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What are the 10 most important things to know about wine?

By: Brandon Warnke

I chewed on this question for a good while and think I’ve finally arrived at my 10 most important things. Curious for questions/comments/feedback. Here goes…

#1: Taste, Taste, Taste.

Don't buy the same wines over and over again. Instead of buying Bogle Chardonnay or Joel Gott Cabernet for the 10th time, try a different California Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon! Or ..... try and Chardonnay from a different area - like Burgundy - or a Cabernet from a different area - like Bordeaux and see if you like them better. You’ll end up surprising yourself more than you think…

#2: Read Some Good Books on Wine.

Books like “The Wine Bible” from Karen MacNeil or “The World Atlas of Wine” by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson were instrumental in helping me and many others I know to learn more about wine during our respective wine education journeys.

#3: Know the Major Wine Critics.

There are so many incredible critics, well-known through niche, situated all over the globe, and I’m sure you’ll eventually discover some true favorites of your own if you study and follow the industry long enough. A good place to start is with the majors: Wine Spectator, Vinous, Robert Parker, Wine Enthusiast, Wine and Spirits, James Suckling, Jeb Dunnuck and others.

Many of these critics are the same ones we ourselves use when buying wines to offer through our daily wine deal text message service (while I’m of course biased, we’re incredibly proud of this service if you’re looking for good online wine deals/recommendations).

In addition, newspapers like the New York Times (Eric Asimov) and the Wall Street Journal (Lettie Teague) are tremendous resources to stay current on the wine scene.

#4: Explore New Countries.

Did you know you can find incredible wine values from Portugal and Spain? Did you know you can find wines that drink like $100 Napa Cabs for half the price in South America? Did you know that if you can't stand California Chardonnay there is a chance you might love White Burgundy even though we are talking the same varietal?? There is SOOOOO much to learn about wine. Part of the fun is exploring all the world of wine has to offer...and it's a BIG world...with a LOT of wine!

#5: Decide What You Want to Spend.

Everyone has a wine budget, and the good news is, there is wine for every single budget! Pick a price point and stick to it…only occasionally going a bit over for special occasions. In most wine regions, you can find good quality wine for under $20. It can be tough in certain places, but those places are few and far between.

#6: Read the Labels.

When I first started in wine, I took Kevin Zraly’s “Windows on the World” wine course. A lot stuck with me from that class, but the one thing that really sticks for some reason was the lesson on wine labels, and within it, one specific piece of wisdom, which is the following:

If you know nothing else at all about the wine bottle you’re trying, generally speaking, the more information the wine label gives you, the better the wine is likely to be.

In other words, does it say California or does it say Napa Valley? Does it say Cabernet or does it have a vineyard name near the word Cabernet Sauvignon? In general terms, the more information the wine label gives you on exactly where the wine originates from, the better.

#7: Talk to a Wine Consultant.

If you are at a store, ask questions. If you are online, send an email. If you are on the phone, ask for a wine consultant. There is so much to know and there are no bad questions about wine.

Examples of commonly asked questions I receive any given day at our Wine Library store in New Jersey:

  • I normally drink white wine…what red wine should I start out with?
  • I don't like California Chardonnay but love White Burgundy. Do you know why?
  • I really only like sweet wines. What are my options when it comes to both white and red?

There are helpful answers and context to all of those questions and thousands more. Ask, ask, ask…!

#8: Visit a Winery.

For me, one of the most eye-opening moments learning about wine was when I first visited an actual winery to see the process first-hand and talk to the winemakers and winery staff.

Wine is made all over the world, and in more areas than you think. For example, I live in NJ, but do not need to go to the west coast to have these experiences. There are plenty of wineries in NJ and NY to keep me busy, including some very well-regarded ones. Plus, even if local, it makes for a great, short day or weekend trip.

#9: Take a Deep Breath and Just Smell the Wine.

You know the saying “stop and smell the roses?” That definitely holds true with wine as well.

You’ll find out that just about everything you need to know about a given wine can be determined by just smelling it. It will also alert you right away if anything is wrong with the wine.

#10: Try a Wine Over a Period of Days.

Try a glass or two the first day you open it. Then try the same thing a day later. Perhaps two days later.

Once you open a bottle of wine, the wine will start to change. This is especially true for young wines that may be opened far before they are ready to drink. The extra day or two will help the wine open up and breathe. You might discover you don't love a certain bottle on day one, but by day two or three you’re finding it tastes amazing!


I hope you found this list helpful and enjoyable to read. If intrigued enough to receive more wine recommendations from me and my staff, is the best place to go and sign up. Or if you’re local, stop by and visit us at Wine Library in Springfield, NJ!

All the best,

Brandon Warnke (VP, Wine Library & WineText)

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Bottle shot for 2019 Passello Toscana