On CTV’s The Social, we chat about how to choose a wine tasting class or course. Click the arrow above to watch the segment.
You can join me in my free online video class here that also tells you more about my full course, with food and wine pairing.
I’ve been known to host some pretty epic wine nights – just ask anyone here! Not to brag, but it’s probably because I have a certificate in Italian wine which I got when I worked in the restaurant industry. And I found that after I started learning about wine, my thirst for knowledge only deepened.
I can attest that Jess knows her stuff! Whether you’re a wine pro like Jess, or you’re more of a newbie but want to learn more, there are tons of options out there in wine courses.
Here to take us back to school – wine school that is, is Natalie MacLean, who offers Canada’s most popular online wine classes.
Welcome back Natalie! I don’t know too much about wine other than the fact that I love having a glass or two with friends! What would you recommend to someone who wants to learn about wine – simply as a fun way to socialize?
You can start with one-off classes offered by recreational departments, local liquor stores, wineries and restaurants, including winemaker dinners and winery tasting rooms. You can also book a wine tasting guide to come to your home and lead you and friends through an informal tasting.
What can people expect in terms of time commitment and cost for something like this?
Time: a couple of hours
Cost: anywhere from $50 for wine samples and instruction only, to $150+ for a winemaker-led multi-course dinner with wine
This sounds right up my alley! How might a class like this be structured?
One class is not a deep dive, so you might just focus on one region.
Three Merlots here to illustrate learning about one type of wine during a short class.
There are time constraints, so one major grape like merlot to compare where they’re grown how they might differ.
Columbia Crest Winery Grand Estates Merlot
Washington, United States
Joel Gott Wines Merlot
California, United States
Peter Lehmann Wines Clancy’s Red Blend
For example, we have Merlots here from Washington State, California and Australia … all three have relatively warm climates, yet they taste very different because of differences in soil type, weather patterns and decisions that the winemaker made.
I think you’ll find that the Australian Merlot is most full-bodied with fleshy ripe black plums and berries whereas the Washington Merlot is more elegant and subtle, with the Californian Merlot right in the middle style-wise
It’s only by comparing and tasting wines side by side that you start to learn these differences.
I really love cooking and hosting dinner parties, so I’d like to learn more about food and wine pairings. Are there courses out there for that?
Seek out a 5 to 10-week introductory course like those offered by community colleges continuing education departments. Often these are offered one evening a week for 2-3 hours.
Is there anything out there that’s more flexible if you’re juggling childcare and work like I am?
Online courses, such as the one I offer, involve real-time online video instruction and interaction. The advantage is not having to drink and drive, get a babysitter or pay for parking. This is also attractive to those who live in smaller towns where wine courses aren’t offered.
Time: 15-30 hours over 5-10 weeks
Cost: College courses start at about $500; online courses at about $200 to $300 for the same time period and content, though the advantage with online courses is that you and your partner or friend can take it together, which halves the cost. Also video courses like mine are recorded, so that if you miss one, you can always watch it when it’s convenient to you.
How would this course be different from the basic course we just talked about?
Not just one wine or grape.
Would be several wines and regions.
Use example of cheese plate and wine to make comparisons.
Seven Falls Chardonnay
Wahluke Slope, Columbia Valley, Washington, United States
Errázuriz Aconcagua Costa Pinot Noir
Aconcagua Valley, Aconcagua Costa D.O., Chile
So for example, when I teach about pairing food and wine, one module is all about pairing different wines with 25 types of cheese, so let’s look at these 3 as an example.
You’d try each wine with each cheese to figure out the best combinations: but there’s a method to this madness… try the wine first on its own, then try a small bit of cheese, now go back to the wine: what’s happened to the taste of the wine?
The fat of the cheese has smoothed out the wine’s acidity, making it taste fruitier in the case of the Chardonnay with the brie … next you’d try that Chardonnay with the Cheddar to see what happens because it’ll be different with its higher level of salt and deeper flavours, and why; then finally the blue cheese, most pungent of all.
I usually plan all of my vacations around food and drink. What if I wanted to plan a gastro-vacation with wine tastings for an ultimate girls trip in some sort of luxurious wine region? How much schooling would I need to plan something like that?
Often, you can continue on with continuing ed college courses, as many will offer 6-8 courses, without requiring you to complete them all.
Again, online courses have this same flexibility.
Is this something I could do part-time?
Time: each course 15-30 hours over 5-10 weeks.
Cost: Post-intro college courses range between $600 and $900; online courses at $300 to $500 for the same time period/content.
How does this type of course go even deeper?
3 different wines to illustrate how you’d learn more than basics ie a deep dive into a particular wine region.
Gérard Bertrand Syrah Carignan
Minervois, Midi A.P., France
Gérard Bertrand Syrah Mourvèdre
Saint Chinian, Midi A.P., France
Gérard Bertrand Fitou Grenache Carignan
Midi A.P., France
We’re taking a deep dive into southern France with these 3 wines, all from the same winery, however the grapes are grown in different small, neighbouring regions.
You start to get a taste of the land, literally, in the glass, and map out those styles on your palate so that when you visit this region, you know what you’re looking for, the differences, and what you like, and which wineries you want to visit.
I don’t like to brag, but I just want to mention again that I have a certificate in Italian wine and can basically school everyone here. Natalie, when you’re as advanced as I am, what would you suggest to really refine my already highly-developed palette of wine knowledge?!
Often, you can continue on with college courses to achieve a diploma to become a sommelier. These programs usually offer both full- and part-time study.
There are also certification-granting organizations, such as the Master Of Wine or Master Sommelier programs that require years of study and difficult exams.
As well, there are degree-granting programs in oenology and viticulture from universities across the country, requiring four years of study plus work terms or stages at wineries.
There are also several universities that offer MBA programs with a focus on wine if you want to run a winery or a wine agency rather than make wine
These advanced programs will train you to become a professional sommelier working in a restaurant, a winemaker, wine importer or agent, or winery management.
These, of course, probably take years of study and thousands of dollars in tuition. So if I were ready to take the leap, which factors should I consider when choosing one of these programs?
1. The structure and breadth of the course.
2. The history and credentials of the instructor.
3. The reputation of the organization as a whole, worldwide.
4. The pass rate for full completion of the program.
What kind of advanced nuances in wine would you learn in such a comprehensive program?
Esterházy Galántha Grüner Veltliner
Burgenland, Qualitätswein, Austria
Valley of the Moon Pinot Blanc Viognier
Sonoma County, California, United States
Fontanafredda Briccotondo Gavi
Now we’re getting into more obscure grapes like Gruner Veltliner, Viognier and Albarino — not your brand name grapes anymore like cabernet and chardonnay.
We’re also looking at lesser-known regions such as Austria and northern Portugal, wines that are not plentiful in stock in our liquor stores so you have to seek them out.
Learning about these wines may involve blind tastings to identify not only which obscure grape and region it is, but also the vintage and perhaps the producer.
Natalie, thanks so much for these great ideas. We’ll have these tips posted on our website after the show. Don’t go anywhere because we’ll be right back.
Posted with permission from CTV.