Disclaimer: Yes we know that nothing can replace the quality of wisdom gleaned over time, nor expedite the accumulation of first-hand experience.

In compiling this practical “guide”, our primary goal is to offer some form of directions and structure for those who’d like to dabble into the fascinating world of wines – starting from the top and most sought-after.

We are not trying to egg on wine snobbism. Rather, we are trying to address a real need among wine drinkers in the fine wine capital of Hong Kong — a pragmatic, sometimes career-benefiting, bid to gain confidence and eloquence conversing about wines. For that purpose, the prime category of wine to know is indisputably fine wines, especially those of French origins. Question is, how do you tackle the challenge of knowing fine wines?

5 steps to knowing fine wines

The foolproof approach: First and foremost, fall in love with the liquid; from there get to know it better, enjoy the process perceiving, understanding, and reflecting on it. Consequently, find yourself falling deeper in love.

Step 1 Identify 5 to 10 classic fine wine regions of the world
including but not limited to Bordeaux (France), Burgundy (France) , Rhône (France), Champagne (France) , Chianti / Bolgheri (Italy), Napa Valley (USA), Barossa Valley (Australia), Chile, New Zealand, Germany and so on.

How do I do that: WineWorld Xplorer Advanced Search Country & Region listings feature an extensive listings of quality wine regions of the world. Alternatively, just go to your favourite wine merchant website and pick accordingly.

Step 2 For each of the above regions, list two major single varieties / blends used per wine style.
e.g. Bordeaux – Red – Bordeaux blend, either Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant or Merlot-dominant; Napa – White – Chardonnay etc.

How do I do that: We like WineFolly.com for its colourful presentation of information about regions, their associated grape varieties and style.

Step 3 For each of the single varieties / blends per style, research and jot down a concise list of commonly found aroma and flavour descriptors
e.g. Bordeaux Left Bank red – Cab driven blend – blackberry, black currants, menthol, tar, pencil shavings.

How do I do that: Yes, WineFolly.com is still a great go-to source for those who’d like things simplified. We also like this succinct article on Red Wine and White Wine published on Wine Enthusiast.

Step 4 Take note of common structural elements of the said style from the highest quality examples from that region.
We suggest focusing on these five: body, fruit quality, flavour intensity, tannins, finish. e.g. Bordeaux Left Bank red – Grand Cru Classe examples – full bodied, brooding dark fruit, powerful intensity, mouth coating tannins, lasting finish.

How do I do that: Read wine notes from leading wine critics to build your own vocabulary for commenting structural elements in wine. WWX offers free access to Robert Parker Wine Advocate full reviews (and scores). Simply sign up a free Buyer account to access them all.

Curious why we haven’t made a mention of WSET, undeniably one of the most popular wine courses in the city?

The writer, being a WSET Certified Educator herself, is of the opinion that WSET is a wonderful framework if you plan to slowly build a solid, objective wine evaluation system, commonly more practical for trade professionals, which is exactly what WSET is created for. It is deliberated to detach your tasting notes from colourful languages, poetic descriptions and emotional associations – all of which might actually make for a more engaging wine conversation. We are not trying to say one is superior than the others. The best thing is to be capable of both. If that is unrealistic, choose one that serves you better.

Step 5 Read up on 1 to 2 historically interesting facts per the 10 regions you have identified in Step 1.
Better still, form a critical opinion on the fact. e.g. Bordeaux – 1855 classification – 61 chateaux gaining an almost immortalized, blue-blood status for being the top 61 most expensive wines being traded 200 years ago. Critical assessment: A classification of great historical significance yet undeniably obsolete. It does not accurately reflect contemporary state of things.

How do I do that? There is a wealth of quality online resources on wines. In addition to WineFolly.com, JancisRobinson.com and Wine Enthusiast, we also highly recommend Decanter.com, Wine Spectator. For Bordeaux specific insights, critic Jeff Leve maintains a comprehensive set of information and tasting notes on his Wine Cellar Insider website. Trade associations official site are also great resources for concise historical summary and fun facts. Enjoy browsing Champagne’s CIVC, Burgundy’s BIVB, Bordeaux’s CIVB and so on; and do look beyond France and visit impeccably maintained sites like Napa Valley Vintners, Wine Australia, New Zealand Wine and so on.

Done all of the above and still not satisfied? Delve into below aspects of wines and wade further into the world of wines.

  • 5 leading producers per region
  • Vintage variations 
  • Producer styles
  • Regional trends

Don’t forget, the best teachers are still the wines themselves. Drink, and connect the dots – that will always be the best way of knowing fine wines.