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Musings on the Wine Life

Musings on the Wine Life

Six Reasons Why I’m Not a Sommelier

January 5, 2017
Rosé wine in glass

I was having dinner with some friends recently and talk turned to sommelier training. This is a fairly common occurrence in my life, since I’m surrounded by people who either work in wine or are wine nerds like me. And having this blog means that a lot of people just assume I’m a sommelier or some other sort of certified wine expert, despite my best efforts to remind readers frequently that I’m just a person who really, really loves wine.

White wine and flowersNot that I haven’t taken wine classes or learned so much about wine through tastings, books, interviews and other things since I started blogging. In 2016 alone, I took an Introduction to Spirits course and amazing seminars on Bourgogne and Napa. I am constantly learning about wine and loving every minute of it, but as I explained on this recent night (and on many others like it), I’m probably never going to be a sommelier.

There are a number of reasons for this:
1) I don’t want to work in wine service. This is not uncommon among my other wine-loving friends. We love learning about wine, but we don’t especially want to serve it. Now, not all sommeliers are in wine service – many teach, write or do other wine-related things. But the majority of sommelier positions are in restaurants and a large portion of the training is around service and that’s just not where my interests lie. Plus, there’s the whole tremor thing.

2) The tremor thing. I have a condition called Essential Tremor. You can click on the link and read all about it, but essentially I have a slight tremor that will get progressively worse as I get older. When my neurologist diagnosed me many years ago, she told me that I’d be fine so long as I didn’t want to be a waitress or a surgeon. So the sommelier thing? Where I have to pour wine? Um, no. I already have a hard enough time being served wine, as sometimes my hands shake or jerk if I’m holding up a glass to receive a pour. This is always super awesome, I say with great sarcasm, as it means I have to explain the whole tremor thing for the umpteenth time.

3) I am terrible with names. And pronunciations. If you would like someone to butcher the name of your wine or region, I’m your girl! This is a constant source of embarrassment and frustration for me, but I seem to have an unending ability to have the name of a grape on the tip of my tongue or a slightly adulterated version of a wine name tumbling out of my mouth. So unless there is a sudden uptick in the need for sommeliers who feel more comfortable hiding away behind their keyboard so they can triple check that they got the name of a wine/grape/region correct, then I’m likely not going to be in high demand.

4) I’d be the world’s most awkward sommelier. When you picture a somm, you likely think of someone suave and graceful. They sweep over to your table all polished and perfect, chat knowingly about the wine list, make smart decisions based on your tastes. They are awesome and I am always in awe of their skill – especially since I often feel a little bit like a wild bull set loose in a room full of wine glass towers. I knock things over, I spill wine, I once spat wine on myself at a tasting with the delightful owner of Grand Marnier (whose photo should be in the dictionary under debonair). I am neither elegant nor refined.

5) It’s expensive. I love learning about wine so much that despite all of the above, I would probably have already taken my sommelier training (possibly even eked out a pass), if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s really, really expensive. I have a full-time job that I love and it pays for the very expensive hobby that is this blog, but dropping $10,000 or more to become a certified sommelier is just not in the budget. Especially if, as outlined above, I’m never going to work as one. Taking seminars or short courses has the benefit of being affordable and it also fits into my schedule much more easily. It’s also been noted that you can take the exam with just independent study (and it’s not that expensive to do so), but I’m not sure I’d be able to pass that without the classes under my belt.White wine tasting

6) Wine school is hard. Really, really hard. If you’ve taken a wine course, you will know what I mean and understand why I have so very much respect for those who have completed their certification. Because I have a job outside the wine world, I need to study in my spare time, which I currently fill with writing, editing and attending events to support this blog. I also run and go to yoga and try to fit in time with friends and family. When I’m studying for a wine course, most of those other things take a backseat while I try to cram in every detail about grapes, vintages, terroir, etc. Right now, I don’t think I can handle sommelier studies. That could change down the road, but after seeing many a wine industry friend disappear down the WSET rabbit hole, I’ve realized that right now that’s not the best path for me.

Will I change my mind one day and decide to take the plunge? Maybe. Wine is one of the most fascinating topics in the world and the idea of being a certified wine expert is appealing. But for now, I’m happy to be a slightly shaky, somewhat awkward wine nerd who shares her experiences with wine with my amazing readers. I hope that’s OK with all of you!

Are you a sommelier or do you hope to become one? Share your experiences in the comments below or on social!

Musings on the Wine Life

Wine Quizzes Make Me Crazy

October 17, 2016
PInot Noir wine tasting.

Recently, one of my lovely friends in wine tagged me in a Facebook post with a link to one of those Decanter wine tests.

For those not familiar, Decanter posts these regular quizzes so you can test your wine knowledge. For many of my friends who work in wine, these are a fun way to test your mettle because they are often really tough! The Facebook post had quickly filled up with comments like: “Four out of four!” “Perfect!” and “Three out of four – that was hard!”

I already knew going in that I wasn’t going to comment. As with most Decanter tests, I clicked on it, read the wine description, thought long and hard and then made my guess. And I got a big, fat zero. But, Krista, you’re thinking, you know wine! How could you fail this test so miserably when everyone else was sailing through?

A lovely white wine at a tasting.Well, I do know wine. I’ve taken a number of classes, read a ton of books, attended many, many tastings and, yet, I still couldn’t pass one of those darn Decanter tests. Why not? Well, 1) because they’re hard and deliberately aimed at the super smart sommelier set and 2) because I have pockets of wine competence. What does that mean? It means I have focused my areas of interest and study on certain regions and topics, so I flail when you remove me from my comfort zone.

Ask me about Ontario Cabernet Franc or Pinot Noir? Or Ontario wine in general? I am probably going to be on point. I’m also pretty well versed in California and New York State wines, which I’ve spent a lot of time studying. And because we’ve spent a lot of time in Germany, I’m pretty good with those wines too. But French wine? I remember much of the theory from class, but because I rarely drink French wine, I’m pretty rusty. And Italian wine? I’m a bit scattered with my knowledge there too.

So how did this happen? I think partly it’s because I started my wine journey in a bit of an odd way. Most people begin with French or Italian and then gradually slide into other regions. I became interested in local wine first – part of a period of time where I was learning about the locavore movement and wanting to eat (and drink) things grown or made close to home.

I hyper-focused on Ontario wine until I started taking classes and began to dip a toe into the French, Italian and other wine regions of Europe. But then I visited California, Germany and the Finger Lakes and found myself drifting from super intimidating regions to ones I could wrap my head around a little more easily. I fell in love with those regions and started soaking up knowledge about them.

Along the way, I have fallen for some very good French wines (rosé from Provence is a new obsession and Champagne a recurring one) and batted around a few Italian options (Valpolicella and Chianti are my typical go-tos, as well as a nice Prosecco). I like many wines from Spain, Chilé and South Africa too. I like to go to Salt Wine Bar and have manager Phil Carneiro school me on Portuguese wines. I’ve become a little obsessed with Austrian Gruner Veltliner and a good Malbec from Argentina is a thing of beauty. But I’m nowhere near an expert on any of these regions – yet.

I’m not a sommelier, I’m not sure I really want to be a sommelier and I’m OK with that. I’m someone who is in love with wine and in love with learning about wine. I want to be good at the Decanter quizzes, and maybe one day I will be. Or maybe not. Some of those things are hard, guys. Really, really hard. And if you’re one of those people who can ace them, can we have drinks so I can sit and listen to you fill my head with even more wine knowledge? I’d like that.

What to try your hand at one of these quizzes? You can find them here!

Musings on the Wine Life

Wine School Reconsideration

September 18, 2013

I recently completed Wines 2 at George Brown. I passed, but it definitely wasn’t as easy as I had hoped. Not that I didn’t love it – I very much did – but my newbie-ness was on full display. I’m still pretty awful at blind tastings, though I’m getting better (thankfully), but I find testing situations just brutal.

Really, I don’t know why this happens, but when you call something an exam I completely freeze up. That wasn’t the case when I was in school – I was great at exams back then – but when it comes to tasting I turn into an uncertain mess. It’s probably all the pressure I put on myself, but it’s frustrating. I don’t know how to stop second-guessing myself so much. In a normal non-exam setting, I find it pretty easy to tell Pinot from Nebbiollo, but in an exam they sure start to seem similar.

Whatever the case, I did my best, I learned an enormous amount and I found that at the end of the day I was still just as much in love with wine. But given my recent experiences I think I need to take a break from classes for a little while. Everyone at school has way more life experience with wine than I do and I think I need to get some more of that under my belt. So I’m going to take the fall to read all the expensive wine books I’ve purchased, attend all the tastings I get invited to and really practice my wine reviews.

You can expect to see more reviews posted on Wine Align (where I’m a member of the blogger cru) and I’ll continue to post regularly on the blog about my adventures. I think that my formal wine education will continue in the new year, but we’ll see. No more pressure for this wine lover – for now it’s going to be all about learning at my own pace.
And who knows, maybe if I go back to doing this just for love I’ll feel a little less stressed about things and ready to tackle another semester. After watching the documentary SOMM recently (which I highly recommend) I realized that I am not the only person who has gone a little crazy for the love of wine learning! And even though I can’t see myself ever having the ability to pass the master sommelier exam (can you even imagine what a nervous tester like me would be like trying to pass the hardest exam in the world?) I do love that there was a little part of me who wondered if I could do it. Ah, wine, you do have such a vice grip on my soul!
Musings on the Wine Life

Wine School Update

June 8, 2013

 

So, I spent my weekend doing a little light reading…

 

Apologies for the lack of updates recently – it seems that while wine is my major writing inspiration, it’s also the cause of my lack of time to blog! It turns out that Wines II is about ten times harder then Wines I, so I’ve been spending my evenings and weekends with my nose buried in wine books. Not the worst fate in the world, but I’m starting to miss my life just a little.
I’m not sure why I struggle so much with wine classes. I mean, I covered some of the reasons in my Wine Overwhelm post, but I definitely spend more time than most of my classmates studying, yet they seem to be ‘getting’ it a lot quicker. How do they remember all the wine communes in the Medoc so easily when I spent a week cramming just to get those down? And some of them can remember the Chateau too!! I really should have paid more attention in French class. Not to mention that I’m still figuring out the whole tasting part. I mean, lanolin is a hard concept in wine! Not to mention all those other things…
We’re moving on to Italy now, which I suspect will be even harder, so we’ll see how that goes. I may get a lot of flack for saying this, but I’m not a huge fan of Italian wines (at least the ones I’ve tried so far). There were no wines in our Southern Italy class that made me go ‘wow’ and other than a very good Valpolicella I had at Sugo recently and an amazing Amarone I got to try at a #TOWineDinner, I haven’t been blown away. I’m told that once I try some especially good ‘big Bs’ I’ll change my mind, so I’m open to the fact that I may come around. Please feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments section because I’d really like to know what I’m missing.
While I’m very much enjoying my current course and have been lucky enough to get a really good instructor, I still wish there was a great Ontario or Canadian wine program available. We don’t really cover Canada in my current course and, realistically, if I ever end up working in wine it will be in Canada. I’ve certainly done my fair share of tasting and learning here, but it would be nice to have a class I could take that focused on Canadian viticulture. Anyone have tips on that? In the meantime, I guess I’ll just have to keep pestering the winemakers with questions (and luckily they’re a friendly and informative bunch).
Regularly scheduled posts should be back this week – I’ve got lots to cover, including my first international wine trade show and our upcoming trip to Ottawa, where I’m treating Shawn to a few days of beer tourism in return for all the time he’s spent driving me around wine country. Thanks again for reading and keep those wine suggestions coming.