Food and drink: Eight weeks of home schooling 

It’s the most wonderful time of the year

There will always be that New Year's Eve thing on Dec. 31, but with summer holidays on the wane and the kids getting ready to go back to school, September, at least in the northern hemisphere has to be considered the unofficial start to the New Year. Even for those of us long since graduated the September back-to-school theme lingers on, often inspiring us to think about learning something new.

Certainly that sense of renewal abounds in the wine world. With the birth of a new vintage underway at nearby Okanagan Valley or across the water on Vancouver Island and the impending onslaught of festivals, tastings and dinners dotting the fall calendar, acquiring some basic wine skills this fall could come in useful. Notice that's skills not skill.

British Columbia is a mature wine market now with both private and public stores featuring wines from across the globe. That means knowing how to sniff, swirl and spit are handy skills to master but there is much more to wine than simply handling a glass. Whether it is history or geography, geology or geography, marketing, sales, design or the aforementioned art of tasting there is much to be learned and stored away for future use. Imagine being the confident wine person whom everyone passes the wine list to for advice.

The fall is the perfect time to make a commitment to learning a bit more about wine whether its joining a local club or simply starting a tasting club with your own friends. There is so much information available online, you can easily arrange weekly or bi-weekly tastings and get right at it.

Experience - particularly shared experience - builds immediate knowledge, and as your confidence grows so too will your ability to appreciate wine in a way you may never have thought possible. Most clubs charge a one-time fee to join and if you stick around there is usually a yearly renewal fee. After that, it is usually a pay-as-you-play system for tastings and dinners.

The best method of coming to terms with wine is by tasting it, and if you can supplement that with some reading about where the bottle comes from, who makes it, which grapes are involved you can really accelerate the experience.

This month I challenge you to embark on your own two-month study session by selecting a certain grape variety or blend to study in each of the next eight weeks. You will be amazed at what you can learn in such a short period, especially if you can access a variety of examples.

In no particular order here are eight wines to get you started but feel free to acquire other examples to help complete the picture. Homework is mandatory and should be completed each evening with dinner.

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