I am often asked by beginning wine lovers, about to embark on their Journey to Discover Wine, amateur wine Frodos just learning their adult drinking Hobbits, “What’s the best way to learn about wine?” Oh, there are so many ways. One can enroll in a wine class at a local college, secure in the knowledge that the instructor knows more than you, and slightly less than the average Amish. Or, better yet, one can read wine blogs and simply be cured completely of the desire to learn about wine. This is often the best way to go. It’s not a good idea for you to learn more about wine. There are enough people already who know a lot about wine, no one wants you to join that pinhead club. Learn about mead. No one gives a crap about mead, so you’ll have the field to yourself. Mead is honey wine. It’s good for you, aids digestion. Particularly useful if you suffer from colon collapse, like bees do lately.
But the best way to learn about wine, I tell these intellectual Hobbits, is to form your own wine tasting group. “How do we do that?” these Dildo Baggins’ ask. Here, then, is a guide to starting your own wine tasting group.
No, “Soliciting Members” is not Anderson Cooper’s new CNN show. The first thing you need to do to begin your own wine tasting group is to find a handful of other like-minded wine loving novices who will actually show up for the tastings on a regular basis. Choose friends and other couples who make you laugh when they get drunk. I’m particularly fond of inviting women who like to kiss other women when they get hammered. Watching them with a nice glass of Syrah in my free hand is always fun. Remember, a wine tasting group might be about learning the flavors and structure of a variety to begin with, but as the night wears on, it’s all about wine’s wondrous effects on our inhibitions. Now we’re learning something! If you can’t find five other people who want to spend an evening learning about Tempranillo, fill in the gaps with migrant workers you find in front of Home Depot. Learn about wine and have your garage cleaned out at the same time! A word of advice: Do not let them get drunk and kiss.
Establish a Format
Once you’ve established a group of regulars, you’ll need to establish a format for tasting the wines. There are many formats to choose from, and your wine tasting group needs to find one that will make them comfortable. Many groups choose to taste the wines blind. Each member brings their bottle wrapped in a paper bag, concealing its identity. I know one group that doesn’t bother to conceal the wines, but, instead, wears the paper bags over their own heads. But these are, admittedly, really ugly people. They’re so ugly the bags have to be labeled Hazardous Waste. The more you learn about wine, the more you’ll realize how ugly people are drawn to it. Ever been to a big industry wine tasting? It’s like an Ugly Convention. The more you learn about wine, you'll find, the uglier you get. This explains sommeliers.
Other formats for tasting include tasting without your pants on, tasting from dog dishes, tasting directly out of the bottles (saves a lot of time on cleanup, which isn’t important if you have those Mexicans from Home Depot around), and pairing the wines with Cheese Whiz, or any kind of Whiz.
Every gathering of your wine tasting group will need a theme. Leave it up to the member who’s hosting that evening’s tasting to come up with a theme. With some tasting groups, everyone brings a bottle that adheres to the theme. Other tasting groups have the host purchase all the wines. This is dangerous. You throw a lovely “Wines of Burgundy” tasting, but that cheap prick you invited to the group because his wife likes to kiss other women, Mexican field hands, and pizza delivery drivers decides his theme is “Wines of BevMo.” At this point, it’s probably best to go back to Step 1. Screw it, you’re just never going to know much about wine.
Try to be creative with the themes you choose. Remember, the point of the gatherings is to learn about wine and then get trashed and forget almost everything. You can choose boring and predictable themes like varieties, or regions, or point scores. Or, you can be more imaginative. I always like a blind tasting of “Wines with Things Floating in Them.” I learned a lot from a tasting of “Wines Made By People with Anxiety Disorders.” I love Bonny Doon! The point is, wine tasting can be fun and imaginative. Don’t let reading about wine on the Internet fool you into thinking it’s not.
Relax and Have Fun
Just like book clubs are not about the books but about appearing to be smart, or a cover for infidelity, wine clubs are not really about the wines. You’re not going to learn anything from people equally as ignorant on the subject as you, get over it. You don’t know Viognier from Liquid Plumr, though one is an effective drain cleaner and the other one comes with an easy-to-pour spout. Don’t set your goals too high. Settle for a monthly get-together to get your drunk on. You’re not really going to learn that much about wine. After all, learning about wine is exactly like oral sex—just keep putting it in your mouth until you figure it out.
After 19 years as a Sommelier in Los Angeles, twice named Sommelier of the Year by the Southern California Restaurant Writers' Association, I moved to Sonoma County to explore the other aspects of the wine business. I've spent, OK wasted, 35 years learning about and teaching about and swallowing wine. I am also a judge at the Sonoma Harvest Fair, San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and the San Francisco International Wine Competition--so I can spit like a rabid llama. I know more about wine than David Sedaris and I'm funnier than James Laube. Stay tuned for an informed but jaded view of everything wine and everything else.
I'm living proof that alcohol kills brain cells.
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