Wine – is it worth learning the difference between grapes, regions and climates or just go for what is reduced or most expensive?
Most of us have had that moment of panic. You are with a group of friends for a meal; the waiter hands you the wine list and everybody says that you should choose. You have no idea what people will be eating – does it matter? Do you go for the house plonk and look cheap? How about the expensive one at the end of the list – too flash and bound to cause an inquest when the bill comes. My wife maintains that she has never had a poor glass of wine from a bottle with a nice label, but wine lists rarely come with pictures of labels – Livin’ Italy being an exception to this rule. Maybe somebody there works on the same theory. Asking the waiter to recommend something is fine in theory but, in practice is fraught with risk. They may be even more clueless than you and could easily push you towards that bottom end of the list – dangerous territory. The obvious cop out is to pick a red and a white at random from somewhere in the middle of the list and cross your fingers.
There is another way. Just a little knowledge can go a long way, the rest you can fake. So, you want to learn enough to get by, where do you start?
Whatever the subject, my first port of call tends to be the excellent Dummies series of books and, as you would expect there is Wine For Dummies. This covers all of the basics of wine varieties, regions and how to get the most out of tasting.
If you want something a little more sociable, wine is meant to be enjoyed with friends after all, why not try an organised class or wine tasting session? The Yorkshire Wine School run regular events at both the Radisson Blu in The Light and at Livin’ Italy on Granary Wharf. The Radisson sessions include lunch and introduce the world’s major wine growing regions and grape varieties. You will learn how to taste like a professional and where to buy. Best of all your tutor will guide you through tasting twelve wines As you would expect, two hour sessions at Livin’ Italy concentrate on the wines of Italy and how they pair with different foods. It is worth attending for the nibbles alone!
My advice with events like this is to drink water as well as the wine and take notes. The memory can prove a little unreliable after a few glasses. Some years ago, on a visit to London, my wife and I spent the evening at Vinopolis, described as a “wine experience” – they weren’t wrong. The huge building near London Bridge is a series of tasting rooms, each dedicated to a particular type of wine. After an introduction where you are taught the basics of tasting, you are armed with a charge card and let loose with detailed tasting notes. A swipe of the card and a machine dispense a small glass of your chosen wine. You then rinse and repeat as often as you wish, touring the worlds wines in the maze of arches beside the Borough Market. Afterwards, you can enjoy a meal in the restaurant and order any of the wines that you tasted earlier – very civilised. After starting out very seriously, reading the notes and comparing the warm and cool climates we started to sound as if we know what we were talking about. As the evening progressed, the notes seemed to be printed in a smaller font and unaccountably caused giggles. There was big talk of hitting the Absinthe room once the wines of the world were exhausted but for some reason we never made it. We did however enjoy a great meal and a terrific night out. We both remember to this day the difference between warm and cool climate wines but after that it is still a bit of a blur – remember to take notes!
If all this fails, you could always try buying what is on special offer at the supermarket! If this is your strategy, why not at least use an app such as Vivino to record your thoughts. It will help you remember what you like (and don’t like) as well as getting the views of others.
So, is it worth learning the basics? Yes, without a doubt. Just as you would with a sport, painting with oils or cooking. Grasp the basics and you open up a world of experiences.
As for that panic moment, with a little knowledge, you will realise that you can’t please everybody. Ask a few questions – do people want something light, fruity or powerful then set your new knowledge to work. If that fails – simply choose something that you will enjoy – the others can please themselves.