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Travel Like A Sommelier

Have any summer trips planned? Even if wine’s your passion rather than profession, you can use the opportunity to learn more about it with just a bit of planning.

According to Rajat Parr, wine director of the Mina Group and co-author of Secrets of the Sommeliers, travel is a critical part of a sommelier’s education.

(Rajat Parr)

“If you love a wine, you must see where it comes from,” Parr counsels in his book. “And if possible, meet the winemaker and walk the vineyard. You can learn a lot by drinking a wine, but to really know it, you have to go to the source.”

Of course, you don’t have to be a sommelier to travel with wine in mind. Parr’s tips for wine-oriented travel include:

Travel with an expert. Whether you’re putting together your own trip or traveling with a pre-organized itinerary, find someone who knows the region and can tell you all about it. As Parr says, “you never want to be the most knowledgeable person in the room.”

Try to set up a tasting appointment In many regions, such as Bordeaux, Tuscany, Willamette Valley, and Napa Valley, tasting rooms and tours abound. But in smaller, high-end regions, like Burgundy, Piedmont, and the Rhône, it can be trickier to gain access. However, “never let the fact that you cannot get into a favorite winery stop you from visiting a region,” Parr advises.

Walk the vineyards. Get out of the cellar! “It is sacrilege to taste the wines without seeing the vines,” Parr says.

Take notes. It can be tempting to relax into eating, drinking, and making merry. But when you get home, will you recall every vivid detail about how the wines are made and how they tasted? Carry a small notebook and a pen, and take detailed notes.

Find out where the winemakers eat. Go there. Every wine region has a restaurant or bar where the local winemakers go to socialize, Parr says. “This place is in many ways the heart and soul of the region.”

Check out the home cooking and the local farmers’ market. Any good foodie knows that restaurant dishes aren’t always indicative of the way locals eat day to day. And seeing what winemakers and other locals eat and how they pair wine at home can give important clues for your own pairing ideas. If possible, Parr also recommends renting a house or an apartment with a kitchen so you can shop and cook (and drink) in the heart of the region you’re visiting.

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