Category Archives: Sommelier

Wine Certifications MW, CWE, WSET and MS? Differences AND Why You Want To Know

Why Should a Wine Consumer Care?

You are attending a wine tasting, wine class, an attendant is recommending a wine at a restaurant, buying a wine at a shop, or deciding which vintage to pop from your cellar… If you are an average consumer and “Two Buck Chuck” (okay, probably $4 now) is your thing, please move on to the next article of interest. If wine selection is a bit more important to you read on…

Most wine enthusiasts are faced with these situations frequently and try to make sense of the value proposition. Do you trust recommendations? How could wine professionals understand what you enjoy? Should I pay $20 for a bottle, or maybe splurge and spend $30? What IS a quality wine and how does it taste different? Which food tastes better with which type of wine?

If you spend any time asking yourself these questions, you need to know the difference between these certifications. Well, why should you trust my explanation? If a certification helps to define my content here… I have trained formally, tested and passed the first two levels of Sommelier certifications. Strictly speaking, I am a certified Professional Sommelier. The next level is Advanced and then Master Sommellier. There are a little over 200 MS certified individuals in the world and just the Master test requires a 3 day commitment for the Theory, Service and Tasting sections. Even with a fair amount of experience, it would take me a year (or more) off work to study for that one! All of these certifications require much preparation and are quite an accomplishment. The failure rate for all of these tests is high.

What is a Master of Wine (MW)?

The certification body is the Institute of Masters of Wine and requires a research project and paper. This should give you an idea of the direction here. The path here is Stages 1,2 and 3, prior to the Master designation. An MW will KNOW virtually everything about all wines around the world: all varietals, how they are farmed, all individual world Terroir, vineyard strategies, winemaking techniques, wine taste variation, etc. Where do these people play in the industry? Usually, they work as technical consultants to media, wineries, publications, distributors and importers, etc. There is much to learn about wine from one of these individuals, IF they know how to teach it.

What is a Certified Wine Educator (CWE), or a WSET L4 certified Consultant?

The certification bodies here are the Society of Wine Educators and Wine & Spirits Education Trust. The path to CWE can be to study and test for the Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW), or not. The path to WSET L4 typically goes through L1-L3. These are the most prestigious wine education organizations in the world and they certify as you might guess… the teachers of wine. Why is this distinction important? Think of these people as the educators. If you were to take a wine class, it would be good to have a teacher with one of these certs. It validates their level of knowledge and that they have been introduced to a methodology for teaching wine.

What is a Master Sommelier (MS)?

The most prestigious certifying body here is the Court of Master Sommeliers. I was certified by the International Sommeliers Guild (ISG). They are connected to the Food & Wine education programs at the Art Institutes in major cities in the U.S. In my case, the Phoenix Art Institute and we had the opportunity to work with the chef education program there for food pairing training. The path to MS is already described earlier in this article.

I have a real bias towards these people. The difference here is, you are trained on Theory, Tasting and SERVICE. Why is this different than the other certs? Yes, I was trained to understand how different varietals and styles TASTE and I was tasked to learn about wine production and growing, but the big difference here is the focus on FOOD and matching an individual palate. I was mentored to believe that there can be a difference in wine quality, but wine flavors only apply to an individual palate. There is no “bad tasting wine”, only wine flavors appreciated by different clients. I was trained to learn HOW to pair different flavors (both FOOD & WINE) with different clients and their perception of an enjoyable EXPERIENCE. In essence, this certification focuses on recognizing HOW & WHY people enjoy different foods and wines and how to build an experience that is tailored to an individual. Look for these certified attendants at RESTAURANTS. They will know their stuff and if you can get some one-on-one time, they will enhance your dining experience.

The Difference Based on Your Need

I think you will find this quick guide helpful and easily understandable. If you are taking a wine class, look for WSET and CWE certified individuals. If you have decided to start some sort of business in the wine industry, an MW as a consultant would be a good choice. If you are at a restaurant, a Sommelier on staff would be a good indication of the quality of their wine program. All of these individuals have a level of wine knowledge that can offer much to your personal wine experience, but there are differences as noted above. If you are participating in a wine tasting, any of these people could lead a group successfully with very interesting and rich content for you to enjoy.

So, keep an eye out and ask about certifications. There are a million so-called wine experts. In fact, some can be amazing. I have spent time with wine collectors that would blow you away. Although, if you want to be sure that your money is being spent wisely for classes, education, or dining… Look for the folks with formal training and certification testing. You will have a better chance of getting the most for your money and a much improved experience!

 

 

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Filed under Food Pairing, Restaurant, Sommelier, Wine Education, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting

The Legacy of Fine Wine Culture

Is there a “Right” Atmosphere to Enjoy Wine?

I received my Somm training from a mentor that still firmly believed a profession in wine was a “calling”. I have worked hard to train my palate and learn the wine regions of the world to pass that crazy test. After all the work though, I still can’t agree with the formal atmosphere surrounding much of the fine dining wine service industry. Is the defining U.S. wine experience a stuffy, formal affair? Why is there social stigma, or a nervousness regarding wine selection in restaurants? Wine knowledge in the trade should be a tool that facilitates the comfort and enjoyment of clients… instead of a blunt instrument that adds to the discomfort.

julia-louis-dreyfus-wine

Seen the Mollydooker Shake?

I was having dinner with business associates at an Italian restaurant last month and I was asked to order a bottle for the table with a budget of around $60. Unfortunately, the restaurant had a poor Italian wine selection, so I chose the 2014 Beringer Knight’s Valley Cabernet, usually a pretty solid selection (quality vineyard and a track record for value). This vintage was not as easy drinking as past releases, so I asked everyone to bear with me and I put my thumb over the top of the bottle and proceeded to give it a vigorous shake! Everyone got a kick out of it and we proceeded to drink a moderately softer wine. WARNING I am about to suggest a completely inappropriate wine faux pas… (if this will torture your sensibilities, please skip to the next paragraph) …say you run up against a tightly wound Chianti, or young red Bordeaux, or maybe a 100% Petit Verdot… picture pouring the bottle into a blender. I suggested this approach at the restaurant and everyone immediately started laughing and vowed to do this the next time they had guests over. (Disclaimer here: this is NOT meant for fine wine. It would be better to age these wines for another few years, rather than throw them in the blender). Check out this link: Mollydooker Shake. Young Mollydooker wines can be very high in tannin. A nice stiff shake can do wonders to soften any highly structured wine.

Is Wine Fun?

Several years ago, my wife and I were invited to a wine enthusiast’s home for a wine dinner with four other couples. Very expensive, quality aged wines were being served. Out of the blue, one guest suggests we go around the table and have each person share an impromptu personal tasting note for each wine being served. Really? Afterwards, I overhear comments about a previous wine party my wife and I hosted and the numerous wine-ignorant guests in attendance. That day I made myself a promise, I would always try to help others relax around wine and make the experience comfortable and unpretentious. I have become a reverse wine snob.

I am thoroughly embarrassed by trained professionals in the industry who feel it is necessary to overwhelm a client with their wine knowledge and lecture on the importance of selecting… just the right wine. When an attendant at a winery tasting room, or a Somm at a fine dining restaurant approaches me, I am usually faced with one of two types:

  • An under-trained wine steward who has not tasted their own wine inventory
  • A pretentious jerk, who wants to tell me which wines I should prefer

I am not sure which is worse? I hate to tell people I am formally trained… then, they either get defensive, or are intimidated and clam-up. When I am dining out at an establishment with a large cellar, I always search the lesser known “nooks-and-crannies” for the best value. Most of the time, I get annoyed looks, but all with me have a great time. I was at Cowboy Ciao (Scottsdale, AZ) dining with an associate last year (GREAT wine cellar, by the way). From previous discussions, I knew he preferred big, highly structured Napa Cabs. I asked him if he had ever tried Aglianico? I suggested to him, I could find a really enjoyable bottle of Aglianico there for under $40/btl. I got a serious look of disbelief. We proceeded to run the waitress ragged… I selected three different bottles that had spent time in their cellar – one was a 2006, I believe. It took our server 20 minutes working with the wine steward to track down one of these bottles (she was a good sport)! I had them decant the wine… AND he thoroughly enjoyed it! Fine wine doesn’t have to cost $125/btl and be called Caymus, or Silver Oak. Servers should encourage more discovery. Their clients would enjoy the broader wine experience.

Who decided that wine was not supposed to be fun?

Next Wine Vacation

I hope at least some of you have tried a wine vacation. If you haven’t, you should. Very few experiences provide better food and drink, more inviting scenery, or more romantic atmosphere… but they can be fun too! Napa is always the ultimate U.S. wine experience, but it is expensive and can be a bit stuffy. For something on the more fun side, try the Central California Coast, Oregon, or East Washington state. Ask around once you arrive and seek out the less pretentious, relaxed tasting venues. If you want an interesting experience, try Tobin James Cellars in Paso Robles, CA. Hit them during one of their events in particular and be prepared to have a rockin’ good time!

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Filed under Restaurant, Sommelier, Wine Cellar, Wine Education, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting, Wine Travel

Predicting the Future of Wine Programs and the Restaurant Trade?

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Why is a cartoon commenting on the impact of changing technology showing up on a wine blog… I selected it, because a changing landscape is all too familiar where technology is concerned. Wine consumption is changing in the U.S.. Can the industry adapt?

Predicting the Future of Wine Service

I have been meaning to write this post for a couple of weeks now, since Shanken News Daily published some interesting data. It appears a changing U.S. consumer profile is transforming the wine industry. Shanken recently published information from the U.S. Wine Market Council. It holds some fascinating insights into the challenges coming for wine marketing in the very near future…

  • Frequent drinkers (>1/week) are now 13% of all U.S. wine drinkers and 35% of all wine sales.
  • Millennials now comprise 36% of all U.S. wine drinkers nationwide compared with Baby Boomers at 34%.
  • High-end wine buyers (defined as those regularly purchasing bottles above $20 retail) now account for 36% of frequent drinkers, compared with just 21% five years ago.
  • Frequent drinkers are consuming 18% more wine now than they were two years ago, while occasional drinkers are consuming 8% less.

These are trends to note and they carry a clear message ( I believe):

  • Millennial consumer data shows them to be more adventurous and willing to explore wine more thoroughly (previous Shanken News data).
  • Frequent drinkers now comprise more than 1/3 of the market.
  • Frequent drinkers are spending more per per bottle.

Looks like a recipe for major change…

Can On-Premise Food & Beverage Adapt?

Mark Norman (industry consultant)  recently wrote a nice piece (link: Sales at Restaurants Plummeting?) regarding this and it had me thinking. Restaurants will definitely be hurt. Per site beverage revenue must increase to support lower margins and increased inventory. There will be no other choice, if they wish to maintain a successful beverage service. This changing consumer demographic is a clear indication: wine distribution’s typical approach to restaurant sales will need to change AND restaurateurs will need more training and knowledge to cater to this new group of consumers. The pressure will be on and it won’t just be about improving wine knowledge and acquiring a broader cellar with a more diverse price offering. The more important differentiator is likely to be business skills. Better marketing, inventory management, ROI and cash flow analysis will be key indicators of quality restaurant wine programs. Interesting times are coming!

Future of the Certified Sommelier

I don’t have a crystal ball, but I don’t think it is too far-fetched to think we will be seeing CS, MBA on biz cards in the coming decade. Somm exams should start including more business related content. As this new group of consumers starts driving larger restaurant wine inventories, more sales volume and lower profit margins, it will justify the need for improving business operations and accounting skill-sets. I like where this is going…

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New and Old World Style Food – Wine Pairings?

Cartoon Bar-minister-priest-rabbi

A Frenchman Walks into a Bar in Mendocino, and…

My wife and I were recently in a winery tasting room in Mendocino County enjoying several wines and a gentleman from France joined us at the tasting bar.  This producer happened to offer a cool-climate Syrah mixed with 20% cool-climate Zinfandel and Viognier.  A very light style of wine, with the Zin adding a brighter red fruit character.  I remarked that I wished I had a bottle of this wine to pair with our Turkey and stuffing dinner from a few nights before… and wow, both the attendant and the Frenchman laughed out loud!

Is Food & Wine Pairing THAT Different in the U.S.?

At the time, I didn’t think much of it, but it stuck with me and eventually had me thinking about the nature of food – wine pairings.  Is a Sommelier‘s job different in Europe vs. the United States?  Does the European restaurant patron look for something different, than their American counterpart?  I began turning over my Somm training in my head and realized, there really are two separate and distinct points of view to this discussion:

1st View

When pairing with foods, wines should contribute to mouth-feel, exhibit balance to complement the food textures, but primarily – the wine should clear the palate between bites.  The idea being: clearing the palate with wine allows you to fully experience the flavors of the food in each bite.

2nd View

When pairing with foods, wine should compliment the flavors in the food and ENHANCE its enjoyment.  In this case, a wine is selected based on pairing the wine and food flavors so the whole is tastier than the parts.

I know EXACTLY what that Frenchman was thinking… in his mind, that fruit-forward wine interfered with the taste of the food.  I thought back to his preferred wines at the tasting bar.  He purchased the most acidic Pinot Noir that was the least fruity and the best balanced (BTW, I enjoyed it too).  His thinking regarding the pairing was completely at odds with mine.  Lighter Zins (with good acidity) are a great pairing with turkey and gravy, because the wine compliments the food.  These two people were so against that kind of thinking, that they had laughed when it was suggested.  A strange experience, but very instructive.

Another Wine Job That Requires an Understanding of Cultural Preferences?

Sometime back, I wrote a piece on the cultural differences affecting the wine marketing and media manager position.  So, now the Somm position is affected by this too?  OK, I am not saying my preference here matches everyone in the U.S., but the wine education training I have done, has shown it to be true – at least in my small sample.  Does this mean Somm training and certification should include the regional and cultural preferences of local wine consumers, NOT just regional cuisine?  Could this also mean, there is no one definitive training approach to content that will apply to both the Old and New Worlds?

Feedback

For the professional Somms reading this, what has your experience been?  Am I painting to broad a brush on the issue? I don’t read much talk about this on wine related websites.  Is this observation and discussion relevant?

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Filed under Food Pairing, Sommelier, Wine Education, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting

A Wine-O Walks into a Bar, and…

Wine Bar in Italy

One day last year, my wife and I walked into a wine bar in Castello di Bolgheri, Italy (OMG, this sounds like the beginning of a joke!). They had 20 wines in a commercial dispensing system… Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Le Macchiole, Sapaio, Grattamacco, Ca’ Marcanda and more (pardon mixing my wines/producers) and I blew a boatload of cash sampling higher priced, older vintage, hard to get wines in 2 oz. pours. Never saw such an impressive selection of wines BTG in my life! I will remember the fun we had that night for many years!

Wine Bars and the U.S.

Could this wine bar concept be successful in the U.S.? Let me throw this out there… could providing wine education and then exposure to these kind of exquisite wines from all over the world be successful? Obviously, the demographics of the area would be a huge factor, but assuming you were located in a high-income area… could it make business sense, or would it be a disaster? Definitely – paired tapas and the right atmosphere would be a must.

A Passion for Wine and Curiosity

In my case, I am always curious about ultra-premium wines. Frankly, it is fun trying to determine if the value makes sense, or the price point is bogus. In the process, you always run across an amazing gem, like we did that night. Although generally, I am not up for spending big money on a full night of it. In this case, my wife and I were on vacation and we decided it would be fun to treat ourselves to the experience. Are we the only couple with disposable income that feels that way? Would the location have to be a tourist wine destination like downtown Napa, CA? Will the new Coravin wine preservation system provide the method for making this concept work?

Which Wine Experience Are You Looking For?

Being of entrepeneurial spirit, I try to guess at the different kinds of consumers that make up the marketplace. When you choose to drink wine at a bar, or restaurant, what most influences your selection?

1) pair with food 2) price 3) value 4) broad appeal for the entire party 5) explore new wines 6) the old dependable 7) hunt for exceptional quality 8) try multiple wines and a diverse experience

Is seeking out an exceptional wine value on your radar, or like many believe… are you just looking for a passable wine at the right price? Many in the industry have the view that people are just happy to be out enjoying a good time with friends…

$700 USD/btl for Harlan Estate Cab? Really?

Here are a few lines from a recent wine auction. Sorry, vintage dates are missing, but you get the point. $75+ for a 2 oz. taste of wine? I don’t think many would be curious enough, although I have watched people pay that for a shot of utra-premium tequila…

Harlan Estate, Napa Valley, USA – $709
Schrader Cellars Old Sparky Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, USA – $624
Caymus Vineyards Grace Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, USA – $617

How about $25+ for a taste of these wines?

Paul Hobbs Beckstoffer Las Piedras Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, St Helena, USA – $182
Dominus Estate Christian Moueix, Napa Valley, USA – $180
Bevan Cellars ‘Oscar’ Sugarloaf Mountain Proprietary Red, Napa Valley, USA – $180

Or these?

Chateau Montrose, Saint-Estephe, France – $192
Chateau Haut-Brion Le Clarence de Haut-Brion, Pessac-Leognan, France – $192
Chateau Lynch-Bages, Pauillac, France – $188

At some point, you become saturated with high-priced offerings beyond your budget. Occasionally, I stop and think about all the buyers out there spending this kind of money on wine. Sometimes… I just can’t get my head around the wealth that must be out there.

Wine Bars in My Area

Don’t know about you, but I look for decent food and ambiance with great value wines in the low, mid and higher priced categories. Sometimes, you are out on a special occasion and want to splurge. Having craft beer on tap too is a plus, for the times when a beer just sounds right. Unfortunately, this ideal place does not exist within 20 miles of my home and has me wishing… and hoping, the next new entrepeneur will take the risk and get it right.

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Filed under Food Pairing, Restaurant, Sommelier, Wine Education, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes, Wine Travel

Wine Industry Lost in the Weeds?

Read the recent Robert Parker rant yet? Jancis Robinson tackles the same topic in a little more even handed approach here: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/31c989da-8829-11e3-8afa-00144feab7de.html#axzz2tNJZqg3D.

Does Knowing the Wine Grape Varietal Impact Your Enjoyment?

These recent commentaries are receiving much play in the wine media. Frankly, I wish someone could help me to understand this topic’s relevance? These pieces highlight the concern that the novelty of obscure varietals is trumping interest in wines from the traditional noble grape family. The first thing that comes to mind is the egos involved. Do they think THEY drive the market? So what, if mediocre wine from traditional grape varietals has lost much of its luster? Yes, there is a reason why three of the top five varietals are of French origin – because the French were the first to truly understand fine wine production and marketing! Do you care if the wine you are currently enjoying in your glass is made from Anglianico, or Blaufränkisch vs. Cabernet Sauvignon, or Merlot varietals?

fiddler-on-the-roof-1994

TRADITION!

I am rather sure Mr. Parker and Ms. Robinson had nothing to do with the guy playing a fiddle on the roof… but the analogy is  very apropos… Tradition – is for the stodgy industry professionals, or collectors who are trying to keep the value of their French wine investment intact.

indiana-jones-and-the-fate-of-atlantis-cover

ADVENTURE!

OK, continuing with the movie theme… adventure, romance, that is what most people are looking for in a luxury purchase! My goodness – professional wine critics, get a grip! Let’s go find unusual wines from strange places and lesser known varietals… THAT TASTE GREAT and pique our interest! YES, we must respect the knowledge and talent that provides the foundation for the industry, but it need not dominate the entire industry’s approach to the consumer –

 “Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory.”

There’s your message! …………… 🙂

Obligatory Small Print: Fiddler on the Roof and Indiana Jones are copyrighted and trademarked materials and were only used to make a point, not to make a buck. Which by the way, I do not. This is purely a non-profit endeavor, as the lack of income would evidence, like 95% of the other bloggers out there.

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Filed under French Wine, Sommelier, Wine by Varietal, Wine Critics, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting

Coravin Product Review

The Wifey purchased a Coravin as a gift for Christmas. Wow… gadget and wine, all in one. For those of you who are not sure of what this is, here is a photo:

coravin

Here is the link to the manufacturer’s website: http://www.coravin.com/.

Why Use a Coravin?

Well frankly, I was initially struggling with this idea and did not open the box right away. After a few days, I popped the box open to assemble it and make sure it worked properly. All good… assembles easily, few moving parts. Reminded me a little of those argon gas pumps they came out with several years ago to preserve open wine.

Gave it a try initially on an inexpensive bottle. Didn’t require instructions and very simple to use. The cork self-seals tight, right behind removing the needle. So, the question became: what situation would be right to break-out the device? You hard-core wine-o’s will appreciate my first official use…

New Year’s Eve party at our house. One of my wife’s friends was going on and on about how she hated merlot. Finally, I couldn’t handle it any longer and told her: she just hadn’t tried good merlot yet. Now, you have to understand, here in the USA, 75% of the merlot we produce is some of the worst plonk on the planet. It kills me to think of all the U.S. consumers that think this is what merlot should be (personal campaign of mine)… so, I pulled a 2001 Pride Mountain Merlot out of my cellar and dragged out my Coravin. I challenged her to try it. I served her up a 2 oz. pour of the Pride and rocked her world! Pow! Another merlot hater converted again! AND, I didn’t have to trash an entire $75 bottle of wine in the process!

Science Behind Coravin

Once you pierce the cork (can only be used on cork closures), the lever introduces argon gas under pressure. Then via a two-way valve of some sort, the pressure is maintained, while the wine is forced out of the hollow needle into the glass. Works pretty slick… So, only two potential drawbacks I can envision:

1. If the cork is too dry on an older bottle, either the seal may be lost due to loss of integrity of the cork, or the cork may not show enough resilience to self-seal upon removal. IMO, this possibility does not seem to be very worrisome.

2. My other concern is not serious, but rather more interesting. Once the device replaces the air in the capsule with argon gas, the wine is served and then the bottle is returned to the cellar. Without further oxygen to draw from, the typical wine aging process would have to be significantly slowed, if not stopped. Since argon is heavier than air, the wine may be sealed off from air for the balance of the life of the wine. How does wine age in such an environment? I don’t think there is any research on this??

Coravin Conclusion

A very cool device! If you would like to pour a glass while alone, knowing you will be unable to polish off a bottle… PERFECT! The balance of the bottle will be perfectly stored, for the next time you decide to draw a glass, or pop the bottle. I may start drinking more expensive wine, when alone – with no concern for wasting the bottle. If you have a $100 bottle of 20 year old Bordeaux and intend to pour a glass and put it back in the cellar, you may want to think twice. I have no idea how an argon environment will effect the continued natural aging process of high-quality wines in storage.

Science again solves a challenging problem facing our world, preventing the waste of good wine! Next up: reliable hangover relief!

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Filed under Restaurant, Sommelier, Wine Collecting, Wine Critics, Wine Education, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting

Can Wine Education be Fun and Interesting?

I hold consumer wine education programs, typically at wine bars and restaurants. The classes are intended to draw additional traffic to the venues to build a clientele and drive paired food revenue… but ultimately, consumers are drawn by the desire for wine knowledge.

What Consumers Want to Know

Through a few years of experience I have found what works and what doesn’t.  You can put people to sleep with the information that interested me in my formal training… history of wine production and regions, impact of terroir on flavors, impact of wine making techniques on the wine, etc.  What do people enjoy learning about?

Wine – Food Flavor Pairings

Learning how different food flavors impact the perception of the white, red, sweet wines, etc.  Setting up paired tastings to reinforce the concept.  Most are very surprised how food impacts wine.  It is rare to find casual wine drinkers that have explored this.

What are Those Flavors I am Tasting in Cabernet, or Merlot?

People want help learning standard varietal profiles.  Take them through the blind tasting process and how to create wine tasting notes.  They want to know how to talk about wine with others.  Blind taste a few for the wow factor.

How Do I Describe What I Enjoy to Wine Attendants?

Teach them how to describe their wine preferences to assist in wine selection at restaurants and wine bars.

How Do I Select Wines to Purchase Based on My Preferences?

Walk through a wine selection process based on that description, without tasting the wine.

Would I Enjoy Exploring the Diversity in Wine?

Introduce people to the diversity of flavors in wine and provide specific examples.

Would I Enjoy Wine Travel?

Discuss wine travel and destinations – relate stories of individual wineries, their beauty and ambiance.

ULTIMATELY, MOST PEOPLE WANT WINE TO BE FUN!

When I first began presenting these programs, I was disappointed people were not interested in the academic side.  Took a few to understand, they don’t want to talk about bottle aging, cellaring strategies, AOC & DOC labeling laws…  People just want to learn how to facilitate buying wine they enjoy and how to enhance their shared wine experience with friends.

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Can You Buy Wine from Tasting Notes?

“I say old chap, is that a bit of Creme Brulee I taste in that Chardonnay?”

Whether it is creme brulee, fresh cream, tapioca, or whatever it is you think you taste in that chardonnay… it is likely to NOT be what I will taste. We all perceive flavors and aromas differently. One size does not fit all. So, when you read wine tasting notes with descriptors like “candied persimmon”, or “cigar box”, what does that mean to you? Frankly, most consumers probably couldn’t care less. Even with a trained palate, you wouldn’t put much credence into notes this specific.

How to Read Tasting Notes

There are very few specific flavors and aromas that deserve much attention. Tasting notes will be more relevant, if you can develop a level of comfort with much broader categories. These are the categories that are generally recognized.

Fruit & Floral Aromas / Flavors

When I read blackberry or plum, I think “black fruit”. When I read cherry, or raspberry, I think “red fruit”. When I read lemon, or grapefruit, I think “citrus”.  When I read pineapple, or mango, I think “tropical fruit”. When I read peach, or apricot, I think “tree or stone fruit”. When I read prunes, or raisins, I think dried fruit. When I read red rose, or honeysuckle, I think “floral”.

Herbal & Vegetal Aromas / Flavors

When I read straw, or grassy, I think “plant”. When I read sage, or mint, I think “herbal”. When I read green bell pepper, or asparagus, I think “vegetal”.

Mineral Aromas / Flavors

When I read flint, or wet rocks, I think “minerality”.  When I read mushroom, or forest floor, I think “earthy”.

Wood & Spice Aromas / Flavors

When I read cedar, or oak, I think “woody”. When I read pepper, or clove, I think “spicy”. When I  read toasted oak,  or bacon, I think “Smokey”. When I read cocoa, or mocha, I think “chocolate”.

Chemical & Bio Aromas / Flavors

When I read toast, or yeast, I think “bread”. When I read butterscotch, or stewed prune, I think “oxidized”. When I read barnyard, or cat pee, I think “bio odors” – stinky! When I read diesel, or burnt match, I think “chemical”.  When I read, butter, or cream, I think “rich dairy”.

Why Separating Flavors / Aromas into Categories Makes Sense

Broader descriptions of flavors tend to be recognized more successfully by the average person. Most people can easily relate to a “black fruit” description, versus a specific taste like “black currant”. Just translate these specific flavors into the more easily recognized broader categories and wine tasting notes start to make more sense. Then, you determine which general categories you prefer. Now, you are set to relate the flavor experience with the written wine description… and the realization grows that you MIGHT be able to use these notes to match your palate and buy wine. Obviously, it is better to taste wine before purchasing bottles, but this other process may allow you to step out on that limb and purchase a few unfamiliar wines to try.

Judging Wine CAN be Objective

There ARE wine descriptions you can take literally. These are characteristics that are quantifiable and much less subjective. These include:

Tannins

How much or how little?

Acidity

How much or how little?

Alcohol

Integrated, or too obvious?

Structure

Does the wine have a backbone? Does the wine have a mid-palate and/or a lingering finish.

Balance

Does the wine come together, without an individual aspect overpowering the other?

Texture

Does the wine coat the mouth? Is it silky, or velvetty?

Bottom Line

Yes, you can filter useful information from tasting notes. Can you count on this process for major purchases? – Definitely not! But… you can review tasting notes from trusted sources and single out wines you may want to experiment with. So, start reading those tasting notes again from a different perspective and give it a try. See if you start running into wines that rock your world and begin your exploration of the world of wine!

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Filed under Sommelier, Wine Collecting, Wine Education, Wine Tasting

Open Letter to Sommeliers

I see posts all over the internet from Sommeliers talking about their passion for wine and customer service and the challenge of being an ambassador to the industry…

Sommeliers Must Bring Business Management to the Table

There is a key point being missed. A Somm is also a beverage manager. He/she should be a businessperson first and foremost. The job for the owner is to build a beverage program that attracts clientele and contributes it’s share to the profitability of the restaurant/shop. Yes, Somm’s are passionate, wine-loving people… but without a business focus, they are not the invaluable asset they should be. Besides exceptional beverage service, they must be able to manage a budget, negotiate procurement agreements, practice good cellar management, devise effective pricing programs, train wait-staff, etc… exceptional people skills are very important, but a business focus is what will make a career successful.

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Filed under Cool Climate Wine, Restaurant, Sommelier, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting, Wine Travel