In a great little piece by NPR, All Things Considered (See Here), GABRIELLE EMANUEL highlights the Blind Tasting Competitions held at Oxford and Cambridge Universities. "We treat it like a sport." - Coach Wilson.

They mention honing the tongue and one's tasting abilities, but what is just as, if not more important as one's sensory abilities is training one's mind. Understanding that 2009 in Piedmont was warm and that Nebbiolo is a high acid, high tannin, high alcohol variety, with more garnet/brick hues in the glass is what will ultimately lead you to success.

Now, I am a HUGE advocate for blind tasting, clearly. 

But, a "sport"? Wow.

And the universities who are participating? Ivy League? If people thought wine was snobby before, this certainly does not seem to help wine's image much. 

I, perhaps not not too unlike some of these students, started blind tasting while in Graduate School (pre-wine-industry), but I never considered it a "sport". It was merely a way for me to learn about wine.

Do these students really care about wine? Or are they honing their skills just because they can? Do they want to understand why a wine tastes the way it does for some greater reason or purpose? Or, is this truly all for "sport"? I am hoping this article left out the details about how passionate they are about wine, otherwise, it just seems like a silly game and trivializes the whole point of Blind Tasting. At least, to me, Tasting for points seems... well... like a silly, meaningless game.

If these schools are simply blind tasting for sport, why not throw in some other beverages? Lager? Ale? Is it Pepsi, Coke, or RC Cola? Why only blind taste wine?

Perhaps it is because with wine you not only have the grape, but region and vintage to worry about as well (and for me, I always consider wine-making practices to be critical as well - Stems? Malolactic? Extended lees? These will also help with your conclusion).

The whole point is, while Blind Tasting Wine is fun, what the Oxford Wine Team and the rest seem to be doing is trivializing the importance of Blind Tasting.

As sommeliers, we don't simply blind taste for party tricks or for "sport". 

Instead, the whole point is to make sure that we fully understand what a wine should taste like, and to check our own knowledge - Did we call Moulin-a-Vent Cru Beaujolais when it was a Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley?

Why did we make that mistake? What did we confuse? The "green-herbacious" quality we thought was from stem inclusion was actually just from pyrazines (green bell pepper flavor) that is a tell-tale for Cabernets. How can we correct this so that we can relate this information to the guest? What are the similarities (light bodied, juicy red fruit, slightly earthy), and what are the differences?

Each Blind tasting is a learning opportunity. 

Getting it right feels great - and at the end of the day, we need to blind taste successfully to pass critical industry exams (either with the Court of Master Sommeliers or Wine and Spirits Education Trust).

But even then, we are training and attempting to succeed for something more than a "high score" - The whole purpose is simply to ensure we have the knowledge and tools to accurately describe and assess a wine, with the end goal being helping guests and customers.

For the wine community, Blind Tasting is so much more than sport.

A Brief Visual Guide to the Wines and Grapes of France

So. I made this a while back for Vinport.com

I've shared it with a few who've said it was helpful, so I figured, why not post it here?

Copyright 2013 Barbie Jean H. Messa. 

Copyright 2013 Barbie Jean H. Messa. 

Maybe I'll post about one of these grapes that I've recently blind tasted.

For now, hopefully just a picture will suffice. Cheers ya'll.



Answer: Wine 31

Answer: Wine 31

I never gave you my guess for Wine 31.

We've already established that I think it is something from Italy - basically just because my gut tells me so.

But this wine is pretty middle of the road - as far as structure goes - and has mostly plummy fruits, a little bit of fresh red berries, even some blackberry, but definitely more "purple" in flavor. Its a little bitter, and does have some elevated tannin. No oak aging that I can tell, and it feels like a cool/moderate climate. A lot of earth. so I'm going Old World. 

SO, my guess...

Read More

In Defense of Pins: Part 2

I was so excited about some recent findings with the Guild of Sommeliers, I had to do a quick post.

TO RECAP: I recently gave my thoughts on a recent Punch Article, on why I value various Wine Certifications.

Just to clarify, I do not have a love/hate relationship with these certifications.

I LOVE THEM. I am a wine certification junkie.

I honestly LOVE them the way only a huge nerd could. It is as if these certifications were made for ME. Seriously. My dissertation is about study strategies. 

In my previous post, I merely wanted to highlight 1) the pros and cons of these formal wine educational courses and 2) the fact that while they are one measure of merit, they are not the sole-determinant of success, though they are something I value greatly.

SO, why Part 2 of In Defense of Pins?

The Guild of Sommeliers has just posted recent survey results for the wine industry....

And guess what!?

Those with Certifications have higher salaries!!


But...before I get TOO excited...

I should put on the "Science-Hat" for a second.

This is just correlational research.

Correlation does not equal causation!

In other words, getting more certifications might not be the direct cause, or lead directly to, higher salaries. 

Some initial thoughts...

1) Maybe more certifications also co-vary with more years of experience?

Since those who get paid more also have more years of experience, aren't they also more likely to have more certifications? And if so, what is driving higher salaries? Experience or Certifications? At the moment, we don't know the breakdown of experience within each education level, but this is an easy fix! Just a matter of analyzing the data while controlling for years of experience. I have a hunch, education will still be a predictor of salary!

2) Is there a lurking Third Variable of Personality/Work Ethic/Passion? 

To play devil's advocate, how much of the higher salary is driven by the certifications themselves? OR could it be the DRIVE and PASSION of those who pursue formal wine education that lead them to both get better paying positions AND ALSO certifications? 

In theory, those who pursue these higher levels of certification might have a) increased drive/work ethic b) passion/enthusiasm c) more Type "A" personalities. Any of these might independently lead to raises and promotions. 

Of course, this is a bit more tricky to disentangle, and I admit, controversial. Personally, I think it is a little of both - indirect personality factors AND a direct benefit of the classes. Of course, those who are not "certified" probably CARE just as much and have just as much drive/passion on the floor, but maybe they are more "Type B" personalities. Maybe they are not the ones to seek for the higher-paying-type positions...


This is all speculation of course, and these analyses are way beyond the scope of this project. I always just think it is good not to take everything at face value, to take a step back, and to think critically. Of course, the simple explanation of Education leading DIRECTLY to higher salaries could very much be valid!

Again, I am simply playing devil's advocate.

And importantly, I am not knocking certifications. 

FOR ME, formal wine certifications are worth all the money, time, and effort.

The knowledge, skills, and connections I have made are tremendous. I would not be where I am without the push from these educational pursuits. 

And who knows, maybe I'll be rewarded with higher pay in the long-run.



In Defense of Pins...

When I originally got wind of yet another controversial article on PUNCH, "The Myth of Sommelier Certification, Debunked", I was too busy to read it.


Because I was prepping for the Advanced Wine and Spirits Education Trust Exam. Complete with blind tastings, multiple choice, and essay questions.

AND, earlier this month, I took the Introductory Course with the Court of Master Sommeliers

In a future post, I'll compare these two certifications (CMS vs WSET), but first, I just wanted to chime in on this interwebs-convo on the matter of what these certifications "really" mean...

Read More

Smelling and Naming!

A friend just emailed an article on research done at the MaxPlank Institute on Odor/Scent Identification, which of course, automatically reminds me of how it relates to wine:


Drs. Majid and Burenhult examined how well a hunter-gatherer culture from the Jahai of the Malay Peninsula could name smells and colors compared to an English speaking group. 

The Jahai speakers have "abstract" vocabulary for smells. A few examples are listed below :

  • "crŋir" = to smell roasted
  • haʔɛ̃t = ‘to stink’ e.g., ***, rotten meat, prawn paste
  • plʔεŋ = ‘to have a bloody smell which attracts tigers’ e.g., crushed head lice, squirrel blood
  • cŋəs = ‘to smell edible, tasty’ e.g., cooked food, sweets
  • harɨm = ‘to be fragrant’ e.g., various species of flowers, perfumes, soap 

SOURCE: Asifa Majid, Niclas Burenhult. Odors are expressible in language, as long as you speak the right language.Cognition, 2014; 130 (2): 266 DOI:10.1016/j.cognition.2013.11.004

Can you guess the results? 

The Jahai speakers with a developed olfactory vocabulary did better on scent identification than the English Speakers...

But by "better" the researchers mean, "more agreement." Hmm...

Read More