Wine 101

Welcome back! It’s Week 15 here at Library Life Hack and we’re going to learn about all about wine.

Now, before we hit the vineyard, let me tell you about this week’s check-back: a follow-up on my Week 13 poetry hack. I read my own poem in public — and lived to tell the tale! Get the details here.

Not Very Good at Buying Wine
For a long time I had a dismal lack of knowledge about wine. I learned a little more by drinking quite a lot of it, although that’s not necessarily a path I’d recommend. I’ve also gone to tastings – if you pay attention, this is a good way to pick up bits and pieces of knowledge.

But I’m still something of a dunce. Sometimes I score – and sometimes I show up at dinner parties with wine that makes my more cultured friends roll their eyes and sigh quietly. What’s worse is that the groaners can cost just as much as the hits.

Perhaps We Can Fix This
It would be great to go into a wine store and not have it become a game of “Prettiest Label Roulette”. I took this challenge to my home library to see what could be done. There were many, many books on wine, but I was more intrigued by the DVDs. Like yoga, wine tasting is a physical skill — one that might be better addressed in video, rather than on paper. The two resources I checked out were polar opposites in their approach, but well worth the time.

The Monty Python Method
The first DVD is titled “Wine for the Confused” and features British comic actor John Cleese. As odd as that might sound, this is a great little video.

John Cleese’s method is brilliantly simple:
1. Figure out what you like.
2. Find the right words to describe what you like (plummy, jammy, spicy, fruity …)
3. Take your new vocabulary to a good wine store, tell them your budget, and give them the words for what you like.

Cast in this light, it really is that easy. As well, he gives you a short foundation in how wine is grown and produced, how to store it and how to serve it. In 92 minutes, you can walk away from the TV and have everything you need to embark on a lifetime of enjoying wine.Seriously, does it get any easier than this?

Wine Education in a Small Box
Thanks to John Cleese, I know how to find what I like, but what about when I have to take wine to the homes of my friends? This is where Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan comes in. She’s the author and expert host of “The Everyday Guide to Wine”.

This set of six DVDs has 24 half-hour lectures that will take you through each of the major wine types (white, red, sparkling and fortified), each major wine-making region, how to buy, and how to match wine with food. When Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan is done with you, you’ll have some impressive knowledge indeed.

What I liked about this series was that after the first few lectures, she asks you to start buying particular wines in advance of the next lecture (for example a Chablis and a Chardonnay). In that lecture, you actually taste those wines — with her guidance about what to look for, etc. I thought this interactive angle was really smart. Instead of just absorbing dry knowledge, you’re actually learning by doing.

Turn it Into a Party
Can you imagine how much fun it would be to watch these DVDs with a few friends, taking turns buying the wines and tasting them together?

A Secret For You
There’s just one small hitch. In many libraries, DVD loans expire after a week. Ah, but me tell you a little secret. In my home library (Strathcona County), you can renew this loan period up to two more times. That leaves the DVDs in your hands for three weeks. (21 days for 24 half-hour lectures. I think you can handle it.) Check with your own library about renewals or extended loan periods.

The Numbers
Between and, “Wine for the Confused” averages out to $15.68. “The Everyday Guide to Wine” is only available through a company called The Great Courses ( and costs $US 254.95 plus $US 30.00 US shipping. In Canadian dollars, that’s $292.56. Add the two together, and that’s $308.24 saved this week by using your library card. Cha-ching!

Late Breaking News!
This morning, I received a tweet from Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan. In the true spirit of life hacking, she pointed me to a link where you can purchase “The Everyday Guide to Wine” for just $49.95. Frugal friends, you can find out more here and thank you to to Jennifer for pointing the way!

Here’s the lowdown on this week’s resources:

Wine for the Confused
Hosted by John Cleese
Published by Paradox Studios
Released Aug 23, 2005

The Everyday Guide to Wine
Created and hosted by Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan
Published by The Teaching Company
ISBN 1598036475

And that’s it! Tune in next week, when we have some fun with do-it-yourself art forgery. But until then, a question:

How are You Using Your Library?
I know that there must be people out there besides me who are using library materials for their own life hacks. Are you one of them? Have you learned how to fix something, cook something, create something? I want to hear from you! Send me a message at LibraryLifeHack [at] gmail dot com. (Or leave a comment below.) And have a terrific week!


2 thoughts on “Wine 101

  1. I’d like to pass on a related book recommendation that can make your wine tasting affordable. In the spirit of the Judgment of Paris (, blind taste testing can help you find wines that taste good, no matter what the quality of the label. A team of food researchers released an excellent book listing inexpensive wines that beat more-expensive ones in dozens of blind taste tests. Check out “The Wine Trials” (ed. Robin Goldstein, Alexis Herschkowitsch, Tyce Walters).


    • Geoffrey, thank you for the comment! Apparently, an updated version of Robin Goldstein’s book, “The Wine Trials 2012” was released just a few weeks ago. I see it on order at a few libraries in the province, so I can expect to be getting my hands on it in the early summer. I think this would make for a fascinating follow-up post — thanks for the tip!


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