Vail Wine Ink column: Wine education is a lifelong pursuit |

Vail Wine Ink column: Wine education is a lifelong pursuit

A look inside a Napa Valley wine seminar at the Taste of Vail.
Zach Mahone | Taste of Vail |


Graham’s 20-Year-Old Tawny Port — A tawny port is distinguished by the yellowish-brown color it picks up from being stored in large wooden casks for a decade or more. There are those who love these concoctions, which have been preserved with the addition of grape spirits into still wine. I love a good tawny port, and this offering from Graham’s is a perfect choice for after dinner with either a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a chunk of blue cheese.

If you go ...

What: Taste of Vail.

When: Wednesday, April 5, through Sunday, April 9.

Where: Various locations throughout Vail.

Cost: Individual seminar tickets start at $50.

More information: Visit for a complete list of seminars and other signature events.

“I don’t know anything about wine,” said the woman next to me as she looked deeply into a glass of tawny port at a recent wine tasting. “But I do know one thing,” she continued as she took a big sip of the wine, “I know what I like.”

The fact is, she knows all she really needs to know about wine — what she likes. And, in reality, she likely knows more than she thinks she knows about wine. And the hope is, she will be inspired enough by what is in her glass of tawny port to want to learn more about the basics of wine.

While wine is, at its core, a sensation for the senses, it is one of those things that can produce even more pleasure if you take the time to dig deeper and learn more about it.


Wine is a social lubricant. And there is no better way to enhance your wine knowledge than by tasting and discussing the merits of wine with others who are tasting the same thing. The key is finding places to do that. Without a doubt, the clearest paths are the seminars, classes or tastings which let you interact with both wine professionals and other drinkers.

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Start big. Events and festivals such as the Taste of Vail, the Keystone Wine & Jazz Festival, the Lake Tahoe Food Autumn Food & Wine Festival and the Aspen Food and Wine Classic are not only outrageously fun events to be a part of, but all bring in world-class wines and winemakers. Sign up for three days and focus on a particular region or grape, and at the end of a weekend, you may not be a certified expert, but you will certainly have had fun learning.

The wine seminars at these mega-events can be revelatory. Great glassware, educated and trained presenters and the opportunity to taste different wines from different vintages — or regions — is something you usually can’t do in the real world.

Then there are more focused classes and tastings which can often be found in resort areas, at restaurants, cooking schools or community colleges. For example, the Cooking School of Aspen has a weekly wine-tasting event that explores, say, the wines of South America one week and the wines of the Loire region of France the next. Check out your local papers, or ask the sommeliers at the restaurants you go to or the folks in your favorite wine shop for suggestions. They’re typically on the pulse beat.


But if you can’t get to a seminar, then the next best alternative for opening up the world of wine is to turn a page. The pages of wine books. Fortunately, the world of wine has a long history — dating to ancient Greece — of writers pontificating on wine.

And there are some outstanding books which can provide a plethora of information. Begin with Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson’s “The World Atlas of Wine.” This is, as the title infers, a book which documents all the wine from all around the world. Open a bottle, pour a glass and turn to the page that details where your wine is from and you will be enlightened. Simple as that.

Then there is Karen MacNeil’s “The Wine Bible,” which has 994 pages of insights and recommendations from one of wine’s grand apostles. Or even try the best-selling wine book of all time, “Wine For Dummies.”

You need not only restrict yourself to guides and tomes of information. There are dozens of books which capture the romance of wine in all of its forms. One of my favorites is Jay McInerney’s collection of essays “Bacchus and Me,” which gives his take on his own wine education. If Anthony Bourdain was a better writer and focused exclusively on wine, then this would be the book he would write.


Of course, we live in a digital age and fortunately, the words on wine have spilled onto the web. Perhaps the easiest way to quickly learn about a wine in your glass is to go to and enter the varietal. You’ll get the lowdown, as well as recommendations for similar wines and other grapes you might want to try.

For a blog that provides a little deeper information and a dollop of opinion — okay, a heavy dose of opinion — you can’t go wrong with Alder Yarrow’s Vinography. Since 2004, Yarrow has been dishing out readable posts about wine, and if he recommends you try a wine, then it is worth the effort to find it.

The bottom line is, there are lots of ways to learn more about the wines in your glass. If you know what you enjoy, then you have started the journey, but there may be more out there to love.

Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at

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