Some of you out there may recall my previous posting on efforts in the wine world to provide more equitable wine sales to consumers throughout the U.S. For the uninitiated, or those that are clever and/or fortunate enough to live in States that do not restrict wine sales: I live in PA, which houses one of the largest and most anachronistic 3-tier wine sales systems in the country; the end result being that to obtain a wine I really want, I either
- have to buy it from a state-run liquor store (assuming the carry it, since they limit choice to what they can buy most cheaply) or
- if not available directly in the store, special-order it so that it is shipped to the store (and not to me), paying an upcharge to the PLCB for the “privilege” or
- drive to DE and buy from their more-competitively-priced, larger, and all-around supieror selection (technically this is a crime, and is also my preferred method).
In fairness, I should point out that it’s not in all cases that the PLCB has the highest prices for wines. It’s only in most cases, due mostly to the added taxes. And, as fellow PA blogger David McWherter pointed out when he did some comparison shopping on PLCB v. non-PLCB wine prices, price is not the only obstacle to PA wine-lovers created by the PLCB:
- Only in one case did the PLCB have the best price available. In about half the wines, the PLCB was competitive — within 10% of the best price available, but the other half, the prices were significantly higher. If you have to buy your wine, buy it when you’re not in Pennsylvania. You’ll get a better selection and (if you look for it) a better price. Of course, almost NONE of the wines listed above could actually be purchased at a PLCB store near me, even though I could buy those wines online if I lived in Ohio.
Full article here.
I’ve recently been checking out another gem of a web resource in the fight against all of this monopolistic madness – the Wine Without Borders Blog. Check it out – and, if you suffer in a state with Communist practices like mine, consider donating to their cause!
If you’ve not been living like a monastic hermit, and have been listening to any form of news lately, you’ve likely come across any number of news stories related to Resveratrol, a substance found in wine (mostly red).
Resveratrol, depending on which story you’re reading at the time, is claimed to have antioxidant, anti-cancer, and / or anti-aging properties, and a number of supplements containing various amounts of the substance have hit the marketplace.
Besides the substance itself as yet being totally unregulated, most of the hype about Resveratrol stems from studies that have been conducted on mice. Mice, to the best of my knowledge, are not avid wine drinkers (or I suppose it’s possible a mouse drinks some in a Robert Burns poem somewhere… or maybe in a Jethro Tull song inspired by Burns…). So – if you pop Resveratrol pills, chances are you won’t know how much of the stuff you’re getting, but that doesn’t matter anyway since no one knows for sure at what amounts Resveratrol provides benefits to humans (I’m assuming no mice are reading this blog – if they are, then we’ve got deeper problems than imbibing unregulated amounts of red wine substances…).
I have actually heard of people who have tried to add red wine to their diets specifically to increase their intake of Resveratrol. There is a problem with this strategy – Resveratrol amounts are measured in μg (aka, micrograms). A microgram is 1/1,000,000th of a gram. I’m not sure exactly how much that is, but I am sure that it’s not exactly ultra-concentrated amounts of the stuff. So by any measure, you’d need to drink a sh*tload of red wine to match the similar amounts of Resveratrol that have been injected into these poor mice.
Now, considering the detriments of pounding back more than 3 drinks a day, you should probably forget about going with the increased red wine route just to try to get any health benefits out of the modicum of the resulting Resveratrol increase. My penchant for hefty red wines (as well as my inclination to suck back as much of the really good stuff as possibly when attending industry tastings) not withstanding, I’d humbly offer that moderation is the key – you’ll enjoy *some* health benefits, and will probably live longer than if you’d pounded back the heavy Resveratrol wine amounts anyway!
Whenever someone asks me what I’ve been up to in my “wine life,” and I tell them that I’ve recently sat an exam of some sort, I invariably get asked the same question:
“So… uhm.. what does that do
for you exactly? Are you, like, a sommelier now?”
Now, it wasn’t all that long ago that I knew nothing about wine, or the various credential-chasing that would effectively allow me to take something I would come to love (drinking and sharing wine) and piss all over it by making it difficult and shoring up my free time with studying weighty tomes of wine knowledge. So I understand why people ask me that. The answer is even more complicated and usually boils down to this:
“Well… sort of…”
So, I thought that I’d try to take a few minutes to explain the wacky world of wine education in layman’s terms – a quick reference that I’d wished that I’d had when I was starting to “take this wine thing more seriously.”
Fortunately for me, the fabulous folks at i-WineReview.com have already done this for me, and they have a great page on their site that lays it all out in some detail. So, can you go to this page and have it all figured out?
Well… sort of…
In the world of wine, there are (more-or-less) 3 main educational/certification paths that you can take which are internationally recognized:
- Masters of Wine – This is the granddaddy qualification for wine peeps, and exists to recognize the best of the best in the art, science, and business of wine. Which means that theoretically anyone can achieve it, but in reality it’s insanely tough and there are fewer than 25 members from the U.S. Achieving the MW credential is a bit like a PhD on steriods.
The MW recommends, as a prerequisite for entry, the Level 4 Diploma in Wine & Spirits from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET). This is a bit like the Masters degree of the wine world, with 4 levels of certification covering a one-day foundation certification in wine / spirits concepts, all the way through a multi-year Diploma program. Each step gets significantly more difficult in the academic portion (multiple-guess and essay exams) and adds more difficult wine identification tastings. This is where I started (I’ve got Level 2 and Level 3 certifications, Level 3 being the first one to test you on tasting identification). WSET classes and exams can only be offered by affiliated organizations (e.g., PhillyWine.com in Philadelphia).
This path (WSET through MW) focuses on the entire world of wine & spirits, how they are made, with emphasis on tasting profiles typical for these beverages in the regions where they are made.
- The Court of Master Sommeliers – This is the granddaddy qualification of wine service. It focuses on the best-of-the-best in wine service and industry matters, and those that sit the final diploma exam also must pass a brutal (and fairly rapid) tasting. I know someone who is sitting this tasting by invitation, and she has been studying her a__ off for a month, mostly through ‘blind’ tastings (you identify the wine – type, age, and region – by tasting, without knowing anything about it until it’s poured into your glass).
- Society of Wine Educators – This group exists to promote standards of qualification in the education of wine. Their focus is on deep understanding of wine taste, identifying wine faults, and having detailed knowledge of the geography, science, and history of wine. Members (of which I am one) and non-members can sit two levels of exams to achieve qualifications that are meant to prove that you know what you’re talking about when you speak or teach on the subject of wine:
Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) – This exam is a bit like the Boards of wine: 100 questions (a bit more difficult than those of the WSET Advanced exam), 1 hour, 75% needed to pass.
Certified Wine Educator (CWE) – More difficult exam, plus two tastings to identify similar wines from different world regions and wine faults, respectively. I have met people that have failed these tastings multiple times – it’s brutal.
After that, come various certification and education programs around the globe that are local, and are NOT internationally recognized. These can be fun, local, and usually require no wine knowledge to get started. They’re a great way to learn more about wine. There are probably about a billion of these such programs, give or take several million. As an example, I’ve heard good things about the Wine Spectator School, which offers classes on-line. A quick search on the Internet will turn up all kinds of these, or varying difficulty and interest. Are these local things any good?
Well… sort of…
If you want to learn a bit more about wine, by all means seek out a local program near you and have fun. If that program asks for lots of your hard-earned dollars (I’m talking $1000s here) to give you what they tell you is a “professional” certification that rivals the three I have outlined above, then ***walk away as fast as you can***. And keep your hand firmly on your wallet and/or purse while you exit.
I had a pleasant visit at the award-winning French Creek Ridge Vineyards yesterday, checking out their annual sparkling wine tasting event. While there, I had a nice conversation with Janet Maki, co-owner and the winemaker at their J. Maki winery, discussing the most recent harvest (which by PA standards was just about perfect – warm weather, almost no hail or frost, short rains, and abundant sunshine). Their 2007’s should be interesting wines and could end up becoming their most balanced ever.
As for their more recent offerings, I thought they hit a homerun with their elegant Viognier, which has beautiful and fragrant nose. Their latest Gewürztraminer was also quite nice. If you had told me either of these wines had hailed from WA state, and not PA, I would have believed you.
The sparklers were a bit on the ‘leesy’ side for my taste, but opened up a bit given a few hours of air. (As for the Chardonnay – let’s just say they should have been paying me to sample it.)