When you find yourself in an unfamiliar place, you rely on a a small number of essential tools to help guide you through the wilderness. Typically these include a map, a compass and a watch.
The same is true of wine. Instead of trying to force an encyclopaedia of knowledge into your brain, by keeping in mind just a few key concepts you will find it much easier and faster to find your bearings.
Here are the tools you need to keep in close to your heart:
This is your map. Having a general understanding of varietal differences means that you have an idea what flavours and aromas to expect.
Familiarity with varietals and their typical characteristics will come from research and experience. Go to plenty of wine tastings. Go through this blog and browse through the wine reviews. As time goes on you will need to to the above less and less, relying only on your memories of flavours.
This is your compass. In the most basic sense, build an awareness of the differences between warm-climate and cool-climate regions.
Understand the story of the vine, and how plants behave under different conditions. Grapes grown in a cooler climate will be less ripe, accumulating less sugar and retaining more acidity. Vice versa for warmer climates.
This is your watch. When a wine is young and fresh it will typically be more vibrant and fruit forward, with density and weight.
As time goes by, the fruit will begin to “drop out” of the wine and begin to develop more savoury characteristics, becoming softer and more mellow.
To build your awareness of vintage differences, try vertical tastings, especially of the same varietal from the same region, even the same producer if ever possible.
These three tools are your guides, but you won’t be able to use them to their fullest potential without practice and experience. Go to more wine tastings, pursue more flavours, and never stop expanding your knowledge.
PS – If you want an atlas, check out my book, The 7 Key Wine Concepts.
For a GPS, I can organise a Personal Wine Consultation for you.
Read more: A Rational Perspective of Terroir