“Oh, look at the legs on this one!” “I’m picking up notes of bell pepper.” “We need to let this wine breath for a few minutes before we can try it.” We’ve all had those friends who took great pride in (and clearly enjoyed showing off) how sophisticated they were because they knew all kinds of fancy things about wine, but flexing your knowledge about wine at dinner parties is no longer the eye-roller it once was. Public interest in learning more about the world of wine is rapidly growing, as, in recent years, outlets like SOMM TV, wine and sommelier documentaries, splashy coffee-table books like Wine Simple, and hip reporting on trends like carbonic maceration have turned knowing about wine into a trendy, accessible endeavor. Whether you’re looking to learn more about wine purely out of your own curiosity or you’ve been bitten by the wine bug and are considering a career in the industry, there are tons of in-person and online options out there, like these top courses.
Located near Napa Valley, the Department of Viticulture and Enology at the University of California, Davis is regarded as one of the premier wine programs in the world, offering full undergraduate and graduate programs, as well as a range of one-time courses and certificates. Its online Intro to Wine and Winemaking class is a great starting point for learning about all areas of wine, including how the industry works and operates, how to interpret a wine label, wine history, the major wine-growing regions of the world, wine classifications, and much more. Plus it’s taught by UC Davis faculty, some of the pre-eminent wine instructors in the business. It’s a bit on the pricey side at $685 dollars, but the course lasts several months, and credits from it can be used toward larger UC Davis wine enology degrees.
If you’re looking for another great intro course to help you get your feet wet, turn to the pros at the Wine & Spirit Education Trust. WSET is known throughout the wine and spirit industry as one of the most reputable and vetted accreditations one can obtain, and as such its courses are very popular among budding sommeliers and winemakers. But the courses are also open to enthusiasts as well. The Level 1 Award for Wine covers basics like the major types and styles of wine, how wine and food pairings work together, and how to make your own pairing, and learning key terms to describe the flavors and scents of a variety of different wines. After successfully passing the Level 1 exam, you can move on to more advanced levels. Online or in-person courses are offered all over the world in over ten languages, and rates for the Level 1 courses are in the more affordable range, from $245 upward.
You may know that proper champagne can only come from the Champagne region of France, but do you know anything else about this top-shelf bubbly? The Comité Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne, an organization representing the grand houses and growers of the champagne industry, recently launched the Champagne MOOC, the only officially recognized champagne education course. With two online course modules to choose from (Classic and Premium), through a series of videos and texts you’ll learn about the history of the world’s most famous sparkling wine, the industry around it, how it’s made, the specifics of Champagne terroir, and how to identify tasting notes. The Classic version is free, but the $55 dollar (49 euro) Premium edition builds on the Classic course with additional materials, a test, and an official certificate.
If you’ve ever found yourself at a wine tasting struggling to suss out all those fruity or earthy notes your companions are going on and on about, this course will give you the necessary palate and sensory training to be able to do so yourself. Offered by UC Davis through online education portal Coursera, this class, taught by wine educator John Buechsenstein, covers the basics of sensory wine-tasting, as well as everything you need to know to win at wine tasting: What kinds of glasses to use for which varietals of wine, how to set up your own tasting, and basic terminology and vocabulary to describe wine. It takes a couple of weeks to complete and finishes with you putting your newly-gained powers of wine tasting to the test. The course is free to audit for the first week but to access beyond that, you need to purchase the course (around $70) and will earn a certificate; you’ll also need to factor in the cost of wine glasses (if you don’t have the right kind) and wine.
As one of the great seats of American winemaking, Napa Valley is one of the best places to learn the art of the noble fermented grape and all that goes with it. The Napa Valley Wine Academy is one of the most distinguished wine schools in the country, recognized by esteemed organizations like WSET for its immersive, in-depth courses. Even if you can’t make it to Napa Valley to take the classes, there are plenty available online. The Wine 101 Foundation course covers all the basics of most beginner lessons, but it’s the diverse range of niche classes that really stand out. You can become an expert on Napa Valley, Oregon, or American wines through specialized courses that focus on those specific regions, and their SommDay School series is a must for people interested in the sommelier trade, with tasting courses, and service workshops from beginner to advanced. The courses are all taught by giants of the wine world, including several Master of Wine and Master Sommelier instructors.
In 2012, a documentary film came out about the process that sommeliers, the professionals who run restaurants’ wine programs, must go through to reach the highest, most prized level of their profession: To be crowned a Master Sommelier. With the suspense of a thriller, audiences were drawn into the world of the somm, and it quickly became the superstar position of the wine world. That film was Somm, and if you saw it, then you’re probably familiar with the Court of Master Sommeliers. Exclusive and elite, the Court is the international examining body for the sommelier trade, offering classes and official exams for those serious about a career. If Somm made you want to be a sommelier, this is who you have to go head-to-head with. But before you could even think about being a Master, you first have to tackle beginner courses like the Introductory Sommelier Course, which over the course of three days covers the basics of wine and being a sommelier and culminates in an exam. There’s also the Deductive Tasting Workshop, which blends wine tasting theory and practice and enhances your tasting skills and vocabulary. Courses with the Court are intense, but you know you’re getting an absolutely world-class education at the hands of one of the wine industry’s most venerable institutions.
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