How does someone almost totally ignorant about wine start learning about it? Up until now, options were limited. Even though American wine drinkers are everywhere – much more so than they’ve ever been, according to studies – the perception of wine and wine drinkers has been that they're mostly experts and enthusiasts, interested more in the prestige of wine than the price or taste.
Anyone who wanted to learn about wine before now might have picked up a traditional glossy magazine or gone to a wine tasting, only to find them full of unfamiliar, almost unfriendly language, the kind insiders assume everyone knows — or drop to show they do know it — and the kind that often makes the wine novice feel unwelcome. Many cities offer wine tasting classes, and while these can be fascinating and useful, the assumption seems to be that anyone who wants to learn about wine wants to enter into the more rarified world of the wine enthusiast.
But times are changing. For those of us who truly love wine, don't want to be sommeliers, but do want to learn and drink more, our options for learning are better than ever. While tastes may differ and palates take time to develop, the general consensus is that the best way to learn about wine is simply by drinking it. And who better to drink with than Marissa A. Ross, whose hilarious YouTube web series “Wine Time” is full of wisdom, not just about wine, but about enjoying the hell out of it. The same goes for her site, Wine. All The Time, which is packed with reviews that don't treat bottles like holy objects, and end up serving more purpose to the reader who might not be as interested in what a professional reviewer has to say.
When it comes to online magazines, VinePair is a relatively new source for wine, but also beer and spirits as well. It's aimed at 20 and 30-somethings, and gives off the vibe that wine should be chill if you want it to be, or fancy if that’s what you’re aiming for; what's important is it doesn’t have to be something that stresses you out. It's not anything like the glossy wine mags you’ve seen at wineries, the supermarket, or that one expensive psychiatrist’s office. The site provides everything from basic Wine 101 to news about Harvard University buying up California water rights. And while you might never have had qualms about drinking wine out of any vessel available — including the bottle itself — reading about the formal ways of wine tasting, alongside a link for a wine and pizza pairing app, comes in handy.
Then there are the apps: Drync, Vivino, and Delectable, along with Pair It! and Hello Vino. The first group are in the “Should I buy this wine?” category, and the second tend more toward “What kind of wine goes well with what I’m eating?”
Drync, Vivino, and Delectable all allow you to take a photo of a wine label and find out what other people think of it. If the label can’t be matched to a wine that’s already in the system, an actual human will go out and find it. This happened to me on the second wine I scanned using Drync, a French rosé. Within 24 hours, I got a message letting me know the wine was now in my own personal cellar and accessible for anyone else who might scan it. No one else has, but if they did, I might see community ratings and tasting notes from other people. It’s like wine’s version of Shazam crossed with Yelp! — not for experts, but for wine drinkers like you.
Each app has different lists of wines you might be interested in or lists of wines from various regions and price ranges, along with wines that are trending. They all encourage you to connect with other users. The more people you follow or friends you connect with, the more you can share and, ostensibly, learn about wine. This feels like the most important part of the app, and the one that should be front and center: Connecting with other people, so you can stop talking about wine and actually drink it with them.
Hello Vino, which unlike Pair It! is free (a major deciding factor, since you’d probably rather spend your money on wine), is for when you're coming at wine from the opposite direction. Making chicken with lemon and butter for dinner? Spaghetti alla carbonara? What should you drink, and where can you go get it near you? Just curious about a wine variety? There’s a guide that tells you brief blurbs about each grape, and what you might consider pairing with it. There’s also a wine pro "on-call," accessible from within the app, which you can sneak off to the bathroom at a restaurant to use, in order to impress your dining companion.
All these options, whether VinePair or any of the apps, are great tools. They’d be even better working in tandem, giving you buying advice, news, and even occasional basic tips all in one place. But even using them makes you realize learning wine is like learning any language. You have to get out to practice it. Adam Teeter, co-founder of VinePair, recommends finding a wine merchant you trust. Don’t wait until you get to the sommelier at a restaurant, he says, because you're often with someone you want to impress and that’s too stressful. Wine shouldn't be stressful! Instead, find a merchant who listens to you and who takes your questions seriously, no matter how silly they seem. Then try the wines, and see what you like, using your tools to guide you. As Ross says, the most important tool of all: "The best way to learn is to keep drinking."