DURING THE 1960s and '70s, this country enjoyed a great boom in wine, a boom manifested not only in wine production and sales, but also in home wine-making, in books and periodicals on wine, and in the formation of wine clubs.
There has also been in the past few years, an impressive increase in formal wine appreciation classes. A national association of wine appreciation instructors has been formed and now claims 400 members. In Europe courses are now offered for English-speaking students; the best known are in Paris, Bordeaux and Germany.
A widespread interest in learning about wine is obvious, and there are various ways for the beginner to educate himself without spending a lot of money.
It should be noted that an extremely useful practice for the wine novice, no matter what else he does, is keeping tasting notes. These should be kept in a small loose-leaf notebook or on 3-by-5 cards and filed so that the note for a wine already tasted can easily be found. The entry should include the name of the wine, the producer, the price paid, the date and place purchased and a few words about the wine itself. The beginner's goal should be to taste and record his impression of a wide variety of wines. The late Frank Schoonmaker, one of the leading wine experts in the world, wrote that he had tasting notes for more than 75,000 wines. Not many will reach that number, but as few as 100 or so well-kept tasting notes will be of value.
Although much knowledge about wines can be gained only by tasting wine, much can also be learned by studying. At present more than 100 books on wine are in print in the United States. These include introductory books, books dealing with the wines of only one country or even one wine region and books on special aspects of wine drinking or wine-making (for amateurs). Some of these books are excellent, some are satisfactory, and some appear to have been written rather hurriedly to take advantage of the current interest in wine.
A solid underpinning for a novice's wine education can be acquired simply by a careful reading of a good introductory book. In these days of galloping inflation it is good to know that one of the best such books, The Signet Book of Wine, by Alexis Bespaloff, costs only $1.95. It lives up to its subtitle, "A Complete Introduction," as well as any book could in just over 200 pages. Its table of contents could serve as an outline for a wine appreciation course.
Another very good introduction is The Vintage Wine Book by William W. Leedom (revised edition 1975), also an excellent bargain at $2.45.
The section on wine in Grossman's Guide to Wines, Spirits and Beers (revised edition 1978) is similar in scope to the two books above, but this book is available only in hardcover at $17.95.
More extensive than any of these is Hugh Johnson's Wine. It, too, can be bought in this country only in hard-cover and costs $14.95.The book is a pleasure to read and is well-illustrated with fine color photographs of vineyards other scenes from major wine regions of the world.
Having completed his introduction to the world of wine, the student should add a good reference book to his library. Highly recommended is Frank Schoonmaker's Encyclopedia of Wine (revised edition 1978, $12.95). Also highly recommended is Alexis Lichine's New Encyclopedia of Wine and Spirits (revised edition 1977, $20). It covers spirits and beers, as well as wine, and is a larger, more expensive book. For those who would like to have beautiful detailed maps of the world's wine regions, there is no substitute for Hugh Johnson's World Atlas of Wine (revised edition 1978, $29.95). The original edition is available in soft cover for $8.95. In addition to the excellent maps there are fine color photographs and an informative, well-illustrated text on wines, wine-making, effects of soil and climate, etc.
At this point a wine student should go a little deeper into the subject of tasting -- the technique of tasting, what to look for, how to judge and evaluate wines. Wine Tasting by Michael Broadbent (revised edition 1974, $8.50) covers the technique of tasting very well and includes a couple of chapters on how to prepare and conduct tastings, both private and public. How to Test and Improve Your Wine Judging Ability by Irving H. Marcus (revised edition 1974, $3.75) is a thorough explanation of how to taste wine, how to evaluate it, and how to use the University of California at Davis 20-point wine evaluation system. There is also an extensive and rigorous program for teaching oneself how to detect the major components (good and bad) of a wine. Even if the reader does not follow through with all the tests, he can learn a lot about tasting from this book. Wines: Their Sensory Evaluation by Amerine and Roessler (1976, $8.95) also covers wine tasting and the Davis 20-point scale. A large part of this book is devoted to methods of mathematical analysis of wine evaluation scores.
Another approach to a basic wine education is to attend one of the wine-appreciation classes offered in the Washington area. These are usually introductory courses, and a typical session consists of a period of instruction followed by a tasting of the wines covered in the instruction with comments and discussion. Such classes can replace the reading program outlined above, or they can be used to supplement private study. Classes have the usual advantage of close instruction and actual tasting of wines with instructors' comments and class discussion. Classes are offered locally by: Mount Vernon College (call 331-3539 for information); American University (686-6806); The Wine Academy (952-0545).
Another way to extend one's wine knowledge is to join one of the local wine clubs. These usually have regular (monthly) tastings conducted by a knowledgeable person who discusses the wines and answers questions. Some clubs are small, with a limit on the number of members and long waiting lists. Others are open to anyone wishing to join. Two of the latter are affiliated with retail wine shops in Washington: The world of Wine Society (966-1533) and Les Amis du Vin (588-0980). A local chapter of The German Wine Society is now being formed call David Vaughn at 462-5700). The American Wine Society, an independent and non-commercial organization, has chapters in Northern Virginia (538-4653) and Maryland-D.C. (426-1033).
A pleasant step in the beginner's education is to visit a commercial vineyard and winery in order to see grape-growing and wine-making. The affluent student can pay a couple of thousand dollars for one of the various conducted tours of European vineyards; it will be more economical to invest a phone call and a few gallons of gas in visiting one or more of the commercial vineyards in the nearby Maryland or Virginia countryside. The essentials of viniculture and enology are the same whether the vineyard is five years or 500 years old. Several local vineyards welcome visitors at certain times and conduct tours of their vineyards and wineries. Call or write to learn the visiting times and how to get there: Provena Vineyards, Brookeville, Md. 70729 (277-2447), the only commercial vineyard in Montgomery County; Montbray Wine Cellars, Silver Run Valley, Westminster, Md. 21157 (301-346-7878); Meredyth Vineyards, Middleburg, Va. 22117 (703-687-8191).
Finally, the wine student may wish to study in greater depth one or more of the world's major wine countries or regions. Here is a selected list from among the many books limited to a specific area:
The Wines of America by Leon Adams (revised edition 1978, $14.95). a highly praised book by a leading expert; very comprehensive.
The Signet Book of American Wines by Peter Quimme (revised edition 1977, $1.95). Concise and reliable.
The Wines of Germany by H. Meinhard (1976, $10,000). A satisfactory book. Frank Schoonmaker's book with the same title, now out of print, is scheduled to reappear in a revised edition. It may be worth waiting for.
Alexis Lichine's Guide to the Wines and Vineyards of France (1979, $15). A standard work; probably not needed if you have Lichine's Encyclopedia.
The Wines of Bordeaux by E. Penning-Rowsell (1970, $10). A must for claret lovers; probably the best book in English on Bordeaux wines.
The Wines of Italy by Cyril Ray (1972, $2.95). The best of several books on Italian wines.