Advancing Your Wine IQ

author/source: Tom Oetinger

Wine-Books-for-the-wine-loverFor those who enjoy wine, there tends to be a graduated spectrum when it comes to actual wine knowledge.  Some are strictly social wine consumers and while they may have preferences of particular varieties and producers, this category of individuals doesn’t give the wine in their glass much thought.  They couldn’t describe the color, aromas, and flavors, nor discuss the wines origins or production techniques and they have little interest in doing so.  For this group wine is a simple convention; an alcoholic beverage to have in their hand as they are chatting with friends or relaxing in the patio.  An appropriate analogy is a person who knows how to drive a car but has no idea what the cubic displacement of their engine is, or even where the oil goes.

On the other end of the continuum are the oenophiles or in layman’s terms ‘wine geeks’.  There are the people that you will see staring intently at restaurant wine lists or bottle labels; incessantly swirling and sniffing their wine; carrying on (and on) about a particular vintage or producer and waxing nostalgic about their gateway bottle: that transcendent wine that opened their eyes to the mysteries of the magical elixir.

Most people tend to fall somewhere in between these two extremes.  They can tell the difference between a Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc; know that red wine tends to pair well with steak and understand why it’s not a good idea to store your wine in the garage.  The funny thing is that wine can be an intimidating subject.  When you go into the grocery store to pick up peanut butter it’s easy: smooth or chunky; Jif, Skippy or Peter Pan.  Step into the wine aisles and some people feel like they’ve entered into a foreign country – too many bottles, all kinds of weird grape types and how the heck can there be any difference between a five buck wine and one costing $50.00?  Often, they will end up staring down at the bottom shelf and grabbing something with a familiar name or pretty label; usually costing under ten dollars.

The good news is that if you are a complete wine novice, or even someone who can explain the difference between a Bordeaux and a Burgundy but would like to learn more there are a host of books and periodicals aimed at boosting your wine IQ.  As far as periodicals focused on the U.S. market, Wine Spectator is the premier magazine.  Be prepared to see articles and reviews of wines at higher price points, but WS also runs Best Buy and Savvy Shopper segments in all of their issues.

vinho-verdeTwo of my favorite wine writers happen to be women and each brings a unique perspective and style to their books.  My favorite text for the beginner to intermediate wine enthusiast is Wine Folly by Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack.  Now in its second (Magnum) edition, this book recently won the 2019 James Beard Foundation book award for the beverage category.  The Wine Folly is easy to navigate, filled with graphics and will offer the novice with a solid foundation on all of the major varieties and regions.  If you have a thirst to dig deeper, Karen MacNeils’ The Wine Bible will provide you with an in-depth understanding of the world of wine.  Filled with maps, definitions, and humorous anecdotes, this book reads much easier than its 995 pages would suggest.  Cover to cover or just used for an occasional reference the Wine Bible deserves a space on your bookshelf.

The wine challenge for this month is not a grape; rather it is a blend of six grapes and is an ideal white wine for the beach or the pool.  Vinho Verde is both the name of the blend and the region in northern Portugal from where this wine is sourced.  High in acid, low in alcohol and with slight carbonation this wine is made for salads, seafood, and sushi. Contrary to what you may expect, the ‘Verde’ in Vinho Verde does not mean that the wine is green, rather it designates that the wine is young; released three to six months after harvest.  Expect aromas and flavors of citrus, white peach, and honeydew. A solid value proposition, Vinho Verde is usually priced below ten dollars.  Three good examples that are widely available are Broadbent; Aveleda and Casal Garcia.

So, skip the yard work this week, grab a good (wine) book and lounge in the shade with a cold glass of Vinho Verde.  The wine gods will smile on you for it!


Tom Oetinger holds an advanced certification in wine & spirits from the WSET in London, England.  He is available to assist you with your wine events or answer your wine questions at [email protected].