With wine sales and know-it-all-ery on the rise, simply enjoying a relaxing glass of adult grape juice isn’t an option anymore. One must be able to drone on and on and on—and on—into the boring abyss with relative expert-ease. This can be a daunting ask, thereby discouraging you from drinking wine altogether.
Nevertheless, fear not my fellow winos because I—resident sommelier—have noted my most important lessons learned, condensing and compiling them into a list as easily consumed as a Napa Cabernet. So, if you too wish to become a sommelier, read and apply the following and you’ll be impressing yourself and irritating your friends with your inimitable sommelier skills and know-it-all-ness in no time.
Lesson 1: Distinction
“Excuse me. I’m not much of a wine guy. Is this a good white?”
“Sir, that’s olive oil.”
Lesson 2: Distinction, continued
“Is this a good red?”
“That’s balsamic vinaigrette.”
Lesson 3: Terminology
As with every new subject, the novice can expect to climb a steep learning curve. Before reaching the summit of sommelier-dom, myriad facts and figures and vats of to-be-drunk wine must be approached, assimilated, and intoxicated. Yet, one can hasten this process by learning the relevant terminology. You'll need to memorize the common types of wine—cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, pinot noir, another pinot, Chardonnay, sauvignon blanc (best pronounced in your best French accent), riesling, and sriracha or something similar sounding.
In addition to the different types of wine, memorize the kinds of casks in which they’re aged, the variance of grapes by which they’re mashed, and some other things about something else I’ve forgotten yet remain necessary nonetheless.
Lesson 4: Nosing
Akin to terminology, knowing what to say and when to say it is key. Therefore, give your healthily poured glass a twirl, tip it to your nose, inhale ever so gently, and add a ‘y’ to every thought that comes to mind: “This chardonnay smells oaky, grapey, rubbery, green olive-y.”
However, don’t stop with simple tangibility. “Additionally, I’m getting a little of a Lewis Carroll novel, a tad of some Sam Cooke song, that scene from Ghost—the one on the stool with the clay and all the horniness—and, lastly, all the lost aspirations of my youth.”
In sum, the more nonsensical the observation, the more learned you’ll sound.
Lesson 5: Tasting
The rules of nosing apply to tasting notes as well. Except, unlike nosing emphasizing the vague, highlight the concrete. “I’m getting liquid. This wine tastes like it’s wet. Sharp, barbed-wired, electrified water.”
Lesson 6: Finish, fancy way of saying “Tasting: part 2”
“For being dry and semi-dry, I’m still getting liquid, wetness, and sharp, barbed-wired, electrified water?”
Lesson 7: Pairings
For what is perhaps the most esoteric aspect to becoming a sommelier, it’s best to forget what you think you may know. Cut the cheese, desert desserts, beat your meats, and toss your salads straight into the trash because, for sommeliers, pairing wines assumes a greater responsibility than simply assigning a taste buddy system.
Well… actually, it’s not that complex because wine pairs perfectly with crippling depression and mind-aching anxiety. Therefore, play the person, not the cards. Suggest wines based on signs like sweaty palms, overt squinting, excessive grimacing, tear-streaked cheeks. If their finger nails are chewed so low that their fingers resemble badly cut sausage linings, if the bags under their eyes are as heavy as a vintage port, suggest exactly that—a vintage port. Zinfandel’s heavy fruit notes pair well with the taste of having put your foot in your mouth earlier that day. A little mnemonic device for you: If you’ve eaten some crow, wash it down with a nice Bordeaux. You get the idea. Pair your wine with whatever you’re currently whining about.
Lesson 8: Confidence
Sommeliers are experts on all things wine. And due to that adroitness, others turn to us for our wisdom and knowledge. Understanding and recognizing this dynamic is important. Therefore, see yourself as the master and you’ll be the master. Believe in yourself and you’ll have others believing in you.
But don’t worry if you don’t feel masterful and are struggling to believe in yourself, because—as with depression and anxiety—wine pairs wonderfully with self-doubt. By now, you’ve probably accrued quite the collection, so screw those naysayers and your negative mindset by uncorking another bottle and drowning that negativity in a white that you now know is not olive oil and a red that’s definitely not balsamic.
Well… there you have it. It’s really that simple. Learn and apply these 8 lessons and you’ll be in the clear with nearly 100% of the people you drink with. For the others who insist on asking about your accreditation and where you received sommelier certification, you can make up a name and remember to say it with #8’s lesson… confidence.
“Thank you for asking. I received my sommelier-ship from the Academy of Lost Fortunes and Good Times. Or was it Lost Times and Good Fortunes? I’m not sure, but you certainly don’t want to drink that—that’s olive oil. Here try this—It’s toasted melon and honeysuckle and eucalyptus-y and how I imagine the year 1831 tastes. It’s magnificent and’ll have you feeling Chardon-yay!”