It’s that time of the year, back to school for the kids. But what about the adults?
If you have a thirst to learn more about wine, you might be considering taking a wine course. But how do you choose which one is right for you, and what exactly will you learn?
On Global Television’s Morning Show, Carolyn, Jeff and I chat about how to choose the right wine course for you and what you’ll learn.
First off, tell us why we wouldn’t just surf the web to learn about wine?
– There’s lots of free content online but it often it’s incomplete – i.e. wine column from a newspaper may tell you about one grape or a few wines, but that’s not a wholistic approach
– You can spend hours hunting and pecking for info online, just as you might for free videos showing you how to how to do say core exercises versus taking a fitness class led by a trusted expert who helps you go from your current level of fitness or knowledge to the next level of where you want to be with a coherent program that combines core, strength, stamina, stretching
Jim Barry Wines The Lodge Hill Shiraz 2012
Clare Valley, South Australia, Australia
So if we want to join a class, what are our options?
– One-off classes at a local recreational centre or perhaps a winemaker dinner
– These can range in price from about $75 to $250 depending on the courses and wines served
– Fun for socializing and learning a bit about one particular wine or region
Henry Of Pelham Family Tree Red 2017
Ontario V.Q.A., Canada
What if we want to learn more than that about wine?
– You can take a course from your local community college that might be say 10 weeks long and you’re in class for three hours at night every week
– Often these are the part of a longer program of usually 15 courses and run you about $8,000 or more at the end of which you’ll graduate with the sommelier certificate
– You can even get more serious and study for a Master of Wine designation which takes about 7 or more years, has a pass rate of only 10% and runs into the tens of thousands of dollars
Le Gravillas Sablet 2016
Côtes Du Rhône Villages, Rhône A.C., France
So what if we want something in between because we don’t want to become a sommelier in a restaurant, but we do want to be confident about buying, tasting and pairing wine with food?
Online courses offer the best of both worlds: they’re accessible to everyone no matter where you live, they’re more comprehensive than a one-off class, but not as technical and time-consuming as college courses.
Plus, there’s no drinking then driving home. Many of my students take my courses together with a spouse or partner and treat it like date night at home, no parking.
So what would we learn in your course Natalie?
In my Get Wine Smart course, we take a complete approach on how to buy, taste and pair wine like a pro without having to become an industry professional. I want students to become the expert on their own taste.
And we can dive into what that means using these three wines here as examples.
Great, so what are we looking for when we buy wine?
These wines come from three very different regions: Niagara, the Rhone Valley and South Australia, but they’re all made from the same grape, Shiraz or Syrah.
What we’re looking for the differences and similarities in how they taste. Many people are intimidated with wine because they only ever taste one wine at a time. However, side by side tasting of several wines really makes the differences jump out at you.
You’ll notice there’s quite a difference between the Niagara Syrah and the one from France and Australia. Do you notice that one wine is particularly more full-bodied than the others, even though they’re all made from the same grape?
Why are they so different?
Differences can come from the soils in which the grapes are planted, the regional climate and the choices that the winemaker makes. For example, South Australia is much warmer with a longer ripening period for the grapes than Niagara, so that wine is going to taste more full-bodied.
Another difference is that the Niagara red is a blend of Syrah and other grapes so that’s going to give it a different flavour profile, perhaps less concentrated, but more elegant and balanced.
The winemaker’s choices also impact the final taste of the wine. For instance, when are the grapes picked? The later in the season, the riper they’ll be and therefore the more sugar they’ll have to convert into alcohol.
In my online classes, we’re also looking at wine maps side by side and videos to see how these regions are so different, not only with where they’re located on the planet, but also to see what those vineyards actually look like.
For instance in the Rhone Valley, there are large round white stones that heat up during the day, and then give off that heat at night keeping the ripening process going. You wouldn’t find those in Niagara or Australia.
How do courses help us learn how to pair wine and food?
We can move beyond the basic differences in how these wines taste and look at how they change with food. I’m going to keep it simple, and ask you to try each wine, then a small bite of cheese, then back to the wine.
I ask the hosts:
Does your perception of the taste of each wine change? How so?
Does one wine change more than the others?
Does the cheese pair better with one wine versus the others?
Again this side by side comparison is how we learn best. In my classes, we might be comparing six different wines at a time.
After we look at how these wine taste and pair with food, we start to develop an appreciation not only for their differences, but also for own preferences. We understand not just what we like, but why we like it.
We become the expert on our own taste, which I think is far more important and practical than training years to become a sommelier or wine specialist in a restaurant. Most of us don’t need or want that but we do want to become more confident when we buy wine and pair it with food so that we enjoy our lives more. We work hard, so why not get more pleasure from the time we have to relax.
For example, when I watch any type of dance, I have a muscular response to it because I trained as a dancer for years. That’s a richer experience of that performance than someone who hasn’t taken lessons. It doesn’t mean my experience is better than others, but is it more layered. And for many people, that’s what they want to learn about wine. It’s not to get stuffy about it, but to have a deeper, richer enjoyment of it rather than it all being just hit and miss.