Stay Classy [and drunk], San Diego!

This past Saturday I had the opportunity to work as an exhibitor at the San Diego Bay Wine and Food Festival. It was a great learning experience for me as a student, and a great source of entertainment for me as a spectator!

My WSET instructor offered this gig to anyone that was interested, and I couldn’t say yes quicker. I knew it would be a great hands-on learning environment for me to talk about wine, get a feel for working a booth at a wine event, gain experience hosting tastings and get to speak with people who are already successful in the industry.

I was there representing wines of Vinho Verde, a beautiful region in Northwest Portugal. This region is known for its blends of white grape varieties and unique wine making style. These wines are all light bodied, low alcohol and have a slight effervescence to them that wake up your taste buds and give the wine a perceived sparkle! They are all easy drinking, FUN wines that almost everyone passing through enjoyed.

I was there with a marketing rep from New York that represents these wines and others, as well as with a certified Sommelier that would soon become my sensei for the day. Unfortunately for me, I was new to these wines from this region and had to study up quick before the rush of people came. But fortunately for me, talking about the same wines for several hours is a great way to memorize stuff! Once you get past the fumbling of words and basically making crap up, you actually start to be able to educate with confidence! (Or it could have been the liquid courage from sneaking tastes throughout the whole event…regardless, I faked it ’til I made it!)

The event was filled with a wide variety of characters. There were the genuine wine lovers that came to taste and learn about the wines. There were the snobs that came to show off to the exhibitors that they knew more about the wine than the winemaker. There were the posers that spoke all the right verbiage, but in all the wrong ways. Yes, there may have been an assortment of personalities and backgrounds at the start, but by the end of it, the wine lovers became adventurous, mixing the whites with the reds. The snobs became absentminded and reckless. The posers became tongue-tied. And they all became equals. It was a funny thing – I had finally memorized everything useful there was to know about the wines I was pouring, but by that time nobody cared to ask questions. It went from “Gimme the facts!” to “Just fill ‘er up!”

All this to say, it was nothing short of a great time. I got what I needed to out of it as a thirsty student, but I also got to enjoy myself and once again was reminded of everything The Frugal Grape stands for: that wine is for everybody, and it doesn’t have to be some snobby, unattainable lifestyle. Wine should be fun. Wine should be approachable. Wine can be anything you damn want it to be, but it most importantly should be drink, drank, drunk 😉

image2

fullsizerender

Happy Hallo-wine!

It’s Halloween 2016 and there are a lot of scary things about this year – who will become the next President, rogue clowns lurking around San Diego, gluten intolerant trick-or-treaters,  running out of wine at your Halloween party…

Honestly though, what I’ve been most afraid of is studying for this WSET Level 3 exam! I know it sounds ridiculous, and it should be easy, right? I’ve taken hundreds of tests before, I should have a solid study technique down by now. But, I really have been all over the place. Between making flashcards, making charts, looking at maps, watching videos and blind tasting, it’s been very difficult to organize everything into a neat, clean study plan that makes sense and helps me retain the information.

My worst nightmares have been the maps. It’s one thing to memorize places on a map, but it’s a whole different monster to know what grapes, what soils, what climate, what blends, what laws and what wine making techniques are specific to each sub-region of each larger region. Every map I look at, all I can see in my head is one enormous branch diagram that could quite possibly take months to memorize, and there are upwards of 60 different regions that are covered in this course, and the exam is in less than 2 months…I’m getting spooked just typing about it!

All this to say, I’m working on study tricks that will help me retain this information and help me connect the dots. I need to keep reminding myself of the ultimate treat that awaits at the end – a Level 3 certification and a serious sense of pride and relief. When I lack motivation or get discouraged, I need to remember why I got involved in this in the first place, and that was simply because I love wine! I love to drink it and I want to know more about it when I do drink it. I want to start a business (more on that in a future blog). I want to have knowledge to back up my passion. By looking at the bigger picture, hopefully that will help me focus during those hard days when I ask myself what the heck I got myself into.

On a sweeter note, I’ll leave you with this handy wine and candy pairing chart. A glass in one hand and candy in the other will help you get through the evening while little monsters swarm your front door (just make sure you hand them the right one when they say “Trick or Treat!”)

capture

 

Progress Report

 

Following up with my last post since completing WSET Level 2, I am heading into the second quarter of this crazy wine adventure I decided to embark on. This past Tuesday was my “Pin Party”, where all of us Level 2 “graduates” received our official certificates and pins from our teacher, Lindsay Pomeroy**. She hosted our informal get-together at none other than where we meet for class – The Wine Sellar & Brasserie in Sorrento Mesa. The place was poppin’ off for a Tuesday! We were lucky enough to snag a couple tables.

We were mainly there to drink wine and celebrate, but for fun she called each of our names, shook our hand, handed us our certificate and pin, clinked glasses and took a swig! After our slightly unceremonious ceremony, we took the time to discuss our favorite parts of the course, how it has benefited us in our personal lives, and other things that winos might talk about over a glass of wine (Mostly, well, wine…).

Several of the students in my Level 2 class decided to stop there. They are satisfied with what they’ve learned throughout the course and will use their knowledge to be better informed with purchasing and consuming wine. For the rest of us, we will be moving on to Level 3, and I am getting very nervous!

Compared to Level 2, which met once a week for 3.5 hours, Level 3 will meet once a week for 5 hours. The textbook is 10 times thicker with 3 times smaller font. And the exam is not only multiple choice like Level 2, but also includes short essay questions and blind tasting! We will look more in depth at all the grape varieties around the world and the course will be organized by region. If I was tired of looking at maps after Level 2, I have a feeling I’m never even going to need a map again after all the studying I will be doing in Level 3!

Level 3 starts in one month! I plan to use these next few weeks to read through my Level 2 textbook to refresh my memory and re-lay the foundation I need to understand the basic concepts of Level 3.

 

 

Okay, I know this post was super boring, but I want to always use this blog to track my progress of emotions and knowledge throughout this educational adventure! Wish me luck!

**See below for our class photo and a little about all of us (missing a few)

IMG_1508

 

The Corkers vs. The Screwtops–The Real Political Debate of 2016

Tired of hearing about Trump’s border campaign and Hillary’s scandals? How about shifting your focus to the great Cork Campaign and the Screwtop Scandals? Never heard of them? Well, that’s because I just made those up…sort of…

The names might be a mockery, but the concept behind them is actually a pretty real thing in wine culture! Should you stick with tradition and put a cork in it? Or should you just say “Screw it!” and screw it? Some wine-o’s will pick a side and stand firm, others like myself will stay neutral and acknowledge there are benefits and downfalls to each type of wine stopper.

 

The Corkers

Let’s start with the obvious reason to purchase corked wine–tradition! Historically, this is just how wine was preserved. As a wine-lover, there is something ceremonial about plunging a corkscrew into the spongy cork and hearing that ever-so-pleasing pop as you yank it from the bottleneck. Something about simply unscrewing a metal top is extremely anti-climactic.

Tradition aside, there is the benefit of ageing a wine in a corked bottle. The porous nature of a cork allows just the right amount of air into the bottle over time to give you that perfectly smooth textured wine once the time comes to drink it. Therefore, I would have to argue that corks are beneficial for wines that get better with age, like a Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay. As time goes on letting air slowly through the cork, your Cab will become softer and fruitier and your Chard will become smooth and buttery.

 

The Screwtops

The future of wine bottling is in the screw top. Again, we’ll start with one of the obvious reasons to choose screw tops–for the winemaker, it’s cheaper than buying corks and for the consumer, it’s convenient to open and re-close.

Another obvious reason for choosing screw tops is the problem of “cork taint”. Every now and then, albeit rarely, a cork will be affected by a contaminant. This contaminant can be mold or chemical-related during manufacturing. Imagine that lovely scene I described earlier when you open a bottle for your guests. Everyone is watching, eager for their first pour. Pop..Pour…Pewww!! What is that stench of dirty socks in a gym locker? Cork taint. The bottle is no good, and hopefully you’ve been a frugal grape and not spent over $20 on it because it’s going right down the drain 😦

Finally, for aged wines, studies have shown that a screw top should not affect the quality or ageing process of a wine, so do not automatically assume a wine is poor quality because it is screwed shut.

 

Where do I stand?

I have no judgments about the quality of a wine based on its top, but I am more of a “corker” in the sense that I love that ritualistic feeling of opening a bottle the traditional way. Plus, I love collecting corks!

For now, given the research and information I have read about, I will choose corked wines if they are aged and meant to have been exposed to air slowly over time, and all other wines I have decided it really doesn’t matter.

 

School’s Out for Summer

Well, guys, my first WSET experience has ended. After all the studying, all the highlighting, all the flashcards, all the practice tests – and let’s be honest, all the wine tasting – I have completed Level 2 of the Wine & Spirits Education Trust course! Although the class ended a couple of weeks ago, I just recently found out my score…

82%!! This means I passed “with merit”. I can’t help but be a little frustrated with myself that I was 3% away from passing “with distinction”! I was so close! All my life I have been a straight B student, balancing on the line of “just above average”, so at least I’m consistent 😉 And I am still proud that my hard-earned “merit” will be displayed on my certificate.

I credit my passing of course to studying, but also paying very close attention to every word in every sentence of the question. The answer might seem obvious at first, but then one word that indicates a wine is from a certain region or climate might change the answer. It also helped me to jot down or make mental notes of everything I knew about each word, term, grape, region, etc. that was mentioned in the question, and it helped me put the pieces together to mark the correct answers (41 answers out of 50 to be exact…)

 

So now what?

It’s technically summer vacation! Yes, I have a regular, full time job, but that does not discount that feeling of relief I remember so well back in elementary and high school. It is time to relax and enjoy wine perhaps without analyzing every quality, but to just drink it for the sake of drinking.

The Level 3 classes begin in September, so after I save up a little more money I’ll be able to cover the cost of that next adventure. Cheers!

 

Wine Storage: Delaying Your Bottle’s Imminent Death

Hypothetically speaking, let’s say you don’t finish that bottle of wine by the time your Friday night Netflix binge ends…(hypothetically, because we all know the truth). What do you do with it next? Maybe you stick the cork back in it and set it on the counter. Maybe you put it in the fridge, corked or not. Or maybe–GOD FORBID– you just dump that last 5oz down the drain. 

After a bottle is opened, the wine is exposed to oxygen. The longer a wine is exposed to oxygen, the more the intended flavors of the wine evolve into something else. With improper storage, those flavors and aromas can quickly become unappealing. Follow these easy steps to preserve your white AND red wines:

  • Put a Cork in It

Not the actual cork, but an airtight one, like these cute and colorful rubber ones!

stoppers

This will only preserve the wine for a day or two, but it lets in less air than stuffing the original cork back in. I recommend using these if you’re just setting the wine aside for a little while, or if you plan on finishing it the next day. 

The best way would be to get vacuum stoppers with a pump, and basically pump out as much air as you can. This preservation technique will give your wine 3-4 more days of life, and BONUS- is a great arm workout!

vacuum

  • Stand Tall

Although you may store your wine on its side before opening it, be sure to always stand it upright after opening it. The less liquid in the bottle, the more surface area oxygen can get into when it’s laying horizontally. Stand it vertically and the surface area decreases.

This is also why you shouldn’t just stuff the original cork back in. When a bottle is on its side, the cork stays moist and swollen. While the bottle is standing, no wine is wetting the cork. As a result, the cork dries and cracks and lets in air.

  • Stay Cool

Regardless of white wine or red wine, refrigeration is best after opening. The low temperature slows down the chemical changes happening to your wine. However, when you’re ready to drink your red wines again, warm them back up to room temperature naturally by leaving them on the counter for awhile or, to save time, run room temperature water from the sink over the bottle. 

 

 

Part of being frugal with your wine is getting the most out of it. Don’t have time to enjoy a bottle all at once? Preserve it properly and you can still get your money’s worth.

 

Back to School to Prove to Dad I’m Not a Fool

I have just begun my adventure into the world of wine. I started my Level 2 WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust) course this week, and I definitely have those newbie vibes of pure excitement and eagerness.

Although I am looking forward to learning all that I can about the industry, there is the gloomy reality of having homework

When I graduated college in 2012, I  remember the most relieving feeling was knowing I would never have another homework assignment again…hehe! But as the years went by, I felt this longing for my brain to learn things again. I missed the routine of going to class. I missed challenging myself. I missed that feeling of pride when I would know the answers to a test.

This WSET certification journey is going to fill voids in my life in multiple ways. One way is quenching my thirst for more education. Another way is helping me reroute my career path to one that is guided by a sincere interest and passion. And lastly, who wouldn’t want more wine in their life? Duh!

This blog serves as an outlet for me to express what I learn throughout this process. By sharing my knowledge with others, I’m helping myself retain it and put it into practice. Just as with everything else in life, use it or lose it!

 

P.S. The title of this post is a Billy Madison reference… in case you were thinking my dad made me do this 😉