Professional & Collegiate Wine Courses, Smartphone Wine Apps, Wine-Focused Magazines, Wine Websites, Books, Films, and Television Series.
Your Options for Learning About Wine Have Never Been Better.
Learning about wine can be an intense academic exploration or a deliciously curious journey. The former for the serious student of enology or a wine industry professional, and the latter for the pure joy of learning just enough about wine to always select the perfect bottle for your next dinner party or sipping pleasure.
My study of wine began more than two decades ago with just one book, the Windows of the World Wine Course by Kevin Zraly (third and fourth from the bottom, far left, in the photo of my wine book collection above). Immediately, I knew then, that I wanted to learn everything I could about wine; so my journey began with one course and led to a dozen certification courses and countless books on the subject. Just this week, I sat for the WSET diploma exams. Your journey doesn’t need to be so grueling to be as satisfying. Wine education today is much more accessible and can be tailored to your needs quite easily.
Wine education can be broken down into five categories, each with pros and cons and varying levels of formality. Books & Articles, Wine Apps, Online Wine Appreciation Courses, University Wine Appreciation Courses, and Professional Wine Courses. In this article, you will learn about each and decide what is the best wine discovery path for you. You don’t need professional wine credentials to be a success in the wine industry, but they help.
The easiest way to learn about wine is to read a great book, magazine, or weekly wine column. The problem is finding just the right book for your purposes. In my early days of wine training, books like K.I.S.S. and the For Dummies series were just being written, so most of what I read back then was much more academic and trade-oriented. Jancis Robinson, Tom Stevenson, and Hugh Johnson were the British wine expert trifecta writing learned wine tomes. Jancis Robinson is a Master of Wine with a weekly column in the Financial Times and her own website packed with wine-related information. Tom Stevenson is one of the world’s most well-regarded wine critics, writing for Decanter magazine, and serious books for Christie’s and Sotheby’s. His book on Champagne is one of my all-time favorite reads. Hugh Johnson is a wine historian and prolific writer too. Their works are impeccably researched and incredibly detailed. These days, I opt for something on the lighter side when I reference a book. I love Grapes by Oz Clark, Wines of the World by DK, and Exploring Wine by Koplen, Smith & Weiss. The most innovative wine books to come out in the last decade are Madeline Puckett & Justin Hammack’s Wine Folly Essential Guide to Wine and Wine Folly The Master Guide. Madeline earned her introductory-level, certified sommelier credentials and combined that knowledge with her graphic design skills to transform wine learning. Along with her partner, Justin, they produce a great website filled with infographics and wine region maps that strip away elitism and bring wine down to a super easy, simplified level. I will caution you here though, Wine Folly doesn’t always get it right. Wine is complex and while Wine Folly is a great place to start, even the most curious will want to learn more than these visually enticing books can offer.
Websites are incredibly helpful, and in the world of wine, there are many to choose from. Too many! Narrow the field by researching best-of lists. My favorite websites are the award-winning pair: Wine Anorak and Vinography. Dr. Jamie Goode’s Wine Anorak is rich with academic, scientific, and more casual wine topics. Dr. Goode also writes incredibly detailed wine books with a scientific bent. Alder Yarrow heads the Vinography website, which is geared toward wine professionals but wine neophytes can always learn something fascinating too. Joshua Malin and Adam Tetter serve up daily articles about wine and issues surrounding the wine industry on their much-lauded site, Vine Pair. One piece of advice, browse the blogs but read serious writers for the most useful, relevant, timely, and educational information on wine and the trade.
Magazines like Wine Enthusiast, Wine & Spirits, Food & Wine, and Wine Spectator, hire the best writers with decades of experience to provide a range of procurable wine-related articles on relevant topics, wine region exploration, vintage charts, ratings, and “best-of” lists. Newspaper wine columns can be incredibly informative too. I read Eric Asimov’s New York Times column and Lettie Teague’s Wall Street Journal column each week. They are always on-trend, focusing on seasonal drinking and dining with a keen level of expertise that is still welcoming and warm.
Wine Apps are on the newest front of accessible information with apps to help you select wines, purchase and collect them. Most apps provide information based on labels and ratings. I can see how wine apps can be helpful in a pinch when deciding on a wine in a shop or restaurant, but the information is limited to label reads or tasting notes. Some apps also provide a shopping radius or delivery option. The most popular apps I have explored are listed here. Wine Ring is a hybrid tool for pros and consumers alike. Vivino is geared toward collectors along with Cellar Tracker. Delectable and Wine-Searcher contain a wealth of information that will thrill professionals and novices alike. Most of these apps have sister sites on the web. New apps are being launched every day.
Online wine appreciation courses are all the rage in modern wine exploration. You can find MOOC’s (massive open online course), Master Classes, single seminars, webinars, and online serials. Some are free, most are not, and range from inexpensive single classes to hundreds if not thousands of dollars for serial courses and certification programs. Many professional wine certification guilds are now offering their courses online too. I will detail those later.
MOOC’s can be fun and free, like this one focused on champagne. Most of the best online wine courses are hosted by industry professionals, wine critics, and writers. Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan MW offers her courses through the Great Courses outlet ($35-$95 each) and her own website. As does Jancis Robinson MW, mentioned above. James Suckling of Wine Spectator fame is the newest addition to the famous Master Class website. Wine Spectator also offers exceptional courses. Companies like Coursera, Udemy, and Khan Academy.
University Wine Appreciation Courses have long been available at Ivy League universities, community colleges, and most institutions of higher learning in between. Many state universities and colleges offer hospitality programs that feature enology courses. Culinary schools will too. I teach continuing education wine master classes and for-credit academic wine courses for the University of Colorado, Denver. Both are popular with students looking for a fascinating elective and wine-curious lifelong learners. University wine courses are as fun as they are enriching. Check out the colleges and universities in your city for more information.
Professional Wine Courses are seriously big business in the hospitality and wine world today. Wine enthusiasts are familiar with the term “sommelier’ and wonder what it takes to become one. The answer is study-taste-test-repeat! These courses dive deep into the sensory analysis of wines from key and obscure regions around the world.
There are many avenues for professional wine study but only a few really matter in the professional arena. Most schools and guilds offer similar information and develop equivalent skills, but the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) and its subsequent The Institute of Masters of Wine along with the Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS) (and Court of Masters-America CMS-A) are the most renowned and respected of the group. The Wine Scholar Guild focuses on regional immersion classes and the influential Society of Wine Educators trains educators and judges. Some of these courses require direct wine industry affiliation (working in the trade) but not all. If you are serious about your study and want to join an enthusiastic peer group of professional students, professional study might be an option for you. These organizations base their method on a certification system that increases in rigor and financial investment with each level. Introductory certifications are great for wine curious and enthusiasts. Advanced and Master level certification will require professional industry experience, mentorship and networking, and a hefty financial commitment.
Wine regions often have associations, academies, and organizations devoted to promoting their wines by educating the public. The Wines of Spain, Wines of Portugal, VinItaly, and Comité Champagne, are just a few examples of regional wine organizations offering courses and often certification programs. The Napa Wine Academy takes it to the next level by offering classes on just about any wine region you want to explore. The Napa Wine Academy offers certification courses from both the WSET and the CMS to their students. Philly Wine, in Pennsylvania, is a popular choice for home-study and online WEST-driven certification classes. University viticulture & enology programs at the University of California Davis, Bordeaux University, France, and The University of Adelaide in Australia are among the best four-year enology programs. Adelaide also offers a free class called From Grape to Glass through Course Central. These require a serious commitment to wine education with the aim of becoming a professional winemaker.
With so many wonderful choices, your wine education can be as simple or structured as you want it to be. I recommend checking out a weekly newspaper wine column or website along with a simple book like Wine Folly to start out on your journey. Grab a few great bottles and explore tasting techniques. Only then will you decide how far you want to go with your training. Most of us, professionals included, just want a great bottle of wine to ponder and to pair with our favorite meals or to sip on while we sit on our patios and watch the world go by.
By Simone FM Spinner, writer, editor, wine educator
All photos are the author’s unless otherwise credited.
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Published 2020 Carpe-Travel.com