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Some parting advice about learning about wine



My only baby boy will slide into a plastic chair in a classroom in a few days to take the first in a string of tests that will punctuate his public school career. This one aims to help his new teachers size up what he's learned in his first five and half years on Earth.

While I want him to do well, I'm opting against any intense review of letters and numbers for fear that thoughts of a test might loom too large in his mind. I want to make this school year—and all those that follow—about learning to learn, not about acing the test.

If writing a wine column for the past five years has taught me anything, it's that an eagerness to learn trumps an enthusiasm for being right almost every time. That, and you can't turn cantaloupe into drinkable wine. You just can't.

I wrote my first wine column shortly after my son was born, when I was a newly minted food editor. The publication needed wine coverage, and nothing available from national writers seemed crafted to help readers become smarter about making their own wine choices. Most wine writers seemed content to show off their own smarts while dropping some label names for readers. I volunteered to fill the void.

I had been drinking wine for a long time but would never have considered myself an expert. I still don't. So when people find out I write a wine column and ask, "So, what are you drinking?" it always feels like a pop quiz. When I was new, I feared giving the wrong answer. I thought I should say something like, "I'm devoted to Washington state Rieslings these days. They are really coming into their own," when the truth was closer to, "I found this Chilean sauvignon blanc in the cooler at Kroger for $9. I had to stop there because I needed dog food, too."

As the column continued, I came to know that I didn't want what's in my glass to be my calling card. I wasn't writing for people who already knew the answers. I much prefer conversations to start with, "What should I do to learn about wine?" It gives us so many more places to go. That's the question I've tried to answer for myself and readers for the past five years.

As you may have guessed, this is the final installment of "Blessed is the Pour." Adventures await in the next chapter of my family life, so it seems like a good time to turn the last page here. I'll still be writing about food and wine and other things for the Indy, just not in a monthly column.

Becoming a wine columnist made me a better thinker, as well a better drinker. It compelled me to contemplate what was in my glass, why I liked it and the story of how it got there. At the risk of sounding like "Everything I Need to Know About Wine I Learned in Kindergarten," here's the short answer to the "how should I learn" question:

Ask questions. Sommeliers and wine shop owners should be like teachers, willing to help you learn.

Make up your own mind. Don't let anyone tell you what you should like.

Embrace your choices, even if they're unpopular.

Be adventurous. You might not always pick a winner, but you never know.

Look beyond the labels. Find out what's inside.

Above all, have fun. If you're not having fun, you're doing it wrong.

This article appeared in print with the headline "A test you cannot fail."

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