Category Archives: Wine Journey

Pouring at Wine Riot DC 2013

I spent this past weekend pouring wines at Wine Riot DC. My friend Morgan First, founder of Wine Riot, asked if I could help out. I’ve heard a lot about Wine Riot before so I was eager to get a chance to attend my first one. It was even better to see the action from behind the scenes. If you haven’t heard of Wine Riot, it is a traveling wine tasting party. This is a wine tasting that focuses on fun first. There is great music, over 250 wines to try, costumes, temporary tattoos, and a fun photo booth. This is the only wine tasting I’ve been to where many of the people are dancing in the isles. It was a lot of fun. They had a booth devoted to learning more about your own wine preferences. Partiers could taste and decide if they liked Oaked vs UnOaked, Young vs Old, Sweet vs Dry, and Old World vs New World. I worked Old World vs New World Saturday night because that is one of my favorite topics. After people marked down their cards with their preferences, people then went to each booth to sample hundreds of wines in total. No one was going to leave sober.

I'm explaining what Cava is.
I’m explaining what Cava is to a few lovely girls. They were eager to learn about non Champagne bubbles.

Another highlight of the event was the Bubbly Bar.I worked the Bubbly Bar Friday night. It was a bar set up with eight different kinds of sparkling wines from all of the world. People got to try Cava, Prosecco, Cremant, Brachetto, and of course Champagne. This was a great introduction to people that great sparkling wines come from all over the world and are not only Champagne. One wine I would have liked to see there would have been a Lambrusco, since many people have never seen a sparkling red wine. Perhaps next year, I’ll bring one.

Bubbly Bar Setup
The Bubbly Bar Before The Crowds Arrive

There are also numerous classes being given on wine from around the world. They teach classes on everything from the great regions of California to special highlights from South America. I met a lot of really nice people and it was a blast. If you want to try a lot of different wines, dance with your friends, and learn something about wine, you should definitely give it a try. I would definitely do it again next year. Perhaps I’ll see you there. You can find out when the next one is happening over at Second Glass.

Tips on Wine Tasting in Napa

Wine Tasting Outside in Napa

Wine tasting is one of my favorite things in life to do.  Being able to visit beautiful places with amazing scenery, listen to music of your choice, with great company, have the wind blowing in your hair with the top down, and getting to taste many different wines is my idea of heaven.  There are so many wonderful places to go since most states now have wineries.

I went wine Tasting in Napa a few days ago while riding on the back of a motorcycle.  I know it’s probably not the safest thing in the world but the driver wasn’t drinking so I really got to enjoy myself.  After going to Napa numerous times and almost always trying different wineries, I find it incredible that I still have not gone to all of them!  I have some favorites but there are so many mind blowing wineries in Napa it is hard to pick just a few.

When wine tasting in Napa, it is important to pick an area within Napa and stick with it.  Many people don’t realize how large Napa is from one end to the other.  It can take more than an hour to drive from Calistoga, the most northern point, to Los Carneros, the southernmost point.  If you decide to visit wineries all over the Napa at once, that leads to a lot of wasted time driving and a lot less tasting! There are a total of 13 sub AVA’s (American Viticulture Areas) in Napa.  AVA’s are the specific areas that wine comes from and the smaller the AVA, the more expensive the wine is going to be.  For example, a wine that is from Napa sounds more exclusive than a wine from California.  We can take this a step further, a wine from Rutherford (a region within Napa) is more exclusive than a wine from Napa since all the grapes have to come from the region that is identified on the label.  Depending on where you are coming from or staying, that would be a good way to pick the region to focus your tastings in.  If you are coming from San Francisco then stick with the southern part of Napa but if you are staying somewhere in Napa try and focus in the region you are staying in.

Time flies when you are having fun. I am always amazed when I go wine tasting that there is less time than I think!  Tasting rooms open at ten and almost all of them close at four; which is so early!  Who starts wine tasting at ten am?  Unless you are very dedicated to getting up early to get to the wineries, you already start losing out on those valuable tasting hours.  Each winery you visit takes at least a half hour and it takes time to get from one winery to another.  Designate the most detail orientated person in your group, who loves maps and scheduling, to come up with an efficient way to plan out your day to see the most amount of wineries with the least amount of driving.  Do not let this person have complete control of your day; wine tasting is meant to be fun after all. In Napa, there are so many wonderful wineries in such a concentrated area, you can focus on one small area such as Yountville, Los Carneros, Rutherford, St Helena or another, and save the other areas for a different day.  I would leave at least an hour in between appointments because the people running the tastings don’t appreciate you being late.  I would also highly recommend making appointments ahead of time as you will receive much better service.

Alexis Tasting at Silver Oak Cellars
Tasting at Silver Oak Cellars

After you have planned out your day, don’t forget to pick a lunch spot.  Drinking from start to finish without any food is the key to ending up as one hot mess.  Unless that is your goal, then I would either pack some snacks or pick a lunch spot.  I would actually pack an easy lunch like sandwiches or some bread and cheese and eat them at one of the wineries that allow food.  This saves time and money.  I am all about maximizing the time spent wine tasting so these are my pointers.

Hitting up big wineries with the famous names is always cool like Silver Oak, Opus One, Mondavi, Chateau Montelena etc. and I would aim for one of them because it’s fun to go somewhere famous.  However, I would really try to find out some of the smaller ones that are laid back, smaller production, less crowded and a different kind of experience.  It is so rewarding to discover a winery that you and your friends haven’t heard of or aren’t too familiar with and fall in love with it.  It feels more sentimental.

Have a wonderful time tasting in Napa and let me know if you have any questions with anything!


Sommelier Level 1 Course and Exam


Being Put To The Test

On the afternoon of May 1st I found out I got into the heavily waitlisted Level 1 sommelier exam.  After about five minutes of being excited, the nerves overtook and I started to panic.  I really didn’t know what was on the test or if I needed more time to study.  I assumed and hoped that my method of last minute cramming that worked in college and my four years of experience in the wine world would suffice.  In addition, I had some time to study, so I opened up Karen MacNeils Wine Bible and started reading.  Also, when you sign up for the first test, the Guild of Sommeliers gives you access to their website (normally $100 per year) but is included in $525 to take the test.  I would say its pricey, but the website is pretty amazing and the cost includes the two days of classes which prepares you for the test as well as a lot of tasting.  The website also has tons of notes on the areas you are quizzed on so going back and forth is helpful.  I also had the Sothebys encyclopedia which I didn’t use as much for the first test but I am now for the second.

I did a bit of research and asked around how the test was and heard mixed reviews.  People who had a fair amount of wine experience said it was not too bad, people who just started studying (within the year) said it was hard, people who had already passed the first or second said is was a piece of cake.  I had mixed emotions about all three responses.  I thought I fell into the first group as I had a fair amount of wine experience but more on the sales side.  I was nervous for the people who just started studying and didn’t know much about wine, but good for them, there is no better way to learn.  As for the third group, this one freaked me out since I had no intention of stopping at level 1.

The course started at the bright and early hour of 8am where they served coffee and tea which was a nice touch and was hosted at the hotel Monaco right in the Tenderloin of SF (not the best neighborhood) but the inside was cozy, comfortable, clean and perfect for the large group of eager and excited soon to be level 1 sommeliers.

The course is led by two different sets of Master Sommeliers, one for the first day and one for the second.  There was the course director who was there both days, but each Master Sommelier led different topics.  Breaking each subject up with a different person kept it pretty interesting.

I think its important to know how specialized and talented these people are.  Each one of them are the top Sommeliers in the world.  There have been less than 200 people to ever achieve this status.  It is quite an experience to have four or five in the room at the same time both days.  There are four levels; Level 1, Level 2 – a certified sommelier, Level 3 an advanced sommelier and Level 4 – the master sommelier.  Each test gets exponentially harder.  In order to even get to Level 3, you have to be invited as well as have a sponsor.  Level 4 means they are pretty much wine gods.

You also will receive a 207 page introductory course workbook which outlines the course so you don’t have to take violently aggressive notes that hurt your hand and are illegible, so that part worked well for me.  You can still highlight, doodle and underline all you want since you get your very own workbook to keep.

They start with a welcome introduction and move right into a flight so it’s a good idea to drink coffee ahead of time so as to not destroy your taste buds and have a chance at guessing what the wines are.  They talk about winemaking and move right into France which is probably the most important country to know a lot about.  This was and is my problem; I have never sold French wines nor spent a lot of time reading about them, I just know I love them.  It made me a little bummed to think about how much French wine I have drunk in my life yet still couldn’t name most of the regions or the varietals grown in them or even be able to ramble off the names of villages and chateaus that some serious wine snobs are able to do so effortlessly.  My coping mechanism as to not feel regret is to know that I have a lot more tasting to do!  They divide up the regions and break it up with flights of wine.  The nice thing is the tasting flights are solely for your benefit to educate you and prepare you for the second exam as there is no blind tasting on the first exam.  The course covers France, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, North America, Italy, Germany, Austria/ Hungary, Spain, Portugal, Chile, Argentina, Beer, Spirits, some food and wine pairing and some wine service.

It sounds like too much to cover in two days and it is!  That’s why it’s just an introductory course.  They give you an overview of everything.  It is helpful and you learn a lot, but it goes by really fast.  If you have no wine knowledge and go into the two-day course expecting it to be enough to get you to pass, I would think again.  If you have a pretty solid background of wine, this should be enough to help you pass.  The passing rate is 60% so that should make you feel a bit less intimidated and the master Sommeliers want you to pass this test!

Its multiple choice questions that you don’t get to take home, nor do you find out how many right or wrong or which ones they were.  It makes cheating pretty hard.  I would say study regions, the main grape varietals, basic wine geography, history of wine laws in France, Italy, the U.S., AVA info, some beer/ spirits/ sake (though this is a very small portion), apertif/ digestiv (also a really small portion) and some overall history.  It sounds pretty vast but really focus on France, Italy, U.S., Spain and then some Australia/ New Zealand.  You will have some questions on Germany, Chile, Argentine, South Africa and Austria but these are by far outweighed by the first bunch.

At the end of day two they read off the people who passed because the Master Sommeliers grade this 75 multiple-choice question on the spot.  It looked like most of the class passed and you are rewarded with a glass of bubbles, a hand shake, a pin, a certificate and the ability to sign up for the next course.

After I was done, I drank some champagne, had a wonderful dinner and signed up for Level 2!

Italian Wine Culture in a Single Paragraph

Food and Wine at the Golf Course

I love the Italian approach to drinking and eating; it’s what made me fall in love with wine.  Right now I am studying for my Level II Somelier Exam and I am going back and forth between books.  In The Wine Bible Karen McNeil quoted one of her Italian friends explaining the Italian affinity between food and wine:

“If someone drinks a little too much wine, the Italians do not say he has drunk too much.  Instead they say he has not eaten enough food yet.”

I Love This!

I think this sums my attitude towards wine and food.