7 Steps to Becoming a Wine Expert

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November is the perfect month to brush up on your wine know-how and impress friends and family at holiday dinner tables. You don’t have to be a wine expert to swirl your glass and talk about wine, but it helps to have a few phrases in your arsenal. Reds, whites, rosés, champagnes – you’re bound to encounter your fair share this season so you might as well get to know them. Go ahead, embrace your inner sommelier. Here’s a cheat sheet to get you started:

  • Start With Your Favorites: Stick to what you like to develop your palate. If you don’t like super-sweet white wines, don’t try them just yet. You’ll be inclined to notice the difference in wines if you stick to the types you like. Like red wines? Try a whole flight of reds then narrow in and try different bottles of one type.
  • Swirl, Sniff, Swish: You may feel silly at first, but this is the best way to get all the “notes” of wine just by using your senses. Is it a viscous wine? What does it smell like? Is it tangy, sweet, spicy when it hits your lips? Slow down the tasting process and you’ll notice the differences.
  • Use your own words: Think it tastes like pomegranates? Picking up hints of nutmeg? Perhaps a bottom note of tennis ball? Believe it or not, there’s no wrong answer when it comes to describing what wine tastes like. Without looking at the descriptions, see what you come up with. Try identifying 2 fruit flavors and 3 other flavors. Trust us, your descriptions will become more creative the more wine you drink!
  • Go to a winery: Field trip! Fall is a great time to visit a winery because it’s generally less crowded and the grounds offer a stunning display of fall. For most wineries and tasting rooms, November falls between busy seasons so winemakers and sommeliers are generally happy to spend a bit more time answering all your questions. And you’ll have a lot of them…
  • There are no dumb questions:
    • What’s the difference between varietal and regional wines?
    • What sorts of grapes grow in what sorts of weather?
    • What kinds of barrels are used for fermentation? How long does it ferment in the barrel vs. in the bottle?
    • Is this an early or late harvest wine?
    • How do you get bubbles into sparkling wine?
    • Why do you use different bottles?
  • Eat, Eat, Eat: Maybe you’re of the old adage that you’ll drink what you like no matter what’s on the table. But with such packed tables (food wise and guest-wise), use your newfound knowledge to suggest exceptional pairings. Sweet potato sides go great with a bright pinot noir, while a buttery chardonnay will bring out the best in turkey. Test your own combinations or use the guide below. And remember, champagne pairs well with just about everything!
  • Exude Confidence: You don’t have to spend crazy money to know what you like. And that’s the beauty of wine – there’s no wrong opinion! So bring your latest favorite to the next holiday gathering and explain why it’s your go-to wine. No matter the type or the price, all wine pairs well with good company.
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