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4 Wine Tips For Novice Tasters

by Jeska Dzwigalski
money & life

wine tips for beginners

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I’m not a wine expert by any means, but after living in San Francisco for 10+ years, I’ve spent my fair share (ok, probably more than my fair share) at wine tastings up the road in the Napa and Sonoma vineyards and wineries (and Santa Cruz and Monterey…). I’m also a bit of a wine and spirits nerd, and have done a copious amount of research for my cocktail blog Geeks with Drinks, including the occasional wine and cocktail classes.

So imagine my excitement when we booked Master Sommelier and all around wine and spirit guru Richard Betts to teach a wine tasting class at CreativeLive. I was definitely the first staff member to volunteer to be in the audience for this one. Richard has an easy and very approachable theory about wine and he’s created a system to help people discover both what types of wine they like through tasting.

Chiefly, he believes that wine should be for everyone. Which doesn’t mean that there isn’t something to be learned. Here’s what I took away from the class:

Buy Wine from the Source: The wine business is complicated and a lot of the money you spend on wine goes to other places (distributors, restaurants,  etc) – so if you can, purchase your wine directly from the vineyard either in person or via their wine club. Usually, you’ll get a better price and be more educated about what you’re getting.

Barrels Matter: I’ve gone to enough wine tastings to see “aged in French oak” or “aged in new American oak” listed, but never really understood the difference. Apparently American Oak can lend a lot flavor, including a strong dill taste to the wine. Don’t like dill? Stick to wine aged in French Oak.

Sommeliers Are Your Friends: Just like it’s important to have an auto mechanic that you trust, it’s good to find a friendly wine seller/sommelier to help guide you. This can be at a wine shop, bar, restaurant or the corner liquor store. Once you find someone you like, talk to them, ask them questions, tell them what you like to drink, what you’re cooking/eating for pairing suggestions, etc. It seems like a no-brainer, but I think we all get a little intimidated when asking for help with wine selections. Don’t be scared, just ask.

Online Sommeliers Exist: There are a lot of groups for wine pros and consumers online, but I didn’t know that the Guild of Sommeliers produce a bunch of content that they make available to the public, including a monthly wine podcast, high quality videos, and featured articles.

Now then, time to track down a bottle of my new favorite wine (which I also discovered in Richard’s course), the Produttori del Barbaresco, a delicious Italian wine. Salute!


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Jeska Dzwigalski

Jeska Dzwigalski is the Sr. Community Manager for CreativeLive. @JeskaD