7 Reasons to Take a Wine Course in Florida

    By Rachelle Lucas

    Have you ever glanced over a restaurant’s wine list and wished you knew more about all the choices available?

    I certainly have. Typically, I’ll take out my phone and start searching for the names of places and winemakers I find on a menu to find some juicy piece of information that makes one wine more appealing than the other.

    Such as the story of Veuve Clicquot, notable as the first Champagne house run by a woman, who was bold enough to give champagne to Prussian guards, who legend says started the tradition of sabring (or using a saber) to open the bottle of bubbly.  (Yes, I’d like a glass of that tasty history, please!) 

    To me, wine is a blend of food, history, and geography in a glass — all subjects that easily capture my attention and leave me with a curiosity to learn more.

    I searched for wine courses online and discovered a Sommelier school in Miami Beach offering a week-long immersion course. Six days in South Beach learning about wine — this sounded like a vacation made in heaven.

    Flash cards for a wine course kit

    Flash cards for Le Nez du Vin wine aroma kit.

    - Rachelle Lucas for VISIT FLORIDA

    Sunrise on Miami Beach.

    Sunrise on Miami Beach.

    - Rachelle Lucas for VISIT FLORIDA

    Here are some things I learned.

    1. Surround yourself with experts

    While you can read about viniculture all day long, there’s nothing like having someone with experience to guide you through the vast world of wine. The class was led a Master Sommelier, Rick Garced. He’s like a walking encyclopedia of wine, but is so easy-going and friendly you don’t feel intimidated.

    Other experts from local restaurants and resorts also visited the class throughout the week to host short lectures on food pairings, wine descriptions, and other beverages and spirits. It made for a very well rounded experience.

    The class size was small enough to get individualized attention and perfect for making new friends. All my classmates were fellow wine enthusiasts; some were in the restaurant business advancing their education, and a few were just interested hobbyists like me. Each of us brought bits of knowledge to the table that were great for sharing and exchanging ideas.

    2. Taste over 100 wines in a week

    The best way to learn more about wine is to taste it, and we must have tried about 20 wines a day. Starting at 10 a.m. — sniff, swirl, sniff, sip, spit, repeat. It’s important to note here that there’s a big difference between drinking wine and tasting wine. (Though, I definitely recommend bringing a few snacks with you to keep you going.)

    Participating in tastings helps you compare several whites or several reds side-by-side to develop a real understanding of the differences between them. Then you can share your notes with your classmates. It was in exchanging these notes with my new friends that I discovered a great wine app, Vinivo, for digitally journaling the wines I tasted. If you don’t have it already, I definitely recommend downloading it.

    3. Refine Your Senses

    During class, we had opportunity to compare the scent of the wines we were tasting to Le Nez du Vin, a set of smelling aromas. There were 54 little vials representing the aromas typically found in wine —cherry, strawberry, even forest floor, mushrooms, and yeast. If you’ve ever had trouble discerning aromas in a wine and telling the difference between black currant and blueberry, you’re going to love this set.

    4. Learn about food pairings

    One of the most fun afternoons included a food-pairing session hosted by the Director of Beverage Services for Shula’s Steakhouse, Christian Dammert. He brought out a plate of saltine crackers, slices of bitter green apple, chunks of sweet red apples, dabs of pure butter, lemon slices, salt, and chili powder. We tried each ingredient individually and paired some with a taste of wine. It was better than any wine pairing dinner I’ve attended at truly demonstrating how salt, acid, sugar, and spice can enhance a wine or make one pucker up.

    The Lincoln Road at night.

    Lincoln Road at night.

    - Rachelle Lucas for VISIT FLORIDA

    A tasting of a flight of red wines for a local wine course

    Tasting a flight of reds.

    - Rachelle Lucas for VISIT FLORIDA

    5. There’s great coffee to keep you alert for studying

    The toughest part of the class was studying world geography and geology. From learning about soil types and how they affect the flavor of wine to studying what grapes are grown in the different wine regions of France — I needed some caffeine to help me through this portion. Thankfully, there’s a Nespresso cafe right next to the school, several Starbucks locations along Lincoln Road, and plenty of Miami Beach’s legendary cafes serving Cuban coffees to keep you going.

    6. Practice makes perfect

    Since Miami Beach and Miami have such fabulous culinary scenes and plenty of restaurants offering great wine lists, it’s the perfect spot for dining out and practicing food and wine pairings.

    Through the week-long course, we participated in a dine-around on Lincoln Road for lunch, tasting wines and pairing them with food at well-known restaurants such as Meat Market, Buddha Sushi, and Piola’s Italian Restaurant. It was great to get out of the classroom and put our new knowledge to the test.

    7. Nothing beats the beach for inspiration

    One of the best things about this class is that it’s so close to the beach. I’d wake up each morning, go for a jog along the ocean, and then find a Cuban bakery for a cortadito and breakfast. It was the perfect way to start the day and relax a bit before class. This is the only school I’ve been to that also felt like I was on vacation.

    If you’d like to learn more about wine, I highly recommend booking a week in Miami Beach for this class.  Here’s the scoop to help you plan.

    United States Sommelier Association
    Lincoln Road Campus
    1111 Lincoln Road, Suite 400
    Miami Beach, FL 33140