There's simply no better way to learn about wine, and more importantly, to learn about your taste in wine and define and refine that taste, than drinking a bunch of wine. Rather than drinking a lot of one wine, I try to drink a little bit of as many wines as I can (this adds up to "a lot" of wine, of course).
And how do you do that without going broke? Simple: you go to one of the many wine tastings and wine events that are happening all over NJ, NYC, and wherever you live, every week.
NJ's liquor laws were recently changed for the better. Now, your local wine shop can offer a wine tasting right there in their shop. And you'd be surprised at how many wine shops are doing it. And for good reason: it's good for business. But, it's also good for you. These wine tastings are free, open to anyone who walks in the door, and they are generally very very casual. The normal set-up consists of 4 or 5 open bottles on a table in a back room or off to the side of the shop, some wine glasses, and an employee of the shop, or maybe even a visiting distributor. You have a coupla sips of the wines, decide which one you like, buy a bottle or 6 on the way out the door, and start contemplating dinner. Honestly, I can't think of a better way to spend part of a Saturday afternoon. And neither can you.
In addition to these free wine tastings at wine shops, there are more formal wine tastings and wine dinners as well. These types of events generally have modest price tag associated with them, but oftentimes they're used to raise many for charities. The next time you're in your local wine shop, ask to get on their emailing list. They'll let you know when these events are coming up. And you can also go to localwineevents.com, which is a great resource for wine events.
One of my favorite wine shops, Carlo Russo Wine and Spirits in Ho-ho-kus, has several wine events a year. We recently attended a great walk-around tasting at a local church, hosted by Carlo Russo's wine. Thankfully it was a Saturday night, which is not the norm, but was a refreshing change from the usual Monday night (let's face it, Saturday night is more fun than Monday night).
Eight tables were set up (representing 8 distributors I'd think), each with about 6 or 8 bottles. A very nice spread of hors d'oeuvres was provided as well. It was quite entertaining to watch people who had clearly considered this their dinner, standing around the tables of food with their plates shoving salami and grilled beef on toast points into their mouths as if they knew they'd never eat again. But that's beside the point. Back to the wine.
We tasted upwards of 40 wines from all over the world: Italy, California, Germany, Spain, France, and Canada. Yup, Canadian wine. For some reason Virginian wine doesn't seem odd to me, but the idea of Canadian wine is weird. The producer was Cave Spring, from Niagara (ok, so it's just barely Canada), and they've got some interesting Riesling and a wonderful Ice Wine that are worth a looksee.
Although there were probably 60 or 70 wines to taste, we didn't
taste them all. Firstly, we've had many of them, so we know what they
taste likely. Secondly, after about 20 wines, even less, your palate
just start to go numb. With that in mind, I will usually approach a
wine looking for a specific quality. For example, I might try a
Chardonnay from Sonoma, just to see how the oak integrates or if it's
too oaky and disgusting. I don't focus on the various fruit and flint
and all of that good stuff. I'm just looking for oak. And that's all
I'll take from that wine. If you can compartmentalize your tasting
like this, you can rationalize drinking a lot more wine. And that's
the whole point, isn't it?