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Stefanie Phillips gets a lesson in wine.




Wine 101
How to learn about wine

08/07/14
By Stefanie Phillips food@hippopress.com



 Many people ask me about wine and how I became so interested in it. I have to admit, it hasn’t always been something I have had a lot of curiosity in, despite growing up with two grandparents who made their own wine and beer out of their basement. 

I really started learning about wine a few years ago while working at an Italian restaurant with all Italian menus, including not only the food, but the beer, wine and cocktails. As a server, I couldn’t wait on my own tables until I showed management that I knew how to describe the different wines on our wine list, many of which customers (and I, myself) had never tried because they weren’t all the common, well-known grapes.
The restaurant focused on food and wines from a few major regions in Italy, so I learned them not only by region but by their ideal food pairings. I talked reds and whites separately, constantly being quizzed by coworkers. When they set me free on my own tables, I was nowhere near an expert, but I had a much better grasp on things than when I had first walked in the door. Whoever thinks that servers don’t take their jobs seriously is wrong — I studied for this job like I was studying for a college exam. 
One of the restaurant’s best staff perks was the opportunity to constantly try wine, whether it was something new or a refresher course of wines on the menu. Many times, we would try small samples during our afternoon meetings, learning all about the wine and discussing its best pairings from our menu. Customers were given the same opportunities. As long as a bottle was open, they could try a wine before ordering it to make sure it was to their liking.
In hindsight, I am so happy I had this opportunity, because it began what has been a very educational journey. 
The question remains, though: How do you learn about wine?
There are actually many opportunities to “try before you buy” while learning something new. Here are a few suggestions, and the good news is, not all of them are expensive.
 
Visit a winery
Visiting New Hampshire wineries is one of my favorite activities. You may try something new or find a new favorite wine, and this often gives you the opportunity to meet the winemaker. Visit nhwineryassociation.com for a map and list of members. Many wineries offer free tastings while others include a wine glass or give you credit toward a wine purchase. 
Attend a tasting
The NH Liquor and Wine Outlets are always holding wine tastings at store locations throughout the state. Visit liquorandwineoutlets.com/events for a list of dates and locations. 
Some wine shops offering weekly wine tastings, like the WineNot Boutique in Nashua (Wednesdays 5 to 8 p.m.) and Wine Steward in Hampstead (Thursday 5 to 7 p.m. and Saturday noon to 5 p.m.) 
For a unique wine tasting experience, join Carla Snow of A Grape Affair for a wine tasting harbor cruise out of Portsmouth for $38 per person. Check her calendar at agrapeaffair.com/calendar for dates. 
Be sure to ask questions and bring a small pad of paper and a pen so you can write down the names of the wines you liked. That way, you will have a running list of wines you’d like to purchase. 
 
Take classes
Did you know: You can take wine classes right here in New Hampshire? WineNot Boutique and Wine Steward are among those offering classes. They range from one two-hour class to multi-week series. 
 
Sip & eat
While wine dinners can cost upwards of $75 per person, they are a great investment. These dinners give you a chance to not only try wines, but try them paired with food. Many wines, like Italian reds, are better with a meal and trying them together will really enhance your experience. Some New Hampshire wineries, like Labelle Winery in Amherst and Zorvino Vineyards, offer wine dinners. Check the Hippo listings for upcoming wine dinners and events. 
 
Throw a party
Host a gathering and ask each guest to bring a bottle of wine to taste, or organize a blind tasting and have guests try to guess each wine. Or host a regional wine and food gathering to brush up on a particular area’s wine, like its history and what to pair it with. 
 
As seen in the August 7, 2014 issue of the Hippo.





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