Gone Fishing

Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.

More and more often friends and relations ask me questions about wine, from clarification on the basics to food and wine pairings, where to shop, and what to drink. Their curiosity is endless, and I love that. I get excited when people want to know more about wine. Invariably, however, after our brief exchanges, I have to ask myself: why are they asking me?

They ask me, I suppose, because they think I’ll have an answer for them, and more times than not I am able to help. Still, I know the limits of my own knowledge, which are pretty severe, and when I need an answer to a wine question, I don’t go to me. I go to other, more reliable, more knowledgeable sources. In the end, I think my friends and relations should do the same.

Wine can be intimidating so it’s best to take baby steps. Here are three things the wine curious, newbie and veteran, can do to boost their wine acumen, and have fun at the same time.

1.  Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book. My own formal wine education started with this book in 1980, when my brother Donald gave me a copy as a gift. (I still have that precious little softcover.)  First published in 1977 as Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Encyclopedia of Wine (then 143 pages, now a bit more than twice that), this slim volume has everything wine lovers could want: grape varieties, food and wine pairings, most of the major producers in all the major regions of the globe, vintage charts, wine trends. I don’t think I go more than a few days without reaching for “Hugh” for a refresher or some new insight. I can’t recommend this book highly enough for folks who want to know more about wine than they already do. Buy one for yourself, then buy a few more to give to wine-loving friends. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.  (Approximate retail price — $15)

2.  Wine Magazines. Many folks might shy away from picking up a wine magazine at their local grocery store or book shop, figuring that with their minimal wine knowledge they probably wouldn’t understand half of what they were reading. Maybe so, maybe no. But what would be of value are all the great tasting notes and sidebars on wines from all over the world. I like most mags for specific reasons (but Wine Spectator less and less, and Decanter (UK) more and more) [UPDATE: I just found out that Decanter treats its freelancers pretty poorly. Writers must give up their rights to articles, which later can be used by Decanter without attribution. Now I’m less and less of a fan] but lately I’ve found three periodicals that I think are great tools for all wine lovers: Wine & Spirits, Wine Enthusiast, and Food & Wine. All three have an informal, friendly tone; they put lots of energy into discovering low-cost wines that drink above their price range; and, they offer tips on wine and food and travel that the average person will find accessible. So, once every two or three months, pick up one of these, and spend the time before your next mag purchase trying to find and taste as many of the value wines that they list. Or, find a number of different grapes you’ve never tried and seek them out. All this learning will be like going to school – a really fun school with the best homework imaginable.

3. The Internet. I’m not talking about Google or Wikipedia here. I’m talking about the blogs and Facebook pages and Twitter accounts of folks who are walking and talking wine 24-7. Some are in the industry, but many of them are simply enthusiasts like you and me who can’t seem to get enough of all things wine. Follow these men and women on their journeys and you’ll quickly realize that they are doing much of the heavy lifting for you in your wine apprenticeship. You’ll find the wine adventurers you can trust, who never seem to steer you wrong. Pretty soon, before you know it, you’ll have become the wine go-to person for your friends and relations. One of my favorite sources online right now is Alana Gentry, aka “Girl with a Glass.” (girlwithaglass.com) She is a knowledgeable, informative, and supportive guide along the highways and byways of the wine world. Check out her blog and her Facebook page. She’s eager to share what’s in her glass. Also, check out a few of the blogs I’ve listed here on my own page (Look to the right—see the thing called Blogroll? Click!). Some of the best wine writing not in magazines is there for your perusal. A sentence here, a note there, and pretty soon you’re doing some real wine learning!

Give one of these a try. Give them all a try. No sense sitting around waiting for someone to throw you a fish.

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