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Six benchmark wine types to improve your palate

How to Drink Better: The best way to learn about wine is also the most fun way - drink it

Can I teach myself about wine without doing a course?

You can certainly teach yourself about wine. In fact, I would suggest that you hold your own personal lessons at home, even if you are going to classes. By lessons, I mean drinking wine. First arm yourself with a good book. There are plenty of wine guides out there. Andrew Jeffords’s Wine Course is very good, but my favourite, and the most straightforward, is The 24-Hour Wine Expert, by Jancis Robinson. A book will give you some structure and answer a lot of the questions you may have.

But the easiest, and by far the most fun way to learn about wine, is to drink it. We tend to enjoy wine with friends at social occasions and don’t always think too much about the contents of the glass, unless it’s very good – or very bad. So instead of simply sipping your wine, make a mental note, or better still write your thoughts down in a notebook about what you taste, whether you like it – and why.

To taste, buy a bottle each of the three red and white wines below. If you have a friend or two also interested in learning, you can share the cost, but they needn’t be expensive wines; €10-€15 a bottle should get you a good example of each. You don’t have to taste them at the same time, although it certainly helps. I frequently taste my wine before dinner (well away from any cooking smells), make my notes, and then enjoy it with my partner during the meal.

The wines below, each made from a popular grape variety, will each taste distinctly different. Make these your benchmark wines. Once you understand how they taste, you can try examples from other regions or start trying other grape varieties.

Six wines to try

  • Pinot Grigio from the Veneto: Italian Pinot Grigio tends to be light in alcohol and flavour.
  • Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough: Usually very aromatic and fresh with lots of lemon and lime acidity.
  • Chardonnay from Chile: Tends to be richer and seems fill the mouth with flavour.
  • Pinot Noir from Chile or New Zealand: Pale in colour with lighter more elegant cherry fruits.
  • Cabernet sauvignon or merlot from Bordeaux: Typically drier and more tannic.
  • Shiraz from Australia: Usually bigger, riper, more full-bodied and higher in alcohol.