Anyone can become a wine expert. With a halfway decent work ethic and a little support, you can do this. Wine is not rocket science. If you have the drive, you can become a winemaker or master sommelier. You need to have the commitment and one simple truth.: you are going to have to taste a lot of wine.
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Jobs for Wine Experts
If you’re looking to make money being a wine expert, then these careers are what you should be considering. This is just a partial list. For more information, check our guide on wine jobs!
The ultimate experts in wine are the ones who turn grapes into magic sauce. Winemakers know the science and systems of winemaking in a way no sommelier ever could.
However, there are many aspects of wine that winemakers are surprisingly deficient in. Those include the nuances of wine history and winemaking regions outside of their own experience. I can speak from experience on this subject. When I went from winemaking to wine teaching, I learned about wine regions and varietals.
A sommelier certification is the liberal arts degree of the wine world. Somms have to see the whole world of wine. From the science to the economics, to the regionality, to wine history: a sommelier is expected to be conversant in all things wine.
A well-educated sommelier has mastered wine regions and legislation, wine styles, and producer profiles. A restaurant sommelier’s job is to know how a wine tastes before even opening the bottle, with the sole objective of giving solid advice to customers.
Wine writers are wine experts. They never worked the vineyards, fermented wine themselves, or worked a single day at a restaurant. With expertise in tasting, wine writers and reviewers master wine differently.
A core skill for a wine writer is deductive tasting. A wine writer should be able to identify the region and varietal of any wine.
Steps to Become a Wine Expert
Not all wine experts work in the wine trade. Many do it for intellectual and gustatory pleasure. This is a step up from being a wine connoisseur.
The first step to becoming a wine expert is acknowledging that you will always be a wine student. There will always be more to learn. If someone claims to know everything about wine, they are not a wine expert. They are just a wine snob.
Professional Wine Study
We recommend attending a wine course like the Core Sommelier Program. Such programs are impossible to replicate with self-study. If you don’t happen to be located near a reputable wine school, you should take online courses at the National Wine School.
Knowing the difference between terroir and winemaking is invaluable. To do this, you’ll need to understand how forces combined shape a wine’s profile: climate, soil type, culture, and winemaking techniques. This is a more advanced level of wine knowledge, but one you should aspire to.
A critical element is to be able to recognize these regional variations. To be a wine expert means you will dive deep into wine tasting, and you can expect to be purchasing a half dozen wines every week.
Again, this is a spot that attending wine school will help. Oftentimes, the cost of wine school is less than the cost of purchasing the wines yourself.
Self-Study: Region and Terroir
Regional knowledge is the core skill of any wine expert. Start by studying each major wine-producing country. The smart idea is to start with France. It produces some of the most famous wines, and its grapes –Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir— are major players in almost every other wine-producing country.
When studying, you will want to research individual wine regions. We strongly recommend buying a wine book like The World Atlas of Wine which has excellent wine maps. Again, let your wine book guide you! Once you have a basic handle on French wine regions like Burgundy, Champagne, Bordeaux, the Loire Valley, you can move to another country.
Italy is a great country to research. Go from region to region as you did with France. Then try out Spain, Hungary, Portugal, Greece, and Germany. Once you have a good understanding of Europe, you can move on to the New World wine regions.
You’re going to have to taste wines from the major regions from all the essential wine countries. This will get very expensive. A strong recommendation is to sign up for a wine course with your local wine school. The cost of the class may be less than the total cost of the wines needed.
Self-Study: The Tasting Grid
You can taste hundreds of wines and learn very little. That is sadly what most people do. To be effective, you need a system. A tasting grid is a step-by-step method to evaluate wine.
You first evaluate wine visually, then with your nose, and finally with your palate. We offer a free tasting grid to subscribers to our free wine newsletter. You can also build one yourself with relative ease.
The tasting grid helps organize your observations. How does the wine look? How does it smell and taste? You can link high acidity to cool regions and ripe fruit aromas to hotter climates. You can tie the flavors of cardamom and vanilla to oak aging or tie balsamic notes to a winemaking flaw. The tasting grid helps you deploy your wine tasting skills effectively.