My Wine Scholar Guild Journey: From Bordeaux to Barolo

 On February 1, 2020, I kicked off my French Wine Scholar (FWS) studies on Instagram, declaring it "French February." With a flight to Paris booked for May 2020, I planned to study across the springtime and then tour Beaujolais as a sort of capstone experience. At the time, I didn't realize that I'd remember February 2020 as more than a virtual tour of French wine regions on social media. It also turned out to be the last month of normalcy in the United States before Covid-19 swept the nation, changing the lives of all and taking the lives of many.

March arrived, quarantine commenced, and anxiety settled in. Wondering if I'd have to cancel my trip to France soon morphed into worrying if we'd survive the darkest of days. As the number of cases climbed, studying took a back seat to refreshing The New York Times homepage. Then on March 20, I received an email from Wine Scholar Guild (WSG) with the subject line "Upgrade opportunity for FWS students." In the email there was a discount for a five-week, instructor-led FWS intensive starting on April 6. I had previously decided to study independently, but I realized that this was my opportunity to get my studies back on track despite Covid-19. 

Over the next five weeks, I joined a group of other isolated French wine lovers to learn with instructors Sharon McLean and Lisa Airey of WSG. It was a fun escape from reality, and probably the best $100 I've ever spent. In combination with the manual and learning tools, the webinars provided a bedrock on which to build my knowledge. WSG's interactive materials are designed to help you memorize facts as well as contextualize information.

Across the months that followed, I read the FWS manual several times, but there were significant lulls in my studies. It's hard to stay motivated during a pandemic! I knew I had to get myself back on track, and so in early November 2020 I drafted a 13-week review plan that included strict milestones and WSG's flashcards, modules, and quizzes. A little over a year after my Instagram kick-off post, I took the French Wine Scholar exam on February 5, 2021. It was a journey that I never expected at the outset. Years from now when I reflect on what got me through 2020, I'll think of French Wine Scholar: my spreadsheet of stumbling blocks, the hours of flashcards, and the many bottles of French wine.

What comes next?

As you might have guessed by now, I passed FWS (with highest honors). So, what comes next? Italian wine, of course. In lieu of travel, this is the next best thing.

WSG recently unveiled a new program: Italian Wine Scholar Prep (IWS Prep). According to WSG, this foundational course provides an introduction to Italy, its key wine regions, and core information on 39 of the country's need-to-know wines. I had the opportunity to preview the course a few months ago and have started flipping through the new materials. If you'd like to join me, you can use code Prep10MM for 10% off IWS Prep. We start on March 2!

IWS Prep is also a stepping stone to the Italian Wine Scholar certification program. Am I crazy enough to take on another intense certification program? I believe so, yes. It keeps my mind busy and energized. And a healthy dose of crazy is necessary for learning the wild and wonderful world of Italian wine. From haphazard naming conventions to countless grape varieties, studying Italian wine is not an easy undertaking! But it's a worthy endeavor. From the passion of Barolo to the joy of the Tuscany and the enchantment of Campania, Italy is a mysterious, exciting, and fascinating country for any student of wine. It is somehow tangled, complex, rustic, elegant, and classic all at once. Plus, the food and wine pairing options are exceptional.

If you have questions about my experience with WSG in general or the IWS Prep course specifically, please leave a comment or email me at I hope to "see" a few of you in class!

Special thanks

Thank you to my family and friends for their support, especially my Mom who quizzed me on flashcards over Thanksgiving and Christmas. She can now tell you that Pinot Noir likes limestone, but she still thinks the Côte de Nuits is a coast of nuts. Thank you also to my wine friends Noelle Harman, Dr. Kevin Welch, Nicole Muscari, and Elizabeth Dames for their advice and help. I owe you each a glass of wine when we can sip together someday!

Next: New Year, Old Wine