Wine Folly article written by Madeline Puckette

With Forks & Corks Food and Wine Festival right around the corner, all of the different wines can be intimidating. This guide written by Wine Folly should help calm your nerves and get you ready for the festivities! 

There’s a lot of wine information out there, but not a lot of good advice on how to get started and what to learn first. Fortunately, with a little direction, you can gain lots of wine wisdom (and confidence) in a very short period of time. This guide intends to offer an outline on how to improve your wine knowledge — even if you’re starting from the very beginning.

Why Learn About Wine?

Becoming wine savvy isn’t for everyone. But it’s the best way for wine drinkers to enhance their social experiences and gain an improved sense of taste. There are some significant side benefits too: you’ll become more confident buying wine and be able to taste differences in quality. Of course, learning to identify wine quality can be so eye-opening that you may never see grocery store wine the same again, so if you prefer to maintain your blissful ignorance, it’s best to stop reading now.

If however, you’re ready to crack the code and understand your wine from the inside out, let’s get started!

cycle of learning wine

Change the Way You Drink

The first step you must take if you want to improve your wine knowledge is to immediately change the way you drink. Keep in mind that the goal is to alter the way you buy and consume wine so that you can make better-informed choices and have a higher level of awareness. When you remember that goal, every time you taste wine suddenly becomes an opportunity to add to your wine knowledge. Changing the way you drink, means that you:

  • Practice the tasting process each time you pick up a glass of wine
  • Set up comparative tastings to improve your ability to taste
  • Always identify the origin and vintage
  • Seek out new wines that will expand your tasting repertoire

This simple adjustment isn’t something that requires your full attention all the time. Just be sure to take good notes and after you’ve recorded your thoughts, you can get back to enjoying wine for its effect.

Start Your Personal Wine Challenge

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a beginner or an expert, we all have more to learn about wine. With that in mind, here is a 3-step personal wine challenge tailor-made for beginners.

Am I a wine beginner?

If you don’t know how to describe tannin and acidity in wine, and you’re mostly unaware of the range of wine varieties and styles available at your local wine shop, then chances are you are a beginner. So, congratulations for challenging yourself to learn more! 

Here are the first steps to take to improve your wine knowledge: 

Step 1: Basic Wine Traits

Palate Training Wine Tasting

First things first, what is wine? Wine is described as an alcoholic beverage made with fermented

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UNI John Zelko Quote

John Zelko was born in Montreal, Quebec but grew up in Florida, Panama, and Hawaii, the eldest of three sons of an adventurous mother and a father who was tired of being cold. He attended medical school in Honolulu and completed his surgical residency in Denver in 1983. Then, he and his wife Katherine moved to Portland, Oregon, and soon discovered that Oregon also had a young but growing viticultural industry that was producing wines that rivaled the best of Europe. John began apprenticing himself as a “cellar rat” to experienced vintners, and purchased a ton or so of grapes every year to make into wine, with most of the work being done in the late evening after rounds at the hospital.  In 1995, the Zelkos purchased a hilly, 40-acre parcel in the Willamette Valley in what is now the Eola-Amity Hills AVA, and began planting Pinot Noir grapes. Twenty years later, the vineyard is LIVE (low impact viticulture and enology)-certified and farmed using organic and biodynamic practices.  It produces the gutsy, earthy backbone and intense black fruit flavors that are typical of that AVA, with complexity aided by a mix of four Dijon clones and the original Pommard. John is still a full-time surgeon and the wine is made under his supervision by two exceptionally talented local vintners, Patrick Reuter for the Pinot Noir and Drew Voit for the Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay.


Want More Forks & Corks University?

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UNI Wayne Cheeseman Quote

Wayne Cheeseman is a resident of South Florida and who was born in Connecticut. Wayne received his introduction to wine by assisting his Italian immigrant grandparents in the winemaking process in the basement of their home. This sparked a lifelong pursuit of the pleasures of wine. After graduation from college, Wayne began running beverage programs for restaurants in the Caribbean and the states. Starting in 2005, he transitioned to working in wholesale distribution where he spent 10 years in various Sales Management positions. Starting in 2015, Wayne began working on the import side of the industry. He is currently employed with Broadbent Selections, an exclusive US National Importer for some of the world’s most sought-after wines. Broadbent Selections represents family owned wineries that come from the heart & passion of the people behind the wines. They represent wines with personality, history, and character.

Want More Forks & Corks University?

Learn more about this wine seminar led by 7 world-renowned wine industry professionals and winemakers here.

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UNI Bertrand Ambroise Quote 

Bertrand Ambroise first came to Beaune when his father was transferred to work there on the French railways. He then enlisted in the Lycée Viticole to study winemaking. Whilst at the school, he met his future wife Martine. After they married, Bertrand worked alongside Martine’s dad until his death in 1988 when the couple took over the 8 hectares. A wine lover who was passionate about the work of the vineyard, he continued to develop the estate which today reaches 21 hectares and focuses on two grape varieties, Pinot Noir & Chardonnay. A family run business, Bertrand is now joined by his son, François, in the winemaking and his daughter, Ludivine, in the running of the Domaine. Together they produce boutique wines in the traditional Burgundy way. They are a family passionate about the vineyard and their wines, with one goal: "your pleasure.”

Want More Forks & Corks University?

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UNI Mary Joli Quote

Mary Joli is a Key Accounts Specialist with Willamette Valley Vineyards in Oregon’s verdant Willamette Valley. Mary brings with her a wealth of wine knowledge and experience from over 15 years in the Oregon wine Industry. Having worked in wine shops specializing in Oregon Pinots, she then went on to several small wineries where she managed tasting rooms, wine clubs, special events and having a hand in harvest/production, before landing at WVV. It was during the early time in her career as an International Flight Attendant with TWA that she traveled extensively throughout Europe and she first came across the elegant old world wines. Tasting her way across Europe for 4 years, she developed a palate and a passion for wine. After settling down and raising a family, Mary returned to the work force to pursue her passion for wines, traveling and meeting new people. Working with Willamette Valley Vineyards in National Sales has enabled her to continue to live her dreams.


Want More Forks & Corks University?

Learn more about this wine seminar led by 7 world-renowned wine industry professionals and winemakers here.

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