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Just Beginning to Learn About Wine? Start HERE: Cristie Norman Online Wine Course

If you’re a wine lover on Instagram, you’re likely familiar with the name Cristie Norman.  And if you’re not – you should be.  She’s a Certified Sommelier (currently working at the famed Spago in Beverly Hills), a WSET Level 3 holder, and creator of the wine series “Adulting with Alcohol” on YouTube.  And last year, she debuted a wine apparel line with fabulous taglines like “Vote for Pedro Ximénez” or “Run DRC.”

Cristie Norman

Recently, Cristie added to her list of accomplishments with the launch of the Online Wine Course.  She asked various members of the wine community to take the course and give her an honest review and feedback.  You can read my review here.  However, I was so impressed by the course, I decided to dedicate a blog post to reviewing it in a bit more detail . . .

The Online Wine Course is designed for wine newbies – Cristie refers to it as “a Driver’s Ed Course in Wine.”  It covers a wide range of wine topics in a fun and easy to understand way.  The course consists of over 60 short videos – the majority of which are under 2 minutes, which is perfect in keeping with today’s Twitter and Instagram attention spans. You can go at your own pace, doing one video or several at a time.  Another plus: these videos flow into each other – so you can binge watch with minimal effort!

There are handouts corresponding to each video that you can download and/or print out to follow along. And if you know me, you know how much I love handouts. 🙂 You’re much more likely to remember something if you write it down! For anyone doing the course, I highly recommend printing these out and completing them alongside the videos.  They’re helpful for completing the quizzes at the end of each section and, if you’re a super wine geek like me, they would be great to keep in a notebook for future reference.

Yes, there are quizzes.  They’re timed (10 minutes) and either multiple choice or True/False.  But don’t stress – you can take them as many times as you’d like if you miss any questions.  And I might have had to do that . . .

While her website provides an overview as to what’s included in the course – here’s a little more detail – and in outline form of course!

I.  Intro to Wine

II.  How to Taste Wine

A.  Structure – Acidity, Tannin & Sugar

B.  Aromas/Flavors

III.  Sparkling Wine

A.  Methods of Production & Styles

B.  Styles (Champagne, Prosecco, Cava, Crémant)

C.  How to Open a Bottle of Sparkling Wine.  (Hint: it doesn’t look anything like these). Willamette

IV.  Important White Grapes & Red Grapes.  Thankfully she includes the correct pronunciation of the Willamette Valley here.  Never ceases to amaze me how many people say it incorrectly.

V.  Why is Wine so Expensive?

A.  Use of Oak.  Cristie includes mention of oak chips here – which (impressively) she doesn’t shame.  She just sticks to the facts like “yep, some bulk producers use them” and doesn’t give her personal opinion.  And believe me, we wine folk have TONS of opinions!

B.  Winemaking Decisions

C.  Marketing.  She does briefly mention influencers here – as she should – she is one!

VI.  How to Open and Serve Wine.

A.  This includes a detailed demonstration – which, of course, she makes look so damn easy.  Even after watching this several times AND being shown in person by a Master Sommelier – I still cannot get the knife right!
Gramercy

B.  Like many things these days, there is some product placement during this section. However, unlike Game of Thrones and Starbucks, both products Cristie mentions make sense. And as someone who Hubs often refers to as “Jane Q Public” – I found myself interested in both. (Albeit a bit skeptical that one claims to keep a wine fresh after being opened for weeks or months . . . )

VII.  Terroir

A.  One of the most controversial words in the wine world (this and influencer).  Cristie gives the big picture of how soils, climate, etc. all factor into a wine.  She also does a particularly excellent job of describing the differences between Old World and New World here.

B.  Note: I see this word misspelled constantly.  Usually the vowels are mixed up and it looks like Terrior.  Here’s how I remember it: “how do you spell Terroir?”  “oh, I don’t know” Get it?  O I.  You’re welcome.  (Hubs Note:  Nerd.)

VIII.  France

A. Great introductory explanation of more complicated topics like the 1855 Classification, Napoleonic Code and Burgundy pyramid.  Something even more advanced wine aficionados struggle with!

B. The quiz questions definitely start to get tougher here – I highly recommend using her worksheets!

IX.  Italy

A.  Somewhat ironically, this was the only section where this Italian Wine Scholar got a question incorrect. :-/

B. As someone who has studied this region in depth, I truly admire her ability to cut through the minutiae and get right to the important facts.  Not easy to do for a country with over 350 native grapes! WA necklace

X.  The United States (with a brief discussion of my beloved Washington state!)

XI.  Spain & Portugal (including mentions of Sherry & Port)

XII.  South America

XIII.  Germany (she admirably tackles the complicated topic of sweetness levels in German wines – something I STILL need to reconfirm on occasion!)

XIV.  Other Southern Hemisphere Countries: Australia, New Zealand and South Africa

XV.  Food & Wine Pairing. I’ve taken several classes on this topic, yet Cristie manages to explain concepts in a unique way that I’ve never seen before.

To the best of my knowledge, there is nothing else out there like the Online Wine Course. Sure, there are plenty of books – Wine Folly and The Wine Bible are two of my top recommendations for people who are newer to wine. There are also classes like the WSET Level 1 or the Introductory Sommelier Course if you’d prefer to go the certification route. However, there’s a certain degree of formality with these types of classes and you’re at the mercy of their schedule. There’s little, if any, flexibility – and unfortunately, attending in your PJs is frowned upon.

On her site, Cristie mentions that “reaching millennials is the key.” And unless you’ve been avoiding all forms of social media, you’re probably well aware of the wine industry’s efforts (or lack thereof) of doing just that. However, I can see someone of an, ahem, “older generation” (present company included!) enjoying this course just as much. The Online Wine Course would be a great gift for someone just starting out in wine – whatever their age.

 

Stalking and Shaming of Wine Influencers on Instagram: Has This Become Normal Behavior?

Recently, something disturbing came to light in the wine social media world. Dynamo wine writer Marissa Ross disclosed that someone had been harassing and stalking her for over two years on social media.  And she put his posts out there for all to see.

If you’re not familiar with Marissa, she’s an outspoken voice in wine media, a fierce proponent of natural wine, inventor of the “Ross Test” and author of “Wine. All the Time.”  She has a loyal following of supporters, as well as a number of individuals who disagree with her – which she openly discusses on her Instagram stories and Twitter.  However, her stalker went way beyond disagreeing with her natural wine fervor and Ross Testing. His comments were cruel, threatening and scary.

Thankfully, the wine community came together en masse to support her – including those who normally tend to dismiss her antics (she often refers to them as the “old guard”). It was encouraging to see everyone put aside their differences and agree that this type of behavior was not to be tolerated – on social media or anywhere.  As of now, Instagram has banned the individual (the least they could do IMO).

As I was reading through the hundreds of supportive comments on Marissa’s page, one of them jumped out at me. It was from a wine related (perhaps some would call it an “influencer”) account and she said she’d had “similar things happen to me.”  She wrote that a “certain individual” and small group of men in the industry had been shaming her, her photos and women in wine in general.  I’ll refer to her as Dolcetto.  I knew which “certain individual” Dolcetto was referring to because I follow that account – which I’ll refer to as Amarone.

But before I go any further, let me take a step back and see if I can kinda sorta explain where Amarone was coming from.  At least initially . . .

The Rise of the Wine “Influencer.”

In the wine world, there have been several articles recently regarding the increasing number of wine “influencers.” For that matter, influencers have risen in recognition across all of social media endorsing products and – the theory goes – holding sway over their thousands, and sometimes millions, of followers.  This article is particularly well written and helps explain why the word is sometimes used in quotations (hint: it’s because some of these individuals aren’t truly influencing anyone.)

Unfortunately, wine seems to be one of a growing number of subjects that an individual can “influence” and have minimum actual knowledge about it.  Snap a ton of pictures with wine bottles and smile, make sure to comment constantly and generically on others posts (something like “That looks like some good wine!” or “I’ll have to try that!”), join multiple pods, and boom – you’re on your way to being an influencer.  For those in the wine industry, some of these influencer accounts can be exasperating since they tend to focus way more on engagement as opposed to actual wine education or experience.  In order to be a true “wine influencer” – shouldn’t an individual ideally have some combination of all three?

(Please note: this is not saying that all wine influencers are frauds, or that none of them have any wine knowledge or experience.  There are plenty of legitimate, intelligent and genuinely engaging wine influencers out there.  This would actually be a great subject for a future blog post!)

The Shaming of Wine “Influencers.”

Originally, Amarone’s account poked fun at the wine “influencer” group as a whole.  There was a generic jab at those who constantly post about “National Anything Day” (every day is a National “Something” Day – and it is admittedly annoying as fuck…even though I’m guilty of participating in some).  He’d call out wine reviews that were a complete cut and paste of the winery’s tech sheets with no individual thought whatsoever on the part of the “influencer”.  Or lament the rise of the IG pod, which often results in skewed engagement metrics because it’s basically the same people commenting on each others posts – over and over again. Months ago, someone on Twitter called pods the “IG circle jerk” – which is a colorful, and not altogether inaccurate, description.

Sometime around the beginning of this year, the tone of many of Amarone’s posts changed. They became more mean spirited and targeted at specific individuals. Often, the focus was attractive women in their 20s and 30s who post about wine – a group he started referring to as the “girl gang.”

These gals have carefully curated IG feeds with beautifully composed, even professionally taken, photos.  Many of their posts aren’t about wine per se, but rather enjoying life, drinking wine and being with your friends and family. And seeing as how most of their accounts have over 10,000 followers, clearly there are many people interested in this type of content.  (True confessions: I follow several of them and the vast majority of their posts are refreshingly light and upbeat – like if Beaujolais Nouveau had an IG account).

So, instead of the usual generically humorous memes, Amarone’s account started copying photos directly from some of these ladies IG accounts. Everything from what they wore, to how they held a wine bottle, to their WSET credentials, was mocked.  I’m guessing this is what Dolcetto is referring to when she mentions “shaming” behavior.  And I get what she’s saying, because I noticed this the other week . . .

IG Dead Pet Meme

This photo on Amarone’s account was followed by the comment “You couldn’t manufacture these kinds of metrics if you TRIED.” After seeing this post on IG, I immediately thought something had happened to Marissa’s sweet old dog, Zissou.  After scrolling through her feed and finding nothing, I started wracking my brain as to who else has pets that they post about on IG.  And then I thought HOLY FUCK . . . this is about ME.

I initially took this pic of me “kissing” Luke and sent it to Hubs and then realized – “hey, I don’t look godawful in this photo!”  So, I decided to post this shot of me on IG, and one of Luke, because I’d had a WSET Diploma exam that day and wore my lucky necklace – which is made from Luke’s ashes.  Honestly though, I rarely post personal photos on IG because: (a) my account is focused on learning about wine, and (b) I take incredibly crappy pictures.

Did I post about my “dead pet” specifically to get likes or “manufacture” metrics?  No.  Did it happen to get more engagement than my usual posts – which are typically bottle shots or wine tasting notes?  Yes.  So, maybe there is something to be said about including a bit of your personal self on your feed – you’ll get more engagement, but also leave yourself open for someone to make snarky comments.

(Sidenote: I’m guessing that many members of the “girl gang” have blocked Amarone on IG because he’s really scraping the bottom of the “influencer” barrel if he’s taking a shot at me with my barely 1,000 followers. FTR – his main account, the non-parody one, has over 32,000 followers.)

Shaming Isn’t Stalking – but it’s still Shitty Behavior.

Most people can agree that trolls and haters are an unfortunate part of social media.  And, while incredibly annoying, their behavior usually doesn’t rise to the level of stalking or threatening.  It’s misleading to equate the two and I’m not doing so here.

However, shaming someone is still shitty – and what’s the point?  Particularly when you’re over the age of 13 and should have better things to do with your time and energy?  Yet even as I write this post I’m bracing myself for the snarky comments which I’m sure will be forthcoming.  Funny, I didn’t feel this way when I wrote about Chenin Blanc or the Italian Wine Scholar exam.

This recent increase in shaming behavior has made me take a second look as to how I feel about wine “influencers.”  I understand the wine community’s concern if these individuals are purchasing followers, or not disclosing that they’re being paid to endorse whatever wine or product they’re posting about.  That’s dishonest and the latter is actually against FTC regulations.  And I totally feel the frustration of wine academics who cringe when an “influencer” posts something massively incorrect or misleading about wine – like when Drew Barrymore said that Rosé is made from peeled grapes.

But otherwise – what harm are they doing?  Is their presence taking away from your number of followers or engagement?  Highly doubtful.  Are you even interested in the same type of followers?  Probably not.  My point is: there’s room for everyone in the IG sandbox – and it would be awesome if we could all play in it a bit more nicely.

Don’t get me wrong, after all this ranting about IG – I actually really do enjoy it. I’ve gotten to know a number of amazing people in the wine community through IG and am hoping to meet many more of them in person – including Amarone and Dolcetto.  He’s incredibly knowledgeable about wine and it would be awesome to pick his brain on which out of the way California wineries to visit.  And I’d love to get her recommendations for spots in Napa – and, well, perhaps a few pointers on how to take better pictures.

Great pic of me

 

 

 

Italian Wine Scholar: Tackling This Boot Was No Small Feat

Nobody likes a braggart or a know-it-all.  If you’ve read some of my previous posts, you know I can’t stand this type of personality and have even created a WSET Irritation Scale to evaluate them.  (Yes, I’ve been told that sometimes I take things too far).

Unfortunately, we (mostly women) are often so fearful of looking too egotistical that we don’t celebrate our accomplishments.  We downplay our successes, or qualify them by saying something like “I’m just a good test taker” or “I can memorize facts, but don’t retain them very well.” (I’ve uttered both of these phrases many times over).  Why is it so difficult to say “hey – I’m really proud of myself, I did this: [fill in the blank here with your awesome accomplishment].”  (Hubs Note:  And yet you don’t have any problem telling my friends that you kicked my ass in law school).

I think we need to be better at sharing our wins and encouraging each other to do the same. So, with that, I’m going to give it a shot- here goes: I passed my Italian Wine Scholar exam with Highest Honors!  I studied my ass off for this certification and I am thrilled with my results.

IWS certificate

And, because I’d like to see others succeed, here are some tips that will hopefully help other students rock their Italian Wine Scholar Unit 2 exam (my Unit 1 exam tips can be found here):

1. Study the glossary!

There were several questions relating to these terms and I know I answered at least one of them incorrectly.  Now I will never forget that Baglio is the name for a Sicilian farmhouse.  (However, the degree to which this particular question relates to wine knowledge is debatable IMO . . .)

2. Memorize this equation: The percentage of the text dedicated to a region = the number of exam questions on that region.

This may seem obvious, but it will help you schedule your time more efficiently if you keep this in mind.  You’re better off focusing a majority of your studies on Toscana, Sicilia and Campania than knowing all the little nuances of Molise or Basilicata.  And besides – you can use my outlines as a good starting point for both of those regions! 😉

For me, I found it best to tackle a larger region over the course of a week and then follow this up with a day covering a smaller one.  Being able to knock out a more minor region in such a short period gave me a much needed sense of accomplishment when I felt I was dragging.  Which happened more than I’d hoped!

3.  Read the answers carefully!

I know most people say read the question carefully, and clearly you should do that too, but Calabria and Campania were both options for a few questions.   Maybe it’s just me, but throughout my Italian Wine Scholar studies I would get these two regions mixed up.  Make sure you know which one you’re talking about!

4. If you don’t know the answer, move on and come back to it.

You very well may find a clue to the answer in a later question or something might trigger your memory.  This happened to me with an exam question on Verdicchio – I skipped it and a question later in the exam helped me recall the answer.  And don’t stress out too much if you have to temporarily skip a question – having an open and relaxed mind will make it easier for you to recall the information you need. (If that sounds like Headspace to you – it is!  I always do a short meditation the day of an exam . . . consider that another study tip.)   (Hubs note:  With the dogs.   She meditates with the dogs.  I don’t even know how this is possible).

5.  Don’t underestimate Sardegna.

I left Sardegna until last and, frankly, didn’t spend much study time on this region.  I figured that since it was an island, and not even the most “important” one, that there wouldn’t be many exam questions related to it.  However, I should have heeded my own advice above regarding “size of the chapter = exam importance” because based on this theory – about 8% of the exam questions would be related to Sardegna.  And although I didn’t count, there probably did end up being somewhere between 7-9 questions on it.  Thankfully, I read and reviewed Sardegna the morning of the exam so I was able to at least recall specifics relating to the island’s grape varieties.

And finally, this is not really a “tip” but something to keep in mind throughout your studies: enjoy learning.  After over a year of being in the Italian Wine Scholar program, I am so thankful to have a better understanding of, and appreciation for, Italy.  You don’t need a certificate or a pin to prove anything.  But if you have one – be proud of it.  I am!

 

Brunello di Montalcino: the Rembrandt of my Wine World

Early during the first quarter of my freshman year at college, I decided I wanted to major in art history.  I was a couple months into an Art History 101 class and could clearly envision my future as curator for some fabulous museum or gallery, or possibly work for one of the big auction houses like Christie’s.  Even though this was my first ever art history class – I just knew that this was what I was destined for.  I excitedly called my Dad to inform him of my plans – and after our brief discussion, I hightailed it to the business office to declare my major in Business Administration.

To this day, my art history classes remain some of my most favorite.  They made me look at the world like I hadn’t before – and in a way I haven’t since.  Starting with ancient art – from ornate Egyptian tombs to Greek architecture to Roman marble sculpture.  Then the Renaissance with the David and Mona Lisa.  Next came the utterly fascinating, over-the-top religious works of Bosch and El Greco.  My art history course worked its way through each era and I found myself in awe of them all . . . and then we got to the work of Rembrandt and – well, I didn’t like it.

Was his work groundbreaking?  Was he able to capture people in their daily lives like no artist had before? Was his work influential to countless others?  Yes, yes, and yes.  Is he considered by many to be the best painter that ever lived?  Absolutely.

I’m not debating these assertions – all I’m saying is that I personally didn’t care for his work.  (And for the record – I still don’t).  I thought it was dark and dreary.  He did a lot of self portraits that all ran together in my mind.  Nothing about his work spoke to me.

Bottom line: I wouldn’t want his work hanging in my house (Hubs Note:  Yeah…..that was never an option in the first place).  I’d rather have a calming Monet landscape or fun and colorful Matisse:

Right about now you might be asking “That’s all well and good, but WTF does Rembrandt have to do with Brunello di Montalcino?”

Patience . . . I’m getting there.

In the vast world of wine, there are certain wines that are considered to be “classics” or “benchmarks” of their respective varieties.  Wines such as Burgundy (Pinot Noir), Bordeaux (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc), Barolo (Nebbiolo),  and Brunello di Montalcino (Sangiovese).

Brunello di Montalcino (hereinafter “BdM”) is considered by many to be the highest quality and most pure expression of Sangiovese.  It’s been called Tuscany’s grandest wine zone by Jancis Robinson. It was one of Italy’s first DOCs (1966) and later one of its first DOCGs (1980).  To qualify as a DOC/DOCG, several hoops must be jumped through – such as establishing geographical boundaries, permitted grape varieties grown, and limitations on yields.  For a more detailed explanation of these terms – read this short article by a Master of Wine.

Unlike many other Tuscan wines, BdM is not a blend – it is made from 100% Sangiovese.  Specifically, the Brunello clone that is grown exclusively in the region.  BdM has the longest aging requirements in all of Italy: a minimum of four years (2 years in oak, 4 months in bottle) before it can be released to the public.  These wines are full bodied with high tannins and acidity, and very long lived.

BdM is held in high regard by enthusiasts, critics, students and collectors alike.  When a classic BdM is served – words like “majestic”, “elegant” and “oh holy shit this is the best thing I’ve ever tasted!” fall off tongues.  Except for mine – because I don’t like BdM (insert blasphemous gasps here).

Now before you members of the Brunello Brigade come after me with pitchforks, let me explain.  Like with Rembrandt, I’m NOT claiming that BdM is crap nor am I saying that I cannot appreciate BdM. What I am saying is that I, subjectively, don’t care for it.  I would love to find a BdM that changes my mind.  Believe me, I’ve tried!  Over the years, I’ve tasted many – particularly during my studies for the Italian Wine Scholar and at the recent Master class I attended led by Master Sommelier Peter Neptune  where we tasted 11 different BdMs.

Valdicava 1997That evening, the wines tasted ranged from a 2013 Camigliano BdM to a 1997 Valdicava BdM.  There were BdM from 2001 and 2010 – both highly rated vintages.  All 11 wines tasted were very high quality and from top producers such as Altesino, Donatella Cinelli Colombini and Salvioni.  I appreciated these wines, and was particularly amazed at how their structure held up over the years.

But did I like them?  No, not really.  Why?  Well, for starters the tannins were overwhelming.  They usually dominate in a BdM’s youth, but are still over prevalent (for me) in an aged BdM.  And even if I can get past the Hoover suctioning tannins, I don’t particularly enjoy the taste of BdM.  While I’m definitely not a juicy fruit bomb lover, the orange peel/medicinal cherry/tea leaf flavors I find in BdM aren’t appealing to me either.

And it’s not that I don’t like Italian wines.  I love Barbera, Aglianico, and Etna Rosso.  And I actually really enjoy Rosso di Montalcino – more than most Brunellos in fact.  Even though Rossos are usually from younger or “lesser” vineyards, have few restrictions on production (no oak aging required!) and are way less expensive.  I know this is like saying I’d prefer to wear Tory Burch shoes as opposed to Manolo Blahniks, or that I’d rather drive a Chevy truck than a Tesla – but both of these examples are also true (Hubs Note:  She drove a Chevy truck for a decade).

However, like a Rembrandt painting that I don’t want in my house, I don’t want a BdM in my glass.  I’d rather have a dozen other wines instead.  And on that note, I’m going to go pour myself a non-BdM and leave you with this awesome outline on Montalcino.

 

“And the Oscar Goes to”: Wine Masters Documentary

I’m a sucker for wine movies.  Fact or fiction, drama or documentary – if it’s even remotely related to the world of wine, sign me up.  However, even though I will watch most anything about wine – I’ll also know within ten minutes whether I’m going to keep watching it . . .

So when a few minutes into my first episode Marcel Guigal talked about how his father, winery founder Etienne, saw his family’s future on the steep hillsides of Côte-Rôtie, I knew that I was all-in on Wine Masters.  Wine Masters is a cinematic documentary series that aims to tell “the stories about terroir, taste and tradition through the experience of some of the most prestigious wine producing families from each wine region.”  Currently shooting their second season in Italy, with Spain already chosen for the third season, the producers plan to shoot a total of seven seasons for the series (fingers crossed for a Pacific Northwest season!)

The producer of Wine Masters, Klaas de Jong, provided me with a complimentary screening link to watch the first season of the series in exchange for an independent and honest review.  My thoughts are as follows (spoiler alert: I enjoyed the series so much that I ended purchasing it so I could watch in the future when my temporary link expired!).

The first season of Wine Masters covers five different wine regions in France: the Rhône, Loire, Alsace, Burgundy and Bordeaux.  In each episode, a local wine producing family is featured who share their winemaking stories – including their family’s history, plans for the future, unique styles of wine and challenges faced.  The series does an excellent job of taking wine regions that are rather intimidating (Burgundy and Bordeaux – I’m looking right at you two) and making them more approachable through these winemaking families. These are very recognizable names like Guigal, Trimbach and Drouhin.  Families who truly ARE Wine Masters.

Although each family is unique, a major overarching theme is the relationship between the generations and the passing of the baton from one to another.  This was probably my favorite part of the series – the interaction (and sometimes subtle conflict) between the traditional/formal older generation and the more experimental/innovative younger one.  While the younger generation is focused on issues like internet sales and online presence, the older concentrates on – as Bordeaux winemaker Hubert de Boüard de Laforest so eloquently puts it – “keeping the soul” of the winery.

One of the great things about Wine Masters is that in order to enjoy the series you don’t need to know anything about wine.  This is thanks in large part to two very important supporting roles featuring Tim Atkin and Jeannie Cho Lee. In fact, since this IS Oscar season, let’s just go ahead and give these two – and others – their awards…

Outwines Oscars

Live! From the Red Carpet – Outwines is proud to present the Wine Masters Oscars! 

Best Supporting Roles.

In addition to the winemaking families, two Masters of Wine are present in each episode to help guide the viewer along the way: Tim Atkin and Jeannie Cho Lee.

These two MWs help set the scene of each region by discussing its location, varieties grown, climate, food pairing (particularly interesting in the Alsace episode!) and more.  They also add various anecdotes throughout the series – my favorite being that Napoleon’s troops used to salute Le Montrachet when they went by the famed vineyard (who knew?!).

Tim and Jeannie’s commentary not only make the regions come to life a bit more, but they also explain concepts on a level that even a relative wine newbie can understand (Hubs can attest to this!).  From the myriad of soil types in Sancerre to the rather confusing sweetness levels of Alsatian Riesling,  the MWs do an excellent job of analyzing these issues in plain English.

Technical Awards.

The cinematography was absolutely gorgeous throughout the series.  I’ve only been to two of the five regions (Rhône & Burgundy), and the scenes very much reminded me of being there – particularly Côte-Rôtie. And for the three regions I’ve yet to visit, the producers did a VERY good job of making me want to go there.

Guigal vineyards
I stood right in front of Guigal’s vineyards in 2016!

The score was beautifully done as well.  For the majority of the series, it was a lovely, melodious part of the background.  Except for that one cooperage scene at Guigal – have your volume button on the remote handy for that one.

And now for some other Awards  . . . and yes, I realize these sound more like High School favorites than film categories:

Best dressed.  Marcel Guigal is the consummate gentleman.  Especially with his jaunty beret and suit jacket traipsing through his vineyards alongside his more casually dressed son, Philippe, who was sporting a Seattle Mariners baseball hat.  Which of course gets major props from this Washington native! 🙂

Best line.  Hubert de Boüard de Laforest on why Cabernet Franc makes up such a large percentage of their blends: “it makes your mind more happy.”

Most Athletic.  The entire Bourgeois Family.  There’s a scene where they’re tasting and evaluating their wines – and their beautifully accurate projectile spitting was flat-out impressive.  I still have to have a cup literally RIGHT in front of me, and even then there’s the occasional dribble.

Best Foreign Language.  Many of the older generation.  So unless you’re fluent in French, make sure to have your subtitles turned on so you understand what they’re saying (something I unfortunately figured out once I was well into my first episode).

Most Likely to Succeed.  Anne Trimbach.  Well aware of the challenges that Riesling has on markets due to lack of clarity as to how sweet the wine will be, Anne discusses implementing a “sweetness scale” on Trimbach bottles in the future.  Something like this will definitely help consumers embrace this often misunderstood variety.

Best Scene. Family dinner with the Drouhins where they open their bottling of a 1978 Grands Échezeaux.  Seeing some of the family member’s expressions of pure delight after sipping this wine is . . . well, delightful. They’re sharing a simple meal of cheese and bread with a bottle of wine that would cost well over $1,000 in today’s market.  Just enjoying an afternoon and each other’s company – and isn’t that what wine should be all about?

I’m already looking forward to seeing what Wine Masters has in store for their second season in Italy.  If you’re a fan of wine (if you’re reading this blog, I’m assuming the answer is yes!) – check out the Wine Masters documentary series.  To conclude, in the spirt of Sally Field on her Best Actress acceptance speech: you’ll like it, you’ll really like it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wine Education Classes: In Person vs. Self-Study

Last year, I took the first of two exams to obtain the Italian Wine Scholar (IWS) certification through the Wine Scholar Guild.  I’m scheduled to take the second exam in less than one week.  Before enrolling in the IWS program, Italy was my Achilles heel of the wine world.  But now that I’m nearing the end of the course, I can assuredly say that I have much better understanding of (and perhaps more importantly, appreciation for) Italian wines.

The Wine Scholar Guild gives students a couple of options for pursuing their Italian (or French, and soon to be Spain) Wine Scholar certifications.  The first is through independent study and the other is by attending a series of classes in person.  I did the first half (Northern Italy) through self-study.  For the Central/Southern portion of the certification, I attended a weekend intensive course last month with The Wine and Spirit Archive in Portland, Oregon.

So I’ve experienced the best (and worst) of both options.  And while I should be reviewing for my exam right now, instead I’m thinking about which route I preferred and would recommend to others pursuing one of these certifications – or really, any wine certification for that matter.  Some people (Hubs) might call this procrastinating . . .

Honestly, there’s no one size fits all for wine education.  It all depends on what you want to get out of the course – and how you, personally, study best.

Self- Study: Pros and Cons

The primary reason I opted for self-study for my first exam was, well, there were no classes offered anywhere near where we lived.  So, needless to say, that was a pretty easy decision to make.  Shortly after registering, I received the Northern Italy coursebook and access to the Wine Scholar Guild online materials – which includes webinars, quizzes and flashcards.  After that, I was on my own.

Besides being able to attend class in your jammies, here are some benefits to self-study:

You’re in charge!  With self-study, you get to move at your own pace, set your own schedule, and study sections in the order you choose.  As such, this option might appeal more to those of us who can be (ahem) Type A personalities.  For example, I jumped around instead of following the book chronologically.  I wanted to get an “easy” region out of the way first so I could find my groove, so I started with Liguria.   It’s a smaller region with only a handful of DOCs – plus I’ve actually visited Liguria, so I wasn’t starting with a completely blank slate.  Additionally, self-study allowed me to accommodate my rather wacky schedule last year – which included moving a thousand miles away from my beloved Washington state and starting my WSET Diploma studies.

Fewer distractions outside your control. In class, there are other students asking questions, requesting the instructor repeat something for the umpteenth time, telling personal stories, spilling wine, etc.  With self study, your focus is on you – nobody else.

However, my home situation is probably a lot different than most people’s.  Hubs is at work and I have a couple of old dogs who sleep all day.  That isn’t to say that both pups haven’t been wonderful study buddies. 🙂  But if you have a larger family, young kids, roommates, live in a noisy apartment, or have a husband who incessantly watches ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’ at full volume – then an in-class experience might have fewer distractions for you.  (Hubs Note:  It’s one of the most intelligent shows on TV these days).

 

And now the downside of self-study . . .

Accountability and self motivation are necessities.  If you don’t have both of these, you probably won’t succeed with self-study.  I highly recommend creating a study schedule at the beginning of your course and sticking to it.  This should be realistic roadmap of what you need to accomplish before the test date and take into account anything you already have scheduled that might detract (or distract) from studying: travel, work, family commitments, etc.  You should plan to dedicate yourself to tackling a little bit (almost) every day – this exam is not something you can cram for.

Lack of Support System.  With self-study, you’re on an island.  You have your manual and online materials – but what if you have questions?  Or just want to check with someone to make sure you’re on the right track?  Or you want vent about how mind numbing it is that there are so many DOCs and sub-zones in Tuscany that sound the same: Montecarlo, Montecucco, Montalcino, Montalbano, Montespertoli – seriously?!

The Wine Scholar Guild has an online Instructor Q&A Forum – and from what I can tell, there is a pretty quick turnaround for responses.  However, it also appears that this isn’t used very frequently (the last post was almost four months ago).  With the in-class study route, you still have access to this Q&A Forum – plus your instructors from class as well as other students.  And sometimes, just knowing there’s a wider safety net is comforting – even if you don’t need it.

In-Class Experience: Pros and Cons

As I mentioned, I flew to Portland a few weeks ago to attend a weekend long intensive course for the second half of the IWS certification which focuses on Central and Southern Italy.  I was planning to continue with self-study, but after seeing that an in-class option was available and taught by two of my very favorite wine instructors – I knew I wanted to do this second part with them.

Mimi Martin was my WSET Level 3 instructor in 2017.  For Level 3, being able to connect the dots between many different concepts is imperative to passing the exam.  This wasn’t a memorize and regurgitate kind of thing – you needed to thoroughly understand the material and be able to explain your reasoning behind an answer.  In classes, Mimi broke down all the required text into manageable sized sections that made it easier to understand the details – as well as to see the big picture.  After passing Level 3 (with Distinction!) I started looking at wine in a whole new way – thanks in large part to Mimi.

I’d taken a couple classes with Tanya Morningstar Darling at Northwest Wine Academy when I lived in Washington.  She has such a unique way of approaching wine education – seriously, she sometimes makes me feel like I’m combining my wine studies with meditation.  Her teaching style eliminates much of the franticness of memorizing and cramming and leaves me with a true enjoyment of learning.  (Did that sound as Zen as I think it did?)  She recently started her own wine events and education business fittingly named Cellar Muse and if I’m ever back visiting while she has one of her classes in session, you can bet I’ll be there.

So, besides (hopefully!) having awesome instructors like I did, here are some other benefits to attending class in person:

Connecting with other students.  When you’re part of a class, there’s often a sense of “we’re all in this together!” type of thing.  You realize you’re not the only one frustrated or overwhelmed.  My recent IWS class happened to be one of the most enjoyable classes I’ve ever been in.  I got to know some wonderful people that I’d only “met” previously through social media and I also reconnected with a gal from my hometown that I’d known back in junior high.  She’s now a winemaker – what a small world.  I have no doubt that I’ll stay in touch with many of these future Italian Wine Scholars.

On the flipside, let’s be honest: you’re not always going to get a “dream class” of awesome students.  There are plenty of irritating or know-it-all wine students and it’s quite likely one or more may be in your class.  The degree to which they bother you depends on your tolerance level (undoubtedly higher than mine) and their specific behavior which, in my experience and to put in WSET terms, can range from:

  • Medium Minus: Mildly annoying – they chime in with every…single…little…aroma that they smell; to
  • Medium Plus: Rather obnoxious – they correct the instructor when she’s off by one kilometer on the distance between two villages in Burgundy; to
  • High: Infuriating, they claim to have passed the WSET Level 3 with Distinction without studying and condescendingly call the whole process “ridiculously easy.”  (Yes, I’ve mentioned him before . . . clearly he grinds my gears.  Thankfully, I’ve only “met” this type of student online).

Wine Tasting!  This is a HUGE plus with the in-class route.  You get to taste, evaluate and discuss a number of wines during class – which not only gives you a better overall sense of the region you’re currently studying, but also helps you continue to improve your tasting skills.  During my weekend intensive class, we tasted almost 50 different wines over 3 days!  Many of which I wouldn’t have been able to find in my area had I opted for self-study.

And now for the cons . . .

Intensity of Focus. These days, most of us aren’t used to sitting and focusing for hours at a time on our particular course of study.  Going the classroom route requires lots of both – particularly if you enroll in a weekend intensive class like I did.  My attention drifted off as the day went on as I started researching which food truck I was going to grab dinner at after class and how late Powell’s City of Books was open (FTR – 11pm).

My tasting notes also dropped in detail over the course of the day – from elaborate, several paragraph long descriptors of structure and aromas  to “deep ruby, cherry and balsamic” near the end of the day.  Plus my back hurt like hell.  If you’re under 35 – you won’t understand.  But someday you will.  Just trust me – it sucks.

Tangents and Rabbit Holes.  While in-class discussion can be interesting, it can sometimes be time consuming. For example, after reviewing the various biotypes of Sangiovese, my class got on the subject of clones.  Which, although educational, wasn’t particularly relevant to the class at hand.  And, after this discussion went down the proverbial rabbit hole, we ended up running out of time to thoroughly cover a few regions.

This invariably happens in every class, but is nonetheless frustrating if you’re not participating in the tangential discussion.  So, if you’re the one continuing to burrow down the rabbit hole – take into account your fellow students and whether they’d truly like to be joining you there, or whether it would be best if you followed up with the instructor on your own time.  Otherwise, you might end up on my WSET Irritation Scale above. 😉

And whether you’re opting for self-study or in-class, I’m hoping you’ll find these outlines on Marche and Basilicata helpful to your studies!  Best of Luck!!