Every four years, the Institute of Masters of Wine holds a symposium. In 2010, Fiona Morrison and Jacques Lurton organized the event, inviting me to moderate a panel. Jancis Robinson sat to my right, Olivier Humbrecht to my left, Justin Howard-Sneyd and Alastair Maling at their sides. My role was to draw them out about why they had become MWs. Each had their own story, their own goal. And then the question came from an MW candidate in the audience: “Josh, why haven’t you ever studied for the MW?”
The answer was simple: Dissecting wine is not how my brain works. What interests me in wine is something different: pattern recognition, a response to taste memories, the aspects of wine that are most like food.
What I didn’t say at the time is that I feared the MW study process the way I once feared the study of law. During a year off from college, I worked on Wall Street at Winthrop Stimson Putnam & Roberts, assigned to a partner in contract law and another in litigation, two brilliant minds. They taught me to use precise language in the service of an agreement or a proof, and though I thrived on the research, hoping to set the story straight before them, I felt straitjacketed by the language the business of law demanded. When I left after nine months, I decided against law as a career.
Instead, the discipline of journalism, the contract with a reader, the building of evidence critical to telling a story fascinated me. So when, by fate or accident, I became a wine journalist, I focused on wine as the history of a place and how that related to taste.
Like many of us drawn to wine, I had an interest in learning about taste, something to which I’ve devoted my career. The focus of that study is the act of tasting itself, first with other people whose tastes and opinions I respect, then on my own, with the same wines, to consider my reactions and their reactions—and what your reactions might be. Tasting with knowledgeable, creative and thoughtful people is a blast, no two ways about it.
What’s striking to me is how many ways there are to approach wine. This issue considers a few of them, all centered around tasting groups. We look at how different kinds of tasting groups work, and we offer a series of guided tastings you can reproduce with your own group—whether it’s long established or still waiting to be formed.
You might organize a group of like-minded collectors to open and share bottles from your cellars, or develop a study group to prep for the IMW’s terrifyingly ambitious exam or the equally challenging exam administered by the Court of Master Sommeliers. Or maybe you’re interested in making wine, and you get together with some enology students at UC–Davis, Fresno or Cornell. Or, if you’re like me, and you blog or write about wine, ask yourself: Who can I cajole into my circle of friends and talented tasters?
Whether you ask an MS, an MW, a winemaker, a collector or a journalist, there’s one thing we will all agree on: tasting and talking with other people is the best way to deepen your understanding and your pleasure in wine. This issue is designed to help you explore the art and science of tasting—with colleagues and friends.
This story appears in the print issue of Fall 2014.
Like what you read? Subscribe today.