We are in no way wine professionals, we're just fans of the drink who are looking for an way to keep a wine journal and doing it in blog form may be enough motivation to keep it up.
Should someone come across our little blog and not know much about wine, but is interested in learning, I figured I'd toss out some advice in my first post.
You really must find a good wine shop and become friendly with the people who work there. In order to find a good wine shop, I'd suggest checking the internet, asking around, or consulting the ol' Yellow Pages and trying some out.
Take note of what the shop is like, how the staff treat you, how the offer assistance, what type of help they offer, and if they offer wine tastings.
The other day I was in a wine shop I rarely visit and ovehearing the following made me remember why. A woman came in who clearly didn't know a whole lot about wine and asked the guy working for "a good red wine between $10 and $12."
His reply was stunning in how, in my opinion, completely and utterly wrong it was.
He said this: "If I can get you to spend $13.99, I have a bottle that will knock your socks off," walked to an endcap, and handed her a bottle and said that it was really good and he's sure she'll love it.
Really? He's sure she'll love it. Based on what? The fact that he has a ton of it in stock? The fact that the distributor has some sort of incentive for him to get rid of it?
Quite simply, if you go to a wine shop, ask that sort of question and get that response, turn right around and never shop there again.
There are many "correct" ways to answer the question. First, and most simply, offer a bottle of wine between $10 and $12. The fact that he upsold her something on an endcap tells me that he's more interested in getting rid of that wine then he was in giving her a bottle of wine she'd really enjoy. The $14 bottle very well may have been great, but that's not what she asked for.
A better answer would've been a question to get a bit more information from her. Does she know much about wine? If so, what kind of wine does she like? Does she like wine that's sweeter/fruity/earthy/big/mild/tannic/smooth? What's the occasion for the wine? Is it a gift? Is it for dinner, and if so, what's being served?
Don't let salespeople sell you something you didn't ask for. Wine is a luxury item and you should be treated like you're buying a luxury item--in other words, they should be as helpful, polite, and honest as possible.
Stemware matters. The best and cheapest glasses out there are Riedel O glasses, they don't have a stem (sacrilege to some, one less thing that can break to me). Riedel also has a line of glasses at Target. They're worth it. Buy a decent bottle of wine, pour some in a cheap glass and a Riedel glass, you'll be shocked.
Go to tastings! Tastings are normally free or just a few dollars a person, and they are well worth your time. Some local shops have tastings everyday with five or six different types. Some only have them a couple times a month, but have as many as fifty bottles open. We've tried well over 1,000 wines in the past two years thanks to tastings like this, you learn a lot very quickly.
About spitting: tastings usually have buckets out where you can dump the wine you don't want to drink. Some people are grossed out by spitting, for obvious reasons. I almost always spit but I try to be as polite as possible by bringing an opaque plastic cup and just using that. When the cup becomes half full or so, I discreetly dump it into the buckets the folks at the shops provided. Some people may look at you funny, but the people working will recognize you as being serious about wine and will not look at you as the type who's just there to get drunk for free.
I'll probably throw more advice out there as the posts go up.