Remember the clothing store that said "An educated customer is our best customer?” Along those same lines we know your drinking experience will be enhanced if you know a little about wine. As VWM's Wine Director I don't necessarily think that it's our mission to educate you, rather what we do is create all kinds of opportunities for customers to taste and educate themselves about wine.
Over many years of tasting and helping customers, I've become aware of several things that have helped me get more out of my wine experiences so I thought I'd share a few tips.
1. Get away from the "Big Six". Reds being Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Pinot Noir, and the whites Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. There's a lot more wine out there!
2. Stop thinking of wines in terms of sweet and dry. Components in wine like acidity and tannins present in different ways and a wine being perceived as dry doesn't mean that it's better than another wine. Taste is more nuanced than this.
3. The growing region, not the grape, defines the flavor. Bordeaux and the Napa Valley grow a lot of the same grape varieties but the wines are very different. This is why many wines are defined by their geographical origin. Think place and not grape.
4. Be adventurous. Wines are made all over the world and some lesser known regions have a long tradition of quality viticulture. Two less familiar countries that make great wines are Croatia and Austria.
5. Don't judge your first sip. Take your time, let your palate adjust and see what the wine has to say over a glass or two. Food pairings, temperature, and exposure to air all have an affect on wines.
6. Don't set limits for yourself. Sometimes at tastings and wine events I'll hear folks say, "I don't like reds" or "I don't like white wine". I find this approach limiting in that you might be setting up an opinion for a wine that you haven't even tried. Almost always I see these statements disappear with frequent tasting. Being open to tasting something new is easily the more productive approach.
I hope that you'll take these tips to heart and consider them in becoming a more knowledgeable wine consumer. I guarantee that if you do, you'll get more out of the wines you purchase.