Wine Education By The Glass

Roberto Viernes
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Wednesday - March 17, 2006
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How do I learn more about wine?

This is a question we should all ask ourselves.

Well, at least for those of us who drink wine. People frequently ask me, what is the best way to learn about wine? Is there a class or school that I can go to? Is there someone who will teach me as an apprentice?

Here are my thoughts about learning and teaching about wine.

The best way to learn about wine is to actually go there. There is no better experience than to actually see the vineyards, meet with the wine-maker and taste their wines in the place from which they come. For some of us, this is actually work. (Yeah, right!) But for most people this is what they would call a vacation. What could be more romantic than spending time in the Tuscan countryside, or in the beautiful Napa Valley, or the lavender-scented Provence of southern France? You will be immersed in wine knowledge as well as the culture and experience that come with it.

Not all of us can commit to such a luxury on a regular basis. It’s not so practical, since we’re in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. So why not bring these choice wine-growing areas to your own home?

Wine-tasting parties and events are always a ton of fun. Themes can be conjured from anywhere around the globe. Choose wines that are under a price ceiling or wines that share the same varietals - the possibilities are endless. I would recommend that you invite someone who actually does know something about wines to help others who may be novices or neophytes. This will help it to be an educational wine tasting instead of just a drinking session.

Or each person can research the wine that they bring so they can share the information with everyone else. This is a “can’t lose” proposition. Wine clubs can provide the same type of situation and can really open people’s palates to new and exciting things.

Public wine tastings and events can certainly help your wine knowledge, although in many cases the people who are pouring the wines do not know very much about what they’re pouring. This is especially true if it is a non-profit benefit event. The most beneficial tastings are ones directed by professionals who have experience with the wines and dedicate specific tastings to teaching about certain areas of wines.

In my WinED classes at Formaggio’s, I go over specific information on the area where the wine is made and the actual wines we taste. The really BIG tastings can be fun for the experienced but intimidating for novices, who can get lost or may not even remember which wines they tasted.

Formal wine education and training are quite rare in Hawaii. There are only a few continuing education courses that are taught for a session or two a year, and classes offered by the Culinary Arts program at KCC. And a sommelier is rarer than a nene goose.

Once in a while, however, there is such a special class that does come to Hawaii that it needs a special mention. The Introductory Course for the Court of Master Sommeliers will be held at the Pacific Beach Hotel on April 1 and 2. I took this class eight years ago and that’s how I got hooked on wine. This class is taught only by master sommeliers, and their passion and excellence is contagious. The course encompasses all the classic growing regions of the world, and you get to taste more than 20 wines. Just look what it did for me.

There are plenty of correspondence classes available on the Internet that will give you plenty of knowledge about wines. Books are immeasurably informative as well. But one thing is missing - the wine! You have to search out the bottle and taste it, hopefully not by yourself.

The immediate attention from a mentor or teacher isn’t always available either. However, it’s convenient, and you can still learn a lot.

In the end, it is up to you and your level of passion for wines that will ultimately guide you to seeking the knowledge you desire. My favorite teacher of wine is in the bottle. All you need is a glass and a corkscrew.

After all, you could read all the wine books in the world, but you still wouldn’t know how it tastes until you put it on your palate.

Recommended Education:

Court of Master Sommeliers Introductory Course ($495).

April 1 and 2 at the Pacific Beach Hotel. Please see for information and registration. If you are a professional, this is an immeasurable experience.

Oz Clarke’s New Essential Wine Book: an
Indispensable Guide to Wines of the World
, by Oz Clarke

This book is clear, concise, and I enjoy Clarke’s storytelling nature of teaching that makes it great for the beginner.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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