Millennials are reshaping the wine industry in a big way. From online clubs that make wine convenient and affordable, to mobile apps that have built communities of amateur wine critics, Gen Y-ers are taking a practice that's traditionally associated with the elite and turning it into an accessible hobby.
We've come a long way in proving that wine is not just for old folks and high society. Still, many people don't know how to start. Here are a few suggestions to level up your wine game.
Practice with friends
The evolving wine culture is such that you don't have to be a sommelier (a professional designation that requires studying and passing rigorous tests). You can impress friends with your wine tasting skills by developing a more refined palate through practice. And who doesn't want to practice drinking wine?
“Developing a relationship with wine can be a personal and lifelong journey, akin to traveling,” says Amy Lieberfarb, founder of Sip On This Juice. “That journey starts with simply being mindful of sensations and flavors. Eventually, with enough practice, flavor profiles will start to correspond to regions, grapes and soils.”
One of the best ways to practice is to get together with friends and play a “blind tasting” game. To do this, pour an unknown bottle into your glasses and look for clues to discern grape variety and region. The best bit is that there are no wrong answers. All that's necessary is a vocabulary of descriptive words and the guts to tell your friends that you can taste rocks. Yep. Rocks.
Get out of your comfort zone
The best bottles of wine are not necessarily the most expensive. By looking for lesser known grape varietals or regions, you can save money and explore a region you've never heard of before.
If you're not sure where to start in selecting new wines, there are several apps out there that are dedicated to wine enthusiasts hoping to become more discerning drinkers. Vivino is one of my favorites: it's the Yelp of the wine world. You can take a photograph of a bottle or a restaurant menu, and it will quickly populate a score and reviews. Just remember that tasting is subjective and you should take reviews with a grain of salt.
Eventually, you'll come to know what you like about the wine that you're drinking. If you like fruit and spice, for example, you might look for a Spanish wine from the Rioja region, or an Argentinian Malbec. If you are more into earthy notes, but don't want to spend a ton of money on Pinot Noir from California or France, but you might try Pinots from Oregon. Don't be afraid to explore!
Turn your wine hobby into an investment
We have lived through the crash of 2008 and can understandably be skittish when it comes to investing. Turning a hobby into an investment could be an appealing way to bridge the investment gap, and wine can be a great bet if you have a few tips on expanding your cellar on a budget.
“Most people don't know that the top wine investments have actually beat gold for the past ten years,” says Alex Westgarth, owner of Westgarth Wines, a high-end wine distribution company that specializes in investment-grade wines. “Wine doesn't change hands the same way that stocks do, so new investors may find it more approachable — you don't get the fluctuations you get with the stock market.”
Alex let me know that first-growth wines tend to yield the biggest payouts for investors. “If you're investing on a budget,” he says, “Purchasing the most inexpensive first-growth wines with the highest scores is a good way to start.”
Plainly said, look for inexpensive wines with high scores, and stock up while you're doing your routine wine shopping. An important point: remember not to drink your investment. And proper storage is essential, if you plan to resell.
Visit a vineyard
To immerse yourself in wine culture, there's nothing quite like visiting a vineyard. The enthusiasm and passion of the vintners is contagious and learning about the art and science of the wine-making process will give you a greater appreciation for the discipline, and the wine.
As a perk, wine country is pretty much always beautiful. Rolling hills punctuated by seas of lush green vines make for an enjoyable getaway. You'll learn what grapes thrive in the region you're visiting, depending on its climate and soils.
While exploring the earth and the weather is interesting, it's the tastings that will make the trip. Ask to try different vintages of wines from the same vineyard. It's amazing how fluctuations in temperature from one year to the next can produce an entirely different flavor profile.
There you have it. A handful of ways to reach depths in your relationship with wine… and they all involve a bit of studying. So, next time someone questions you for drinking too much wine, just tell them that it's part of your commitment to your continuing education.