Kulers Uncorked: Real Wine Educators Stand Up!

Credit: Gil Kulers

Credit: Gil Kulers

Photo Credit: Eleanore Reiss

A few weeks ago, my counterpart at the Wall Street Journal, Lettie Teague, had a brilliant idea for a column: The Seven Habits of Highly Annoying Wine People. Not one to avoid chiming in on a good rant, she had me on my figurative soap box right along with her — at least until I got to seven.

1. Servers who overfill your glass. C’mon, it’s not a tankard.

2. “Curated” wine lists. Why curated? Because wine’s public image isn’t pompous enough?

3. Pseudo-collectors. Nothing more annoying than a boor who knows the prices of prestigious labels, but doesn’t know how to just enjoy the yumminess of the wine itself. To paraphrase Frank Zappa: Shut up and drink your wine!

4. Wines at the wrong temperature. She drops an ice cube in red wine when it’s too warm. Me, too! Go, Lettie, go!

5. Our obsession with scores. Just drink what you like. Use your internal 100-point system.

6. People who tell you what you’re supposed to be tasting. Did you want to tell me what my steak and potatoes taste like, too?

And then came 7. Wine Educators. Hmm … wait a minute. I’m a wine educator. What did my kind do to put a burr in her saddle?

Her beef, it seems, is there are a lot of people claiming they are educators because they've read the back labels of a couple wine bottles. I get that. So-called experts. But, hey, you get those in nearly every walk of life, from investment counselors to writers.

She went further, though. She compared wine educators to “life coaches,” with the implication that the information we impart, assistance we give and work that we do is frivolous. She did allow that there are “certified” (her quote marks) wine educators, but cast serious doubt on the credentialing organizations.


I love teaching people about wine. I do not tire of the frequently asked questions on tannins, headaches, sweetness levels, sulfites and the like. I revel in questions I don’t know or can’t completely explain. I make it my business to find out the information and, if possible, get back to the curious people who asked. Why? Because I’m an educator. That’s what we do.

As any good educator will admit, I’m also a student. A frustrated one at that. As hard as I try, I can’t know it all! However, for one shining moment in March 2006 in Washington, D.C., I came close. It was on that day that I passed my certified wine educator exam with the Society of Wine Educators.

Without detailing the nitty-gritty of the exam, it’s tough. There are other honorable, honest credentialing organizations with their own versions of rigorous testing. I not only take my hat off to the dedicated folks who pass these exams, but also to those who qualify to sit for them. You are a committed bunch.

As Teague has demonstrated in her body of work, you don’t need to be a certified master whatever to be an expert. Teague has won three James Beard Awards (the wine and food world’s equivalent of an Oscar) for her writing. That's serious credibility and expertise.

What I hope Teague and I can agree on is this: You don’t have to be an expert — certified or otherwise — to enjoy a glass of wine. But if you also want to explore the wide-ranging subject of wine, there are a lot of trustworthy, caring wine educators out there with glass in hand to guide you on your path.

Gil Kulers is a sommelier and maitre d’ for an Atlanta country club. You can reach him at gil.kulers@winekulers.com.