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I want to learn about wine. Where do I start?

I drank wine long before I wanted to learn about wine. Then one day I drank a delicious bottle of wine. I immediately decided it was time to start figuring the stuff out.

Sure, I read a book or two. You need to look at a basic guide that will help you start to get familiar with the important wine regions and grapes of the world. For example, you'll learn that red burgundy is made from Pinot Noir (mostly) and white burgundy is made from Chardonnay (mostly). This is stuff you have to learn.

But the most important lessons about wine, of course, come from drinking it. Specifically, in the early days, before my flavor memory had developed, it was by drinking two different wines side by side.

To begin, you'll want your side-by-side wines to be sharply contrasting. Eventually, you will advance to a point where you can compare the nuances of different villages of Cru Beaujolais. But I think it takes a few years, or at least months, before it makes sense to do that. Sure, even a beginner will notice that two bottles of Cru Beaujolais taste different, but it will be hard for a beginner to discern whether this is due to wine-making or bottle age or any number of other factors.

So start with two different grape varieties. Specifically, select a bottle of Gewurtztraminer and a bottle of Riesling from Alsace. Ideally, you'll keep the producer and the vintage the same. Taste the two wines side by side. Smell them and drink them. They will be very different, and the difference will be due to grape variety.

Next, drink side by side an unoaked Chardonnay and a Sauvignon Blanc. Choose a $20 Sancerre for the Sauvignon Blanc, and a $20 Macon for the Chardonnay. The differences between the grape varietals will be unmistakable.

Repeat the same with red wines. Here I would suggest shifting to the New World. How about Syrah versus Pinot Noir from the same producer? Cabernet versus Zinfandel? Check in CA! And so forth.

Enough with grape varieties. Now you're ready to start appreciating differences in style and terroir. Start with Old World versus New World (Cab/Bordeaux, Pinot/Burgundy, Chardonnay/Burgundy). Figure out what oak tastes like by tasting oaked versions of Chardonnay beside unoaked versions. Try Rieslings from different countries (but keep them dry so you're not just comparing different levels of sugar).

Start exploring. We haven't even touched Italy yet. You need to taste Nebbiolo from Piedmont and Sangiovese from Tuscany. Skip over to Spain and try a bottle of Rioja. Try Croze Hermitage and Vouvray.

Then start traveling in time. Try some 10-year old wines. Start with Bordeaux, Burgundy and German Riesling. Then try a couple of 20-year old wines, perhaps a Barolo and a Rioja. Go back 30 years and try a bottle of Californian Cabernet from the 1970s. None of these are that hard to find, and we can help.

Do this all and you'll be ready to graduate. At this point you'll have discovered that you like one or two things that'll become your go-tos. Start following your passions, get to know your wine merchant (we're friendly!) and get back to reading.

How did you start learning about wine? Look forward to your stories and let me know if we can do anything to help you get started by emailing me at jeff(dot)patten(at)flatiron(dash)wines(dot)com.

- Jeff


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