WFFT's Director of Wine Education describes his philosophy on how wine education can elevate your enjoyment of wine.
Somms Corner: How Wine Fosters Greater Appreciation
As this is the Wine and Food Foundation of Texas, I’m sure we all love wine, but sometimes we need to remember that our quest to learn more is rooted in the desire to enjoy more! Knowledge of new wines, regions, vintages, and winemaking techniques, should never be used to show off at a dinner party or to intimidate someone new to wine; it should be shared in a welcoming way and used to achieve a moment of hedonistic pleasure. I am very honored to join the WFFT staff to develop high caliber educational opportunities for the membership and the greater Austin public, and I promise to always come at this task with the goal of uniting the community and giving unique experiences that allow us to celebrate a delicious slice of life.
In the past 2 ½ years of hosting monthly classes with WFFT, I have seen a resounding interest in not just learning about regions and how a wine was made, but in taking a moment to perceive a wine, think about what that wine means to us, and share the experience of that time and place with others in the class. My main goal as a teacher (though, I think of myself as more of a guide) is to challenge attendees to delve one layer deeper into the question, “Do I like this or not?” While it is easy to stop at this point - you like it or you don’t - it is so much more rewarding to go one step further and ask: “What is it?” and “Where does it come from?" You don’t have to come up with an answer, in fact a simple answer might not exist. Nevertheless, if you can undergo that exercise with each wine for a month, you will have a deeper understanding of what matters in wine than 99% of the wine consuming public. All the better to do this in a group of other wine loving folks.
This exercise of what I call “deeper appreciation” is actually a muscle that you need to train, in fact it will make you sore (or soar with too much wine, sorry the puns are too tempting), but it gets easier with practice. I also encourage folks through this process to use descriptions, metaphors, and experiences that strike personalized experiences. Too often, in describing wine, we are pressured to use a standardized vocabulary that is taught in wine tasting classes and certifications. While it is a worthwhile exercise, it just isn’t a whole lot of fun, and doesn’t allow you to really bond with your wine-loving friends. However, sometimes I see people practice tasting by the books to question themselves and get back to the human side of tasting wine.
Another aspect to studying wine that drives heightened pleasure is getting out of your comfort zone and tasting a wine you have never experienced. I talk with a lot of people who love a particular region because they’ve travelled there. Pretty much all they buy is wine from that region. It’s wonderful to love a favorite nook of the wine world, but there’s only so much variation within that region. It limits all the other wild experiences that might be found in a glass of wine from around the world. You might need to attend a class on something you’ve never heard anything about and with a welcoming group of people to allow the new flavors to wash over you and contribute to your bank of wine experiences. You might just find your new favorite wine, or maybe you’ll realize you still prefer your favorite standards and will appreciate it even more! Either way you win!
Throughout my years of tasting lots of wine - at times up to 100 wines a week - I’ve come to realize that the worst insult I can don on a wine is not that it is disgusting (faulty wines aside) or that it offends me, it’s that it is BORING. For me there can be nothing worse, and there are a lot of boring wines out there. I yearn for wines that are different, that bring us to a place we’ve never been, that allow us to connect with our friends, a far-off culture, and moments in history in a way we have never done before. I’m looking forward to the many upcoming moments we’ll have together to open ourselves up, learn something that gets our endorphins pumping, and create a community where we can shed all the worries of the world and for a moment appreciate a deeper sense of humanity.