As we begin a new year I think it is fair to say that Inflation is still on everyone’s mind and most of us are continuing to feel the pinch right now. As we adapt and change our spending habits for purchases of gas, food and utilities, the budget for wine (which is no exception to price increases as well) may be a little less again in 2023.
However, treating yourself to good wine doesn’t have to mean breaking the bank. So, as wine lovers how can we continue to refine our palates when prices continue to rise? In this post I’ll share a few simple steps to help you determine what/how to look for affordable good wine and I’ll describe using a few different avenues to get the most for your money. Additionally, I will recap a few affordable good wine ideas from my Instagram Frugal Friday Series along with a recommendation for an under-rated California varietal, Petite Sirah.
If you follow a few simple steps to determine what you are looking for and use different avenues to purchase wine, I hope you’ll see you CAN drink diverse good quality wine on a budget. Afterall, right now we all could use some thrifty ways to get more value for our money.
“A man will be eloquent if you give him good wine.”~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Wine is sophisticated and can be complex, but with thoughtful purchases the requirements of various budgets can be met. A keyword here to remember is “Good” wine and “Good” wine is inherently subjective. In this article, I am going to be addressing good wines that are a great alternative to the big brand names, like Sutter Home, Barefoot and Yellow Tail. I always look for wines that deliver on taste and quality without breaking the bank. Before we get to a few wine selections, I want to share some tips on finding good deals on wines that you‘ll savor and be proud to share with others.
When you look at wine labels you’ll often see a point scale, as a wine professional I tend not to purchase wine based on these point scales. In this post I’m advising you to put these flashy stickers aside and focus on using some tools that are readily available to you. I’ll also touch on how research will help you build up confidence in purchasing wine.
Now back to choosing a good wine and an important question. Are those $100 bottles of Champagne really better than a $20 Crémant from Alsace, and is that bottle of $150 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon better than a $30 Cabernet from Washington State? In general the answer is yes, but how much better varies and this does not mean you can’t find deals on good wines that are a little easier on your wallet.
With crazy expensive wine tasting fees and bottle prices currently found in Napa Valley and other wine regions, combined with soaring prices of wines from Burgundy, many people believe wine must be expensive to be good. Seeing high dollar signs put on bottles may also make it feel impossible to think about enjoying a really good wine any day of the week. That may be true unless you are willing to do a little work and seek out great-value wines.
Finding good inexpensive wine comes down to one key thing, exploration. If you are set on only drinking your favorite Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon from a specific winery, you may be missing out on affordable wines offering great value and can come from every corner of the globe. Being flexible and willing to explore opens up opportunities to find diverse wines that fit your palate and your wine budget.
Wine Buying Tip: Ignore the Label….I think many of us have allowed our wine purchasing decisions to be swayed by the pretty or eye catching label on the bottle. That doesn’t change the fact that labels market wine and are used by wineries to get your attention. Whether a fancy intricate design or a plain labeled bottle on the bottom shelf, the label on the bottle doesn’t affect how the wine tastes. Choose a wine from what you know about the region, producer, varietal
2. Consider going to a wine tasting…. If you have never been or it has just been awhile, going to a winery or tasting room allows you to try samples of local wines. You will also get to experiment wines that you are familiar with and explore new ones.
Seek out not only local wineries but wineries and tasting rooms when you travel. I had always been a fan of the value sparkling wine produced in New Mexico by GRUET, but when I was in Santa Fe on a trip I was able to taste more than the brut and sparkling Rose’ that you find on the supermarket shelves. This tasting room experience allowed me to take notes on other Sparkling wines they offer and make a list to order in the future from the GRUET website.
American-made, this New Mexico winery specializes in Méthode Champenoise sparkling wines. The average price for the GRUET sparkling wines range from $15 to $36, these great-value wines are worthy of opening up even on an ordinary Tuesday night.
3. Yearly Best Buy Wine Lists….One way is to use your favorite search engine and seek out lists that put together wine lists each year such as Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 Best Buys 2022 that includes wines that are also $15 and under.
4. Shopping online…. Buying wine can be challenging enough, especially if you’re navigating unfamiliar regions, producers and grape varieties. Buying online can help you find more options that fit your palette without limiting you to local bottle selections.
When buying wine, you may look at every dollar you spend as an opportunity to try something different and each bottle of wine is a learning opportunity. So why not try to drink as widely as possible? With this in mind, when online I tend to favor Wine.com and I take advantage of their yearly Stewart Membership which gives free shipping along with weekly, monthly and seasonal sales.
Many online stores will let you mix and match, which is a great way to save money while also stocking up on a variety of your favorite types of wines. Shopping from the comfort of your own home makes intentional purchases a little easier and the ability to find great value wines made with just as much thoughtfulness and care as wines that are three to four times more expensive.
Wine Buying Tip: When you are in need of help to select a wine you can always open up a wine app like Vivino . For many wine enthusiasts including myself, this is arguably one of the best and most popular wine apps. Vivino is used by wine lovers around the world to check out comments and reviews on just about any bottle of wine. Vivino has photo recognition that allows you to take a photo of a label then the app will scan it and show you all of the information that it can find about the wine. I really like how Vivino uses simple language that’s easy to understand, meaning wine consumers on every level should understand the information being shared about the bottle.
When purchasing wine in local stores be sure to Keep an Eye on Sales. While you’re browsing the wine aisle at your state store or grocery store, you may find select wines are often offered at discounted prices. This is a great way to save money, but you should also be a little wary and do some research with an app (like Vivino) before purchasing. Here are a couple of my favorite stores to purchase wines that are in my region of the Pacific Northwest;
Trader Joe’s® is renowned for their selection of inexpensive private label wines, however there are some gems to be found in their collection of good value wines. Although many of the popular labels are always available, a number of wines are changed by season and by region. I often pick up some bottles of one of my favorite “house wines” Pine Ridge’s Chenin Blanc +Viognier for under $20 at our local Trader Joe’s. You can also find wines from Stel+Mar that I shared on a previous blog post, BACK TO GOOD TIMES WITH STEL+MAR WINES for under $10 a bottle.
Costco® is the number one wine retailer in the U.S. and just one look at their low wine prices should tell you why! Costco’s inventory of wines will vary by market so at times you can find some low production wines available in an individual store but not at another.
Costco Advent Calendar
Each year Costco offers an Wine Advent Calendar box, which is exclusively available at Costco. It sells for $99.99, contains 24 half (375ml) bottles and comes from Flying Blue Imports which means that all of the wines come from their portfolio. Don’t expect every wine to be great in the Costco Wine Advent Calendar, but If you look at this purchase as a fun exploration of varieties and regions you wouldn’t typically consume, then this has the potential to be lots of fun. I was able to purchase the calendar in 2022 and found that I enjoyed about 50% of the wines.
The wine selection isn’t always the broadest but in addition to their Kirkland Signature Line, they do tend to bring in some very nice wines from all over the world Including California, Washington, France, Italy, Australia, Argentina, Spain and Portugal, many of these fall under $20 price point. I often find some of my favorite wines at Costco such as Hedges Wine Red Mountain Estate Red and Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio which I share more about below.
6. Buy More Than One Bottle
If you are willing to buy a case, you can save anywhere from 10% to 25% on wines. Many retailers will give you a discount if you buy wine in bulk, which is the cheapest option over the long-term.
Wine Buying Tip: Most wine experts recommend buying at least three bottles of anything you come across that you really enjoy drinking. Don’t just buy one bottle at a time because if that bottle is “corked” you have a replacement bottle on hand. Also if you have a few bottles, you can get to know the wine over the years as it develops.
A ‘corked’ wine will smell and taste like musty cardboard, or a moldy basement. It’s really easy to identify! Some wines may have the faintest hint of TCA, which will rob the wine of its aromas and make it taste flat. This problem only occur in wines closed with a natural cork.
Something to think about….Wine can be a complex, cultural, multisensory stimulus that evokes our senses of its properties and is influenced by everything that touched it during its creation from vineyard to bottling. As wine lovers we focus a lot of attention on sight, smell, taste and feel which help us build stronger wine memories. These wine memories keep accumulating with each bottle opened building a library of wine knowledge that is unique only to you.
In addition to the sensory components, I think that whatever wine you buy should always show a sense of place, no matter which appellation it hails from, which grape variety it is or in what manner it was farmed. This “Liquid Geography” wine knowledge is also a valuable tool in assisting you when you find you like a particular varietal, say Pinot Noir, but only from regions like Burgundy or Oregon as oppose to California or New Zealand.
There are many reasons to search for bargain-priced diamonds in the rough beyond being friendly to our bank accounts. Finding an under $20 Rosé that you love and can pick up by the case, ensures you always have a refreshing bottle on hand for the summer season and cool weather food pairings. If you discover a similarly affordable sparkling and you are able to stock up, it will put to bed the belief that bubbles should be saved for special occasions.
Here are some links to articles that I think are really helpful when trying to find good quality wines on a budget:
On my Instagram page, Drink In Nature , I recently started to feature Frugal Friday wines that I felt really fit the bill for wines that are under $25 and a good quality wine you can rely on to be consistently produced year after year. The following are some of those wines that might give you a head start in stocking your wine shelf or fridge with some budget friendly gems. Consider this a list of “buy it now” wines you should instantly pick up when you see them on sale and keep on hand for everyday drinking.
I have often thought that Petite Sirah is a wine that deserves more respect and attention. This exceptionally rare grape, grown mainly in California, has less than 10,000 planted acres worldwide and is a clone of Syrah and Peloursin. Petite Sirah has always been used for blending but in California there are numerous 100% Petite Sirah wines that range in price from $10 to $75. Within this price range you can widely find several notable bottles that are under $25 that are worth investigating.
I will be sharing more a Petite Sirah from California along with a sampling of wines from various regions in California in an upcoming story. Until then, I recommend trying Pedroncelli’s Petite Sirah which a nice introduction to this varietal and can be found for under $25 a bottle. I purchased the 2018 vintage on Wine.com for $21.99.
Petite Sirah is profoundly deep purple in color, powerful, robust and delightfully aromatic. From start to finish this varietal delivers a juicy blueberry, blackberry and dark cherry fruit bomb often with notes of chocolate, coffee and spice tones that delight the nose and grace the palate.
The Pedroncelli family has deep roots in the history of California wine, tending their 90 acres of vineyards in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley since 1927. In 1934 Pedroncelli Winery became California’s 113th Winery and since then this small family winery has prided itself on keeping its wines affordable for all to enjoy.
The 2018 Pedroncelli Petite Sirah from the Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County is framed by a smooth patina of oak of the nose and palate. These smooth oak notes mingle and blend with the wine’s generous and deep blackberry, black currant, plum and dark cherry aromatics and flavor. Hints of white pepper, smoked chocolate and savory dried herbal notes give length to an already delightful medley. This full bodied Petite Sirah with its complex flavors and well structured firm tannins is a nice introduction to the wines being produced in California from this distinctive varietal.
On the Pedroncelli website this wine is available for $36
If you are looking for easy drinking, great value Prosecco then you can’t go wrong with the Prosecco DOC Treviso Extra Dry or the Prosecco DOC Rosé Extra Dry Millesimato From Corvezzo. These all Organic and Vegan sparkling wines along with the Pinot Grigio delle Venezie DOC are such a great value with an SRP of $13.00 and are available nationwide.
Many of you may be familiar with Corvezzo’s Prosecco, now it’s time to try Corvezzo’s Rosé Prosecco which has its own level of elegance and charm. Made with the legal maximum level of 15% Pinot Nero which is added to the Glera base, the Rosé Prosecco has an expressive intense flavor of fresh wild strawberries and mixed red berries with inviting speckles of floral notes. Instantly fresh and delicate on the palate, the creamy froth delivers flavors of vibrant red-fruit and citrus that linger in the long finish.
One of my favorite ‘Go To’ wines that many people may recognize is the Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc + Viognier. Since this wine is available for under $20 a bottle, I bring it to friend’s houses when we are having a casual get together or I’ll put out a bottle or two when Friends and Family gather at my home. It really is a wine that everyone enjoys.
Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc + Viognier is a 83%+17% blend that is aged in steel, a crisp and fresh white that is amazing with hearty savory dishes. This wine has a subtle sweetness that provides a welcomed balance to the Umami and earthy notes of the Mushroom Pâté.
For me this blend is all about the taste, a compilation of melons, apples and citrus with a zesty finish that sings with a slight floral acidity and lots of character.
This wine is available in most grocery stores.
No matter the weather I can’t think of a better Washington value wine that has become a staple in our wine cellar, Hedges Wine, Red Mountain Estate Red. (purchased at Costco for $18.99)
Tucked in the East end of the Yakima Valley AVA , Red Mountain has built worldwide acclaim and an ever-growing reputation, with more than 2,000 acres under cultivation of primarily red varietals including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc and Syrah.
Hedges has a remarkably consistent method of taking the best of their eco-friendly vineyards and turning the grapes it into wines that have notable vintage variations, but that are true examples of Red Mountain’s ability to let the grapes speak for themselves. The 2019 might be my favorite so far with each varietal adding its own unique energy to the blend. Consisting of 43% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Syrah, 4% Cabernet Franc, 7% Malbec, 3% Petit Verdot, and 1% each of Souzao, Touriga and Tinta Cao this complex vintage shouldn’t be missed.
The intriguing prominent smoky orange undertones mingling with rich black fruit captured my attention in this vintage. The sleek tannins, rich full body and notes of chocolate covered hazelnuts followed by a warm spice finish keeps me coming back for more.
This wine is one that I often suggest to people when they ask for an inexpensive white wine recommendation, Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio.
I imagine that many of you are familiar with this Italian label and the crisp wine inside the bottle. This very popular Pinot Grigio, which celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2021, can typically be easily found in many stores and it sells almost 2 million bottles a year in more than 90 countries.
This technically flawless and well-balanced wine has quite the following and many #winelover gush over its mouthwatering acidity and floral fruitiness on the nose and palate. Expertly encompassing everything a wine enthusiast loves about this varietal, Santa Margherita Wines Pinot Grigio satisfies with its ripe citrus flavors, with notes of apple and hints of spring blossoms and almonds. This is one of my “Always keep 2-3 bottles on hand” wine list.
Value wise the 750 ml bottle can usually be found for around $20 and the 375 ml bottle for about $13. This food friendly Pinot Grigio paired perfectly with my garden tomato bruschetta. If you haven’t tasted this Pinot Grigio I highly recommend it.
I love great-value wines that not only become members of my “go to” wine list, but that are also a little more friendly on the pocket book when it comes to bringing wine to share at parties and get-togethers. When it comes to consistency, excellent value (typically under $25 for their whites and Rosé), Elk Cove wines are on top of my list.
Favorite characteristics of this wine
Each year you may pick up on subtle flavor variations, maybe last year’s vintage had a little more grapefruit notes and this year’s has more pear and apple notes up front. Yet, what doesn’t change is the balanced acidity and great body of this wine and how it always brings a smile to my face when I pour myself a glass or the smiles I see on the faces of family or friends when I pour them a glass for the first time. I often think that is an important sign of a well-crafted wine, ‘The Smile Factor’.
My favorite food pairings with Elk Cove Pinot Gris:
Although I enjoy sipping this wine alone, it pairs so well with a number of different dishes including Thai Take-Out, which I may have done a few times! A favorite combination however is when I pair it with my homemade crab or salmon cakes, carrot puree and potato latkes with a side of mango chutney that has a sweet spicy kick to it. I hope you have the opportunity to try this ‘Frugal Friday’ wine recommendation, if you do, it might just become one of your “go to” wines as well.
The wines that are being discussed here are not the wines that you will stash away in your basement cellar and enjoy 10 to 25 years from now. These are wine that you should keep close to the kitchen and are best enjoyed within 2-5 years of purchasing.
I know that sometimes you just want your favorite type of wine, no matter the price. However, I hope that a few of these tips help you spread out your wine budget out a little more and has helped you know really good wines are available without the high price tag.
I’d love to hear about some of your favorite wines under $25, leave me a comment with your recommendations or tips on how you buy wines on a budget. Cheers everyone and thanks for reading.
All images and content © copyrighted by Drink In Nature Photography and Drink In Life Blog.
“his lips drink water― E.E. Cummings
but his heart drinks wine”
One of the most captivating aspects of wine is there is always something new to learn and discover. With more than 70 wine producing countries around the world, each with multiple wine regions producing over 1000 grape varieties, there is endless information to keep knowledge-seeking wine lovers engaged.
Once you begin your wine love affair, you’ll find that wine is more than just an alcoholic beverage, the quest for wine knowledge becomes a lifestyle. As your pursuit of knowing more about this delicious substance evolves and you find yourself with “Wine on the Brain” there are many avenues you can take to help you on your wine journey. As you continue to sample wines and study more about its history you’ll find yourself continually learning something new about its depth and complexity.
If you are new to the world of wine it may feel intimidating at first because you’ve seen movies or reality shows with sommeliers swirling and smelling wine then after a sip they swish it around in their mouths before spitting it into buckets. However, wine can and should be much more laid back and accessible than these productions depict. If honing your wine tasting skills and learning more about the wine making craft drives you, don’t let preconceived ideas about wine and wine knowledge stop you from learning as much as you can!
Before I share some ways to expand your wine knowledge always remember wine should be fun, and as with any new experience it’s entirely about what you make of it. Wine can be emotional, once your interest is peaked, you will soon discover that the more you learn, the more you want to reveal. Just remember to enjoy the journey as you chart your course through the “liquid geography” as it opens up to you.
If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by the hieroglyph labels and wide assortment as you walk through the wine aisle then one of the first options to bottle that nervous feeling is to enroll in a wine education course. Formal wine education courses are filled with both wine hobbyists and future sommeliers who desire the organization of a set study schedule and a certification exam.
A wine education program is not essential, but it can make wine more approachable, interactive, and fun! Below is a few of the top wine education programs that will help you on your wine expedition.
Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET)
WSET offers qualifications in tiers, from one-day beginner courses to the advanced Level 4 Diploma. WSET’s education is delivered via accredited classroom and online providers around the world, and all of its examinations are conducted in person. Final exams for Level 3 and Level 4 certification require tasting evaluations, codified in the widely recognized WSET Systemic Approach to Tasting. WSET classifies the sensory acts involved in drinking wine which is beneficial for students who want to hone their palate and tasting skills.
Having completed both WSET 2 and WSET 3 I can attest to how difficult the exams can be, but you take away an incredible amount of wine knowledge creating a strong foundation and initiating your life long wine education journey.
The Court of Master Sommeliers study is similar to WSET in that it is capped by four exam levels that culminate with the Master Sommelier Diploma exam, which is noted as being one of the world’s most challenging tests. Unlike WSET, the Court of Master Sommeliers also focuses on customer stewardship and service, generally in an on-premise setting.
Applying to the Institute of Masters of Wine requires the WSET Diploma or equivalent, like a bachelor or master degree in wine or a top-level sommelier certification. Other conditions also includes a recommendation from a current MW or senior trade pro, at least three years of current and continuous professional wine involvement and completion of a notoriously difficult practical and theory assignment. The arrangement also includes work with a mentor, a research paper and an annual residential seminar.
For individuals who prefer to focus on a particular country, the Wine Scholar Guild offers French, Italian and Spanish studies, all of which can be further specialized with master-level certifications for distinct wine regions. WSG offers online and classroom curriculum that’s either independent study or instructor-led, both include reading materials, quizzes and a comprehensive manual. Exams are conducted in-person or with an online proctor. WSG students are eligible for immersion study trips and membership benefits like access to past webinars and a private forum.
Society of Wine Educators (SWE)
Society of Wine Educators offers a range of self-study programs that includes specialist and educator certifications in wine and spirits, as well as a beverage and hospitality specialist course. The programs finish with a multiple-choice exam taken at testing centers, located in most major cities.
The Certified Specialist of Wine works on building a candidate’s wine knowledge and mastery of key elements within the worlds of viticulture and wine production. The 1 hour exam consists of 100 multiple-choice questions drawn exclusively from the CSW Study Guide. This certification is widely recognized and regarded by the international wine industry.
Napa Valley Wine Academy
Napa Valley Wine Academy offers a wide array of courses such as Wine 101 – Foundation Online Course™ and support to help you achieve your wine education goals. In addition to fully digital online wine courses and experiences they also provide WSET 1-3.
I completed two Napa Valley Wine Academy online courses, American Wine Expert and Oregon Wine Expert between WSET 2 and WSET 3 and I was really impressed with the amount of information that each course delivered.
All of the above options do require set times, study dedication and of course money. If you do want to understand the growing practices’, climate differences and winemaking styles and rules without digging deep into your bank account then a self-taught wine education approach is a good alternative.
There are a lot of advantages to approaching wine education on your own. In addition to the numerous resources that are readily available there is sometime to be said about learning about wine from the comfort of your own sofa without the need to arrange your life around a set schedule. Wine study on your own is incredibly convenient and for wine lovers with a deep commitment to learning, self study can offer a rich and rewarding experience.
One of the best things about wine is that you get to taste it, and there is a lot out there to taste! If you want to dive deeper into wine and learn about its language then the best way to start is by opening a bottle and pouring yourself a glass. By learning the language of wine you deepen your knowledge of the properties in each sip while cultivating your passion of wine.
Components of aroma and taste:
Learning about wine should begin with deciding what type of wine you like to drink and build your initial knowledge by study through tasting. From there you’ll begin to focus on specific countries, regions and the varietals that speak to you more than others.
As you investigate different regions and varietals start building a wine vocabulary to assist you in describing what you are seeing, smelling and tasting. Two resources that can help you develop this vocabulary are the WSET Level 3 Systematic Approach to Tasting Wine® and Wine Tasting Terms And How to Use Them from Wine Folly. A valuable resource to aid you in becoming more familiar and to recognize individual flavors and aromas, is by using an aroma wheel created by Wine Folly. This handy device lists the various flavors and aromas in wine as well as enhance your wine knowledge by improving your ability to describe complexities in red and white wines.
Once you have the best aids to help you build wine vocabulary you’ll be surprised how much easier it is to come up with the right words to describe what you’re tasting or smelling. At first this is incredibly useful, but over time you will find that you don’t need devices anymore to help you describe the independent flavors of wine. A good way to start working on these new vocabulary terms is by starting with easy drinking, approachable bottles and moving towards more complex wines with nuanced personalities.
Next, mature your knowledge of wines by learning about Wine Faults and How to Recognize Them and move onto reading and tasting about what happens to the flavors of wines over time. This article in Wine Enthusiast, What Really Happens as Wine Ages? is a great resource, however tasting a range of new and older vintages on your own is the best way to to really experience how wine evolves and changes.
Helpful Tool: Pairing Passion with Practice by keeping a Wine Tasting Journal
Keeping a personalized wine journal is a great hobby for wine newbies, wine enthusiasts and wine professionals alike. Your wine journal is a place to collect and record observations as well as opinions on the wines you taste, whether that happens in a winery, a bar or restaurant, even in the comfort of your own home.
Start with the basics and jot down the producer, the wine’s full name, the region of origin, its grape variety or varieties, its price and its alcohol percentage. Next add in observations about the color and appearance, aromas and flavors, the structure of the wine including acidity, tannins and body, lastly describe the finish of the wine. When you have these notes in place you will be able to better determine your overall impression of the wine and if you wish you can also add a wine rating. You don’t need to use a point system, rate them how you would like.
The goal is to build a wine journal that can be something you reference in the future, but most importantly, you are forcing yourself to pay attention to wine in a detailed and systematic fashion.
Moleskine Wine Journal available on Amazon.
Developing a refined wine pallet will take time and it can take years for one to begin enjoying the taste of a dry red wine if you tend to only like whites, rosés or sparkling wines. We all have starting points when it comes to wine but eventually we graduate to expand our preferences. Finding wines that are suitable for your taste buds is largely a game of trial and error and always remember that you’re allowed to like whatever you choose and still be a certified wine lover.
Once you begin to get a better grasp on how certain wines taste you’ll need to start learning about the history of wine, the wine making process and what makes each wine region terroir so distinct. This is where the real effort of tracking down the best resources to assist your self-taught wine education happens. These resources can be found in books, on wine web sites and wine blogs, listening to wine pod casts, or even talking to the staff at a favorite wine shops or tasting room. Another great resource could be friends who are more knowledgeable than you about wine or seeking out a local wine tasting group that gets together to share detailed tasting notes and share wine stories.
When you want to learn about wine, treat the wine drinking experience as a moment of discovery while you savor every sip to explore the texture, taste, and aroma.
When you are ready to level-up your wine knowledge, there are hundreds of books available which provide a roadmap to teach yourself more about wine. Books can be a valuable resource and help you discover why wine is such an incredible living thing. Books also help demystify the world of wine by tackling the many misconceptions about wine. Just know as with any subject there are differences of opinion and many different optics, and wine is no exception. By reading and understanding the confounding joy of wine you may also come to realize you may never fully master everything there is to know about this topic, but you can sure try!
With a few (or a hundred) essential books in your library you can easily turn your wine knowledge up a notch with encyclopedic reference books, grape varietal books, wine travelogues and entertaining books about life in the wine world.
The following books are just a few that I would recommend to get you started in learning more about wine:
Wine Folly The Master Guide: This book is great for visual learners as it is full of graphics and charts explaining grapes, regions and styles.
Appropriately titled, Karen MacNeil’s The Wine Bible is considered the Bible of wine though it is a hefty 736 pages it covers everything you could possibly want to know about the world of wine.
Kevin Zraly is America’s most entertaining and famous wine teacher who has written a book of his own book based on the field—Windows on the World Complete Wine Course. This book includes topics like Wine Basics, Tasting Wine, Matching Wine and Food, and more.
Jancis Robinson is a leading international authority on wine and any of her books will answer all of your most pressing wine questions. I would suggest starting with newest edition of The World Atlas of Wine and The Oxford Companion to Wine, then to help you better understand wines here in the states continue with American Wine: The Ultimate Companion to the Wines and Wineries of the United States. I really recommend reading all of Jancis Robinsons books, in the world of wine she has a wealth of knowledge.
Maps play an important role in helping you explore wine regions. Journey Through Wine: An Atlas is a beautiful cartographic history of the world of wine, from 6000 BC until today, with detailed maps along with incredible facts about wine making.
By studying on your own you can really build up on the basics by understanding the general regions first, their grape varieties and styles of wine. Then you can narrow your focus even deeper into a specific region, such as Portugal, to get a better understanding of not only the wine growing and wine making practices there, but also learn more about the people, the landscape and the culture. If you are able to I highly recommend picking up a few bottles of wine from the area that you will be reading more in-depth about so that you can get a sense of the flavors that come from that unique wine region.
As you work your way through the library of books that are available on the subject of wine give yourself some time to traverse other avenues of wine knowledge as well like Wine Blogs, Wine Podcasts and even TV series about wine.
Wine blogs present a broad coverage of wine while also covering the latest trends, industry news and new releases from wineries around the world. Blogs also offer unfiltered wine reviews, editorials and wine travel adventures that can inspire your next wine purchase or help you plan an upcoming wine vacation. There are hundreds (maybe even thousands) of wine blogs that have a passionate point of view about wine and it would be impossible to list all of the great ones to follow and read. I would start by visiting Madeline Puckette on her website, Wine Folly which is an award-winning brand dedicated to wine education for all.
A couple of my other favorite Wine Blogs;
The VinePair website has a wide range of unique, accessible wine content including reviews, expert profiles, recipes, and pairing recommendations.
The Wine Economist-Mike Veseth is editor of The Wine Economist and author of more than a dozen books including Around the World in Eighty Wines (2018) and Wine Wars II (2022).
You can also check out, A Wine Blog For Every Taste[bud] which is a recent list of wine blogs from Forbes.
Although not always just about wine, you can find a lot of wine information here on Drink In Life, including my series on Washington State AVAs. My most recent article is the beautiful and Alluring Ancient Lakes AVA. In this supplement you will find links to previous WA AVA stories and in the category section on the left side of this page you will find more about wines, wine travel and wine education.
A very interesting and informal way to learn about wine is by to listening to a podcast. Today there are many different alternatives which cover a variety of topics ranging from grape varieties and regions, to interviews with individuals related to the world of wine. To assist you in learning about wines often with a dose of humor I recommend browsing this list of the 70 Best Wine Podcasts from Feedspot.
The Wine Show – is a delightful travel series about the stories behind some of the world’s most fascinating wine regions and wines. Seasons 1-3 explore the stunningly scenic wine regions of Italy, France, and Portugal while sharing history, winemakers stories and of course a multitude of great wines. If you haven’t watched this series yet you are in for a treat.
V is for Vino – takes you on a deeper journey into the wine world! Each episode, hosted by certified sommelier Vince, explores different wine regions, their culture and history and introduces you to winemakers while also sharing an educational glimpse into the world of wine. When I first started with the WSET courses, I found this series very helpful in explaining certain wine terms and methods.
Wine Masters – is available to purchase on Amazon and each season currently available is a documentary look at terroir, tradition, and taste. Filled with valuable information the series shares the stories of some of the most prestigious winemaking families and the most famous wine regions around the world.
Wineries can be the best way to learn more about wine. Go to a winery and get a tour of the facilities from someone who can explain the process along the way. People that love wine also love talking about it and they are often excited to share their passion and story. The key to a wine education is exposing yourself to various people and places. When visiting any winery location, don’t be afraid to ask questions and do your own research about the history of the winery and the wine region. And let’s face it; tasting wine has to be the best kind of research there is so be sure to try as many wines as possible at each new place that you visit. You just might find your new favorite ‘house wine’ or discover the perfect bottle to take home and tuck away for a special occasion.
“Wine is like life, it must be savored, not gulped.”– James Norwood Pratt
Expand Your Wine Tasting Adventures:
Start a tasting group with other wine enthusiasts: Tasting groups are an enjoyable and inexpensive way to learn about wines. Hold meetings once or twice a month on a particular theme, like focusing on a single variety of wine, then have each participant bring a bottle of the same variety (such as Pinot Noir). Taste them blindly, then compare their differences based on the regions of origin, climate & Terroir, vineyard soil, winemaking methods and of course, taste and aromas.
All of this combined sounds like a pretty daunting list of stuff! It’s a lot, but you can build this knowledge slowly and because wine is not static, you will always want to find new ways to seek more knowledge about this ever changing libation.
Life is too short to drink bad wine! Whether you are sipping a new wine at home or taking part in a wine tasting at a winery or an event, it is important to remember that if you don’t like something, don’t feel obligated to drink the entire bottle or even finish the sample. At a winery or event politely dump it into the receptacle and move on to tasting the next one. At home set the bottle aside to use for cooking with or pour it down the drain.
There are many interesting approaches to keep learning about wine, but no matter which avenue you follow, be it a formal wine course or self-study at home, I have always believed that the best way to learn about wine is by drinking wine. As in everything however, the important thing is balance. Enjoying wine is a sensory practice that should be experienced but not every day.
I hope that all of this information is helpful as you traverse along on your wine journey. Cheers and thanks for reading.
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