For those trying to learn about wine, the difficulties are many and varied. You see, it's tough to get a foothold on the subject, as - there's no denying it - it is rather dense and complicated. Worse yet, as the key method of developing wine knowledge is to try lots of different types of wine, it can be a rather expensive hobby!
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The social aspects of wine knowledge are awkward too. Tastings are the obvious way to make trying a range of wines cheaper, but these often inspire anxiety that one's knowledge won't be 'up to scratch' for the company or - perish the thought - one might make a faux pas in public. Eek!
This anxiety will only be worsened by the stereotype of the over-confident wine snob; someone who knows more than those around them (or claims to, and talks a good game), and wants to use that knowledge to dominate the forum - and humiliate others. Yes, sadly, that stereotype does exist, and yes, they are fairly odious - but they are also so few and far between, that you'll probably never meet one.
As is the case in any walk of life, there are a few bad eggs. Happily, the world of wine is by and large, an enthusiastic, friendly and welcoming place. Sadly, because of the wine snob's place in public consciousness, wine culture has a rather unfair reputation for exclusivity and pretentiousness, something only reinforced by the 'cost of entry'…
Well, I've said it time and time again that tastings are the way to go for affordable training, but arming yourself with a little prior knowledge will both improve your experience, and help you be more confident to discuss wine with others. "Tell us how", I hear you cry! The good news is that if you are reading this, you are on the way already.
And my column is just the teensy, tiny tip of the iceberg. I am but a lowly wine blogger, with modest qualifications and experience, but the print media and internet are teeming with expert writers dying to share their knowledge with you. If you're feeling loyal to this publication, The Herald's own Tom Bruce-Gardyne does a great drinks column every Saturday, and Pete Stewart makes food-matching recommendations on Sundays.
Even the much-maligned Wikipedia has many entries on wine which are invariably well-maintained, and surprisingly exhaustive. Better yet, you could procure some of the brilliant books on wine that are available to you. As a catch-all kit for getting you 'in the know', I recommend a particular 'Holy Trinity' of wine books that no oenophile should be without…
Jancis Robinson's Wine Course (BBC Books, 2003) is a magic resource for wine and its production, from soil to palate, and is suitable for novices and experts alike. The Oxford Companion to Wine (OUP, 2006, 3rd ed.) is kind of like a wine dictionary; an alphabetised reference book that never fails if you need a wee bit more info on an obscure grape or region. Finally, The World Atlas of Wine (Mitchell Beazley, 2013, 7th ed.) does exactly what it says on the tin, and really helps in understanding the perplexing roles that geography, geology and topography all play in wine.
Do note; these are serious reference books, and none of these tomes come cheap if you buy them new (you're looking at about £80 of books, all in). Happily, with a wee nosy at second-hand book retailers, however, you can pick 'em up pretty cheaply, especially earlier editions (not the end of the world - vintages aside, the subject matter doesn't change that quickly!). I got my Companion to Wine for £2 in a charity shop - true story!
If that all sounds a bit heavy, there's a nifty wee book aimed at beginners called Drink Me!: How to Choose, Taste and Enjoy Wine(Quadrille, 2012) by a chap called Matt Walls. It's eminently readable, but covers all the bases you might need to get your wine hobby going - plus, you should be able to acquire it for about a tenner.
So much knowledge! Just be careful you don't turn into a wine snob…