Otherwise, here's some pertinent information about the book. It's called “Message in the Bottle: A Guide To Tasting Wine.” The genesis of the book goes back over a decade. At that time in late 2011, I had just stepped away from an Education Director position with the Master Sommeliers. I’d been in the role for nine years, during which time the organization grew exponentially. Originally, the job was part time and called “Education Chair.” It was more of a logistics position than anything, with a focus on interfacing with my counterpart in the UK as well as overseeing all the top-level exams in the U.S. Eventually, the class and exam load grew to the extent that the position became full-time in early 2010. Then the job kept me so busy with logistics, creating exam content, and traveling to teach and examine, that it left no time to write.
I started my blog in early 2012, shortly after going back to being an independent contractor. From the very beginning the emphasis of the blog was on tasting and my tasting project. Before then, I had worked with Tim Hallbom and Taryn Voget on their Everyday Genius project that involved two video sessions during which I tasted over a dozen wines with Tim as he tracked my language patterns and eye movements and patterns. Together we deconstructed my internal process of smelling and tasting wine. I followed those two sessions by doing over 20 in-depth interviews over the next few years with MS (Master Sommelier) and MW (Master of Wine) colleagues about their tasting strategies. Many of the best practices I learned during those interviews became the impetus for future blog posts.
My evil plan all along was to write for several years and then compile a manuscript for a tasting book. Little did I know several years would end up being over a decade. That’s how it goes. Then along came March 2020 and everything came to a screeching halt. Like it did for most people, the onset of the pandemic brought my work life—and life in general—to a full stop. Within weeks, I started to piece together all the blog posts and articles I’d written over the previous ten years and beyond into some semblance of a manuscript. I also started writing essays on a daily basis, just to improve my craft as well as my editing skills, which were shoddy at best.
Over the next 15 months, a book took shape in the form of four sections and over 40 chapters. I then made at least a half-dozen passes through the text, polishing it a bit more each time. Finally, in January of this year with the help of a good friend and former editor, I started to send out proposals to agents and publishers. All were met with a polite response along the lines of, “wow, interesting book. But the target audience is too narrow for me/us to deal with. Good luck with publishing it.”
Finally, through a series of fortunate events, I found Melissa Wilson, who owns a small publishing company called Networlding.com. She’s helped over 30 authors publish non-fiction books. And she’s been the best at leading me through the Byzantine process of publishing a book for the first time.
As for the book itself, the original intent was to write something for “Jedi Knights in training,” as a colleague calls students in the MS program. However, dear friend Madeline Triffon, MS, pointed out that once the book was released, there would be no controlling who would read it--meaning a lot of consumers and people just getting into wine would buy it. Thus I needed to make the text as user-friendly as possible. With that gentle admonition, I went back to the drawing board and rewrote all the chapters to include suggestions on how to use the information, adding in a few new chapters as well.
The result is a comprehensive text on the skills and strategies needed to become a professional taster. In short, this is the book I needed in 1985 when I first got interested in wine. This is the book I especially needed in 1990 when I started taking MS classes and exams. It contains detailed information about the basic and advanced skills needed to not only pass exams, but to become a competent taster. Beyond requisite skills, the book also has an entire section on strategies for improving focus, concentration, and smell and taste memory—all using visualization. Finally, the text includes a series of eight essays on various aspects of wine, from the dining experience to food and wine pairing to natural wine.
With that, here’s an outline of the book with a bit of descriptive text about each chapter included. A quick glance will reveal that it’s comprehensive and filled with useful information, especially for the wine student. But moreover, the book is for anyone who just wants to learn about tasting wine.
Message In the Bottle: A Guide To Tasting Wine
Section I: The Basics
1. Setting the Stage
Glassware basics and needs for setting up a tasting space.
2. Glassware Stance
Smelling techniques including active vs. passive inhalation and finding a consistent starting eye position for the tasting process.
3. The Deductive Tasting Grid Defined
A detailed breakdown of the deductive tasting grid with explanations for each criteria.
4. Assessing Structure
The structural elements defined (acidity, alcohol, phenolic bitterness, and tannin) and techniques for how to assess them.
5. Using a Decision Matrix For Conclusions
How to organize sensory information to make a good conclusion in deductive tasting.
6. Markers For Classic White Wines
Common markers and structural levels for classic white wines.
7. Markers For Classic Red Wines
Common markers and structural levels for classic red wines.
Section II. Advanced Skills
8. Cause and Effect
The concept of Cause and Effect and how it applies to every aspect of the deductive tasting grid.
9. Fruit Groups and Fruit Quality
A breakdown of fruit groups for white and red wines as well as categories of fruit quality.
10. Wine Faults and Context
A primer for common wine faults including a discussion of how context is import when assessing faults and wine quality.
11. Impact Compounds
A list and descriptions for the subset of most important aromas and flavors with corresponding grape varieties and wines.
12. Confronting the Evil Dwarves
Lists of easily confused white and red grapes/varietal wines and how to tell them apart.
13. The Impact of Bottle Aging on Wine
A primer on the effects of aging on wine including descriptions of young vs. aged versions of classic wines.
14. On Judging Wine Quality
All the factors that go into judging wine quality as a professional.
15. Objective vs. Subjective in Tasting
Noting which aspects of the deductive grid are objective, subjective, or a combination of the two.
16. Using Pattern Recognition for Blind Tasting White Wines
Using a subset of the most important markers and structural levels to help identity classic white grapes and wines when blind tasting.
17. Using Pattern Recognition for Blind Tasting Red Wines
Using a subset of the most important markers and structural levels to help identity classic red grapes and wines when blind tasting.
18. On Tasting Notes
A breakdown of what's needed for writing an effective tasting note. Includes my personal tasting note template.
19. A Tech Sheet Manifesto
A breakdown of what's needed for a good industry tech sheet.
20. Recommended Producer List
A list of producers for tasting practice.
Section III. The Inner Game of Tasting: Strategies for Tasting Practice
21. Clearing the Mechanism
A basic strategy for focus and concentration.
22. How to Find Your Zone Using Overlapping
Using layers of a memory to establish a deep focused state of concentration that can be used for tasting.
23. Front Loading and the Basic Set
Using internal visual, auditory, and kinesthetic to improve recognition and memory of the most common aromas and flavors.
24. Using Submodalities in Tasting
Using submodalities—the structural qualities of internal images, sounds, and feelings--to improve recognition, sensitivity, and memory for aromas and flavors.
25. Using An Internal Visual Cue to Help Calibrate Structure
Creating and using an internal visual cue to accurately and consistently calibrate structural elements.
26. Installing Olfactory Memories
Using submodalities to install olfactory/smell memories.
27. Label Check
Using labels of best wine types to represent memories of classic grapes and wines.
28. Associative Rehearsal: Tasting Practice Without Wine
How various aspects of tasting can be practiced internally--without actually tasting.
29. Dealing with a Dominant Aroma in the Glass
How to use internal imaging to help get beyond an dominant aroma in the glass.
30. Using a Coravin for Tasting Practice
Recommended exercises for tasting practice using a Coravin.
31. Eating the Elephant: Advice For Beginning Tasters
Advice for the beginning taster.
32. Tasting Exam Prep Strategies
A list of useful exam prep strategies for tasting practice and dealing with test anxiety.
Section IV. Various Thoughts On Wine
33. C is For Context
The importance of context in the wine experience and its many manifestations.
34. For Love of a Rose
The importance of how smell memories make us feel.
35. Food and Wine Pairing in Less Than 500 words
The basic tenets of food and wine pairing explained.
36. It's Only Natural
Thoughts on natural wine and judging wine quality.
37. The Tao of Tasting
Thoughts on how wine tasting has changed my thought processes.
38. The Dining Ritual
The value of sharing a meal regularly with family and friends.
39. Four Great Wine Experiences
Great wines vs. great wine experiences.
40. Taking Flight
Tasting, multi-sensory memory, and synesthesia.
Once again, there’s a great deal of information about tasting in the book that can benefit anyone—from consumers to students on wine certification exam track to seasoned industry veterans. I hope you’ll check out Message in the Bottle. The book is now available via Amazon in soft cover print-to-order and also formatted for Kindle at the link above.