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Nous and vinous

05 February 2016


THE question that I am asked more frequently than any other is: “How can I learn more about wine?” The simple, flip answer is: “By drinking more of it.”

One good way of doing this is by getting together regularly with a group of friends, each bringing a different bottle. I reckon on getting up to 18 tasting samples out of a bottle; so that makes the ideal maximum number for a group. If half the group were each time to bring a bottle, that could make for a convivial and instructive evening.

One game that I used to play with friends in the wine trade was to taste each wine blind. The first person would have to make a statement about it, for example: “It is red.” The next had to narrow the field down with, perhaps, “It is Old World.” The next might say “French”; and so on. It is surprising how often we went astray.

Much of my knowledge has come from reading about wine, and now the field is much wider, and there is a range of blogs. On the other hand, publishers seem less willing to produce books on wine. For day-to- day reference, I would recommend Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book, published annually since 1977, and, apparently, the world’s bestselling wine book, at more than 400,000 copies a year in 13 languages. It is a richly seamed mine of information.

More visually stimulating (and expensive) is his World Atlas of Wine, which, since 2001, he has written with Jancis Robinson. If you have any Christmas book tokens still unspent, either of these would be a useful investment on your way to wine knowledge.

There is also a glossy monthly wine magazine, Decanter, which has a broad international readership.

In Britain, we are particularly fortunate in living in the country that is the world leader in wine education, both for the trade and the amateur wine-lover. In 1969, the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) was established to educate people in the trade. At about the same time, the Institute of Masters of Wine was created to give a qualification at degree level.

These two bodies are independent, but complementary, offering a range of courses and qualifications in almost every country where wine is drunk. Although they were both aimed at wine professionals, now, many amateurs take advantage of what they offer. The WSET (www.wsetglobal.com) holds regular courses at different levels — not just about wine, but also about spirits — at its headquarters in Bermondsey.

A further useful source of information is the Association of Wine Educators (AWE). All their members hold the highest qualification of the WSET, and many run WSET courses. They can also give individual wine talks, and, if you are thinking of setting up a wine group, it might be useful to contact a member near you. A full list of the members is available on their website www.wineeducators.com.

A great thing about wine is that you can never know all about it. But you can choose your level, if you want to. After a lifetime in drink, I am still trying to get deeper into it.

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