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Become a Great Wine Taster

Lesson 10 of 21

Wine Q & A


Become a Great Wine Taster

Lesson 10 of 21

Wine Q & A


Lesson Info

Wine Q & A

I have a quick question about discounted wines, and whether you recommend whether they're good to purchase. Like for example, how does Trader Joe's kinda sell that Two Buck Chuck wine. And is it good wine and really I guess do you recommend people buy it? That's a great question. Well, let's work the economic model backwards. So if they're selling it for two bucks, they have to make some money on it. So if you divide two by 1.5, what do you get? I mean, it's a buck and change, so they've made a few pennies on it. So now the distributor has a buck and change to work with and you divide that by 1. and you're probably below a buck now. And for sure those aren't their exact margins, but you're starting with so little to begin with and you have to satisfy retailer and you have to satisfy a wholesaler going backwards through the chain, to get to the actual producer. So at a certain point you're left with, I mean, what if you want, if you have a dollar, like, I mean, I know that you can buy...

cheap, cheap, cheap glass bottles and screw caps or cheap, cheap corks and make your law labels really cheap at a certain point. They're not doing that for nothing, so they have to make some money. So you think you, you have less than a dollar to work with to make a bottle of wine. That's kinda crazy. So, are you using quality grapes and you raise the point about farming? Like how are those things farmed? There's probably very little human touch in a whole lot of mechanism and herbicide and pesticide. And I mean, I don't know in the case of that wine personally, but it's not one of the graces my table in that case though, it's it's really volume, right? I mean, you're making 50 cents a bottle of wine, but two you're selling 3 million cases of that wine times. Totally. So they're making a ton of money, no doubt. But do you want to actually drink that? Oh no. No, you don't because what's in that, that's a great question. I mean, if we talked about, a few years ago when we had the smoke taint problem and a lot of the Sonoma County red wines, that's just from smoke blown around, like, environmentally think about when you actually apply things intentionally to the vineyard to do something. I mean, it's sort of a, it's a strange exercise to think that you want to consume some of that stuff personally. So to get back to your discount thing though, I mean, that's, that's a big question. I don't know if that's, that's not necessarily discount wise, it's designed to be cheap, like by anyone's ruler. So, if you actually think about wines that are discounted, that's a different thing. And so for different reasons at different times, you can actually do really well if you find something that for some reason or another, a retailer has to get rid of it, or a restaurant has decided they want to get rid of it for another reason or change directions or whatever it is with the wine list. You can actually get things that have been discounted that are very worthwhile just because it's marked down doesn't mean it's not worth your time. Great. Other things we want to talk about, do you have questions? Yes. What if we only sold directly to consumers? Well, that's a great question. What changes in the model as far as, so we get to take home? Yeah. So that's a great question. I think that, it depends on the demand. So supply and demand is a big part of it. And, there are some wineries very, very well regarded that would ... if it's 200 bucks on the retail shelf, they already do direct to, or premier a hundred bucks direct on the shelf. They already do direct to consumer and it's still a hundred bucks. So all they do is capture all of the margin. Right. And who's to say they shouldn't. I mean, if the market has decided that's what the wine's worth and they can get it then great. I mean, there's probably a happy medium in there. I mean, I feel as though that's what I would look for, like, okay, we know that a lot of producers, other than the big ones that have really figured it out, don't actually make a lot of money and that okay. The world's most expensive and famous wine Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, in burgundy is probably the most valuable winery in the solar system. It's outrageously expensive stuff these days. And until the 50's, I was with a friend of theirs last two weeks ago, who described to me, how the winery, this winery today, this thing until the 50's was still subsidized by the wheat farming that they would do just off the vineyards. Like, so it was actually the week that paid for the wine, which is crazy to think. So it's not like, it's an easy get rich business. It's largely business at passion. And so for sure, the producers should recoup some of that margin. And for sure some of it should go to you guys, all of us, the consumers. So it's gotta be somewhere in the middle, but supply and demand is a big thing. I'm curious. Why is it that some bottles use real cork versus plastic cork or a kind of a screw top and doesn't really have an effect on the taste of the wine itself? Yeah, that's a great question. So, does it have an effect on the taste? Absolutely. Why do some people do it? The that's one of the faults that can happen in wine. When you stick a piece of tree bark in the neck of the wine bottle to close it, things can go wrong, right? It's literally is a piece of tree bark. So, when you think about how that bark is harvested and then cleaned and prepared to be stuck in the neck of a wine bottle, there it's quite a process. And, at certain points along the process, things can go wrong. At which point you can get something called TCA, which is short for trichloroanisole. And it's this thing, when we say the wines corked doesn't mean it cork fell in it, it doesn't mean the cork broke. It means that the cork was infected with a smell that then flavored the wine in an adverse way. And it's gross. It smells like a wet dog or stack of wet newspapers. I was sort of hoping we would have one today and we haven't yet. But, if you ever actually get a corked wine, it's really worth keeping around so you can like help people understand it. When I worked in the restaurant whenever we would have them we would keep around, so like the staff all understood like, "Oh yeah, okay. "This is what it smells like." And as a consumer, it's really important to stand up and say, "Hey, this doesn't smell right." Even if we don't know like what it's supposed to smell, like, it's really important to say like, "Hey, this doesn't smell right. "This doesn't feel right. This isn't delicious." So that's one of the things can go wrong with, with cork. And on the other side, people were like, "Well, let's just take the cork out of the equation." And so they put a screw cap on it. And, yes, that eliminates all possibility for cork taint via the cork in the bottle of wine, but it can bring with it its own set of problems. And for sure its own, unique characteristics or, the way the wine ages changes. So in terms of problems, there's no, if that's a perfect seal and there there's no possibility of air getting in and out, if the wine is in the need of oxygen, it won't have oxygen and then it can become reduced. Where in this, when a wine is reduced, it actually smells like burnt rubber, right? So that's another fault that's possible. And I went to a wine conference in Australia a year ago, and we tasted, I don't remember, probably 400 wines and Australia has been the big mover towards screw cap closures in like 80% of them were all reduced. Whereas, so yes, the wine was there, but it also had this burnt tire rubber over it. But then it, it's the house Pat, like, everyone's so excited that they don't have the cork problem, that they can't see the reduction problem. So it has its own its own thing too. And, I've a friend, who I respect immensely. He's a wine critic and he's all for it. And I'm confirming me on the other side of it. And apart from the reduction that the real piece for me is that I know I love old wine and I know how it got that way. It got that way by having a piece of tree bark stuck in the neck of the bottle. And there is an exchange of oxygen through there over time. And you can only develop that patina, that thing that makes it so beautiful when that happens. And when you don't have the cork, you don't have that possibility. And there's just no hope for romance from the outset at which point, like I'm back to the margarita. Yeah. Other questions. I was surprised to see when I was looking at wines in a store that, it called out that some are vegetarian or vegan wines when you would assume you're dealing with grapes, but apparently there might be egg or other things I'm worried about. I'm wondering why and how you avoid, or if you should be looking for certain ones that contain that type of thing. I think that's a great question. I think that that really is almost a piece of like wine trend. For sure there are some people on the planet for whom that can be a real issue, for sure the amount of those things use like, so to find the wine, remember we're talking about clarity in the wine. So one of the ways that you can help the clarity is by finding. And it's just like when chefs make a consummate and or the stock and they want to clarify, it they'll make a raft of egg whites. So you'll beat egg whites and you'll put it on there and it attracts the proteins and it clarifies the stock so frequently they'll do the same technique in wine making is the whip the egg whites, and put them in the barrel. And every time as it settles, it actually takes out some of the particulate matter and it clarifies it, but then it's seen the egg. So it's no longer vegan it's been done that way forever. It's in glass, which is a fish bladder is another way that that can be done. I guarantee you, you don't taste it. You don't feel it, but we have to say that it's in there. To me, it's much less interesting than it is, to potentially instead label what is in there. Right. I think that would be much more interesting. Like if we really had to say like what's in there and we ... how many wines would actually just say like grapes and yeast and sulfur, like none, it would be very, very few, they'd all have to say like mega red, some coloring agent or tannin findings, or oak chip additions. I mean, there's so much chemistry that goes into modern wine making, which is growth. And again, I don't want to drink it. I would rather know that than care whether it's vegan or not, and it's personal preference. Right. But I think that the real movement for credibility is like total clarity. And this is all that's in there as opposed to like appealing to little sensitivities here and there where we have to. It's interesting. You were talking about, the label being kind of a stopping point. Like it can hold you up and making the wine, and then that's like a huge part of what's unregular food labels that isn't in the wine industry. Interesting. I know it should be. It's hard to predict whether that'll actually happen, but there's a for sure, more and more conversation about it. And I think it's important. I think it's really important. Wine trends, I'm going to riff on that for a second. I think the vegan thing or, what have you, any of the labeling, like that really plays to trends and as consumer and a marketer, I mean, that can be, at both disastrous and advantageous, as a, as a marketer, if all of a sudden your thing is the hot new thing, you definitely want to push that. So for example, I authored a piece a couple of years ago got a lot of attention, both positive and negative for, talking about orange wines. So there's this trend of orange wines and wines that were actually like orange in color because, they had been exposed to oxygen. Remember our apples that we cut this morning that are now brown. Right. Or because they had extended contact on the skins and they made wines that, for sure there was complexity and for sure some people like them and for sure the process runs over the place. And so much like I talked about, you can make a wine, a big red wine on the Italian coast that tastes like it came from Bordeaux, tastes like it came from Australia, tastes from Napa. It's the same thing just in reverse is sort of the Renaissance fair. Like, "We're making the way they did 500 years ago." Well, things have gotten better since then, I mean, we've learned how to like keep things clean or so on and so forth. But, for a moment it was a trend and that's became red hot and now it's absolutely not. And it's interesting to watch the things come and go, but you can buy, if you like those wines, you can get them today for a whole lot less than you could 18 months ago. What other questions do we have? You have a question from our online audience. They're wondering what is your definition of a great vintage wine? That's a great question. And has it changed since you've become a wine maker? It has changed and I'll tell you why. My definition of a great vintage wine is that every vintage is good for something. I really believe that. I don't believe that you should buy because so-and-so critics said, "Hey, 2005 is great and that you shouldn't buy because they said 2004 is terrible." Like that's a mistake. And it's a mistake for a lot of reasons. It's a mistake because you're missing out as a drinker. And again, every vintage is good for something. So let's just take that 2004 and as an example. And let's say, Bordeaux is the place. Well, 2005 is like, allegedly, they have this pretty frequently in Bordeaux, but the best vintage of the last a 100 years. Well, what does that mean? I mean, it was ripe. It means like everything's in balance. It means there's a lot of stuffing. There's a lot of tannin is big and well endowed and yeah, it's probably pretty good wine, technically really, really perfect. It's also probably not ready to drink for the next 30 years. So what are you going to drink in the meantime? Well, you should probably drink 2004, which the critics panned. Right. And, why did they paint it? Well, they paint it because they're trying to hold it to the same standard is 2005, and they're not being drinkers. You're being writers or speculators were in fact, 2004 is delicious. You probably bought it for less money and were probably drinking it tonight. So every vintage is good for something. And if you find the area that you are particularly passionate about, like I'm passionate about Burgundy and I buy it every year, regardless of what happens. And then, you understand that, I'm going to save this vintage for 10 years. I'm going to drink this vintage right now. And that's kind of a meaningful thing. And when it also makes it more a part of your life. And as you do that also as you really dig deep and you actually make friends and you start to have like favorites. Like, "I love Domaine "Well, they're my buddies now too. "I mean, they're my friends." And to think like, "Oh, you know Jeremy, "I don't like your work this year, so I'm not going to buy it." Or if someone said, "It's not very good, so I'm not going to buy it." And then you have a great year next year and everybody wants it. And like, "I'm back. "I want to buy it." Like, come on. That's not nice. That's not how it works. It's not what makes the world go round. So, again, if I can impress upon you, every vintage is good for something and I've come to that really as a drinker. And also as someone selling wine. All right. Other question? Yes. How does the type of wood that the barrels are made of affect the product? That's a good question. Not sure if it's just taste in particular, maybe it kind of affects, and it might go back to the whole oxygen thing that you mentioned. How does the type of would make a difference? Yes, the type of wood the barrels are made of. Okay. Great. So if it's American Oak, I mean, just different types of Oak, right? And so if it's American Oak, so you're going to get this right deal. And if it's French oak, you're not. So that's a starting point. Furthermore, French oak tends to be split. So you take a tree and you actually split it along its natural lines and trees have capillaries, like all of us. And so if you split it, it's just gonna fracture and not necessarily break those things. American Oak tends to be sawn. We go right through it. And so you expose all the, the, the capillaries, if you will, and they're more available to give their flavor. So there's this again, you're turning the volume up, remember the movies versus the cinema. And so you end up with something that has a different flavor and B is more predisposed to like put it out there in a big loud way, as an example, other places, Hungarians, Slovenian, oaks that are sometimes used in Northern Italy and to the East. The size of the barrel matters a lot. So if you think back to the last tasting we did, we talked about lees and the dead yeast cells, and it's just about surface area contact to the wine. And when you stir those up, you increase the surface area. So it increases the flavor. So if we take our volume of wine and we put it in a great big barrel, the larger the barrel, the smaller the total surface area that actually touches the wine, right? Because he was huge volume in the middle. That's not, not touching the edges and extracting flavor. Whereas if you put it in a small barrel, the surface area of barrel to wine, that ratio is increased and therefore you're going to extract more flavor again. So loss it, and also then there's the age curve. Right. So the older it gets, the less it has to say. Yeah. Very cool. It's back to that. Rubik's cube with a thousand faces, right. There's so many hours We keep going back to that. So how people brew beer at home? Yeah. Would it be as easy to make a barrel of wine at home or something similar? Yeah. Totally. Yeah. You definitely could do it at home. Yeah. Make it, I know you have to like figure out what the legal things are. I'm not going to sit here and endorse that, but- For personal consumption, yes. Sure. Yeah, absolutely. Beer. I actually found to be quite hard because the alcohol level is so low. You have to keep things really clean. You want to keep things really clean, whether you're brewing or fermenting or, distilling, I think cleanliness matters if only so you can see your intended result. And if you don't like it and you want it dirty, then let it get dirty. But with beer, I found that, even just like, look at it sideways, something's in the bottle. Now they're blowing up in my closet in my house when they're supposed to be fermenting and you're making a big mess. So it's yeah. Beer, I think is actually pretty hard. Other questions. What do you think about the economic model here? It doesn't look too good. It doesn't look good. Does it? It looks hard. It actually looks hard. And I'm worried about spiders in my wine. Don't worry about it. (audience laughing) I actually, at one point I poured a bottle of fancy, very fancy bottle of California Chardonnay to a table when I was working as a (indistinct) a and a bumblebee fell out into the glass. I'm like, "Well, at least, it's natural." Yeah. It's totally okay. Don't worry about spiders and all that stuff. I mean, I think the moral is, I mean, yeah, it's a hard business, but be like, it's important to be able to find wine to drink. Like I'm not ... that doesn't mean you have to spend ... By no means I want to imply that you have to spend a 100 bucks. So you can get a good bottle of wine. You definitely don't. I mean, there, there are places where, families have owned the vineyards for generations. So there is no land cost. The farm work is the labor that they do. And so maybe there's less costs built into that point. And they've been figured out how to make a living because they've had it for so long selling it for, large amount of sum. I mean, personally I drink mostly European wine and I would say most of it's between and 30 bucks. I mean, it's easy to go spend a lot of money on a bottle. And for sure I'm guilty of that sometimes, but there's so much great wine to be had, for very little money it plays into, it's the grocery, not a luxury. Yeah Yes. I'm just really happy that I buy things directly from the wineries. Isn't it great? It is great. Of course, why wouldn't you, but yeah, I don't think I want to buy a bottle of wine from a store now after seeing how much gets kind of cutaway from what- Isn't it amazing. It's crazy. Yeah. It's a lot of money they don't get to see for all the work that they did. It's amazing. It's really amazing. Yeah. Yeah. It's enlightening to look at that. Nuts. It is nuts. A lot of money. Cool. Yeah. I'm glad we could do that for you. Yeah. I'm curious to Know what the process is with organic wine, is it grown differently? I mean, does it taste different? I've never had any, so. Yeah. I mean, it's important that it be, the it's organic, not because it's a selling point, but it's organic because people believe that's the best way to make wine. I, I think sustainable to organic and biodynamic probably is the best way to do this. In my mind, I'm certain it is. Because there's a whole, it's a whole living ecosystem. And it's interesting when you like go walk through vineyards in the spring time, very frequently, the cuttings from the previous winter will be in there and then summer will go on and either things will grow between the rows or they won't, or they'll stay like moonscape and the cuttings will stay there and they won't have, degenerated back into the ground because the ground is dead. Like literally the ground is dead. Like all the little creatures that, the microbes that live in there and break these things down and then put the nutrients back into the soil to continue to feed the vines and continue the cycle. They're just not there. And so I think for sure you do miss something, when you're messing with nature and cutting the life cycle. There is no cycle, right? So, how do you get back to the cycle as well? Once you've gotten to that point, it takes many years to rehab, resuscitate if you will, the vineyard and figuring out what things to grow in the rows and what things to allow to live. And you can still, actually, even if it's organic, you can still use sulfur. There's certain levels of acceptable, things that you can use in the vineyard, but you can't go beyond certain levels and you can't use certain things. I think one big myth to dispel is that if it's organic, there is no sulfur. All wines have sulfur sulfides are post fermentation product. Even if you don't put it in there, it's in there because it happens post fermentation. And more importantly, there's probably more sulfur in the head of broccoli there's for sure more sulfur and a big Mac than there is in most bottles of wine. Great. Yeah. I'm just curious, is organic wine typically more expensive, would you say, or really just depends on the brand? It's typically ... You know it's funny growing up there, I used to go to (indistinct) and that was the only place you could find organic wine. And I think it was more expensive. It just, it was a novelty. And now it's not the case, I don't think for sure, they're organic farmers taking bigger risks. Like he may not end up with any crop at all. He or she, but and if you use synthetic herbicides, pesticides, whatever it is to ensure that you beat off the pest, you're going to have a crop. So potentially your costs are lower. And your insurance, you built in that insurance. So theoretically organic should cost more, more risk. But I don't think that that's oftentimes the case. I also a really worthwhile thing to point out is that most of the best wines in the world are made organically or biomdynamic. And they don't say it anywhere on the label. Like my (indistinct) or the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti both are in a beauty to me, biodynamics now, and neither say it anywhere. We're trying to make the best wine. We're not trying to carry the flag for the organic or biodynamic movement. We're making the best wine. This is how we do it. Right. Yeah. So don't look for it to say organic necessarily. Okay. That's good to know. Yeah. Any other questions from our instantaneous? I have a lot from online, but I want to open it up. Richard, what if you were at an event and they have wine selection that none of it you would buy yourself because it's a little more affordable than what you buy or what you usually like. What is your best bet for wit which type of wine is like, like a savvy- So I've got to drink something. You have to drink something. There is no beer. No. Okay. So I always go for the least ambitious wine actually. I think, I mean, it's always interesting to learn, like, okay, I wanna learn this side of it. Yeah, for sure. If I understand where you're going, there are times when you're into them and in the end, this is all about us. All of us, it's democratic. You're supposed to, no one tells you what to order for dinner. No one tells you who to vote for. No one should tell you what to drink. You should drink what makes you happy. And when you find yourself in that place and, sometimes cheap new world, red wines tend to be very out-sized and they tend to have a lot of goop that I might call unbalanced or a lot of oak that I tend to not like, especially if it's got Dillon it, and that's ... it's a personal thing. It doesn't mean it's not good, but it's not what I want. So I try to go for the least ambitious things. Something is not trying to impress. So yeah, maybe it is so we can blog. Maybe it's rosy, things that don't have an expectation about them is Chardonnay. It's generally expected generally to have been Asian oak has a cost. And so when you're trying to make something expensive, but you don't, that feels expensive. You don't have the money to do it. You kind of gets gross. So go for something modest, pretty uneasy.

Class Description

Do you cower when presented with the wine list? Feel at a loss while walking the wine aisle? You are not alone! Many of us struggle to differentiate between the subtleties of the world’s oldest beverage. But wine is not destined to be difficult! Join Master Sommelier Richard Betts for a fun and informative guide to buying, tasting, and enjoying wine.

Become a Great Wine Taster is your guide to wine varietals, trends, and tastes. You’ll learn Richard’s “wine is a grocery, not a luxury” approach to wine while exploring the differences between regions and the history behind them. Richard will teach a simple method for looking at, smelling, and tasting each wine so you understand the nuances and the provenance of the drink in your glass. You’ll study the important factors and features of winemaking by exploring ideas through related varietals. Richard will discuss:

  • Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc – the impact of climate and oak
  • Riesling, Viognier, Gewurztraminer and Zinfandel – balance, sweetness, and alcohol content
  • Pinot Gris / Pinot Grigio, Gruner Veltliner, and Chenin Blanc – important grapes, small subtleties
  • Cabernet Sauvignon and it’s subjects – regional expression of the ubiquitous reds
  • Pinot Noir – temperamental grapes and growing in France, California, Oregon and Australia
  • Tempranillo, Sangiovese and Nebbiolo – wine production in Italy and Spain
  • Syrah/Shiraz, Grenache and friends – blends and winemaker’s intent

You’ll also learn about the unique ways we modify wine, like making it sparkle, heating it, turning it into Port, and so much more! This class will help you get more comfortable with wine, remove much of it’s mystery, and show you how to integrate it into your everyday life.

Pair your appreciation for wine with knowledge in this accessible and educational class. Join Richard for Become a Great Wine Taster and never fumble over wine selection again.


a Creativelive Student

This course was amazing. As someone who felt really intimidated by wine before, I finished the course feeling a lot more confident and excited to try out my new wine knowledge. Great instructor with great content. Would definitely recommend!


Good course, needs to identify wines to set up tasting. It was fun to do with friends. Perfect to watch in the segments.


Fabulous! I've passed the Introductory Exam for the Court of Master Sommeliers, but, never ginned up (pun intended) the deductive tasting. This did it. There are several of us who purchased this course and are doing out best to re-create the tastings and memorize the map. Thanks so much for the class and for Richard Betts.