Each year, I try to shake up my wine habits a bit. I like to visit a new wine region. Usually I promise myself to drink more riesling, champagne or pinot noir. Sometimes I vow to drink less.
Here are five ways you, too, can enhance your wine experience. Whether you are a novice who has just caught the wine bug, or an old hand trying to get out of a rut, these can keep your wine tasting enjoyable and rewarding.
Pay attention to the wines you drink. All too often, I hear people express enthusiasm about a nice wine they enjoyed recently, but when I ask its name, they give me a blank stare. Maybe the label was blue, or had a rooster on it, but such vague details don't narrow it down much. If you can't remember the wine you liked, you may not be able to find it again.
So take notes. You don’t need to keep a stack of Moleskines with old scribblings you rarely, if ever, look at. That’s the old-fashioned way. Use your smartphone camera and keep your bottle shots in a folder. Or enter them into a wine app such as Vivino, CellarTracker or Delectable. Instagram is as popular for wine as it is for the rest of our lives. Those platforms will let you share impressions with others, and you can get suggestions from them.
As you pay attention to what you drink, notice differences among wines that seem similar. That grassy flavor of a sauvignon blanc from New Zealand or South Africa, for instance, may be mellower in one from California or Chile, while those from the Loire Valley in France have a mineral character. Compare a rich chardonnay from Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley with a lithe example from Fort Ross-Seaview, farther north and west, where the ocean’s influence give the wines extra backbone. Those differences make wine infinitely variable and exciting.
Cultivate a wine retailer (or two). A personal connection with a retailer could be the most important relationship in your wine exploration (after a rich relative or friend with a great cellar). Your best bet is an independent retailer, someone who knows every wine in the store. Sales clerks at supermarkets or big-box wine stores may not be familiar with every bottle, but you'll be able to gauge their enthusiasm and knowledge with a short conversation. Tell them what you like and don't like. Try a wine they recommend, then on your next visit to the store, explain why you liked or disliked it. This will lead to more recommendations. If your retailer recommends several wines you don't like, find someone else.
Many stores use purchasing software that helps us with our memory problem. If you forget the name of the red you enjoyed last week, your retailer may be able to look up your recent purchases and suggest similar wines to try.
Read the back label. Specifically, pay attention to the name of the importer. This is a benefit we don't have on the label of a domestic wine, but U.S. regulations require the importer to be identified. You won't have the personal interaction as with a retailer, but if you like an importer's Cotes-du-Rhone, you might like his or her Burgundy as well. I list the importer in my reviews to help you find other wines they represent.
Try something new. Expand your comfort zone. If white wine means chardonnay to you, try some riesling or gruner veltliner. Some stores offer occasional sampler packs, discounted selections by the staff. These can be a great opportunity to try something you haven't tasted before.
If you subscribe to a favorite winery’s club, you’ll receive regular shipments of new-release wines, often special bottlings that are not available in retail. Or start your own club. When I first fell in love with wine, my favorite explorations were with a group of friends who met once a month to share wines of a specific theme (Bordeaux one month, Oregon pinot noir another). It’s a fun way to learn about various wines, and how to evaluate and describe them. The discussion can get hilarious toward the end of the evening.
Visit a winery you've never been to. This one obviously takes some time and effort. Visiting wineries, whether on travel or a weekend excursion to your closest "wine country," can be a great way to learn about how and where wine is made. You may also discover a new favorite grape variety. The bottle you bring home will be a great conversation starter with friends as well as a memory of your trip.