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Wine Primer 101

Saturday - 11/5/2011, 11:15am  ET

Wine of the Week

Scott Greenberg, wine columnist, the Washington Examiner


Scott Greenberg, special to wtop.com

So, you want to learn more about wine but don’t know where to start. Or maybe you’re just looking for a reasonably priced wine that will expand your palate’s horizon. Either way, you’re not alone.

Where to start? A lot of new wine drinkers may want to drink wine, they don’t necessarily know how to go about understanding what wine they are drinking. With an estimated 40,000 different labels of wine crowding various wine shop shelves, picking the right wine can be downright confusing, with decisions often dictated by price or, worse, an eye-catching label.

The first thing I recommend is to read about wine from as many different sources as you can. Of course, I am partial to the advice given in this column, but I also advocate reading books and magazines from a variety of authors. Natalie McLean, a veteran wine author and self-proclaimed wine cheapskate, has a new book out, Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines ($16), where she travels the world in search of the best wine values. One of her more whimsical tips in the book is to buy wine with impossibly long names, written in gothic script. This usually applies to German Rieslings, whose bottles may sit on retailer’s shelves as a result of misunderstood labeling – driving the price down for a very good wine.

One of my favorite recommendations for neophyte oenophiles is Oz Clarke’s ‘Let Me Tell You About Wine’ – A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding and Enjoying Wine ($20). While it is simplistic in format – which makes it easy to understand the concepts – it is also very comprehensive in content. About half of this book is devoted to wine basics such as what types of grapes wines are made from, how to buy and store wines, and, of course, how to taste wine. A section on food pairing is invaluable for dinner parties and holiday entertaining.

How would you like to learn about, appreciate, and enjoy wine from a wine professional – and have fun doing it? That is the mission of the Capital Wine School, founded by Master of Wine, Jay Youmans. Jay’s vision is to offer the highest quality wine education and tasting instruction available in the Washington, DC area. His classes and events are fun and unpretentious, but offer the depth of knowledge and insight sought by those wanting to learn more about wine. What a great combination. Go alone, with a friend or as a group. www.capitalwineschool.com

Wine shops love developing loyal customers, so many wine shops will periodically offer tastings to introduce new wines to consumers. Check out a couple of wine shops and tell them what you want to learn about and be very specific about your price range. Some retailers will even open a bottle or two for you in the shop so you can try-before-you-buy.

Of course, actually tasting wine is the best way to really learn. I think one of the best white wines to cut your teeth on is Sauvignon Blanc since it’s easy to identify specific characteristics. The 2010 Casa Lapostolle Sauvignon Blanc ($9) from Chile offers plenty of classic grapefruit and nectarine flavors on the palate while delivering a clean, crisp finish filled with citrusy notes.

The 2010 Norton Malbec ($10) from Argentina is an easy-drinking red wine that offers loads of juicy red and black fruit on a soft frame. A nice touch of spice on the finish provides a bit of depth and complexity.

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