My 5-year plan for learning red wine

A couple of years ago, after a once-in-a-lifetime dinner, I decided I really wanted to learn wine. After stubling around in the dark, I decided to invest the time and effort to do it correctly; there was no way I was going to understand what makes wine special by randomly picking bottles off the supermarket shelf. I sketched out a rough plan (listed below, and modified heavily since) that would take me through the basics of the red wine world.

Two and a half years into it, and I’ve had some real eye-opening moments. I’m no closer now to finding a common denominator to the wines I like — and thus being able to predict whether I will like an untasted wine — than when I began. I’ve been taking meticulous notes and have several favorites, but with one or two exceptions I haven’t had the same wine twice.

I’ve been learning to cook the corresponding regional food as I go, and I’m about ready to get serious with some cooking classes, which should add a new dimension to the experience. After the red wine tour is done, I’d like to do white wine and sparkling wine.

I’m sure there’s something I’ve missed in the plan, but stumbling onto new, unexpected tastes is most of the fun. Any thoughts?

 
Year 1
 Bordeaux
  The basics: tannin, acid, fruit, oak
  Non-classified bordeaux
  Regional differences: Medoc, Pomerol, Graves
  Veriticals and horizontals
  Terroir basics
  Great growths (as budget allows)
 
Year 2
 Burgundy
  Vintages -- finding a good one
  Effects of aging: Burgundy vs Bordeaux
  Regional differences -- Cd Beaune, Pouilly Fuissee, Pommard
 Beaujolais
  Food pairings
 Spain
  Rioja
  Basque wine & cuisine
  Ribero del Duero, Castillon, etc
 
Year 3
 DETOUR: Dessert wines 
  Sauternes
  Tokaji, eiswein, port
 Italy
  Italian grapes
  Barolo, Barbaresco, Piedmont cuisine
  Brunello
  Other Sicillian/Tuscan/Chianti  <-- I am here
 Optional: other French -- CdP/Rhone, Languedoc, etc
 
Year 4
 Chile
 Argentina
  Malbec
  Comparison to Spain
 Australia and New Zealand
  Syrah
  Penfolds verticals (as budget allows) 
  NZ bordeaux-style blends
 
Year 5: America! (Travel as allowed)
 Napa Valley
  District comparisons
 Sonoma Valley
 Single-varietals
 Cult wines (as budget allows)
 Meritage
 OR/WA Pinot Noir
 Understanding oak

Wow five years, thats a long time. But I’m in the same boat after a few years I still feel like I’m still not well experienced. So are you going to start exploring French cooking first? Have you found any good books?

That’s one of the things that got me started on this…I went to a cooking school in Provence years ago, and fell in love with both traditional French bistro fare and Provencal cuisine. As I’m working through the list, I’m trying to learn the appropriate regional dishes and styles. (I spent two weeks trying to do a proper sauce bordelaise…)

So far, I’ve become pretty fluent in:

  • French bistro
  • Preparing game (when available)
  • Northern French cream-based sauces, stews
  • Terrines, some pates
  • Provencal/mediterranean, seafood
  • Some pastry work
  • Basque and Catalan
  • Piedmont cuisine…mmm bagna cauda

To stay interested, I’ll take some detours on the cuisine as well. Last month I spent two weeks exploring pesto and pesto-like sauces and preparations: chimmichurri, charmoula, etc.

It takes 5 years because this is all self-education. I’m not doing anything special, other than really getting to know my wine guy, and not preparing the same dish twice (I haven’t repeated a dish in 3 years now). If I did the wine and food as a formal education, it’d take a fraction of the time and I’d know the fundamentals a little better.
I love Eiswein and port, haven’t been able to get into tokaji – the Hungarian stuff is a little weird for my tastes

A couple of years ago, after a once-in-a-lifetime dinner, I decided I really wanted to learn wine. After stubling around in the dark, I decided to invest the time and effort to do it correctly; there was no way I was going to understand what makes wine special by randomly picking bottles off the supermarket shelf. I sketched out a rough plan (listed below, and modified heavily since) that would take me through the basics of the red wine world.

Two and a half years into it, and I’ve had some real eye-opening moments. I’m no closer now to finding a common denominator to the wines I like — and thus being able to predict whether I will like an untasted wine — than when I began. I’ve been taking meticulous notes and have several favorites, but with one or two exceptions I haven’t had the same wine twice.

I’ve been learning to cook the corresponding regional food as I go, and I’m about ready to get serious with some cooking classes, which should add a new dimension to the experience. After the red wine tour is done, I’d like to do white wine and sparkling wine.

I’m sure there’s something I’ve missed in the plan, but stumbling onto new, unexpected tastes is most of the fun. Any thoughts?

 
Year 1
 Bordeaux
  The basics: tannin, acid, fruit, oak
  Non-classified bordeaux
  Regional differences: Medoc, Pomerol, Graves
  Veriticals and horizontals
  Terroir basics
  Great growths (as budget allows)
 
Year 2
 Burgundy
  Vintages -- finding a good one
  Effects of aging: Burgundy vs Bordeaux
  Regional differences -- Cd Beaune, Pouilly Fuissee, Pommard
 Beaujolais
  Food pairings
 Spain
  Rioja
  Basque wine & cuisine
  Ribero del Duero, Castillon, etc
 
Year 3
 DETOUR: Dessert wines 
  Sauternes  <-- I am here
  Tokaji, eiswein, port
 Italy
  Italian grapes
  Barolo, Barbaresco, Piedmont cuisine
  Brunello
  Other Sicillian/Tuscan/Chianti
 Optional: other French -- CdP/Rhone, Languedoc, etc
 
Year 4
 Chile
 Argentina
  Malbec
  Comparison to Spain
 Australia and New Zealand
  Syrah
  Penfolds verticals (as budget allows) 
  NZ bordeaux-style blends
 
Year 5: America! (Travel as allowed)
 Napa Valley
  District comparisons
 Sonoma Valley
 Single-varietals
 Cult wines (as budget allows)
 Meritage
 OR/WA Pinot Noir
 Understanding oak

well im taking my acceptance exam for the guild in april -im only 21 now but have done a ton of research and taken every class possible, doesnt hurt im a world class drunk.

anyway that is a very intelligent plan, but i think you will waste a very good amount of time and money on certain things (unless you are very passionate of these things, ie, cult wines, penfold vertical) but this is a great plan.

first look at your local colleges and see what courses they offer regarding wine, this has been a great help to me. 2nd drink as much wine as possible in your budget.
third and most importantly enjoy yourself because in the end its just grape juice so don’t take it too seriously.

well im taking my acceptance exam for the guild in april -im only 21 now but have done a ton of research and taken every class possible, doesnt hurt im a world class drunk.

anyway that is a very intelligent plan, but i think you will waste a very good amount of time and money on certain things (unless you are very passionate of these things, ie, cult wines, penfold vertical) but this is a great plan.

first look at your local colleges and see what courses they offer regarding wine, this has been a great help to me. 2nd drink as much wine as possible in your budget.
third and most importantly enjoy yourself because in the end its just grape juice so don’t take it too seriously.

International Sommelier’s Guild?

correct.