Five ways to Learn More About Wine

Posted October 22, 2014

WineLibrary Staff

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Almost every week, especially during this active time of year when everyone and their mother reawaken to the mystical allure of wine & spirits, I am approached by countless customers with the same flattering question, “How do you know so much about wine?”  to which I typically respond, “because I drink a lot.”  Almost without fail, it procures the predictable nervous giggle and/or, if I’m lucky, a series of questions that go something like this…

I have no idea about wine or spirits, but want to learn. Where do I start?

Starting from the beginning, and with the least amount of investment needed, there are a myriad of one day seminars, tastings, classes and ‘field trips’ that can be discovered by tapping into your local wine shop, tasting group, or online resource.  Simply Googling or Yelping “NYC Wine Tastings” yields dozens and dozens of store/restaurant/event-based tastings that are guaranteed to jet you up the learning curve with little to no financial investment.  These resources are clicks away, and will put you in front of great wines, informed people from the trade, and best of all, enable you to rub elbows with other like-minded men and women just as enthused about this as you! Hit up localwineevents.com for more info!

I’m going on vacation and would like to visit a winery/distillery. Where do I start?

Without fail, one of the greatest ‘hands-on’ approaches to learning about wine, spirits (or brews for that matter), is to coordinate a guided tour while enjoying the spoils that come with “vacation”.  Actual vineyard growers, winemakers, and owners will more quickly and pointedly debunk myths and elucidate the most important facts about your beverage of choice than 3 months in a classroom, period.  Link up with a local resource close to your destination (e.g., at your hotel, or through the local winery association such as napavalleyvintners.com) or by asking your favorite store to connect you with meaningful ‘trade-level’ visits.   You will (re-)discover why you fell in love with wine & spirits in the first place.

I’ve done all of this and am ready for the next level in wine education.  Where do I start?

Here’s where it really gets interesting.  Back in the day, the answer was simple: Windows on the World Wine School!  The quintessential wine educator Kevin Zraly’s dynamic approach to teaching budding oenophiles how to swirl, nose and taste wine was the gold standard for wine education, and for many, it still is.  However, ever-increasing demands by wine consumers for a more rigorous curriculum that resulted in an actual piece of paper, brought forth two parallel courses of study that have come to define today’s educated wine consumer, and in many cases, the wine professional.

Cage Match:  MS vs. MW…who wins?

The short answer…both!  For those looking for a course of study that focuses on the hotel and restaurant beverage service industry and mastering the art, science and history of a sommelier’s work, consider the Court of Master Sommeliers.  CMS takes students through four levels of coursework, with a focus on service, called ‘Introductory’, ‘Certified’, ‘Advanced’ and ‘Master Sommelier’.

Alternatively, the Master of Wine program requires that students first complete the Diploma in Wine & Spirits, administered by the Wine & Spirits Education Trust, which itself takes 3-4 years to complete.  To continue on to the Master of Wine, one must pass three parts:  Theory, Practical & Dissertation.  It tends to be more focused on the art, science and business of wine, enabling graduates to work across all disciplines within the wine industry, whether it is as a vigneron, winemaker, retailer or writer.

There are only 219 Master Sommeliers and 312 Masters of Wine in the world.  Progressing through the ranks of each course of study is extremely rigorous, time consuming, takes a minimum of 3-5 years to complete, includes written exams, countless blind tastings, mentorship protocols, and yes, are expensive.  Both courses have their own respective focus but nevertheless draw a richly experienced group of candidates together, which makes for just as important a part of the learning opportunity as everything else the coursework offers.

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Stephen C. Fahy, DWS is the Sales Director and a Wine Buyer at the Wine Library. Prior to this, Stephen managed the buying and sales initiatives for stores large and small in both New Jersey and Manhattan.   In addition, Stephen sold to some of Manhattan’s top restaurants and retailers while a Wine and Spirits Consultant for Importer/Distributor, WINEBOW.

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