“Did we really tell lies
Letting in the sunshine
Did we really count to one hundred?”
- Jon Anderson, Long Distance Runaround
If you’ve been on the “global interwebs” for any appreciable amount of time, and you like wine, you’ll already be familiar with the Wine Century Club. If not, here’s a short primer: the WCC is an organization that seeks to promote wine appreciation by offering you bragging rights after you successfully taste 100 or more wine varieties. Download the application, fill it in, send it to the WCC, and then you’re a member.
Of course, there is the matter of tasting the required 100 or more wine varieties.
I’ve got a buddy who I’ve known for over 30 years (since I was five years old, actually) who is not a wine geek per se, but he does enjoy wine and he loves to learn, and he especially likes collecting categorical experiences. He recently asked me about the Wine Century Club after seeing that I was a member, generally inquiring about how to go about tasting the 100 different wine grape varieties required to gain membership.
My buddy is not the kind of guy to get daunted by a challenge like tasting 100 different wine grape varieties, but while being a fantastic idea and also clearly in the camp of spreading wine appreciation to the masses, the WCC doesn’t exactly do itself any favors in terms of encouraging membership when it publishes this sort of warning on its website:
“It’s a simple idea, but it’s not as easy to become a member as you may think. One Master Sommelier could only come up with 82. Of the thousands of applications downloaded, less than 3% are completed. If you feel up to the challenge, have a look at the application!”
With all due respect to the WCC founders, I’ve got to go ahead and disagree on that. I think my buddy is exactly the kind of person that should be shooting for WCC membership.
In fact, it’s my belief that anyone who wants to learn more about wine should become a Wine Century Club member.
It’s not difficult at all to do this (hell, even I did it). It just takes patience (I said it wasn’t difficult – I didn’t say it was quick).
If you’re someone who wants to learn about wine, you’d do far worse than seek out 100 different grape varieties to try – you’ve got nothing to lose except time (and a little bit of money), and you stand to gain an immeasurable amount of quality wine experience along the way. There is no faster way to learn about wine, after all, than to taste it.
So I thought I’d offer some advice on how you can get to the 100 and join the WCC yourself. The competitive among you (like me) won’t have any trouble motivating yourself (“I will get me 100 grape varieties, dammit!!!”), but if you need even more incentive, how about this: did you know that one of prog rock pioneers Yes’ greatest songs, Long Distance Runaround, from their landmark 1971 LP Fragile, was written about the Wine Century Club (even though the WCC wasn’t founded until decades after the album’s release)?* How friggin’ cool is that?!??
* – This statement has not been verified by any reputable source and is probably totally false. But Yes kicks ass, can we just agree on that?
Anyway, onto the advice…
3 Easy Ways to Get to 100 and Join the Wine Century Club
1) Take Stock
If you’ve been drinking wine for a while, likely you have tried more grape varieties than you realize (if you suffer from having a spouse / main squeeze that only drinks one style of wine… I feel for you but you need help if you’re gonna get crackin’ on the 100). For WCC membership, blends count, so take a few minutes to think back on how many varieties you can check off from those blended wines. If you’d had a Southern Rhone wine anytime in the recent past, look up that sucker on the web, because you may have tasted upwards of a dozen varieties in that one glass.
2) Take a Class
Wine classes are a great way to up your wine IQ (well… duh…), but they’re also the kind of setting where you often get to try wines that are off the beaten path. If you don’t know much about a particular wine region, it’s a great excuse to get yourself to a wine class and get educated. It’s also an opportunity to tick off a likely more than a few varieties on your way to the 100.
3) Take a Trip
When you travel, try wine – preferably local wine. Tasting wine in its home region, paired with its “home” food, is really experiencing wine in its natural element, and it will seriously expand your wine knowledge. Of course, traveling is also an opportunity to try funky local wines that might not otherwise be available to you. Here’s an example: Italy has hundreds of wine grape varieties, so a short time in Italy would get you ticking off wine varieties on your WCC application like… well… like a thing that speedily checks stuff off applications. Anyway, if you lived in Italy, you should be able to complete the WCC application before your twelfth birthday.
So there you have it – nothing difficult about it. Well, nothing difficult apart from having the patience to let your wine journey unfold naturally so that you experience the wonderful world that it has to offer you…
(images: amazon.com ,1WineDude, melaman2.com)
Actually, I lied.
Since you will also need a decent corkscrew and a wine glass, you actually need five things to better appreciate wine. But no more than five, and those last two are just enablers (as we say in my office).
But first, a bit of preamble (as we also say in my office)…
When I tell people that one of my jobs is related to wine, they give me a strange look. It’s the same look they give me whenever it comes up in conversation that one of my other jobs is as a musician (oddly, I receive very few disparaging comments on the fact that playing rock music and drinking comprise a contribution to my income).
It is not a look of admiration.
It’s more like the look I imagine that people would give the embalmed and glowing remains of an alien corpse if it was discovered on this planet and then put on display somewhere. A look that says, “Hmmm… you are strange and perhaps you possess some strange powers that I do not understand…”
But there is nothing strange, magical, or otherworldly about wine appreciation (or playing music – ok, playing music is strange but that has more to do with most club owners being weirdos).
Why wine appreciation has been put on a pedestal is beyond me. I understand how it happened (a great write-up of which was the topic of a recent post by Alder Yarrow over at the excellent Vinography.com). But I will never understand why it happened.
It’s a myth that is perpetuated by many of the established wine magazines and some of their wine critic staff, because, like credit card companies finding suckers who are already in debt as potential new customers, or fake alien autopsy videos looking for true believers, it makes them money.
In fact, I can tell you from first-hand experience that wine appreciation is actually pretty easy. Look at me – I did it, and… well, you tell me: do you think I’m the smartest guy you know?
Didn’t think so.
If it helps, before you jump in and start buying vino by the case, just spend a day telling yourself that wine appreciation is NOT hard – in fact, it’s easy and natural. I’ve done this before starting anything that I’d previously convinced myself was “too hard” to try. Works like a charm (but maybe I’m just self-gullible?).
Anyway, let’s cut to the chase.
The 3 Things You Really Need (To Do) for Better Wine Appreciation:
- Taste. A lot.
No secret or mystic initiation rites here. Just start tasting. Buy a bottle and taste. There is no prep. work required. Just do it.
Yes, it’s that simple.
Look at it this way – how else would you try anything new? If I served you a dinner dish that you’d never had before, would you need to do any prep. work before you tried it to see if you liked it (or didn’t like it)? The idea is totally preposterous. If buying wine frightens you, then buy online from any of the great retailers that advertise on this blog – they’ll help you find something decent in your price range. The important thing to note here is that you have nothing to fear by jumping right in and tasting.
- Note what you like – and what you don’t like.
This is easy as well. When you taste a wine, write it down. Pay special attention to what you like in the taste of that wine (remember, we’re tasting here, not guzzling), and what you don’t like.
This will help you to do two important things: a) learn what floats your boat about certain wines so you can enjoy more like those, and b) learn what you want to avoid in certain wines because you don’t like those tastes. For example, I don’t like mushrooms. In fact, I hate mushrooms. It’s fungus, for gods’ sake. Or cream. Don’t lke cream either – turns my digestive system totally inside out (whoops… TMI…). Cream of mushroom soup is right out. How do I know I want to avoid those tastes? Because I tried them, didn’t like them, and I’ve got a mental note about that which helps me to avoid unpleasant culinary situations in the future. Easy. Wine is no different.
If it helps, follow a system (I’ve outlined a simple one in my eBook).
- Come with an open mind.
Here’s a question for you: would you eat only one thing every day for the rest of your life, if you had any choice in the matter? Would you eat nothing but steak? Or wear only red clothing, forever, until you died?
Probably not. But if you limit yourself to drinking only one kind of wine (say, for example, oak-ladden and buttery Chardonnays), you are basically doing the exact same thing. There is a dizzying array of wine varietals, regions, styles, brands, etc., to be had in today’s marketplace. Don’t handcuff yourself by limiting the enjoyment and pleasure you could have – your motto here should be “try anything at least once.”
There you have it.
Wine Appreciation = Super Simple. No go out there and enjoy yourself!
Check out more 1WineDude.com articles on Learning Wine & Zen Wine Appreciation.
(images: doubleazone.com, warehouse.carlh.com, wku.edu)
Hey, U.S. peeps – you folks who are still on the inaugural high – have you ever scoffed with national pride at the wine labels from other countries?
“Ha,” you might scoff to yourself when perusing the aisles at your favorite wine shop, “I’m glad that wine labels from my country don’t have anything to hide, and aren’t hard to read. Like those crazy German wine labels that the 1WineDude talked about. I scoff at those!“
Hang on there, scoffer, and pay attention, lest you become a suckah. Just because U.S. wine labels don’t use foreign words with 27 consonants in them doesn’t mean that they are simple. Not to worry, though – Dude here is gonna hook up UP!
First, we should talk about the stuff that has to (by law) appear on a wine label if that wine is sold in the U.S.:
- Brand: Usually the same as the producer, but not always. It’s almost always prominent text in big font on the label, and the brand is almost always an intellectual property of the producer.
- Varietal or Type: The label needs to state if you’re making fruit wine, for example, or mead. For grape wine, you can use the grape varietal name: the wine needs to be made from at least 75% of the stated varietal (except in OR, where it’s 90%).. Some generic names are still legally permitted, such as “sake” and “vermouth.”
- Bottler & Importer: Name & address of who bottled the wine, and int he case of imported wines who imported it.
- Alcohol: This is ALWAYS on the label. Yes, it is. Sometimes the font is just so small that you can’t read, but it IS there. I promise.
- Sulfite & Health warnings: Required by law (for sulfites, this is if the wine exceeds 10 ppm, which is about 99.99999% of the wines in the world) but are almost entirely useless. Don’t get me started on the whole sulfite thing.
- Net Contents: Usually stated in ml. As in 750 ml (the volume of a standard wine bottle).
The following are usually not required but you frequently see them on quality wines:
- Appelation: Where the grapes originated. For most geogrpahic descriptions on a wine label, 75% of the grapes used in the wine must have come from there. The more specific the geography, the higher the minimum percentage: 85% for AVAs, for example.
- Vintage: The year the grapes were harvested. 95% of the wine must have been harvested & crushed that year (though I’ve no idea how you’d prove that…).
- Vineyard name: If used, 95% of the grapes must have been grown there.
And you thought there was nothing to U.S. wine labels….
But wait… it gets even trickier!
The more perceptive among you might have noticed that the back label of wine bottles usually have a statement by the name of the producer such as “Produced By” or “Cellared By”. There is a reason why they are different: they have legal definitions:
- Cellared By, Selected By or Vinted By: The producer crushed less than 10% of the grapes.
- Made By: They crushed 10% of the grapes.
- Produced By: They crushed 75% of the grapes.
- Grown, Produced and Bottled By: 100% of the grapes come from land owned or controlled by the winery and the winery crushed, fermented, aged & bottled the wine in a “continuous process.”
- Estate Bottled: Pretty much the same as “Grown, Produced and Bottled By” but the winery is located in an AVA (the same one where the grapes were located).
Not so simple, eh Mr. & Mrs. Scoffer?
And finally, the following terms look impressive on a label, but have no legal meaning whatsoever:
- Special Selection
- Old Vines
For more detailed information on wine labels, check out WinePros.org. Proceed with knowledge… and caution.