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Wine school

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!

Upkeep Updates

Upkeep Updates: What I’m Thinking and Drinking Right Now

September 9, 2015
UU4-1

It’s been a little while since I did this—I feel like there’s lots to share!

First and foremost, you will likely be reading Shawn’s name a lot more in the future. While I will remain the main voice of the blog, he will be increasing his role. Expect to see his thoughts on craft beer (not my strong suit), food, wine and  more. For example, we have a coffee cocktail post coming up that will feature some of his fun concoctions!

I won’t be sampling his experiments anytime soon, though,  because 1) I’m celebrating nine months coffee-free in September and 2) I’m taking on a Sugar-Free September challenge for the month. Some of you know I gave up refined sugar for a year and a half a few years back. I felt amazing. But then I got back on the sugar train and I haven’t been able to hop off since. And sugar is my Achilles heal. If you told me I could only spit wine for the rest of my life, I’d manage. But give up candy? Can’t do it. So I’m going to. From the day after Labour Day until October 4th, I’ll be avoiding desserts, candy, sweetened drinks, etc. No, don’t worry, I’m not giving up wine, since most of those sugars are naturally-occurring, but I will be avoiding sweet wines. Hopefully this will lead to some lasting and positive changes for my health!

And, because I get asked this question a lot lately, no, I’m not currently enrolled in wine school. I took last year off to manage a much more hectic schedule and that’s left me wondering where to go next. Not that I haven’t been spending my time learning about wine – check out the stack of reading material I’ve been working through in the photo to the right! But I do have to make some decisions about next steps.

Part of me wants to concentrate on getting my WSET or finishing my Wine Specialist course at George Brown, but the other part of me wants to continue home schooling myself. At this point, I don’t think I want to work in wine (this blog remains my very expensive hobby), so putting the time and money into wine school is tough to justify. The wine nerd in me is absolutely addicted to learning and loves the thought of taking more classes, my practical side wants to know what exactly I’ll be doing with all that pricey education. What do you think? Please share your own thoughts and experiences in the comments or on social.

So what have I been drinking? Here are a few affordable options I’ve sampled lately that I wanted to share with you.

Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc – New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is one of my go-to white wines, so I was happy to try this new release to the LCBO. A best-selling wine in the U.S., this is a crisp and refreshing sipper. While it is not as nuanced as some of the more expensive NZ Sauvignon Blanc on the market, this definitely hit the spot at their launch party on Oliver and Bonacini’s patio (during a very uncomfortable heat wave). Pairs well with oysters and veggies, so a good option for light meals. I enjoyed it.

Brugal Rum – Rum-infused stilton? Learning to make my own cocktails? A
recent Brugal Rum event at The Rum Exchange was an opportunity for this
rum-novice to learn that this spirit has a lot more to offer than cola
companionship. Did you know rum can be paired with cheese? I had no
idea. I also didn’t know how rum was made, or that aged rum is a real
treat. While this spirit is off my list for September (it’s made with
sugar cane), I look forward to trying it again in the future. I left
wanting to infuse my own cheese and with some newly acquired
cocktail-making skills – I’m guessing I’ll get to put my shaker to use
again soon.

Colio Estate Methode Cuve Close Lily Sparkling – I’m a huge fan of sparkling wine. I think it’s perfect for pairing with a celebration or snack food. Dry sparkling is my go to for movie nights when we break out the popcorn or potato chips and I would happily drink bubbly more often if the price point was better. Colio’s Lily is a good option if cost is a consideration for you too. At $16.95 (LCBO), it’s well-priced and it’s a bit sweeter (leaning towards off-dry), which makes it nice all on its own or with a salty snack. It’s a fun wine for your everyday celebrations and I’d love to try it with a splash of Blueberry Hill Estate’s blueberry dessert wine – I think that would be a pretty darn perfect Ontario’s Southwest sparkling cocktail.

Paul Mas Estate 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot – Shawn and I tried this at a recent fashion and wine event. Combining the spirit of red wine with vineyard-inspired fashions, this was a fun and chic event. It was also a nice opportunity to enjoy a well-priced French wine with friends. Available at the LCBO for $13.95 this is a good entré into the world of affordable French wines and a wine that will pair well with cool weather and warm, cozy sweaters this fall.

What have you been drinking recently? What are your thoughts on my wine school dilemma? Share your thoughts in the comments and on social!

Food & Wine

Wines of Germany with iYellow Wine School

July 3, 2015
German Pinot Noir

Two years ago, Shawn and I spent a week driving around the Mosel Valley, one of the most stunning parts of German wine country. It was an unforgettable trip and I loved tasting through such a varied selection of Rieslings and other German wines.

My passion for German wines was on display at iYellow Wine Club’s recent Wine School class. Known for their wine events, iYellow also offers a fantastic range of classes that are perfect for those new-to-wine and looking for a quick and fun entrée into a region. Angela Aiello walked us through six German wines – five whites and one red – and provided good information about the various German wine regions and how the terroir affects the wines.

German wine tasting at iYellow Wine School

We started with an entry-level Gewürztraminer from Boden, which was quite nice for the price-point. It had all the typical Gewürztraminer characteristics – floral notes, a hint of sweetness and a good mouth feel. Perfect for take-out Thai food or any spicy Asian dish.

We followed that with a Salwey Pinot Gris, not a varietal I’ve had much experience with from Germany. Pinot Gris is like the more complex cousin of Pinot Grigio and I felt like this was a wine that would be better served with food. Lots of citrus, lime and green apple on the nose with high acidity and tart lemon/lime on the palate. An interesting wine.

A Sander Pinot Blanc was up next, another unusual choice for Germany, which was much more floral than I expected. There was still some tart citrus on the nose, but it was more muted overall. This was a lighter wine, with the great acidity that German wines are known for.

The Rieslings followed – very much the hallmark grape of Germany—and a personal favourite. The first wine, a kabinett from Uber, is a style I really enjoy. It was off-dry and fruity. I like kabinett’s especially as a compliment to spicy foods. This one was definitely entry-level, though, so lacked some of the nuances that can make a Riesling truly great.

The second Riesling was Loosen Bros 2014 and was likely also kabinett (the label does not say). An off-dry wine with a fruit-forward nose that had a lovey, complex sweetness. This was much more to my tastes and very much in the Mosel style.

The third Riesling, a 2011 Bollig-Lehnert spatlese was a pleasant surprise. The strong petrol note of an aged Riesling can, in my opinion, be the hallmark of a great wine experience to come. Many of those in attendance had never experienced an aged Riesling before and the gasoline notes on the nose were off-putting, but then the taste experience was a much more pleasing one. It was nice to see people discover one of the fascinating things about German Riesling and to see them enjoying this wine as much as I did.

Our final wine was a rare find in Ontario – a German Pinot Noir. While fairly easy to come by in Germany, it’s rare to see them in Canada. It’s a shame, as Germany has a great climate for Pinot and there are some good wines being made. This one, a 2012 Runkel, likely suffered a bit from being served after sweeter whites, but it had good body and I’m looking forward to enjoying the bottle I recently picked up from the LCBO to get a better sense of the wine.

Many thanks to iYellow Wine School for the invite to attend. Interested in taking a class? Visit their site to for the schedule and to register.