When i was working in Chennai for a magazine, i had been to cover a Wine tasting event at the Alliance Francaise. A wine expert from France was taking a class on the types of wine, what each taste signifies, how to distinguish tastes, the glasses used, what kind of food goes with what etc. They were even giving out samples of wine to taste, which was a big thing, as you don't get to buy wine in grocery/dept stores and the availability was restricted to the star hotels, where the wines were way too expensive. This i suppose was the reason why the entire studio at AF was packed mostly with college goers, who had absolutely no idea why they were there, except to have free wine. I however, religiously took down notes and pictures and Ro thoroughly enjoyed the whole wine experience. I even remember the expert telling us that the only food he could think of that would go well with wine was Biriyani:)
The session at Roberson was nothing like the one in Chennai. It was a very sophisticated event with well-dressed people walking around, taking notes, talking to the experts and placing orders. From Champagne to Port, there were 50 different wines on display along with the platters of cheese and crackers. This was our first experience at a formal tasting event and had no clue how to go about it. So what you actually do is take some wine in your mouth, swirl it to get the exact taste and then spit it out because of the alcohol content in it and so that your judgement is not affected. This was seriously gross for me and so i kept drinking it all and by the time we got to the Ports (mostly served as dessert wine because of its sweetness), we were pretty much drunk.
I'm no expert in selecting wines and had absolutely no clue if one tasted different from the other, but now after being abroad for a while, and being able to buy and taste various varieties of wine (bottles of wine are as cheap as 3 quid), i now have a faint idea and can distinguish varieties, dryness, aroma and the like. So here is how i have figured it all out. Feel free to correct me if i am wrong, but this is just how i prefer it.
My favourites are the sweet wines and the White Zinfandel is a top priority, although they are considered the most unfashionable of wines by experts (who cares!). Then the whites and last the reds, one because they are usually very dry and two, because they are not served chilled. They however are a great accompaniment to the red meats. So when i made a beef fry the other day, I picked up a bottle of Chilean red wine called Maipo and it was actually good. I should broaden my taste a bit more i guess. The whites go well with fish, chicken, bakes (again white wine for white meat) and the Rose, i think, goes well with more or less anything. Chill it and its a great summery drink. If you ever get a chance to taste some Ice wine, you definitely should give it a try. They are apparently made from grapes which are left to freeze in the winters and the result of which is really sweet wine (again served as dessert wine). The colour is a deep golden brown and the more brown it is the more sweeter the wine is. Canada is popular for its Ice wine and last year when my mom visited Canada, we had asked her to pick up a bottle for us. It's very expensive and you get them in these swanky bottles. We were stingy about using and took it out only on certain occasions.
It was the first time i tried out Vintage Port at the wine tasting session, and i loved it. Its very very sweet and suits the Indian palette beautifully. They were unbelievably expensive and so we didn't place an order for that. We however did pick up a bottle of Prosecco which is an Italian (dry sparkling) white wine and another one (i don't remember the name..I'm yet to get it delivered) which we liked at the tasting. This was nothing compared to the others ordering wine cases with their favourites.
There are various wine merchants in London who custom make wine cases as per your requirement and also conducts wine tasting sessions. The cost varies from about 20 to 35 quid, depending on the arrangement. I would suggest you try out a session, at least to know what its like...you need not be a hard core wine enthusiast for that.
Thats me @ Roberson