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Dedication, Persistence, Lots and Lots of Tasting

There’s a story you hear often, of a wide-eyed 20 something trying a sip of particular wine and having a revelatory moment: this nectar of the gods was their calling in life. For me, it wasn’t as simple as love at first taste. I know now that wine is my career and passion, but it took years of reading, researching, smelling, tasting and pairing to develop my intellectual and emotional interest. For that reason, I’m convinced that anyone can become a wine expert.

I’d worked part-time in fine dining while getting my BA in American history. I was waffling around not knowing what to do with myself, and eventually was doing it full time. It started driving me nuts when I didn’t have answers to customer questions about the wine list. At 21 years old, my competitive streak got me reading. I didn’t like people knowing more than I did.

That history major served me well, as I was able to learn dates, facts, and names relatively easily. But like most people, I wasn’t born with any kind of unusually sharp palate. It took a crash course at work, tasting through a few hundred wines a week. In my years in the wine industry I’ve seen that sure, there are some people with naturally better palates, but even for them, it’s mostly practice.  Even today, if I don’t taste analytically for a couple of months, I lose the knack for it and have to retrain myself.

Today, I still sometimes trip up when asked about a wine I’ve never tried. No, I don’t know the soil type of every last vineyard in Italy, I can’t always identify the winery by blind taste alone, and I haven’t memorized the Oxford Companion to Wine from cover to cover.

You don’t have to taste hundreds of wines to learn, just read up and taste regularly and with intention. For me, tasting starts with instinct and ends with informed analysis, but you can’t do either unless you’re comfortable. So, like I said, anyone can become a wine expert; you don’t have to be totally obsessive, it just takes dedication and persistence.

My featured pick:

2004 & 2005 Collemattoni Brunello di Montalcino Trio

One of the biggest barriers to tasting broadly can be the expense of great wines from renowned regions. This is a rare find: truly excellent wine from a coveted appellation that’s affordable.

Follow me on Twitter @JLettieri

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