Drink wine, have fun, be nice to people.

I’m a geek. Really. I like to joke that I don’t watch sports because my social skills are too well-developed. But I have a quick note I want to drop on everyone: wine is FUN. I had this brought home to me with serious intensity over the last week. From Monday through Friday last week I spent most of each day cooped up in a meeting room at a Disneyland hotel in Anaheim, CA sitting for the Advanced Sommelier Course & Exam. The Advanced is the third exam in a series offered by the Court of Master Sommeliers which culminates in the penultimate vinous challenge: the Master Sommelier Diploma Exam. Given in three parts (theory, service and blind-tasting), the course is administered to a maximum of 150 sommeliers per year, frequently far less. The course has an overall pass rate of only 35%, with most candidates taking the exam two to three times before passing (only 10% of the 35% that pass the course at all pass it the first time).

Why am I telling you this? It’s not to hype the Court, let me start by saying that. It’s to say that the over-arching theme of what I learned last week was that the job of sommeliers and wine professionals is to make wine fun, interesting and accessible to the general public. How many times have you been to a restaurant and have asked a simple question like, “how does this wine compare to (insert-your-current-favorite-wine-here)?” This question can be answered easily and with very little geekery. However, instead of an easy answer you get a three-plus minute lecture on the comparative virtues of the wine you’re interested in versus, say, the internal combustion engine. Makes you want to hand back the wine list immediately and stick with a Sazerac, doesn’t it? And that’s what examinations like the one I took teach you: humility. They show you that as a wine professional it’s a measure of the confidence you have in yourself, your wine list and your overall knowledge to answer the question simply and clearly and keep the process of ordering a wine enjoyable.

There are all kinds of tricks and buzz-words and trends in wine, and people who will try to give you easy answers (me included), but when it comes down to corks and labels, there is one bottom line: wine is a beverage of pleasure. Think about it. The purpose of great wine is to be enjoyed, in the words of Benjamin Wallace in The Billionaire’s Vinegar, “to register sense impressions and then disappear” (though technically hookers do the same thing). Really, how much more hedonistic could something be? Enjoy wine for what it is. And while it is true that some wines are experiences that can alter one’s life, don’t get caught up in the geekery. Take it from me, a guy who is WAY caught up in the geekery (who has actually devoted his career to wine geekery), wine is too much fun to allow yourself to be a shit about every bottle being the best every time. Now, please do excuse me while I don my Advanced Sommelier pin and guzzle Gruner Veltliner from a liter bottle.

About Kelly Wooldridge


A sommelier, barman, writer, lecturer, nerd. Kelly works as the sommelier, beverage director and bar manager at Trillium in Denver's Ballpark District, he is also an Adjunct Instructor in the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University. An Advanced Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers, Kelly has dedicated his life to wine-related nerdery. And of course he also doles out advice and guidance to wine collectors in Colorado and elsewhere under the aegis (and isn't that an awesome word?) of VinCierge, a consultancy based in Denver. Sometimes he rides a bike, but most times you can find him wherever you see Denver's most beloved FrankenFord, Goldie, our wino's trusty Hoopty.