tuesday, July 24, 2007 at 7:56 pm | Permalink
  2. Cat wrote:

    Well done. Most of these tips are good for people who are beginning to explore beer, too.

    The budget can be smaller for beer sampling, fortunately. Even the more expensive beers are rarely more than $10 for 12oz.

    One of the things that may make “don’t bother with books and classes until you’ve tasted a lot” more difficult is that not all brewers actually tell you on the label what style their beers are. That’s worth looking up and keeping track of, even before one does actual books & classes.

    Loving your blog.

    Friday, August 10, 2007 at 11:55 am | Permalink

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