Beginners Corner

Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz

Just to get started...

Posted by Gregory Dal Piaz, Oct 17, 2008.

Wine is a daunting subject. You never can know enough these days, what with new wines appearing on your retailers’ shelves daily. I’ve told people many times that, as a percent of what was available to be known, I knew a lot more about wine 20 years ago than I know now! Back then there were a few dozen books on wine, most already 10 or more years old. One could read them all in a year and have a very good idea about almost every wine one might encounter.

Today I can’t even begin to imagine having a complete grasp about the wines that fill the virtual shelves of all the on-line stores I shop at. This movement to shopping for wine online has removed a valuable tool from the averages consumers’ arsenal of tools; the knowledgeable wine salesperson.

Now before we get all wound up let me assure you there are knowledgeable sales people out there. Believe me, I used to be one! If you can find a great salesperson you should take advantage of that wealth of information, but even then we all can only know so much, and generally will be most knowledgeable about the wines we sell.

While that salesperson may be helpful, it may still leave you feeling stranded while you browse on-line, reviewing options and reading professional reviews. Let me just state right here - There is NO SUBSTITUTE for tasting wines and learning what YOU like. You’ll find information you agree with and information you disagree with out there, but only by generating your own experiential database will you be able to figure out which is which.

Keeping notes on the wines you taste is one of the most valuable exercises you can do to further your understanding and enjoyment about wines. By forcing you to pay attention to, record, and be able to reference your impressions about a wine, note taking allows you to lay the foundation upon which a lifetime of wine knowledge can be built!

So from this inaugural post in the Beginners Corner forum I hope you come away with just a few pointers:

1) Ask for help, from me or from your favorite retailer.
2) Read what you can, everything you can is even better.
3) Taste, taste, taste
4) Keep records of your impressions and your preferences

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Reply by oceank8, Oct 17, 2008.

Do you have recommendations for how to start taking notes? Some kind of simple system of things to look for to aid one in writing a review? I find this to be a weak area for me, I have no problem rating the wine but find it difficult to write comments about it.

Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Oct 17, 2008.

Hey Ocean,

That a great question. Thanks for asking.

Getting started is easy, just keep it simple. I generally don't bother with how a wine looks unless it's surprising in some way. For the nose, see if you can decide to call the wine fruity, or earthy, floral or vegetal, spicy or gamy. Eventually you will feel more comfortable adding specific descriptors like blackberry or leather, vanilla or rose petal.

In the mouth there are a few elements that I like to pay attention to. The first is the texture and structure of the wine. Is it big or small, high acid or low, tannic or soft? Does it feel lush in the mouth or like you're chewing on gravel?

Then there are the flavor impressions, start with generalities just like with the nose. And the final element you might want to take note of is the finish. How long the flavors stay with you after you swallow and if the change at all.

You can make a checklist, or just get used to jotting down 5 lines of impressions, you can even start with one word per element.

For example today we tasted our Friday wine:

If I wanted to be brief and easy my note could have looked like this, i've added sort of second tier comments in ()

Looks: Dark
Smell: Spicy (cigar box, baked fruit)
Feels: Rich (soft tannin and good acid)
Tastes:Fruity ( plum and boysenberry)
Finishes: Long (bittersweet and cigar box)

And I'd be on my way...

I have my first tasting book with notes from 1984. I just found it recently while cleaning up. I'll post a note or two from back in the day. My notes have changed over the years.

Reply by Eric Guido, Oct 17, 2008.

When it comes to note taking I'm still learning a lot. It's more difficult for me to find the time to write. Often wine in my home is shared at a family meal with my children (3 and 1 years old) at the table. What I've tried to do more often is to save a glass to take to my desk and enjoy in a slightly more relaxed fashion when the kids have gone to bed. This has helped but its still hard to turn into a habit. This is a big part of why I'm trying to get involved in tasting groups.

Reply by Philip James, Oct 20, 2008.

We have a little overview of how to write a note: when you are leaving a review, there's a link that says "help what do i write" at the bottom of the box, if you click it it says:

Reply by oceank8, Oct 21, 2008.

Thanks, guess I never paid attention to that :)

Reply by Philip James, Oct 23, 2008.

Haha, yeah, we've rolled out so many features i think people have found it hard to keep up. Park of our new guy, Mike's, role is to make everything easier to understand and find

Reply by Mark Angelillo, Nov 7, 2008.

I think it's going well so far, between the corkscrew menu, the features page, and some language tweaks we're making a dent.

Plenty more to go where that came from!

Speaking of tasting notes, last time I checked it was wine Friday!

Reply by Psycheotix, Dec 6, 2008.

I just picked up this book up yesterday at Barnes and Nobel, Educating Peter by Lettie Teague. So far I have found it very informative and comical (entertaining) at the same time. I am in page 72 out of 248 pages. This book has a very nice chemistry between the apprentice and the wine editor that is trying to teach him about wine. Fabulous book in my opinion, I am already thinking of reading it twice. I have learned lots so far. But of course Keeping in mind with what Greg has said in his post, learn what you like by tasting it yourself. ^_^ Well everyone keep on enjoying good wine. BTW. This book is at a better price in

I paid $16 for it. Is just that once I picked it up and read a bit I just could not leave without it .

Reply by oceank8, Dec 8, 2008.

Thanks for the recommend, always looking for a good read!

Reply by unleaded73, Feb 27, 2009.

This was a really great read for me. I am glad I read this post and I will take this with me, especially the note taking for reviews on wines while I am smelling, tasting, looking and while I educating my pallete of the good and bad in wines I indulge.

Reply by ewc304, Mar 25, 2009.

I'm not a wine beginner (still have lots to learn) but am new here. Wanted to post a remark about a NEW NYC wine store I found through the site, but could not find the POST button. Any help appreciated. Thanks!

Reply by HS Law, May 27, 2009.

Thanks! I see that I have much to learn about wine.

Reply by oceank8, May 28, 2009.

Not sure if you figured this out yet, but on the main forum page there is a button at the top right that says "post a new topic." Once you click there, it lets you enter your post, click "post reply" and then "approve."

Reply by coffeebean24, May 28, 2009.

Thanks, I was also looking for how to take notes on tasting.

Also, I recently picked up a book "Oldman's Guide to Outsmarting Wine". I like it so far, anyone else read it yet? What did/do you think of it?

Reply by wineboy19, Jun 1, 2009.

Id like to read Oldmans guide to outsmarting wine. Have it at borders? Question for gregory: Im new to snooth and I already like it. Its great how many options there are to view different opinions, wines, vineyards and so on. Im trying to focus on learning as much as possible everyday about wine and I want to learn more. So Ive come up with a list of questions that I havent been able to answer yet because no one I know is a wino like me. Could you help me?

Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Jun 1, 2009.

I can try.

You can send them to me or even better create a new thread here and we can share them with the community and get the input of all the other knowledgeable folks here!

Reply by coffeebean24, Jun 1, 2009.

Have it at Borders? Yes, for $18.00 :

Or you can do what I did and rent it from the library for a "test drive".

Reply by dmcker, Jun 1, 2009.

For sure, Lio, post the list of questions as a new thread and watch the flurry of responses! Should be most educational...

Reply by wineboy19, Jun 2, 2009.

Sweet thanks coffeebean and gregory. here is the "thread" haha.


1. Why in Bourdeaux is April the best time for barrel samples-

2. Negociants going bankrupt-

3. Bordeaux 1970's hardship-

4. Why does it take 2 years for 2008s to be released in the US-

5. Why is 2008 the latest and longest harvest for more than a decade-

6. Indian summer-

7. Coulure-

8. Austere backbone-

9. Super Seconds-

10. en primeur-

11. 2008 compared to 1988-

12. Why does botritys spread faster in scheurebe than in riesling-

13. Dessert wine from scheurebe-

14. Too much make-up on malbecs-


Reply by djc, Aug 10, 2009.

Does anyone think it would be a good idea to create another category of forum entitled "Book Reviews," or "Books," or something along those lines?
Two books have been mentioned in this one thread from this one post ("Just to get started...") from this one category ("Beginner's Corner"), and I can only imagine that a number of other books have likewise been mentioned, commented upon, recommended, etc. elsewhere in the Snooth Forums. Does anyone know if this is in fact the case? (I joined only yesterday and have really only perused this forum along with "Introduce Yourself," which, incidentally, is something I have yet to do.)
If so, would anyone be interested in such a forum category?

I should mention that my intent in asking this question is not so that I can then post my own book reviews (I have none; I am new to Snooth, to wine, and have not read a single book on the subject). Rather, I'm interested in what all of you have to say about any books on wine you've come across and enjoyed (or disliked).

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