Where to Learn to Wine Like a Pro
Have you ever looked at a sommelier and thought "I could do that job!"? Then you are in the right city. New York has an array of educational options in the field of wine, from broad overviews -- how a grape is turned into alcohol, why the flavor suggests blueberry (hint: no blueberries were involved unless you're in Jersey) -- to hyper-specific regional focus such as identifying key differences between rosé producing appellations of Provence. Here are four programs that offer something for everyone, whether your goal is to better navigate a restaurant wine list, open a wine bar, or quit your day job to become a superstar sommelier. Because after Top Chef, the next obvious restaurant role ripe for reality TV programming is that of the wine pro. Will you be crowned the next Top Somm? (A Top Somm competition actually exists it's just not recorded for the amusement of Bravo viewers.
Wine and Spirits Education Trust at the International Wine Center, 350 Seventh Avenue, Suite 1201, 212-239-3055
For those who never plan to work a restaurant floor but want a formal wine education for personal edification -- or perhaps to complement a career focused on the business of, production of, or even writing about wine -- the British-based WSET program offered at the International Wine Center is a good start. The center's president, Mary Ewing-Mulligan, was the first American woman to pass the tough Master of Wine exam. At IWC, both industry and non-industry alike will share a classroom, although in the Level One Foundation Class, you'll mostly be surrounded by budding and serious enthusiasts. Level One teaches the basics of wine in a format specially designed for those with no previous wine knowledge, and it focuses on the main styles of wines available, tasting techniques, wine and food pairing, and wine etiquette.
If you've already got a decent grasp on the basics -- serious enthusiasts often do -- feel free to save your money by skipping the intro class, and jumping ahead to Intermediate. You can continue your WSET studies through four levels, culminating in the three-year Diploma Program (for which I am a candidate). If you're truly dedicated to attaining the highest, non-service, educational wine pursuit, completion of the Diploma is considered a prerequisite to the Masters of Wine program or MW. The Level One Foundation program costs $348 plus tax, and Intermediate Certification runs $798 plus tax.
Court of Master Sommeliers, Test dates and locations vary throughout the country
If you're serious about service and want to become a highly credentialed sommelier and eventually a Master Sommelier (MS), the Court is your only path. (There are other non-MS somm programs if you don't think attaining it is imperative to your career.) The program offers an intensive two-day introductory course with review, instruction, and training by a team of Master Sommeliers on wine and spirits knowledge, proper wine service, and blind tasting before concluding with 70 multiple choice questions. For $525, this initial course lets you dip a toe in (more like a leg, really) before committing to the journey completely.
Passing round one only means you're eligible to move to the next level, of which there are several, concluding with the brutal, seldom-passed MS exam. (There are only 135 Master Sommeliers in North America, of which only 19 are women, including our very own Laura Maniec!) But if you're intent on starring in Somm Two, the Court is the most esteemed place to begin your studies.
Institute of Culinary Education, 50 West 23rd Street, 212-847-0700
The ICE is New York City's largest center for culinary education, serving both would-be pros and amateurs. Founded in 1975, the school claims to offer access to the same wine training that Danny Meyer's sommeliers receive (see Understanding Wine). The ICE has a roster of interesting classes to pick from, including introductory overviews such as the six-week Wine Essentials, to more intensive training in the 10-week Understanding Wine taught by Union Square Hospitality Group Wine Director and Master Sommelier, John Ragan, to the narrowly focused "How to Love Lambrusco" with Joe Campanale. If the business side of wine and booze interests you, consider the "recreation level" professional development courses (they are open to the public, not just their enrolled students). Specifically: How to Open a Bar. This one-day class will lay out the basics, but you're still responsible for the business plan. Wine Essentials costs $495, Understanding Wine runs $1750, and How to Open a Bar, an affordable $150.
Westchester Wine School presents the French Wine Scholar Program held at New York Wine School, 167 West 23rd Street, 914-478-5197
Maybe you've decided you'll never drink anything but French wine, or you consider it the benchmark for everything else in the world, and thus the obvious jumping off point for your wine education. Consider joining Gerard Basset MW, MS, Best Sommelier in the World 2010, for an 11-week course studying the nooks and crannies of every French wine-producing region. The program, developed and administrated by the French Wine Society with the support of the French Ministry of Agriculture, is designed for advanced students of wine, whether professionals or serious wine hobbyists. Students who follow this in-depth curriculum and pass the exam will earn the French Wine Scholar (FWS) certification. The $1200 fee gets you 30 hours of classroom instruction, over 50 French (duh!) wines, and a study manual to use in preparation for the exam. Class starts February 4, 2014.