Whether you are an experienced wine lover or a relative newcomer to the joys of the grape, there are many fun ways to improve your knowledge of wine. The best part? They all involve tasting.
1. Start a wine club
This is the first suggestion because it has two benefits that can carry through a number of others: It's a social activity, and it can help cut costs by spreading the financial investment among several people. Gather a group of friends regularly and set a theme: red wines under $15, for example, or zinfandel or some other grape variety. Everyone brings one bottle (or more, depending on the group). Conceal the labels with paper bags to eliminate the possibility of bias, and rate the wines on your own personal scale. You might find a $10 bargain you prefer to the $30 version, or you might develop a better understanding of why some wines cost more. Either way, you come out a winner.
2. Explore your favorite wine variety
Do you love Chardonnay? Most wine drinkers do.But have you experienced Chardonnay's varied expressions, from the Russian River to Santa Barbara, from Chablis to Macon? Barrel fermented versus "naked" of all oak treatment? Make an effort to sample chardonnays from around California or around the world, either together or over time.Compare their different flavors and nuances to glean your own concept of terroir, that sense of place conjured up by wines that speak of their land of origin. One way to do that — one of many — would be to compare chardonnays by the same producer, such as Au Bon Climat, pitting its Santa Barbara County and Santa Maria Valley bottlings against a single-vineyard wine from Bien Nacido Vineyard.Another tactic would be to compare a Russian River chardonnay with another from Carneros and a third from Washington state's Columbia Valley.
3. Get to know a new retailer
A great way to learn about wine is to cultivate a retailer you trust who knows what you like. Even better: Cultivate two or more. That way, you will be introduced to new and interesting wines whenever you walk into a store.
4. Attend a wine dinner
Many stores and restaurants host dinners with visiting winemakers or importers, pairing their portfolios with a multicourse meal. These can be expensive, but they often represent great value and a chance to experience their range in a single sitting. There is no better connection to a wine than to shake the hand that made it, and your link to the winemaker or the importer could pay off on your next visit to wine country.
5. Wherever you travel, drink local
When business, family or pleasure takes you across the country, look for local wines.