lots of blind tastings. frequent failures. hopefully, eventual success.
I was so excited about some recent findings with the Guild of Sommeliers, I had to do a quick post.
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.
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
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
"1994 Vouvray is KILLING it with that dish, man."
In the new drinks-driven PUNCH, a publication catering to all-things-booze, Francis Percival (from England) wrote an interesting piece on how American Sommeliers (SOMMs) are becoming "Fratty"… This seems to be evoking some very strong feelings from many in the SOMM community, and wanted to throw my two-cents out there...
Yes, there are videos of wine pong (yes, like beer pong)… SEE:
And yes, people have tattoos of "RIESLING"*, and corkscrews...
*To the right: That is a TEMPORARY tattoo on one of the most famous, well respected Wine Professionals, Jancis Robinson, who just so happens to be British. (Looks like the Americans aren't having all the fun...)
One of my secrets for finding rare/old wines, SommPicks, a website that sells wine selected by top Somms, uses the catchphrase, "EpicJuice."
I am guilty of Flabongo-ing (yes, a beer-bong in the shape of a Flamingo) a Spanish wine-drink, Kalimotxo.
Perhaps the most "fratty" examples can be seen in a film, SOMM (a documentary) that follows four aspiring Master Sommeliers. These guys might come across as "fratty" according to most standards... Nicknames, teasing, taunting, "Dude, 04 Vacqueyras, that's a ballsy call!"
There is even an event called WINERIOT (which I've worked) that is a four hour walk around tasting, complete with educational sessions, temporary tattoo stations, a "bubble bar" for sparkling wines, and a photobooth with "I SPIT / I SWALLOW" signs and other creative props.
For the *most* part, I don't know if that is quite the way I'd describe it...
More informal? Yes, which, frankly, I enjoy and I believe has been helping contribute to the rising number of wine drinkers in America, and Percival would seem to agree. No longer is wine seen as something for the "elite" or something to be intimidated by… That said, I think service in general is becoming less formal - not just wine service.
Going out is no longer necessarily a formal affair. There are many places in NYC where you are overdressed if you're not wearing jeans... My go-to outfit these days is boots, dark jeans and a blazer. Maybe a sparkly headband, to you know, "dress up."
The SOMM or server who happens to be wearing attire that is perhaps only slightly more "formal" or on par with the guests' attire can make one instantly feel at ease. Service becomes almost more like dining at a friend's really nice friend's apartment, where it is more than just about great food and wine. This convivial atmosphere and ambiance transforms the entire dining experience. While food and wine are still important, at the forefront is good conversation, feeling welcome, and simply having a great time. The server or SOMM is no longer there to "serve" you necessarily. He or she is there to make you feel at ease and to ensure you enjoy every minute of your meal.
If that is taken to mean "Fratty," then I'm all for it.
In addition, Percival comments on the higher educational levels of most American Somms. I am always amazed at where most Somms started prior to getting into the industry. For me, I was never exposed to wine growing up - not once. The first time I ever had a sip might have been on my 21st birthday in Florence, Italy... and I hated it. (Granted, it likely came out of a Fiasco, but still...) I am trying to finish up a PhD in Cognitive Psychology, and to be honest, I think my degree has already proved incredibly helpful, in part because I can better understand where confusions lie (dry vs tannin? What? Burgundy is a place!? Not a grape? Why?!) I can empathize, and better understand how to communicate and engage those who might otherwise be intimidated by wine (as I was for so many years). But I am sure my case is not unique, and others in the industry are likely using their previous careers and degrees within the wine world, perhaps without even being aware. It goes beyond simple enthusiasm. Wine has a funny way of being able to link people together, and bridge across nearly every discipline. I'm not sure that being highly educated directly corresponds or leads to being "Fratty"... I was never in the Greek system in undergrad. Just saying, seems like a bit of a logical leap.
If anything, I would argue the wine-scene is LESS "fratty" now in the US, compared to when/where wine was/is still more of an "old-boys-club". Not to use the same word twice, but I really do think of "fratty" to mean an exclusive club to which outside members are not privy. Those were the days of the tastevin (I didnt even know what that was... because I've only seen it in movies) where old men would secretly sneer if you did not know that 1982 was a superb vintage in Bordeaux (let alone which side of the Gironde River). Two of the SOMMS that Percival interviews, Levi Dalton and Pascaline Lepeltier. were kind enough to email, and to even meet with me in order to discuss a career in the wine industry. Me - at the time when I met with Pasquiline, I literally had NO service experience besides working at a burrito place one summer during college. She took an hour out of her day to sit with me, discuss options, and even offered for me to trail her one night. Does that sound like a super-secret-unwelcoming-to-outsiders industry? I don't think so. At Corkbuzz Wine Studio with Laura Maniec, Master Sommelier, I've been lucky enough to intern for classes.
Again...Me. A nobody in the wine world.
Amazingly, I even was just awarded a scholarship for the Level1 Court of Master Sommeliers Course. They did not have to give it to me - a non-full-time "SOMM"...
It's as if I walked onto campus senior year and said, "Um... Heeeey! I know you've already been in this for years, but can I join? I think you're super cool and I'm a nice person. Thanks!"
But, look at that. No fancy pedigree. No legacy. Welcomed into the "Fratt" with nothing but enthusiasm.
In essence, I agree with many of Percival's points. I just don't agree with the term "Fratty" to describe the emerging wine-scene as a whole.
In the end, this what I took away from Percival's piece, and I whole heartedly agree:
The American SOMMS, though perhaps more casual* than in the past (*in general*) are changing the way the public enjoys wine: making people feel as though they can enjoy wine without the intimidation.
So, if this new emerging #SOMM gets more people more into wine...
"Then, I'm totes down, bro."
It has been a while. I need to make LOTS of updates, not only in terms of adding blind-tasting notes, but also in terms of the "about me" etc. In the past year or so of this blog, I've come quite a long way... Of course, I am totally realistic, and now I know just how much I DON'T know, which is both overwhelming and exciting at the same time.
Under this METAWINE umbrella, I hope to detail a lot of thoughts that relate wine to various topics - because wine is really SO much more than what is in your glass. META going back to my philosophy major, simply means "above" or "beyond." Actually, I currently study Metacognition, which is simply thinking about one's own thoughts. (Yeah, I know... Super nerdy/deep.) Bringing it all back to wine, wine is engaging on multiple dimensions, which I hope to further explore and elaborate upon in these posts.
Of course, I still want to update my blind tasting sections, if not for others, then to simply force myself to write out specifics and use my failures and victories as learning tools. I have a few wine exams around the corner, with lots of names, places, history, science, etc. to memorize. Even though it takes time, preparing the blind-tasting posts are incredible learning tools (if I need to teach someone else, I REALLY need to know it).
All that said, as often as I can, I want to try this new series as well. MetaWine.
I'll just write a (quick?) thought, or post a link to something about wine that inspires me, makes me think, or that simply makes me smile.
IN SUM, MY METAWINE PHILOSOPHY:
Wine is so astounding because while it can be very academic (history, anthropology, psychology, meteorology, chemistry, biology, language, culture, etcetera), ultimately, wine is about sharing, engaging, and enjoying on multiple levels. There is no better way to make a connection with someone than over a glass of wine. Helping others understand what is in their glass is simply one way to foster sharing, conversation, exploration, and makes an evening (or afternoon) that much more enjoyable.
On my tight schedule trying to juggle life, hopefully that will suffice for now. After-all, if I spend too much time blogging, there's not enough time for drinking.
This past Saturday, I was lucky enough to attend a seminar led by David Schildknecht, featuring four amazing German wine producers from the Mosel (A.J. Adam, Schloss Lieser), and the more southerly Saar (Peter Lauer, Forstmeister Geltz Zilliken). This was only one small portion of RieslingFeier, which also included some amazing dinners (but with a hefty price-tag) and a city-wide tasting crawl. In addition to the four producers above, wines from J.J. Prüm and Keller were also being poured at wine-shops from as far North as 72nd all the way to TriBeca at Chambers Street. The crawl was free (yippee!) and a pretty awesome way to spend a Saturday.
Somehow, there I was on a Saturday morning, in the private tasting room in Bar Boulud for an exclusive seminar on the sommelier's favorite grape. This seemed to be a "who's who" of the NY wine scene, with distinguished wine writers and top NYC Somms, and no more than 40 seats.Read More