Tuesday, May 12, 2020

How to Learn Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Wine

How to Learn Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Wine
 * Photos generously provided with permission to use for this post by Wine Dine Caroline.

I was invited to a virtual wine tasting birthday party recently and I immediately started sweating, feeling the anxious pressure I often experience with regards to drinking and talking about wine in public. Would the bottles I chose be good enough? How would I be able to get good wine during a global pandemic lockdown with just a few days' notice? Would I be judged by my silly questions? Would I even know what they were talking about? I didn't think a virtual wine tasting would be my thing, but it's important to celebrate a friend's birthday and I was proven totally wrong. A virtual wine tasting can actually be totally chill and a lot of fun!

Caroline Conner of Wine Dine Caroline is a breath of fresh air! Straight of the bat, she encouraged us to ask our questions, no matter how stupid we thought they might be. She put me at ease for sure and I loved her lighthearted, unpretentious approach to chatting over a glass of wine. She took the intimidation right out of the experience and made the idea of understanding and most importantly, enjoying wine much more accessible. Her mission is to help you learn enough about wine to find bottles that you really enjoy without breaking the bank. It's so refreshing to have met an expert who isn't trying to peddle the price tag & prestige more than the product. On top of that, Caroline conducted our tasting with a solid theme of pleasure & enjoyment, which is really how it should be in my opinion. Her recommendations for reds to drink with a pizza or the suggestion of Champagne with fish & chips prove that a quality bottle of wine isn't just something fancy to be consumed when you take out the fancy plates - with a little knowledge, it can be a practical choice for normal, everyday life even if you're on a budget. She gave us suggestions for regions to look at that are similar, but less expensive than others as well as tips on cellaring vintages if we want to become collectors. She encouraged us to open a bottle for special occasions, but also while we're in our pyjamas watching telly on a random, not-so-special Tuesday night. The Wine Dine Caroline virtual tasting left me feeling more excited, prepared and empowered about making better choices at the wine store so I can enjoy a bottle glass of wine more often. Consider me woke.

Virtual Wine Tasting with Wine Dine Caroline
Immediately after the tasting I followed Caroline on Instagram. I just thought she seemed fun, like someone I'd like to have a glass of wine with as they say, so I asked her if she'd answer some questions for us. Check out Caroline's answers below about everything from a career in the wine industry to choosing a good bottle and even planning a trip to a vineyard. Once you've read that, be sure to head over to her website winedinecaroline.com to register for her free live webinar on 14th May, 5 Wine Tricks & How They'll Save You Money. Click here to register.

Wine Tasting in Lyon, France
1. How were you introduced to wine education as a career?
I've always worked in wine, my first job out of college was for a wine distributor. By that time I had already been studying wine for a couple years as a member of the Oxford Blind Wine Tasting Society. I shifted into wine education pretty naturally after moving to France in 2017. I couldn’t find the right job in the wine trade in Lyon, so I became an entrepreneur and set up my own wine education business, teaching wine in English.

2. What does someone need to do to become a wine expert? Is it something anyone can aspire to or do you need special talents?
Anyone can develop their palate, but like any skill, it requires practice and study. 

3. You mentioned before that you train for tasting in groups. How does that work?
Tasting in a group is a great way to learn about wine because you share the financial burden of tasting multiple wines, and can expand your wine vocabulary as you hear the assessments of your fellow tasters. Someone will say a word and it’s like a lightbulb goes off, “Oh yeah, that’s what that smell is!”

4. You live in Lyon and conduct tastings there. What drew you to that city in particular? 
Lyon is the greatest! It’s the culinary capital of France and is right in between Burgundy and the Rhône, so prime wine country. It’s stunningly beautiful and a much more relaxed city than Paris. I love it!

5. Are you particularly partial to French wine or are there other countries making wine that you love?
I am not particularly partial to French wine at all, I just happen to live here so it’s what I have the most access to. I think there are amazing wines made all across the world. Every major wine producing country makes awesome wines, and many countries that you wouldn’t necessarily think about for wine, like Canada and China, are making great wine.

6. Do wine glasses matter? Is it essential to invest in specific glasses for red, white and sparkling?
You want a glass that is tulip shaped so you can swirl the wine without it spilling everywhere. Champagne flutes are fun but useless, they make it difficult to smell anything. I mostly use my silly little tasting glasses, they’re unbreakable and fit in the dishwasher. Is it essential to invest a lot in glassware? Hard no. Do it if you can afford it and aren’t going to be bothered when they break. I’d love a bigger glassware collection, but at the moment my glass cabinet is filled with those little tasting glasses so I’d have nowhere to keep them! 

7. What are the best wines to look for on a budget?
I’ll be sharing my wine trade secrets for how to find great wines on a budget during my May 14th Webinar, registration is open now!

8. Is a decanter necessary and if so, how do you know when you need to use it?
Definitely not necessary. Decanters are for opening up “closed” wines. What this means is that the bigger surface area a decanter allows gives the wine more oxygen, which “opens it up” and brings out the aromas. You’d typically do this for very rich reds. Ultimately, the wine is going to open up in the glass anyway, and they’re a pain in the ass to clean. I have one that I use for dinner parties when I’m feeling fancy, which is rarely.

9. Do all wines need to breath and if so, how and for how long?
All wines will breathe once you’ve opened them, and more once you’ve poured them into the glass. The only time I’d say it NEEDS to breathe is if it smells like farts/sulfur. That will usually blow off with a bit of exposure to oxygen. There aren’t any hard and fast rules for any of this stuff. Most wines are going to be just fine out of the bottle, and enjoying the way they change over time in the glass is a great joy.

10. Do you have any tips for choosing a great wine while in a restaurant? 
Be open with your sommelier about what you like and try to believe that they’re not judging you. If you have a hard time articulating what you like, make the effort to learn a little more about wine and build your wine vocabulary.

11. While I spent a day in Saint-Émilion once, I’ve never actually visited a winery before… Do you have any advice about planning a wine trip? Any tips about visiting vineyards you can share?
Visiting vineyards depends a lot on where you are. In France, you usually need to make an appointment and often they don’t speak English (but this varies from region to region). Outside of Europe wineries often make a lot of their money on tourism and you can enjoy their planned visits. If you are traveling and it’s not straightforward to get yourself to a winery, find a local independent tour guide who does vineyard tours.

12. Is there a minimum we should be spending for a quality bottle of wine?
I’d say you don’t want to go below £7 but it really depends on where the wine is from. £7 worth of Napa Cabernet is going to be garbage, while £7 worth of Chilean Carménère might be lovely. 

13. If someone wanted to invest in vintages and start to curate a proper collection, how should they start?
I’d start by learning enough about wine that you can soundly make those decisions, and making sure that you have a good place to keep your wines so you don’t just end up hoarding vinegar. I wouldn’t waste money or space on it unless you take the time to know what you’re doing. It’s much easier to buy great wine that is ready to drink now!

14. I’m sure this is personal to most people, but I’m curious as to whether there’s a wine or two that you consider to be your favourite?
Depends on the moment! I do not have a favourite wine, it changes all the time.

15. What is your favourite aspect of your job as a wine educator?
I love meeting new people and sharing this wonderful subject with them. And I love helping people figure out how to talk about the wines they love, so they can find them more easily and spend their money where they really want to. 

Caroline Conner of Wine Dine Caroline

Caroline offers private custom tastings for groups like the one I attended for a really reasonable price and you can schedule them at any time of day or night, so they're available no matter what time zone you live in. If you don't have a group, not to worry... You can join her for a Solidarity Tasting, which is free and a great way to connect with other people from around the world over a glass of wine. All the information for these tastings and more can be found on her website where you can also download a free e-book about, you guessed it... Wine! For more information, to register for the free webinar or to book a tasting visit winedinecaroline.com. Also, be sure to check out Caroline on Instagram at @winedinecaroline and click here for lots more great wine info on her YouTube channel.  
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