Kristy Wenz

Last month at Bon Appetit’s Chicago Gourmet, the wine seminars hosted by Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits and the American Wine School featured several sessions on tasting and blind tasting. Wine is often perceived as intimidating, particularly when ordering wine from an extensive list in a restaurant, shopping at the local wine store, and especially when tasting with those viewed as more “in the know.”

How many times has selecting a bottle of wine for a friend that has a known interest in wine, or even has their own wine cellar, caused unease? While there is reason for feeling indecisive or overwhelmed, the world of wine is extensive after all, there is no need to be intimidated. As we learned at this year’s seminars, from some of the wine industry’s leading experts, wine is simply meant to be enjoyed. It’s an art experienced by the senses and like any creative art, it’s also received very personally and individually. That said, knowing why wines taste as they do, and which styles suit you best, makes navigating the world of wine selection and tasting easier, and it begins with education.

Book Smart

While the experts leading this year’s wine sessions hold highly advanced sommelier and wine certifications, which require years of study and exploration, many options for basic wine education are also available – the Chicago Gourmet sessions are a great example offering sessions on the various types of sparkling wine and rosé. Not everyone is planning to make a career of wine, so for those that are curious, passionate or even hobbyists, wine education is a fun, often social way, of expanding a general knowledge base. For example, WSET Levels 1 and 2 are particularly geared toward the wine loving consumer with a focus on wine and food pairing, grape varieties and the main wine producing regions. They also offer a methodology for tasting wine to assess its quality and readiness to drink. Likewise, many restaurants, wine bars and local cooking schools also offer seminars, classes and tastings, each being opportunities to meet other wine lovers in a learning environment.

“Taking a wine course or seminar is a great way to broaden your horizons,” said Jessica Waugh, Certified Wine Educator. “It’s a fun way to learn about wines you may not have tried otherwise – and even more fun when realize you like them!”

Street Smart

While some learn best in a classroom or seminar style setting, others learn by experience. Trying wines is often the best way to learn about them and to better understand which wines to try, Sommeliers are the on-call tour guides. Yes, they know their wine and have studied at various levels for years, but that is not a reason to be intimidated or avoid asking them for ordering or shopping advice. Educating others is part of their job. In fact, many sommeliers ended up in the business by asking questions and stayed because they now love to offer answers.

We asked Master Sommelier Fred Dame why teaching and sharing about wine is so important, “There is beauty and diversity in wine. I fell in love with wine and food working in restaurants and hospitality, but the greatest decision I made, was to teach. I really love to talk to people about wine – there are so many great wines and stories to share. I even came out of retirement to get back to it.”

He’s not alone in that sentiment, most sommeliers are happy to share wine producer stories, make recommendations to pair with a meal, or even suggest a new grape variety to try based on typical preferences. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or start up that conversation. Whether at a five-star restaurant, a local wine bar or in a retail shop, asking questions doesn’t indicate ignorance, it shows interest and curiosity. Even the most expert of experts, still asks questions. It’s one of the greatest things about wine, it’s a never-ending opportunity for learning.

The Bottom Line

Like any learning experience, it’s helpful to keep an open mind, set aside preconceived ideas and try new things. But if there was one takeaway from the entirety of wine sessions this year at Chicago Gourmet, it was this: Simply enjoy it – while wines can be incredibly complex, the beauty of a shared bottle is really quite simple.

This week’s AWS blog was written and submitted by Kristy Wenz. Kristy is a wine writer and a WSET Diploma candidate.