Wine—like most things in life—is better with somebody else. In order to grow your wine learning, you need to grow your wine tribe.
The key ingredient: someone even more obsessed with wine learning than you.
I was fortunate to have so many people who helped me along the way.
Today, I call on another mountain metaphor: skiing and how learning something foreign is a perfect parallel for wine learning.
From Chalets to Châteaus ⛷
Or how to embrace looking like a complete fool when you’re starting out.
When you start learning about wine, you’ll quickly feel out over your skis.
I learned to ski at 27 years old.
My family weren’t outdoor people. If we put up a tent, it was inside. And without question, there was going to be air conditioning.
The cold mountain air was the first slap in the face. Walking in ski boots was the second.
I trundled out of the ski shop, and I realized there was a long, uncomfortable walk ahead of me.
As I swung from my hips, as if continuously mounting a horse, my inner monologue switched to an evil 80s ski villain yelling, “Get off my mountain, dweeb.”
And in all honesty, I was a dweeb.
But thankfully, I had Bret.
Suave and stern, Bret coached me on the bunny hills for the entire morning. He was the late 30s ski bum version of Mr. Miyagi.
And if you’re getting into wine, you need a Bret too.
The Benefits of a Wine Friend
You need a friend who’s going to show you the ins and outs of wine. A friend who picks you up after you fumble and make a complete ass out of yourself.
Because when you’ve been at it professionally or passionately for years, wine geeks remember that we all started somewhere .
A Wine Friend is going to help you avoid pitfalls, show you what to drink, where to drink, how to drink, when to drink, and who to drink with.
My first wine friend was Curt.
He sensed my excitement from my first trip from Napa, and Curt took me to Vin Chicago—my future first wine industry employer. I bought 12 bottles of wine, which wasn’t a problem until I realized at 4:30pm that I’d taken the train to work that morning.
Carrying that case home from the train station on a beautiful spring afternoon strangely felt a lot like being on the mountain for the first time.
I knew I looked like a complete fool carrying that 40-pound box down Madison Avenue. There was nothing cool about it, but I couldn’t have cared less.
I was excited about everything I was learning.
As my wine journey continued, there was plenty of help along the way.
Champagne For My Real Friends
First of all, I have to give a huge thanks to Mike, Mike and Mike. All who worked at Vin Chicago. They were instrumental in my wine learning and provided insight into the wine industry and certifications. They will forever be some of the best co-workers I’ve ever had.
Also at Vin, there was Hunter, Jenna, Liz, Emily and Patrick. They were my Empire Records crew, and they made most days feel like Rex Manning Day.
And then when I worked in wine storage, there was Marc, Peter and Chris.
The Next Climb 🏔
Now, I’m on a new mountain and feeling somewhat alone again. But I think we all are. We’ve been hunkered down for two years, coping, drinking alone, and watching the wine world actually burn.
Wine is better with friends, and especially friends that know a little more than you.
So, find your wine friends, my friends. Keep them close.
Wine Stories and More
While we’re still trying to move on from 2020, the wine world is a bit of a clinger (thanks barrel aging). Most wineries and vineyards aren’t releasing reds from the 2020, but Kenzo is and therefore Heidi Barrett, super famous wine consultant, is out.
Half a world away, 2020 Rhône wines look to be great…in another solid vintage. If you wanted to experiment with aging some wines, these would be great, inexpensive time capsules investments. That’s if you care to remember the year that we’ll never forget.
The wine world is STILL full of sexism. Helena Nicklin shared her story with the Daily Mail. Unfortunately, it’s all too familiar. I talked about it on my former podcast after the events unfolded at the Court of Master Sommeliers in late 2020. Lots of work to do to make wine welcoming to all.
In the obscure wine things I wish I owned, I’ll take a 5 Gallon (19L) of 1966 Château Lafite Rothschild Water Cooler as featured in The Jerk. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any large format listings, as Melchoir (18L) bottlings are hard to come by. But if you’re in a pinch to drink like The Jerk, you can find a standard sized bottle of this First-Growth at Wallys for $900.