The Best Podcast for Your Wine Personality Type

Podcasting recently got its drivers license – it’s been around since about 2004.  Today, there are over 1 million podcasts (so . . . about half the number of native grapes in Italy).  There’s a podcast for literally everything – from Star Wars Minutiae to Nanotechnology to, well, something called Counting Worms (it’s not what you think!).

Not surprisingly, when I tune into a podcast it’s almost always wine related.  In fact, almost two years ago I posted about my favorite wine podcasts. (Some of these you’ll also see below, but unfortunately – some are now defunct.)

But like choosing a bottle to have with dinner, the range of wine podcasts can be daunting if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Are you in the mood for a Washington Syrah?  A classic aged Burgundy?  Or maybe something that smells like a fresh cut garden hose?  Fear not!  I’m here to give you the lowdown on the wine podcasts in my current rotation.  Hopefully one (or more!) will speak to your personality type – so pour yourself a glass and tune in to whichever of these sounds like you:

Best if You Like to Root for the Underdog: Decanted.

Being from Washington state, I feel like we’re constantly overlooked in the wine world. Thankfully, Decanted’s Dave and Sandi are doing their part to change that perception by sharing stories of some of Washington’s top wineries like Kiona Vineyards and Passing Time.  Decanted is a relative newcomer to the podcast scene (their inaugural episode was February, 2018 – literally just as I was moving away!) I met Dave and Sandi at last year’s Auction of Washington Wines and am looking forward to our paths crossing again soon!

Decanted podcast

Best if You’re an Uber Winegeek: GuildSomm.

Out of this entire list, the GuildSomm podcast is probably the only one where I’d recommend having some degree of wine knowledge to fully appreciate. That being said, host Geoff Kruth does manage to make even the most mundane sounding topics (like Faults, Reduction and Oxidation) worth tuning into. However, GuildSomm isn’t a press play and zone out type of podcast.  These episodes require a bit more attention, so I usually have paper or my phone handy since I’m constantly making note of something to research further. These podcasts are released about once a month, but as a self-admitted uber winegeek myself – I wish they were more frequent.

Best if You’re Obsessed with California Wine: The Winemakers.

Want to know the latest in California wine happenings?  Tune into The Winemakers.  These guys have talked to everyone who is anyone in Sonoma Valley and they’ve covered a range of issues related to the State as a whole – such as the invasion of the cannabis industry, the devastating wildfires and rolling blackouts during harvest.

Winemakers Podcast
“Blind Date” with The Winemakers!

Plus, since they actually ARE winemakers – they share a lot of information about what really goes on in the cellars.  Personally, I’m incredibly thankful for this since my biggest wine study weakness is basically all things wine science.  The guys have been around since May, 2017 and are very consistent in their nearly weekly episodes – admirably, even during COVID (they’ve switched formats to Zoom so as to maintain appropriate social distancing requirements).  Oh, and this is also the best podcast if you want to hear yours truly make my podcast debut – check out episode 147 around the 42 minute mark 😉

Best if You’re More Interested in the People Behind the Wine: I’ll Drink to That.

Sometimes, we focus so much on what’s in our glass that we forget about all the amazing people that actually made the wine. Levi Dalton is the OG of the wine podcast world – and it shows.  He’s polished, doesn’t interrupt his guests (ahem – other hosts should take note!), and he manages to pull stories out of people like nobody else.  I listen to IDTT to gain a more personal perspective on the wine world and bring some color to my wine studies.   Levi is getting close to his 500th episode – and I don’t see him stopping anytime soon!

Best if You’re a Sarcastic News Junkie: VinePair.

I’ve been obsessed with these guys since they released their first podcast in July, 2018.  Their banter is smart, snarky, educational and entertaining.  They’re not afraid to say it like it is (prime examples include Pay to Play is Killing Drinks Journalism well as Rules for Not Tipping Like an Asshole – which has been changed to “Jerk” on their website . . . but, obviously, I think the original title is much more suitable).

Since early March, VinePair has featured a series called “Covid-19 Conversations” – discussions on the pandemic’s impact on various facets of the hospitality industry.  Listening to this series is an ideal way to stay informed – yet not fall into a downward spiral of despair like many other news sources tend to do to you (please tell me that’s not just me!!).

Best if You’re a Wine Student: Matthew’s World of Wine and Drink.

Matthew Gaughan is a current Master of Wine student with a fantastic podcast that’s tailor-made for wine students.  Each episode is usually under 30 minutes and provides a thorough, yet to the point, overview of the wine topic de jour.  Matthew’s podcast has been an invaluable resource for my WSET Diploma studies – after I’ve finished studying a region, I’ll sit down with my outline and listen to his episode on the same region to make sure I’ve covered everything I might need to know.  Most of the time, we’re in sync.  Like with our blind Yellowtail Chardonnay call . . . :-/

Best if you Love the Somm Series: The Somm TV Podcast.

A relatively recent addition to the wine podcast scene – launched almost a year ago by the SOMM Films team.  The podcast has already covered a number of hot topics in the wine world – including tariffs and natural wine.  And it’s a great tie-in with their TV subscription.  If you’re a fan of the SOMM documentary series, you’ll undoubtedly appreciate the recurring appearances by familiar faces like Brian McClintic and Fred Dame.  I should say that I’m pleased to see that they’ve recently brought in more female guests since unfortunately, much like the Somm movies, this platform tends to be very male dominated.

Best if You’re Just a Wine-Loving Normal Person: Wine For Normal People.

Sometimes the wine world can be intimidating with all its lingo and exclusivity.  If you’re someone who just wants to learn about wine in a non-snobby way – Wine for Normal People is for you.  This was one of the very first wine podcasts I ever listened to, and I’ve been a loyal fan ever since.  Host Elizabeth Schneider knows a shit ton about wine – but thankfully she doesn’t feel the need to engage in a lot of  “wine speak.”  And the banter between her and her co-host husband “MC Ice” is endearingly entertaining.

Best if You Love a Deep Dive on One Specific Subject: Interpreting Wine.

If you really want to wrap your brain around a wine related subject – Interpreting Wine is definitely for you. Lawrence Francis started his podcast by highlighting Spain’s often overlooked wine regions.  Recently, he’s turned his focus to some very in depth explorations of topics such as the Willamette Valley (episodes 380-399), Sherry (episodes 325-333) and the Austrian wine industry (episodes 355-364).  Interpreting Wine also has some incredibly informative episodes that helped me with my WSET Diploma exam preparation – check out 263 and 264 on Sparkling Wine, and 353 and 354 for Fortified Wines.  Lawrence is insanely consistent with his podcasting – having only started in September, 2017 he’s already on episode #408!  And he has an incredible voice! 😉

So there you have it – nine podcasts to match with your wine personality type.  Hopefully the above list will help you sort through the myriad of “bad bottles” that are on the podcast market – some of which consist of not much more than a couple of boozy hosts chatting about wine with horrible audio and lackluster content.  Please let me know if you find something you enjoy tuning into!

 

 

 

 

Blind Tasting Lesson: Assessing a Wine’s Flaws . . . As Well as Our Own

Blind tasting is an exam component for many different wine certifications.  Typically, candidates are required to describe a wine according to set standards (i.e. “the Grid” or “the SAT”), identify the wine, and then give reasons for our choice.  We’re also often asked about the quality of the wine: is it outstanding, good, or merely acceptable?  One of these quality categories used to be “faulty” – but for whatever reason, WSET recently removed this as an option.  Perhaps they assumed that all exam wines would be faultless.

When practiced rationally, I’m a big proponent of blind tasting.  It lets you play detective by gathering clues about the wine: its color, aromas/flavors, structure, quality, etc. before naming a suspect.  Blind tasting is also a form of meditation because we focus on the present moment and tune out everything else.  Hubs calls this “clearing the mechanism” (his Kevin Costner crush is pretty strong, but it’s an apt analogy nonetheless).  Since we cannot have any preconceived notions based on the label, with blind tasting we focus solely on what’s in the glass to judge the quality of a wine.

Unfortunately, all too frequently, we end up judging ourselves based solely on how close we came to correctly identifying the wine.

Airbrushing at its Finest: Hollywood Makes Blind Tasting Appear Flawless.

MS Candidates blind tasting
Photo credit: Somm documentary

While documentaries like the Somm trilogy and short series Uncorked have helped to bring the pursuit of wine certifications mainstream, I fear that they’re disillusioning people (including individuals pursuing such certifications!) about blind tasting.  It’s not a party trick, and it’s not all about “nailing” the wine. And, contrary to a certain newly released film, one should NOT expect to be able to identify a wine down to the producer and vintage mere weeks after picking up The Wine Bible.

Problem is, many wine students DO expect to be able to do this, and when we can’t – we  conclude that we’re not good at blind tasting.  We think we’re the “faulty” ones, so to speak.

But Everyone is Flawed – Even (Especially?) Those Who Act Like They Aren’t.

Many times, we wine students lack faith in ourselves – so we hesitate with our descriptions.  I will forever remember my Introductory Sommelier Course when a gal was describing a red wine’s aromas to the rest of the 100+ students by stating: “I want to say red plums and cranberries . . .”  One of the Master Sommeliers leading the course interrupted her and said “You WANT to say, or you ARE saying?”  And honestly, I don’t think he was being a jerk here.  His point (I think) was to have confidence in yourself.  That being said, I highly doubt that being called out in a room full of Somm-wannabes boosted her confidence level very much.

I cannot tell you how many wine classes I’ve been in where people hesitate to speak up about what they think is in the glass for fear of being wrong. “You think there’s lime in this Riesling? Are you nuts?! It’s clearly lime ZEST.”

It’s also disheartening to observe an online conversation about identifying Malbec in a blind tasting devolve into a pissing match with this zinger: “You can either nut up and contribute content that’s worth a damn or you can see yourself out.  The choice is yours. But no one is going to kiss your ring for ‘dry, savory and frequently oaked’.  Crush us with your intellect, you fucking hero.”

(Ok, the Riesling example I made up.  But the second one literally just happened on a study board while I was putting this blog post together.  And even worse, it was written by a wine industry “professional.”  Have I mentioned that I should perhaps stay off these boards for my own sanity?)

We Easily Comment on a Wine’s Flaws, So Why Not Our Own?

Speaking up, for fear of being wrong or saying something others perceive as “stupid”, is sometimes challenging. And obviously that’s not just the wine world – it’s human nature. But we all have flaws and we all make mistakes. And in blind tasting, some of these errors are big ol’ doozies.

Full Disclosure: I made one of those big ol’ doozies just last week.  I was mortified, humbled and a bit humiliated that I had been SO off base with my call: White wine, with some yummy aromas of peaches, apricots and floral notes.  Medium+ body with a slight heat.  Off-dry, medium acidity.  The palate was full of ripe stone fruits with a hint of baking spices and vanilla.  This wine screamed Viognier to me.  Not a high quality Condrieu, but possibly from California.  Needless to say: Nope!!

Yellowtail reveal
What I thought was an entry level Viognier was a VERY mass produced Australian Chardonnay

Oddly enough – I wanted to share this experience with others!  But I hesitated before putting my mega-flaw out there . . . would this be seen as my ineptitude as a blind taster?  Would people think I’m a complete dumbass for mistaking a Yellowtail Chardonnay for a California Viognier?  Did I care if they thought this?

I ultimately decided: Fuck It. So I posted it on Instagram for all the world to see . . . or, at least, you know, my (almost!) 2k followers. 😉  My Instagram account is all about helping people improve their wine knowledge.  By sharing my own mistake, my hope was to make others less embarrassed about when they’ve been way off base in blind tasting -and to realize that this happens to everybody. We should help one another learn from our mistakes – because you know what? Blind tasting is not a competition.

In my Instagram post, I asked others to share their worst/most embarassing blind tasting call and was VERY curious to see what the responses were.  Most people commiserated or gave me a virtual “it happens to all of us” pat on the back.  Thankfully, nobody mocked me (at least not to my face!).  And I was pleasantly surprised that several shared their own blind tasting blunders!  Interestingly, most of those who did were fellow Diploma students.

And there was one comment that absolutely floored me.  A Master of Wine student, who happens to be one of my favorite wine podcasters and someone that I greatly admire, said that he had recently blinded the same Yellowtail Chardonnay . . . and had also called it Viognier.  If someone of his level of experience and education can make the same call I did – maybe there’s hope for me after all. 😉

So I’ve been kicking around starting a series of shorter blog posts about blind tastings.  (I can hear one of my followers cheering, and the rest of you frantically searching for the unfollow button.)  Personally, I’ve been doing a lot of blind tastings whilst in quarantine and have learned a lot about what works for me – and what doesn’t.

For my Diploma exam (now scheduled for October but – who knows?), we’ll be asked to identify common themes for three of our blind flights: same variety, same region and same country.  I’ve been collecting notes from various sources to help me with the “evidence gathering” process – which will allow me to better describe and identify what’s in my glass.  I’m also improving on “ruling out suspects” by recognizing what’s NOT in my glass.  (Unless it’s Savenniéres . . . this has been my white whale of blind tasting for some reason.)  I’m thinking of compiling these notes into some study aids (yes, there will be outlines involved!) and sharing with others who are also studying for wine exams or who just want to improve their blind tasting skills.

Please weigh in with a comment if this is something you’d be interested in – or, you know, not!  My thoughts are that if me choking down a glass of Yellowtail helps another wine student out, or encourages them to speak up in class, or gives them the confidence to say “I AM SAYING that there are red plums and cranberries in this wine!” then it’s worth it.

So stay tuned – and stay safe.