I’m not sure if it’s commonplace in the rest of the country, but in the Mid-Atlantic wine is a form of gratuity among friends. If your neighbor lets you borrow his lawn mower, you give it back to him with a full tank of gasoline and a bottle of wine. If your friends invite you over for dinner and tell you not to bring anything, you still bring the hosts a bottle of wine. The only time a bottle of wine is inappropriate to bring is if the friend doesn’t drink alcohol, and then flowers and plants are substituted as the gratuity.
When I moved to Washington, D.C., more than a decade ago, I knew very little about wine. To participate in the tradition of giving wine to friends, I had to rely heavily on the advice of clerks in wine stores. Wine store clerks usually know a great deal about wine, so leaning on them isn’t a bad way to select wines (much better than relying on the graphic design of the wine bottle’s label). However, I wanted to know more than who was the best clerk to ask for advice — I wanted to be able to make the decisions myself.
I started by reading a book about how wine is made and the basics of the wine industry, Making Sense of Wine by Matt Kramer. Then, with a little bit of knowledge about wine in my schema, I set off on an adventure to taste different wines and establish my personal preferences.
I purchased a wine tasting diary and kept track of every glass of wine I had at parties, every glass I ordered with dinners in restaurants, and every glass I had of wine in a bar. If we opened up a bottle of wine at home, I kept track of this, too. I’d try my best not to have the same wine twice, unless I knew I was ordering something I really enjoyed.
Staying organized with your wine tastings allows you to better understand what types of wines you like and lets you remember which wines you want to buy the next time you head to the store. Plus, I like to add notes about what I was doing when I had the glass of wine, and so my journal is also a recording of many wonderful celebrations from the last decade.