Article By: David Singer
CONJUNCTION, CONJUNCTION, WHAT'S YOUR FUNCTION . . . Thought I'd share that classic School House Rock tune with you, because it's been going around and around in my head ever since I decided to write about Wine Education. Education, education, what's your libation?
Whether you're new to the wine world or are taking yourself to the next level, there are a number of different educational options in Massachusetts to choose from once you've decided to "get serious" about your wine knowledge. But no matter what your degree of education, one thing that remains consistent is the sensation of being overwhelmed with the masses of information that are available, much of which changes about every 6 months. From novice to professional, this feeling really doesn't change. This, in my mind, is a good thing. It keeps us humble and passionate about our hobby or occupation, and it never grows stale.
For the ardent novice, a great way to begin is to buy Wine for Dummies, a fantastic book with an unfortunate title. Co-written by a Master of Wine, if you learn best via reading, this is an excellent source to establish a foundation in the wine world. Beyond this, some of the best books for reference are Tom Stevenson's Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia, and Jancis Robinson's Oxford Companion. Unfortunately, as the saying goes, wine books are out of date the moment they are printed. To supplement this, magazines like decanter (and its website www.decanter.com) are excellent resources, and Tom Stevenson's wine report is phenomenal for annual updated information.
If classes are more to your learning style seek out a wine shop that offers individual or series classes. This can be a great way of exploring your passion without sinking in a large sum of money. Some sort of Wine 1O1 is usually available. It's also possible that the classes can be taught focusing on particular wines or regions that you have an affinity for. A great bonus from this is being able to taste wines that the shop offers, and then being able to buy with the best kind of informed opinion - your own. Wine shops also often offer free tastings, and at a well-staffed establishment, the person pouring at the tasting can also offer an impromptu lesson, beyond a sales pitch. Yankee Spirits, Formaggio Kitchen, BRIX Wine Shop, Gordon's Fine Wine & Liquors, and the Wine Gallery are but a few stores that offer some terrific tastings, seminars and classes.
After this, if your thirst is still unquenched, then the Wine and Spirits Education Trust in Boston, otherwise known as the WSET, and The Elizabeth Bishop Wine Resource Center at Boston University are but two more ways to go. Most of classes are targeted to wine professionals, but anyone with a love of the grape and some prior knowledge would do well. If you can name three of the five grapes used in red Bordeaux, you're at the right stage for at least the entry-level course. These programs offer many individual classes as well as different levels of formal study. In all cases, these classes are built around tasting many different wines. It's an unfortunate necessity that to study, you have to taste wines side by side to understand the differences between them. It is a difficult profession we have, but one must do what one must do!
Another excellent program that unfortunately is not in Boston but definitely worth mentioning is the Society of Wine Educators. The two levels in this program, the Certified Specialist of Wine and the Certified Wine Educator, are really for those of serious study. The CSW exam is certainly for someone for whom wine has gone beyond the casual hobby level or for when wine has become a profession. The study guide for the CSW is an excellent tool for self-education, whether or not you decide to go with this program.
Another fun avenue to explore is to have a group of friends indulge in self-study; sort of like a book club with liquor. Having a themed dinner party or hiring a wine educator (nudge nudge, wink wink), are just some of the ways that you can study in a very social context. The personalized group is the best way to achieve study that's tailored very specifically to your interests - you choose everything. Also, keep an eye out for wine festivals and conventions in and around your area. This, without a doubt, is one of the best forms of concentrated study that can be available. The seminars are great one-session events and the depth and breadth of wines that you can experience in one place is more than worth the cost of the ticket. So if you feel the sensation of being bitten by the grape, there are a multitude of avenues to begin and continue your passion.
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