Wine can be a pretty intimidating subject. The sheer volume of information involved in its mastery is daunting enough but when you add a cadre of wine snobs and aloof Sommeliers to the mix, yep it’s official. I remember when I decided to get serious about wine and make it my career, those first few trade events and study groups were terrifying! But over time, I put in the work and earned my credentials, all while pledging to make the world of wine as unintimidating as possible for my readers, family and friends. Wine should be a source of pleasure and discovering which wines you like (and WHY!), can be a lot of fun as well as the key to feeling truly empowered.
So just imagine a day where you no longer have to rely on your spouse or friend to tell you which wine to order. Picture yourself confidently bellying up to the bar and ordering a glass of Trockenbeerenauslese…or Pinot Noir depending on how you roll. So if you’re interested in embarking on this wine-soaked journey towards vinous enlightenment, I’ve got six essential tips to Empowering your Palate that are going to help you learn about the world of wine and, most importantly, lead you to discover which wines YOU truly love!
In order to truly empower your palate and experience the world of wine, you’re going to have to forego the tried and true, break out of your wine rut and start tasting lots of different wines. That’s not to say you should just randomly choose wines based on the critter or picture on the label – no, not at all! You just need to start tasting different wines from a variety of wine regions that are recommended by your “go to” websites, resources and people whose opinions you trust and respect in order to make an informed decision.
Here on my website I’ve got lots of helpful resources to guide your tasting exercises including blog posts (a great place to start is with White Wine 101, Red Wine 101 and Champagne + Sparkling Wine 101), podcast episodes and mini video masterclasses on a host of wine regions, producers and styles of wine. And please scroll down for even more helpful resources and advice on empowering your palate!
You’re out drinking wine with friends (properly social-distanced of course!) and you try a wine that truly wows you. You love it so much you’re absolutely sure you’ll remember the name of the producer and what the label looks like. But, not surprisingly, the next morning through your vinous haze you just can’t remember a darn thing about that wine! (I’ve been there too!)
This is precisely why, the moment you discover a wine that delights you, either write down the name of the wine and/or producer in the “Notes” section of your iPhone or, even better, snap a photo of it. Having that photo is your key to finding that wine again or getting something that’s very similar. So create a new folder in your photo app labeled “Wine” and, in time, you’ll develop a library of images that’ll tell the story of your unique vinous preferences. You can use this valuable information to help determine which wines you’re likely to enjoy in the future. You can also use wine apps like Delectable (my personal fave!), Wine-Searcher and Vivino that have loyal communities of wine lovers and experts to guide you as well.
This is perhaps the most important tip to vinous empowerment! In the process of discovering which wines truly make your palate sing, you’ll need a guide by your side since I can’t always be there with you (darn!). Because as you may have already discovered, many wines you read about on websites, in books or in magazines are not available at your local retail store. This is mostly due to antiquated wine laws that prevent retailers from having open access to whatever wines they want and unfortunately there’s no sign of anything changing anytime soon.
That’s why it helps to have someone who’s local and easily accessible who can reliably guide you to a similar selection in the event the wine you’re looking for isn’t available. The beauty is, over time, you’ll become more confident discussing wine and they’ll become familiar with your palate and will be able to anticipate and recommend wines you’ll like in the future based on your purchase profile with them. And I know they’ll really appreciate your business right now, and conveniently, many of them deliver now too!
Now that we’re all supposed to be sticking closer to home, it’s the perfect time to catch up on your reading! And there’s SO many amazingly delicious wine resources to dive into. A great place to start here on my website is with my posts that cover the basics: White Wine 101, Red Wine 101 and Champagne + Sparkling Wine 101. Other resources I greatly admire in the wine world by some of my favorite experts include:
The Wine Bible ($18) by truly fabulous innovator + wine expert, Karen MacNeil. You’ll thoroughly enjoy her charismatic writing style, plus she enjoys a glass of Champagne every day of her life so I love her for that as well! You can also click here for my interview with her to learn more about her fascinating journey as one of the first female wine writers.
The Oxford Companion to Wine ($49) and Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties ($129) by the legendary Jancis Robinson
Wine Simple: A Totally Approachable Guide from a World Class Sommelier ($20) by the uber-brilliant yet down to earth Sommelier of Le Bernardin in NYC, Aldo Sohm.
Anything written by Master Sommelier Andrea Immer Robinson.
Of course you can also listen to podcasts which are perfect if you’re on the go or pedaling away on your Peloton! Of course I highly recommend my podcast, The Wine Atelier, but some of my other favorites include Levi Dalton’s “I’ll Drink to That,” and the Guild of Sommeliers podcast.
This tip generally would have read “attend all the wine events you can afford and/or have time for,” however, given our new, altered reality, virtual tasting are definitely the way to go - and I have to say, they are fabulous! I’ve been on both the attending and delivering end of virtual tastings and the sense of conviviality you experience at an “in-person” wine tasting can definitely be achieved at virtual events as well.
Some of my favorite entities that are hosting regular “virtual” wine tastings right now include:
EATER at Home Virtual Food + Wine Events on Instagram: Updated every Monday, the Eater at Home live tastings feature some of the food and wine world’s most well-known names such as Samin Nosrat, Alex Guarnaschelli and Andrew Zimmern.
Coravin Virtual Wine Events: Headed by Greg Lambrecht, inventor of the Coravin which revolutionized the way we taste wine. He has created a nice lineup of hosts whose goal it to create special moments of connection over a glass of wine.
Corkbuzz: The fabulous NYC-based restaurant and wine bar founded by female Master Sommelier, Laura Maniec.
Charlie Palmer’s Pigs + Pinot Tutorial Series: Every Thursday @ 4pm ET Chef Palmer and a rotating lineup of prominent Sonoma winemakers for the inside scoop on our favorite pork and pinot pairings.
The Boisset Collection: The charismatic Jean-Charles Boisset hosts daily Happy Hour wine tastings on Facebook Live @ 6pm PDT where he opens bottles and takes questions from viewers.
While attending virtual events and tastings is really fun and you’re probably learning something new during each one, if you really want to kick it up a notch, taking formal wine classes is the way to go!
Wine & Spirit Education Trust: WSET provides globally recognized education and qualifications in wines, spirits and sake, for professionals as well as enthusiasts. They have a variety of different levels of certification that you can start at based on your existing level of proficiency. I currently hold the WSET Advanced Certificate which involved a blind tasting of two wines and a written exam consisting of a multiple choice section and an essay paper. These courses focus on materials best suited to teaching and writing about wine since there is no service component to them. If you’re interested in working in a service capacity, check out the next organization.
The Court of Master Sommeliers: Made famous by the 2012 movie SOMM, this globally recognized organization is considered the benchmark as far as wine service goes. And while the Master Sommelier designation is the pinnacle of this organization (there are only 255 Master Sommeliers in the world!), there are three other preceding tiers of certification as well, the Intro level which is perfect for enthusiasts and those still considering a career in the wine industry, the Certified Sommelier level which is self-study only and the exam is a mini-version of the Master Somm exam, consisting of a blind tasting of two wines, a written theory portion and a service component.
The last level before the Master Sommelier is the Advanced Sommelier in which all three components of the exam, bling tasting, theory and service, must be passed at the same time and failing any one of them requires you to take the entire exam and all of its components over again.
The Institute of Masters of Wine (IMW): If the Master Sommelier is the highest certification in terms of service in the wine world, the Master of Wine is the highest level of certification in terms of academia and writing. The WSET diploma is often considered a prerequisite to being accepted into the MW program which culminates in a three-part examination, comprised of theory and practical components as well as a research paper. The theory papers touch on a comprehensive range of wine-related topics including viticulture and vinification, the business of wine and current trends in the wine industry. There are currently 394 MW’s in the world today.
Society of Wine Educators (SWE): As the title implies, this organization is focused on providing wine and spirits education along with the conferral of several certifications including the Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW), Certified Specialist of Spirits (CSS), Certified Wine Educator (CWE) and Certified Spirits Educator (CSE). The Society is internationally recognized and its programs are highly regarded for both their quality and relevance to the industry.
Wine Scholar Guild: This well-respected organization is considered the leading provider in specialized certification programs on the Old World wine regions of France, Italy and Spain with a school network spanning 30 countries and 5 continents. They’re definitely pioneers in online wine education and students learn from the best names in the wine industry. They also offer very exclusive wine study immersion programs on the market.
I hope you find these 6 essential tips for Empowering your Palate helpful and that these resources enhance your enjoyment and exploration of the wine world. Whether as a career or hobby, this is truly a topic you can easily devote your life to!
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