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 2015
Washington, United States
Joel Gott Wines Merlot 2015
California, United States
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 2014
Wahluke Slope, Columbia Valley, Washington, United States
Errázuriz Aconcagua Costa Pinot Noir 2017
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 2015
Minervois, Midi A.P., France
Gérard Bertrand Syrah Mourvèdre 2015
Saint Chinian, Midi A.P., France
Gérard Bertrand Fitou Grenache Carignan 2015
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 2017
Burgenland, Qualitätswein, Austria
Valley Of The Moon Pinot Blanc Viognier 2015
Sonoma County, California, United States
Fontanafredda Briccotondo Gavi 2016
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.
Welcome back. 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 from when I worked in the restaurant industry. And I found that after I started learning about wine, my thirst for knowledge only deepened.
That is a fact, that is a fact. But whether you’re a wine pro like her, or you’re a novice and 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. Come on over. Come on over with us over here. I have to say I don’t know a ton about wines. I know that I like to share a glass of wine or two with friends, but would you recommend this to someone that maybe doesn’t know a lot and maybe just wants to find a way to socialize?
Absolutely, because, the good thing about wine school is that no matter which choice you go with, the homework is liquid, and it’s fun, so don’t worry. So, Marci, you could start off with a one-off class. So maybe at your local recreational department, your local liquor store, a winery, or a restaurant. That would include winemaker dinners. Or maybe you can get someone to come into your home and guide you and your friends through a tasting.
Oh, I like that idea.
Now I don’t think anyone would complain about this, but the thing is, you said the word homework, so my first thought is, how much time are we talking about in terms of commitment, and what’s the cost?
For only a couple hours, the one-off class, you’re looking at about $50, and that’s going to cover the wine samples, so samples, not samples.
But for a winemaker dinner, or having someone come into your home, you’re looking at about $150 to maybe 200.
Okay, so this sounds right up my alley. How would a class like this, Natalie, be structured though?
You’re not going to take a deep dive. You’re just going to…
That’s good. Okay.
You’re going to focus maybe just on one particular grape or region. Think about, if you’re taking a Spanish course, you might conjugate some verbs, like I am, I drink. So in this example, we’re just looking at Merlots.
Natalie: But I still think it’ll be more fun than conjugating verbs.
Marci: So these are all Merlots?
Yeah, so, give them a try, Marci. To be a good student, I’m going to ask you to sample each one.
All of them?
Yes, you’re going to have be thorough.
So, I drink the whole thing?
No, you don’t drink—
Keen but not that keen. So what you’re looking for, Marci, is the differences in soil types, and maybe the winemaker decisions, the weather, because we’ve got three Merlots, but they’re all from different regions.
How about I say they just taste good?
They taste good, that’s good. That’s a good first effort, yeah, absolutely.
I like this one better.
You like this one?
So you’re seeing some differences.
This one’s more dry, yes.
And the thing about wine is, we get so intimidated because we only have one glass in front of us. Now, three glasses certainly helps, but the reason is that we’re tasting side-by-side, and that’s when the differences will really jump out at you.
Cynthia: Are there differences that are jumping out?
Well, this one, you know I like sweet, and they’re all quite dry, but, if there was a sweetest, it would be this, am I right?
Yes, yes, absolutely.
It definitely seemed like the first one.
Natalie, I really love cooking and hosting dinner parties, and so, but I don’t know a lot about food and wine pairings. I just go with the basics.
So, is there a course out there for me?
Yes, absolutely, so you could go with your local community college. The continuing education departments often offer courses, usually, say, on a weeknight from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m., where you can get that more detailed instruction.
Okay, for me, I’m busy juggling, work, and home, and events, and all those. So the things that are a bit more flexible.
Online courses, like the ones that I offer, involve real-time, interactive video and instruction, and so you can still cover the same content, but you’re not drinking and driving, or, even if you are sampling, you’re not having to find a babysitter or pay for parking. And I find, at least with my students, some of them are kind of shy to sit in a course, right? Whereas online, you can just use chat or voice only, or just watch. And then, finally, there are those who live in smaller towns where courses aren’t offered, so online works for them too.
Well, let’s talk about the cost and the length of these courses.
They’re generally five to 10 weeks, so, say 15 to 30 hours. For a community college, you’re going to pay about $500. Online about half, 200 to $300. But again, what some of my students do is they’ll do it with their partner at home as a thing to do together.
Absolutely. And it’s wine. It’s better than golf or something like that.
Natalie: Okay, wine and golf.
But, Natalie, how would this course differ from the basic course you just talked about?
Now we get into much broader wine styles, grapes, and so on, and fun topics, like food and wine pairing.
Yes, there you go. In the course that I teach, I pair 25 different types of cheeses with wine.
So we’ve got three here as an example. Cynthia, you’re such a good student. You take a sip of the wine.
I got it.
And now we’re going to take a little piece of cheese, and then we’re going to go back to the wine to see how the cheese has changed the wine. And so, I think you might find that the fat of the cheese is sort of softening the acidity, making the wine taste fruitier, rounder.
I’m already happier, like everything’s so nice. Very nice.
So you start to learn which combinations work for you, and which don’t, and you can carry on with the next cheese, and then the blue cheese, then circle back to the next wine, and cheese, and so on.
You better save me some.
Hey, Natalie, come on over here. It’s our turn to matriculate.
Okay so, when I go on holiday, I think about where I want to eat and what I want to drink, so I think it’d be really cool to plan, like a gastro-vacation with the girlfriends, and you’re traveling around and you’re sampling all this. But before I do that, in the planning stages, how hard am I going to have to study? Like how much wine schooling do I need?
So if you want to take it to the next level for something like this, you’re post intro course. So you’ve taken some sort of basic course, and then you can look to those community colleges again.
Or online. We each have tiered courses. Maybe you want to focus on the region you want to visit, say, all about France for instance, and take it, again, to a more advanced level.
I’m not the most studious student, so can I part time this?
Okay, got it. So, part time, fulltime, and once you get post intro in college courses, you’re looking at about 600 to $900 per course. Online, about half of that, same content, and again you can have it
Are there tests?
But they’re liquid, too, they’re liquid, too. So don’t worry, don’t worry. But then you get to sort of decide which region you want to visit, which wineries you like, that sort of thing.
Okay so how do those courses kind of go deeper, is that the way?
So, for instance, we have three wines from one producer I should say, but they’re all from small subregions within southern France. So you’re going to start the differences that the soil types can make and that sort of thing and sort of map the taste.
You’re really drilling down.
Exactly. To the contours of your own palette. And then you know, when you go there, where do I want to go, what do I want to visit? What do I want to drink, most importantly.
What do you want to bring home?
Yeah. You going to taste it?
Yeah, am I drinking here?
Yes, yes please.
It’s not all theory.
And this is like a different region.
Exactly, this is all southern France, all the same producer, but different little subregions. The vines are planted in different subregions.
That’s a beautiful region, it’s very nice. I would like to go there.
I would like to go here, too.
Just to be sure.
Do you want to go to the…
I don’t know. Am I going to want to go here?
Let’s see. Yes, no?
Yeah, okay. Okay, we’re good, we’re good. Now Natalie, I don’t know if you heard me mention before, but I have my certificate in Italian wine. So, I’m a little bit more refined, shall we say, than these girls who drink juice boxes. Just joking, I’m just joking. But for someone who maybe has worked in the industry and has tasted lots of different wines, how can we sort of further our education?
Absolutely, so I see your Italian certificate, and I’m going to raise you a Sommelier diploma, Jess.
Whoa, come on.
No no, take it to her, take it to her.
What does that involve?
So you can take your education further and become a fullfledged Sommelier if you want. You can take courses.
I’m already so annoying.
She would be so annoying.
Can you imagine? Oh my God, you guys would kill me.
Don’t do that when you’re drinking. Yes okay, but you can take your course to full completion and get a diploma in a Sommelier program. You can even study to be a master of wine or a master Sommelier. Takes years of study, thousands of dollars, and the pass rate is about 10%.
Oh my gosh.
So I imagine these courses are a huge financial investment and a huge time investment. So how do you choose the program?
Yeah, well, it depends on your goals and what do you want to do. For instance, if you wanted to work at a winery, you might go to a university program and get a four year oenology degree and become a winemaker. Or you could take an MBA with a focus on wine, and it’s structured like an MBA program, but all the case studies are wine. So it depends on what you want to do, be a Sommelier, work in winery management, make wine.
Okay, oh my goodness.
What kind of advanced nuances are we talking about when you’re dealing with a comprehensive program like this?
We’re looking at three very different grapes here, very obscure, we’ve got, not the badge name grapes like Cabernet and Chardonnay, we’ve got Alberiño, Viognier, Cortese.
Oh this is elite.
Yes, exactly. And it’s not just about tasting them. It’s about tasting them blind, meaning you don’t see the label. So can you guess which is which, the vintage, the weather that year.
Cynthia: Look at the way she’s swirling.
She’s taking it very seriously.
Oh my God.
Teacher’s pet over here.
So you have to guess all those details, like the region and the…
Absolutely. And are you getting any readings in September there?
Give her her test, give her her exam.
Which is which, Jess?
Yeah which is which, Jess?
Rained on October 24, 2015.
Thank you so much, we had so much fun. And, Jess, I can’t believe this. We will have all these tips posted on our website after the show. Don’t go anywhere, we’re back in a couple of minutes. Cheers.