Wine Enthusiasts Seek Sommelier Bragging Rights

From the Wall Street Journal:

When they could be raising a glass with their friends during their free time, some wine enthusiasts are hitting the books alongside professional sommeliers in order to take a challenging test.

Look! I’m not the only wine fan out there taking wine classes with no idea whether I’ll actually parlay my career toward the wine industry or just keep it as a fun hobby. But unlike the tone of the story’s headline, I don’t intend on taking classes so I can be called a sommelier (besides, I’m also taking classes from a different organization), nor am I doing this for bragging rights. I’m guessing (or at least hoping) there are plenty more people like me than the ego-driven folks the Wall Street Journal assumes in its story. Fortunately, the writer interviews enough enthusiasts who don’t sound like they’re doing this just for the snobbery. And it’s encouraging that many of them found ways to put their new certificates to good use.

For me, these past 5 weeks (tonight’s my last official class until next week when we take the exam), have been an opportunity to widen my knowledge and find ways of becoming a better communicator. I’m desperate for more interesting and intellectual conversations with other wine enthusiasts and winemakers I meet. And the one thing I know from being a journalist: The more information you’re armed with, the better questions you can ask and the more interesting details you can learn.

WSJ has also produced a video to go with their story, which can be read here: Wine Enthusiasts Seek Sommelier Bragging Rights

Wine School – Week 2!


(Photo: A 1996 bottle of Chateau Sociando-Mallet bottle from Haut Medoc, in Bordeaux. It was opened at a gathering I went to last week. Little did I realize, later that week I would be learning about the region. )

Last night’s class was all about varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot. But it’s impossible to talk about those grapes without lessons in winemaking, climate and geography. It served as a wonderful reminder of how well-rounded studying wine can be. 

As I mentioned last week, I don’t want to rehash my classes, but I do think it’s fun to leave behind some random facts (not necessarily part of the lesson plan). Here are a few from last night:

  • There’s less sulfer in a bottle of wine, than in trail mix. The sulfer dioxide that many people are afraid of helps keeps grapes oxidized, it fights mildew in the vineyards and fights against yeast and bacteria in the wine.
  • Even though Burgundy is usually associated with Pinot Norir, more than 60 percent of the region is planted with Chardonnay.
  • The hotter the season, the more rapidly acid falls. Wines from cooler climates have higher acidity levels than those from warm and hot climates.
  • A lot of Chardonnay now grows in China and North India, too.
  • Irrigation is not (or very rarely) allowed in Burgundy, unless you obtain special permission, which is hard to do.
  • A fair guestimate that about 95 percent of all wines don’t get better with bottle age.
  • New Zealand now makes more Sauvignon Blanc than France.  
  • Our instructor highly recommends trying a White Bordeaux from the Pessac Leognan winegrowing area of Graves.
  • 2012 was a fabulous year for Oregon Pinot Noir.

Probably the most important take away from this class – not related to the formal lesson plan – is that it confirmed my general dislike of many Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux (red) wines (we tasted both a Bordeaux and a California in class). Even when blended with other grapes. Sadly for now, those green bell pepper flavors don’t agree with my palate.  I’m not going to give up on them, and with food pairings and age, maybe I’ll eventually grow to like them.

As for that empty Bordeaux bottle I posted at the top of this page, I did enjoy the wine, but I didn’t ask for a second glass. Instead, I reached for some Burgundy.