Four ways in-home wine tastings help release your inner wine geek

We get it: You love wine. You subscribe to Wine Spectator, the staff at your neighborhood wine shop know you on sight, and you're contemplating an addition to your home to accommodate your burgeoning collection of bottles.

There's more to being a wine lover, though, than simply drinking everything with a score of 90 points or more, or waiting to see what arrives in your wine-of-the-month club. Embracing a wine lifestyle (one which involves an ongoing pursuit of finding and consuming truly great juice) takes time, effort, and most important of all: practice. Just like any other hobby or pursuit you've undertaken -- be it skiing, yoga, or karate -- you wouldn't expect to develop any real skill or ability without getting a little instruction, would you?

Lest you think otherwise, wine education is a ton of fun. After all, where else can you legitimately claim to be learning something while simultaneously consuming an alcoholic beverage? Delving a bit more into the academic aspect of being a wine lover can be incredibly rewarding: It involves exploring the history and stories tied to the grape varieties and styles you're obsessed with.

Wine education also serves to hone your palate, which in turn helps you figure out what makes for a quality wine versus cheap plonk (and helps you score smokin' deals at the wine shop). Last, but certainly not least, it can provide an entree to the oh-so-delicious world of food and wine pairing, which is where the magic really happens. In short, all of this is about learning the answer to the question of "why" you love wine, versus focusing simply on the fact that you do. Now that you're officially ready to unleash your inner wine geek, read on for the lowdown on how in-home wine tastings can be a great way to help you become the master of your own personal wine domain.

1. You're in charge: Curious about the wines of Spain? Eager to master the fundamentals of wine evaluation? One of the best things about pursuing wine education in your own home is that you have the power to create the curriculum. You alone can determine if the agenda is formal or more laid-back; whether you want to taste blind or pick the bottles yourself. The pace is set by your own personal preference -- there's no such thing as going "off topic".

2. There's no shame: Every single one of us has wanted to ask what we thought was a "dumb" wine question, but was afraid of looking like an idiot. Should you sniff the cork when it's presented to you? (No). How do you chill a bottle of white when you're in a major hurry? (Do NOT put it in the freezer). A wine educator will be able to answer your every vino-related query, and will use terms that aren't saved for a sommelier.

3. You create the guest list: Nothing makes the digging into the vast terroir of wine education more fun than doing it with other, equally passionate peeps -- who just happen to be your closest friends. Inviting a wine pro to be the guest speaker at your next dinner party is an ideal way to learn which organoleptic (the science behind food and wine pairing) concepts make the match up of salmon and pinot noir work so well. You and your crew can even take turns hosting variety of classes, allowing everyone their chance to select a wine-related topic or theme that turns them on. Just remember: Friends who learn about (and drink) wine together, stay together.

4. No drinking and driving: 'Nuff said.

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