The 7 Steps to Wine Geekdom

What stage are you at?


We all have to start somewhere. Many of us start where it’s most easy, and that usually means sweet! There’s nothing wrong with starting on White Zin and inexpensive German wines. They all serve a purpose as gateway wines!

Each person’s path of wine discovery is a unique and distinctive journey, but many people have been down this road and some tend to follow well-trodden ways. That’s not to say that this is the main path one must take in order to achieve wine-geek status, but it comes up fairly frequently when the topic comes up.

What was your path of discovery, or what stage are you at now? Find out, and join the discussion!

Step 1: Getting hooked

Once you’ve started to enjoy wines, you can’t help but get curious about what else might be out there. In the early stages, people will tend to stick close to home, trying other White Zins or other sweet whites, but there comes a point when the budding wine geek tries a glass of something different and POW! On goes the light bulb.

There are epiphany wines and then there are epiphany wines. These first wines tend to be a bit less memorable in many ways than the wines that tend to set up our future favorites, but they do hold the key to opening that door.

Step 2: Trying everything

However, once that door is opened, all bets are off. The beauty and hex that is wine, of course, is that there are so many styles and types of wine that simply finding the style or type you like may turn out impossible without a bit of effort. Once you find your groove though, you’ll find one wine after another that rings your bell!

The one wine will lead to another and before you know it, with advice from your wine-loving friends, you’ll be hopscotching all over the world of wines.

Step 3: Loving everything

Once you discover your style and are running around trying new wines, you’ll find that almost everything starts to taste good. It might be because of the oak treatment, or the particular varietal signature of a specific grape, or maybe the specific style of a flying winemaker, for whatever reason everything begins to taste great!

Once this happens you tend to look for something more.

Step 4: Loving power

Looking for something more generally leads to the "bigger is better" period of wine-geek evolution. Black wines, intense wines, packed with fruit -- these are wines that make you sit up and take notice, that hit you over the head and slap you a round a little bit! And you know what? You like it! Each new favorite wine is an experience that beats your previous high, until it doesn’t. Until a wine just gets to be too much: too intense, too alcoholic, too much!

Step 5: Loving complexity

Once you tire of getting smacked around by your wine -- but, of course, the occasional smack around continues to be a treat, right? -- you start looking for more in a different direction. The intensity of fruit and overt oakiness of many wines becomes monotonous and tiring. What else is there? Well, for starters, some complexity. The kind of complexity only grapes can give, and only grapes that aren’t cropped too low and extracted to hell in the winery at that.

Here is where you start to consider the differences between the new world and the old, not just the wines but also the techniques both in the vineyard and the cellar. This is also the point of no return, for if you have arrived here, your geek status is assured!

Step 6: Loving elegance and finesse

Now this is not to say that people who arrive here love only elegance and finesse (two words with rather nebulous meanings after all). But once you’ve experienced a certain number of wines you tend to find that what you really want are complex wines that are not tiring to drink.

In many circles that means Burgundy, in others Barolo and Barbaresco, but a fine argument can be made that wines like Beaujolais, Muscadet, and Etna Rosso meet these criteria just fine. So, let’s make sure we don’t make this into some financial argument where we all end up drinking expensive wines and see that as some badge of honor.

Step 7: Back to your roots

In many cases, the final step toward full-fledged wine geekdom involves a return to one’s roots. Simpler wines that work with one’s menu choices, easy drinking off-dry German wines, wines that make one go "yum" instead of "hmmm" -- these are all likely finds in the wine geek’s cellar.

In many cases this is simply the result of years of exploration and discovery, and many of these wines tend to be the simpler wines of the greatest producer. Who can resist the allure of a Village Burgundy or Barbera from the world’s greatest producer? Not a complete wine geek!

Wine Lovers - and Geeks

So, you're a wine geek, but what kind? Are you The Weasel? Or perhaps The Gourmand? And have you ever pulled a Nixon? Head to our slideshow Wine Lovers - and Geeks to find out.

Whichever kind of wine geek you are, if you want some tips on talking the talk, check out Wine Nose to learn more about wine descriptors, from caramel to cat's pee.

Slideshow View

Mentioned in this article


  • My path of discovery was helped along when I found a shop called Wine Styles. Rather than group wines by varietal (Cabs, Merlots...), they grouped them by taste (fruity, bold......). At that point, I was able to let go of the "I only drink Cabs" label and start loving the wines for their taste. I'm now slowly making my way from Stage 5 to Stage 6 and invested in some nice big wine glasses to really let the wines breathe.

    Mar 01, 2011 at 1:53 PM

  • Snooth User: riredbird
    440209 128

    I hadn't realized how predictable I am! I have been following these steps to the letter and am moving out of 5 with my feet firmly in 6 and 7 in my sights.

    Mar 01, 2011 at 2:59 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    Sweet, but I have to warn you, i think I'm moving from step 5 to 6 for the fifth or sixth time!

    Mar 01, 2011 at 3:13 PM

  • Snooth User: erinlima
    680318 1

    my epiphany wine was a Ridge Mataro - after I nursed a glass for an hour or so while reading, I thought to myself, "this is why people drink wine."

    Mar 01, 2011 at 5:23 PM

  • I have preferred elegance and finesse at least since the mid-1960s - my flirtations with complexity for its own sake have been brief, and my flirtations with power briefer and fewer (one: for about a year in the mid-1970s when the '74s were released....). I suppose it depends how your palate was trained - mine was trained on traditionally-made Cabernet and Zin in California reds, Bordeaux and Burgundy, Barolo and Brunello in Italy. Mostly Chablis and Burgundy in whites, some riesling, some California Chardonnay (Wente, Stony Hill back in the day), Port.

    Mar 01, 2011 at 5:26 PM

  • Faint, blurry memories of Mateus Rose, Lancers, and even Annie Green Springs, and MD 20/20 on wild college weekends in the late 60s. "If you remember the 60s you weren't really there!" Later, climbed the ladder's first rungs with Liebfraumilch and Berringer White Zin, onward and upward to Pinot, then Red Zin (still a favorite), Clarets and Cabs and Malbecs and Priorats, now fill my cellar. I really don't know that much about wine, but I do know what I like.

    Mar 01, 2011 at 5:51 PM

  • Snooth User: Msjp100
    747264 17

    Ripple...matues...paisano jug... While in Europe Riesling ... Then a white burgundy... A 1996 george dubouef with a nice dinner. Don't remember the food but do remember the wine. Then wanted to try all different kinds...found some that I really appreciate. But I still don't understand the pricing.

    Mar 01, 2011 at 6:52 PM

  • Leaving 5 and headed into 6. This is a pretty accurate description. Another one to add would be "gaining wine education" either formally or on blogs and other sites. You are a true wine geek when you begin to seek out more and more information with all your spare time. Like I am doing as we speak.

    Mar 01, 2011 at 9:58 PM

  • Some 25 years ago, I bypassed the beer coolers at the local liquor outlet(tough for someone just out of college to do) and headed for the wine section.I was amazed at the vast variety of wines. Now, just as then,I still get that same rush of anticipation when finding new wine offerings. In a sense,I will always have one foot on that 3rd step.I enjoy simpler wines for what they are.When I venture onto the 4 thru6th steps, I gain an even greater appreciation for wine as a gift to be opened throughout ones lifetime.I have often found myself on steps 4&5 thanks to some of the great new Spanish reds. However, step 6 seems to carry a higher price to gain entry to.

    Mar 01, 2011 at 10:54 PM

  • Snooth User: ryllaar
    553483 24

    You really do describe it well - I have recently moved off of the big heavy wines but do still love them sometimes...hmmm, only difference I started with Gallo Hearty Burgundy in college! Thanks for another great article!

    Mar 02, 2011 at 1:07 AM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    Thanks everyone for the kind words!

    I had almost as much fun writing this as I had running through the steps. One point I might have omitted is that it's great if you get stuck on any step, or move back, or jump around.

    It's all one great learning process, fun and educational!

    Mar 02, 2011 at 10:28 AM

  • oh how sophisticated we thought we were drinking Mateus Rose, Blue Nun, Veluto Rosso & Asti Spumante back in the early 80's. With very little spare cash I bought a couple of bottles of a Merlen chardonnay around 1989 & as instructed put it away for 5 years. OMG!!! an epiphany. I've had a few since then. Pyramid Valley Hille Vineyard 2007 Semillon & the late Harvest Sem. Very much jumping between steps 4, 5 & 6 depending on the mood, the occasion & the food.

    Mar 04, 2011 at 9:39 PM

  • Traveling down the road in this journey of wine discovery is so exciting. This article is spot on!

    Mar 05, 2011 at 2:34 PM

  • Snooth User: lingprof
    Hand of Snooth
    155607 1,110

    It's true!! I didn't realize how predictable I was!

    Even your comment, GDP, about cycling between 5 and 6 rings true. I always think of complexity as my favorite quality, and was surprised the first time that I thought "Oh I just want a nice, quiet wine that doesn't require too much work tonight."

    I think the one stage you don't mention (maybe it's subsumed under complexity?) is the one where you keep checking the description from the reviews as you drink to see how much you "got right". Or... maybe that's just me?

    Mar 07, 2011 at 2:32 AM

  • Snooth User: Domie
    933540 0

    yeah, I guess I'm in stage 7. my sister is aghast at some of the stuff I can enjoy. I finally learned that there is a time and a food for every wine. just because you don't happen to like it compared to other wines served with the same food, it would be great on it's own, at the right time of day, with a food to compliment it.

    my favorite wines so far are Louis Jadot's Aloxe Corton (can't remember the specific years); Billacart Saumon Brut Rose, and my first Pinot Noir epiphany wine - Dellingher Pinot Noir.

    am I a wine geek? well, I don't have enough cash for a cellar, so I'll settle with being a wine lover : )

    Sep 12, 2011 at 9:15 PM

  • Great journey for this post

    Oct 19, 2018 at 2:23 AM

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