Somms have come a long way since my years as a wine teacher. The new breed study hard and pass rigorous exams. Whether full on MS scholars or those having attained certain WSET levels, they have soaked up tons of information about the many facets of wine.
Knowing a subject inside and out is essential as a starting point but it does not make one a good or excellent teacher.
How to organize and convey information is what sets good teachers apart from the bad and the boring. Motivating students to continue learning after the class is another key.
That holds true for everyone imparting information on every subject.
Somms and MWs are no exception.
Focusing on free stuff on the internet is like returning to the Wine Library at UC Davis Or for me, the Healdsburg Library where I spent many hours.
Oh well, enough nostalgia. I’ve recently been following Somms and a few MWs online. I’ve read numerous background articles, wine reviews, and have viewed too many videos and Podcasts featuring Somms. Yes, I’ve seen the movies as well.
Regarding wine podcasts, I checked out many, including “Drunk Bitches” and “Wine to Five.” Neither made my list.
As of now based on the latest, five websites backed by Somms lead the field in free online wine education. All 5 should be approached as team teachers, since each brings a special area of expertise and strength to the immense subject.
In other words, no one stands alone in my mind as “the” wine educator. There is no Kevin Zraly among today’s SOMMS.
But here are the 5, each bringing something powerful and rewarding to wine education:
Begin here: Best on how to taste and talk about wines.
Madeline Puckette, a certified Somm and member of the Guild of Sommeliers is the outfront personality. She and her partners stated Wine Folly in 2011. As she explains, “The goal of Wine Folly is to share wine knowledge in a way to encourage and inspire new drinkers. “
And she does that. She is not, thankfully, talking to wannabe sommeliers, and she focuses on making wine tasting enjoyable.
Often relying on blind tasting wines side by side, she brings tremendous enthusiasm to the subject. She is basically teaching viewers how to taste and identify wines, and manages to make it lively, if not exactly entertaining. Other than having the credentials, she comes across, and this seems important to me, as a normal person, not a twit or nerd.
I liked her tasting of 3 under $20 Cabernets purchased at a supermarket. It immediately breaks the association of price and quality so common among new wine lovers. As the wines are evaluated, she tends to focus a lot on the appearance, not just color but the overall appearance. Love her use of the wine aroma wheel!
Second step: Know your grapes and wine regions.
GuildSomm is “a nonprofit international membership organization for sommeliers and wine professionals that promotes education, collaboration, and healthy debate while maintaining the key values of the sommelier profession: integrity, humility, and hospitality. We’re here to help you expand your knowledge of the wine world.”
MS Geoff Kruth launched the GuildSomm website in 2009, joining his career in wine with his early background in technology. He manages the organization, hosts the GuildSomm podcast, develops content, and leads masterclasses. Feature articles, podcasts, and videos are publicly available and cover varied topics on the world of wine.
The only drawback with guildsomm is information overload. Some articles go too far in depth and and seem to be factoid upon factoid. We have all had teachers who don’t know how to pace a lecture and keep the student’s interest.
So, for example, when reading the article on Merlot which is crammed full of information, I suggest you step away from the screen every so often.
But, that aside, there a wealth of information available here and it is accurate and up to date.
Best for Buying and Enjoying Wines
Although this is an e-commerce, wine club site, the head sommeliers, Ian Cauble and David Lynch share many fantastic, personal insights about wines, wine styles, regions, and the people behind the wines.
For Italian wines, Lynch is the man. For Burgundy, Cauble is hard to beat. For Pinot Noir, he recently wrote: Let’s not forget that Germany has nearly the same deep history with the grape as Burgundy, and that Germany ranks third in the world (behind France and the US) in total Pinot Noir planting.
For a fresh perspective on lesser grapes, you hear this from him: “Be it Tuscan, Ligurian, Sardinian, or Corsican, Vermentino is a distinctively ‘Mediterranean’ grape we all need to get to know better.”
Best for reminding everyone that wine is about people. Real people.
This online site focuses on classes for students of various interests and levels. You can enroll in these classes and attend at several locations in addition to Napa. Or you can enroll online.
The catch is that these classes are offered on a fee basis, meaning you pay. Yes, this is serious and the major part of the program consists of classes for different WSET levels.
The Wine 101 Foundation course is widely appealing and the fee is $125. That’s a bargain for the price.
But why I include these folks here is that there are free podcasts, audio only. But they are wonderful interviews with wine people, winemakers, winery owners,
and marketing types. About an hour long, the Cathy Corison audio is wonderful and typical of the others offered. You can also read the blogs, basically well-researched timely articles on grape varieties, regions, and events.
This site wraps it all up nicely.
The wine world is immense, but wine is all about people and places as well as wine. At vinosity, over two dozen writers report from regions around the world.
The trick here is to be alert and sign up for a two week free trial. Then immerse yourself in articles from writers around the world. Several authors are MWs.
This is Steven Spurrier’s new pet project to revive wine journalism. He has two articles online that are brilliant, one on Okanagan wines and the other on the most recent San Francisco International wine competition.
South Africa’s leading expert, Michael Fridjhon, contributed a lively, insightful view of Stellenbosh. Don’t miss the conversation about Wachau, one of Austria’s amazing wine regions.
And, of course, the update on California Rhone wines goes off the charts.
So, to sum up:
Use these 5 websites offering free stuff to learn as much as you want to about wine.