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Snooth User: Kirstin

Learn more about wine for less money

Posted by Kirstin, Feb 5, 2008.

[Snooth is pleased to welcome its newest contributor, Kirstin Jackson Ellis. Kirstin graduated from culinary school and worked as a chef, before returning to school at UC Berkeley, where she studied cultural anthropology with a focus on food, wine and death rites. Kirstin now manages a neighborhood wine bar in San Francisco's East Bay, where she now tastes a lot of wine, acts as chef, and often writes winenotes that involve Gordan Gecko. She also works independently as a food and wine consultant, writes for publications, and posts to her lighthearted food and wine pairing blog, Vin de La Table ]

As a wine industry professional responsible for dispensing accurate or at least vividly colorful wine information to curious oenophiles, you can bet that I taste more wine weekly than your average person tastes in a month or three.

Despite the purple stains gathering unabashedly on my teeth or the high amount of tooth enamel I've lost from high-acidity wine samplings, I feel very lucky. My employment encourages me to engage my passion on the clock.

If someone's aim is to absorb as much viniferous knowledge as possible, having opportunities to taste is crucial. Reading about vineyards, domaines, and grape histories links the world of wine together, but tasting is what really hammers in the knowledge. Example- it's easy enough to read about the Fiano di Avellino grape, but almost impossible to understand its pear, almond-liscous and sea-air flavors, or think of a food pairing, until it passes through one's lips.

That being said, wine is not cheap. In fact, unless the experience section of one's resume benefits from the phrase "tastes at least a hundred wines monthly while working," tasting with the aim of learning can be excruciatingly expensive.

Yet there are ways.

Five ways to learn more about wine for less money:

1. Frequent wine establishments that let you order flights, half glasses or tasting portions and order glasses at restaurants rather than bottles.

It may feel less economical since we're taught that buying in bulk will save money, but think of it this way. One bottle equals a taste of one wine. Four half-glasses or tastes equals four tastes of different wines. Would you rather pay five dollars each for four two-ounce pours of diverse wines at one sitting, and then come back next week to try three or four more (that is eight distinct wines you've just tasted!), or, pay to share only one bottle (= one taste per visit) each time? Unless you absolutely have to have that impossible to find Barolo on the list, buy bottles to drink at home with dinner. Buy tastes and glasses when you're out.

2. If ordering a prix-fixe menu at a restaurant, choose the wine pairing option with the courses.

Whether it is $18 or $65, wine pairing options at reputable establishments are always a good deal and a fantastic learning experience. Most wine directors and sommeliers are very skilled at pairing wine with cuisine- it's their job. That being said, not only will you taste at least three of the wine director's favorite wines for less than the bottle cost, you'll learn just by noting the pairing experience.

3. Frequent and support wine shops that offer free daily tastings.

More and more wine shops and markets are pouring a different wine nightly, for free, in order to increase awareness of wine and to help familiarize people with a store's offerings. I've seen this in Berkeley, the broader Bay Area, New York City, and have faith that this common sense practice will expand.

4. Host wine tastings where each guest brings a bottle of wine made from the same grape, but from a different country.

This is a great way to share the expense of exploring differences in tastes, vintages, textures and styles due to climate, varying techniques and practices and taste preferences. Take notes, check out wine books from the library, share your findings on the region's typical wine practices after you taste, do a little research on the vintage's impact on the grape, and be amazed by how much you'll learn

5. Finally, attend wine classes and paid tastings at local shops and venues.

These are generally very good deals. You'll be sharing the cost of the wines with other classmates and you'll learn the wine's background as you taste. Keep in mind, all wine educators know that the wine world consists of an amazing amount of knowledge, that no one can know everything, and that everyone starts somewhere.

Next blog- I'll explore one of the many glories of drinking wine at the dinner (breakfast?) table. In the meantime, check out my wine and food pairing blog .


Blog comment by alesha, Feb 5, 2008.

I always find it best to select a wine flight at a restaurant when out with friends. That way everyone can decide on a wine before committing to a wine they have not yet tried.

Blog comment by Annie, Feb 5, 2008.

the wine store across the street from my apartment does daily free tastings. on days when a drink is needed, i definitely stop in and check it out. i've ended up buying a fair amount of wines that i unexpectedly liked. good call.

welcome to the blog. its nice to have another bay area voice!

Reply by Philip James, Feb 5, 2008.

Firstly, Kirstin, welcome to the blog. Secondly, I'm lazy to tend to skip store tastings, but go out of my way to find restaurants that offer wines by the glass. I think its worth noting that you don't need to spend a lot on a bottle of wine to enjoy it. I've tried a fair few wines under $5 per bottle that, for me at least, were just as good as wines 10 times that price. Sadly, that rule doesnt always apply, which is why so many wine lovers are poor romantics, endlessly questing for that perfect bottle...

Blog comment by Mark V Marino, Feb 5, 2008.

Very nice article and good advice to gain wine knowledge one must taste and take notes on the tasting. Visit as many tasting rooms as possible and figure out what you like based on those tastings. It helps to be near a wine growing area as this is where you can taste the most wine in a short time. Wine knowledge never stops if you continue you will change and grow in your preferences. Here is to a truly great fermentation for that fuels the desire to continue tasting again!

Blog comment by Kirstin, Feb 6, 2008.

Thanks for the welcome, I'm happy to be here.
And I definitely think its best to get a flight just for the sake of deciding on glass or two too. As for the $5 wines, I only wish there were more. But darn it's expensive to run a vineyard.

Reply by Mark Angelillo, Feb 6, 2008.

@Kirstin -- I'll add my welcome to the rest! Good suggestions for wallet watching.

@Philip -- I think that's the case... but in the end do you really want to find the perfect bottle? It's the quest (and not so much the money) that's the fun part.

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