Why would you want to become a wine expert? Because the journey will be a lot of fun. Wine is a fascinating topic that is rich in history, has its own language, and can be controversial. Wine experts are people who immerse themselves in all aspects of the wine culture and come out the other side a little wiser. It's the immersing part where all the joy is.
Another benefit of becoming a wine expert is the increased enjoyment of this legendary drink. When you understand wine deeply, each glass will be another lesson. You concentrate more when you drink it. You focus on the wine's qualities and the winemaker's skills. It's like meditating but more fun.
We are giving you a path to follow. Take our suggestions and build your wine knowledge and appreciation. Drop us a line and let us know what you would add to this path.
Here Are The 51 Steps To Becoming A Wine Expert
1. Let's start with an easy one. Be "of age": Before starting your path to becoming a wine expert, it is probably a good idea if you can legally drink alcohol.
2. Interest in wine: The most important thing isn’t how smart or rich you are but your desire to learn more.
3. Seek out opportunities to taste: Every chance you get, even if it is just a vendor sampling at the grocery store. Viewing, smelling, and tasting wine is your workout. Do it as often as you can. Doing this builds your "wine expert" muscles.
4. Live near wine country? Sign up for a tasting pass. This is a great way to save money while you build your tasting experience at the wineries. There is no quicker way to build your wine IQ. Sit (or stand) across from a winemaker and taste their wine together.
5. Build your aroma vocabulary: Go to the grocery store, head to the produce section and the spice aisle, and smell everything. You will realize you haven't paid attention to smells for a long time.
6. Build your palate vocabulary: Taste bitter, acidic, and sweet things. Taste skim milk next to whole milk next to heavy cream to understand the concept of body. Get used to the sensation of a "thin" liquid vs. a liquid that coats your mouth.
7. Find a great wine club. Look for a club run by someone with a reputation as a talented wine picker. Great wine clubs can supply diverse and interesting wines you will not find at the supermarket. We suggest avoiding winery-specific clubs unless you can afford to join a few. You want to be introduced to new wine regions and varietals.
8. Seek out other oenophiles: Having a network is key to building good study habits.
9. Work in “the industry”: Work in restaurants. Don’t try to go right to being a sommelier—to be a true professional; you have to start at the bottom and work your way up.
10. Find a mentor: Maybe this is the sommelier where you work, someone in your study group, or an “official” educator—find someone who will push you to learn.
11. Read: And then read some more. Every wine book you can get your hands on, from encyclopedias to regional tomes to historical investigations. Find books by wine experts and absorb their knowledge.
11.5. Find and follow wine critics and commentators. Find a few whose style you enjoy and create a Twitter follow list.
12. Buy note cards: Notecards will be your new best friends.
13. MAPS: Maps will be your other new best friends.
14. TASTE wines with increased intention. Buy wines in specific groupings like cold weather vs. warm weather Chardonnays. Buy a bottle of Pinot Noir from France, Oregon, and California. Taste these wines together and note the difference.
14.5. Consider buying a Coravin wine opener. This gadget isn't for everyone, but it comes in handy when tasting a lot of wine. You can sample smaller amounts without having to drink the entire bottle.
15. Know your world geography
16. Study soil: Start noticing the soils everywhere you go. See them. Smell them. Feel the texture. Lick rocks (make sure no one is looking).
17. Study climate: Know the difference between continental, maritime, and Mediterranean, for starters.
17.5. Quiz yourself. Find out how much you know and what you don't know.
18. Get a basic knowledge of wine chemistry: A more-than-basic knowledge is awesome, especially if you ever want to be a winemaker, but even if you work in service, you should know what you mean when you talk about TCA or polymerization.
Click here for a great wine chemistry resource.
19. Study History: In so many ways, the history of the world is linked to the history of wine.
20. Visit wine regions: Talking about the terroir of wine without having been to the region is like quoting SparkNotes to talk about a novel—you’ll get the gist right but won’t fully understand the impact. Do yourself a favor and—when time and budget allow--get the full experience.
21. Start memorizing: Yes, much of wine study is memorization. THIS IS NOT ALL OF WINE STUDY, however. A holistic grasp of concepts is just as important as listing the Crus of Beaujolais north to south (see also #20).
22. Listen to the stories: If you can regurgitate the maximum yield for Sauternes AOP but can’t tell a story about the wine, will your guests, friends, or anyone be all that excited? Being a wine expert means being an expert storyteller.
23. Ask other people how they study: There is so much information about wine that it is easy to feel overloaded. Gain inspiration from others.
24. Understand true service and hospitality: True service professionals are not in it to make it about themselves—the purpose of spending so much time gaining all of this knowledge and expertise so we can enhance the experience of OTHERS.
25. Exercise and eat well: Maintaining your health is key to having a sharp mind and palate and achieving emotional balance in an often crazy industry. What's the point of being a wine expert if you don't feel well?
26. Get to know industry professionals: Not just sommeliers. Everyone from suppliers to winemakers to shop owners will have a different story to tell you.
27. Work a harvest: This is easier said than done. You must set aside 5-10 weeks, on average, of your year, find a winery willing to take you on, be willing to work 12-hour shifts 7 days a week, and if you’re really, really lucky, you might even get paid a bit. That said, if you can, do it.
28. Attend wine auctions: These are an incredible spectacle. You will see people paying insane prices for wine and usually get to sample some ridiculous bottles, plus get exposure to the high-end market.
29. Blind taste: Yes, taste as much as possible. But one must also blind taste. Use a known grid, and use that grid if you are studying for a particular exam. For instance, if you are studying for the Court of Master Sommeliers Certified Exam, use the grid provided on their website—it is the exact one you will encounter in the exam.
30. Join online study groups: They provide a great network for support and questions
31. Join online forums: GuildSomm is one of the most comprehensive and indispensable tools out there if you want to become a wine expert.
32. Read wine reviews and ratings: But take them with a grain of salt.
34. Get some decent wine glasses: Spending huge dollars on wine glasses is unnecessary, but they should be of decent quality for any serious tasting. Try to use the same all-purpose glass for your blind tastings—don’t cater the glass to the wine in this instance.
35. Browse the aisles in wine shops and look at labels: You will pick up a lot of vocabulary this way.
36. Do a wine inventory: If you work at a restaurant or wine shop, volunteer to help with inventory. Getting your hands on the bottles is invaluable exposure.
37. Ask questions: Don’t just ask questions that pop into your head, although do that also: constantly be thinking of things to ask people and ways to dig deeper. When you find yourself around a wine expert, be prepared to ask them questions.
38. Research: If you think of something you don’t know, don’t just resign to not knowing it. Go find the answer. If you can’t find the answer, post the question in one of the online forums you are now a part of.
39. Build a consistent flavor vocabulary: “Homemade chipotle ketchup,” “sunlight filtering through firs” and “my grandfather’s closet” are all descriptors that may make sense to you, and by all means, use those sense memories to enjoy the wine, but when tasting for evaluation you should have a clear and consistent vocabulary for what you are tasting and one which will be universally understood. Many of the tasting grids will provide suggestions. (And yes, those are all descriptors I’ve heard people use).
40. Take photos of labels: You can save the labels if you fancy, but taking photos is a great way to remember what you have tasted, and there are several online platforms for organizing them.
41. Pair wine with food: Wine is meant to go with food. Experiment and find out what goes well together; start with the classics and go from there. When people seek out a wine expert, they are often looking for wine pairing suggestions.
42. Branch Out: We all have our favorites, but if I drank Burgundy every day, I wouldn’t have a well-rounded palate (also, I’d be broke). Taste everything—I mean everything—and while it is okay to have preferences, try to appreciate even the wines you don’t prefer for what they are. Again, finding a great wine club can help you here. Let them decide what to send you. This will force you out of your comfort zone.
43. Did I mention taste?
44. Drink other things: The worlds of different beverages are intimately related: on a recent tour of a coffee plantation, I was struck by the many similarities in growing coffee vs grapes. Get to know tea, sake, beer, and spirits. Learning about these will make you a well-rounded beverage professional and give you a deeper understanding of what makes wine unique and special. It will also help you recommend a wine for that guy who “usually only drinks IPAs”.
45. Get to know regional cuisines: They say what grows together goes together. Look at what appears on the table together locally to get a sense of those truly organic food and wine pairings.
46. While you’re at it, study all food: Culinary techniques, vocabulary, and food science are all indispensable in studying wine. How will you pair a wine with a sous-vide Saint-Pierre with fines herbes and beurre blanc if you don’t know what that means?
47. Study languages: We are not suggesting you need to be fluent in all languages of all countries where wine is produced—if anyone has achieved this, I would like to meet them. However, a basic knowledge of pronunciation in major wine-producing areas will go a long way in establishing your credibility and avoiding this.
48. Study people: At the end of the day, wine is the business of people. To recommend wine, to create the perfect pairing, and to create an incredible experience is an extremely personalized service. This must start with an ability to really understand people, even if you’ve only just met them.
49. Practice public speaking: Intentionally put yourself in uncomfortable situations. Seek out opportunities to perform. If you want to work a busy restaurant floor, give an educational seminar, or sit a wine exam…you must be well-spoken and excellent at being composed under pressure.
50.25. Understand cultural differences: People in East Asia tend to have different palates than those in Latin America, for instance, and the flavors and structures in their cuisines are drastically different. Additionally, customs surrounding beverages can be regionally specific as well: in many European countries, it is quite rude not to look someone in the eye when you cheers or to put your glass down before taking a sip, and one only needs to observe a Japanese tea ceremony to understand they may have a different approach to beverages than our faster-is-better mentality in the West.
50.5. Be responsible: Wine is an ephemeral, beautiful, emotional, and social beverage. What we often forget is that alcohol is also a drug and a dangerous one. Regular overconsumption will not help you be your most professional, studious, driven self—and to reiterate an earlier point, being healthy is key to maintaining your mind and palate. It is easy, especially when surrounded by like-minded oenophiles, to go too far. Always strive to maintain balance.
50.75. Take it seriously: Care about what you do and take pride in your work. Not only because people might shell out big bucks based on your recommendation but because facilitating the artistry, camaraderie, and pure enjoyment of a positive wine experience is a beautiful, valuable, and noble pursuit not to be taken lightly.
51. But also, and most importantly, have fun: At the same time, this isn’t rocket surgery. It is easy to begin to take ourselves way too seriously between the tasting, studying, exams, and publicity. This is wine. It is exciting, it is delicious, and it is fun.