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MOIRA'S GLASS ACT: Hit the books and pop the cork: now is the time to learn about wine

By paying attention to your senses and articulating them in dialogue with others, you begin to uncover the patterns that link one place with another through wine.
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Learning about wine along with others is serious enjoyment, as this Halifax-based group, Sommeliers Holding Interesting Tastings, knows well. Wine education is alive and well in the Maritimes, and is an important element in a thriving local wine industry.

The break from summer's heat is natural encouragement to air things out and set things back in motion. Along with open windows for a pleasant night's sleep, September also prompts us to refresh the ol' noggin.

For those of us long gone from academic institutions and for whom another university degree is neither realistic nor particularly useful, educational programs in the trades — which tend to be more practical and affordable — become attractive. And who doesn't secretly miss the smell of sharpening pencils and the gleam of a new lunchbox?

You could brush up on double-entry accounting to maybe do a little bookkeeping from home. You could learn to wield a chainsaw and and try your hand at silviculture. (Yes, both are livelihoods I have considered.) Or, you could polish your double-hinge corkscrew and make your way toward becoming a sommelier.

If you are reading this in the Maritimes — particularly Halifax — you'd be in the right place to do it.

Sommelier — wine stewardship — education in the Maritimes has a successful track record. Formal courses began with Adam Dial, son of Roger Dial, pioneer of Nova Scotia's modern wine industry, in the late 1990s. Dial's first graduating class in 2000 wrote national exams, which less than half of the country's students passed. The top two marks in Canada were earned by Dial's students.

wine bottleVeramonte's 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon is an example of classic Chilean wine: aromas of very ripe fruit with an herbal edge.

Sommelier training has continued in our region at an impressive rate, graduating a high proportion of sommeliers for our population from a rigorous program that is currently taught through the Atlantic Chapter of the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers (CAPS-AC). It is designed in six modules, takes on average two years to complete, and costs between $350 and $925 per module (a total of about $4,200 for the entire course).

No, I don't have to spend four grand to figure out that I like wine, either. But before you turn up your nose at training in snobbery (which being a sommelier isn't, but I understand the misconception), consider the benefits. You spend winter Monday nights learning about the history, geography, climate and culture of places all over the world. You taste dozens of wines from those places — wines you probably wouldn't try on your own.

And, the real gift of a wine class: you share the sights, smells and sensations of wine with other people who are just as interested in picking out the earth elements in a glass of Riesling. By paying attention to your senses and articulating them in dialogue with others, you begin to uncover the patterns that link one place with another through wine.

The burgeoning wine industry in Nova Scotia is the perfect environment in which to learn about wine. It is exciting to be involved in a growing industry. Sommeliers are needed more than ever in our restaurants and liquor stores to educate the public about the good stuff our vintners are making, and to ensure good stuff on wine lists and store shelves.

You can also start slowly — by attending wine tastings at your local wine store (Bishop's Cellar holds fabulous and affordable Friday night wine tastings, and The Port and other NSLCs offer free tastings) or by attending wine events hosted by wine organizations such as CAPS-AC and local restaurants and wine stores.

Wine education programs like Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) that can be completed over a day or a weekend are offered from time to time in the Maritimes.

Two winters ago, I finally learned to appreciate the excellent wines of Chile. Excellent because of their quality, but also because of their affordability. I learned, as you will if you decide to study wine, not only how much Chile's wines vary from region to region (which makes sense if you think about the geography of the long, skinny country bordered by the Andes and the Pacific Ocean), but also how at the same time they seem to share an unusual character — a combination of very-ripeness and herbal green-ness.

More about Chile and its wines in my next column. For now, know that Chile is a great place to look for affordable, delicious Cabernet Sauvignon. Try, for example, Veramonte's 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon (from the Colchagua Valley, on sale for $16.50 at NSLCs). The wine is instantly satisfying: in the nose, very ripe black currant and a smell that seems salty (which could be that green character I mentioned, but maybe only because I am looking for it) and in the mouth, full tannic dryness that dissolves into lingering velvet. Veramonte is pursuing organic certification, so there's also that.

Wine presents you with visuals, smells, flavours and feelings. With practice, these sensations form a complex matrix of meaning that allow you to get more out of every glass of wine that will ever be poured for you.

As you consider fall aspirations, why not put wine on the table? At the very least, you can start slow, by shopping for a new double-hinged corkscrew.



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