From Iceland — Learning How To Drink, One Swallow At A Time

Learning How To Drink, One Swallow At A Time

Published August 27, 2015

Learning How To Drink, One Swallow At A Time
Elín Traustadóttir
Photo by
Art Bicnick

“Ehm yes, this is wine isn’t it?” The line accurately sums up my slim knowledge of wine, or at least when I’m put in the stressful situation of having to taste wine from a freshly opened bottle prior to a meal. Also, this is all I can say (or think, if I’m too selfconscious to speak) when the waiter hovers impatiently over me and my companions are dying to indulge in some wine. I then probably nod to the waiter and signal him to fill our glasses despite not having a clue of what I was supposed to be searching for when I tasted the wine. In the past I’ve found it best to have others taste the wine.

Class is in session

For brewery and alcohol distributor Ölgerðin’s “Wine School,” a fresh young journalist (me) showed up a good half an hour before class was supposed to start. New to the world of journalism and wine tasting in general, I engaged in a long monologue with myself on how this wine tasting should proceed as I awaited the other students. I figured I had two options:

1) I could either get full-on drunk, not wasting a drop of the fine wines, downing a good three bottles while reminding myself that when it comes to free booze, quantity always beats quality.

2) OR, being new at the job and all, I should remain professional, take notes in my notebook, occasionally sipping the wine and asking clever questions. I’d fake it, but make it.

The class commenced at eight, when a flock of young and inexperienced drinkers stumbled into the building. Some were already quite tipsy, downing their beers as they danced through the foyer. Those folks were all colleagues, having arrived together as part of a workplace outing of some sort. I felt relieved, as my chances of making an ass of myself quickly receded.

Our wine instructor for the night, Jóhann Marel Viðarsson, aided by his lovely assistant, sommelier Ingibjörg Albertsdóttir, swiftly guided the group through the brewery’s long tunnels as an intense scent of beer-in-the-making engulfed us entirely. After an educational walk through the facilities, we arrived at a warm lecture hall, where we were instructed to sit by the bar.

I swallow

Jóhann fired up his presentation on the wall while Ingibjörg served up the night’s first wine—a beautiful and sparkly Prosecco—while demonstrating how to properly open the bottle with style. As instructed, we smelled the dry wine and identified its ingredients, rolled it across our tongues several times and, finally, spat it out or swallowed it. I chose to swallow. In fact, I continued swallowing as we went through all the different wines on the curriculum, while somehow miraculously keeping a straight face.

Jóhann kept scrolling through his engaging presentation, filling us up with information and more and more wine. And more wine.

We went from champagne, to white wines, to red wines, always repeating the same wine tasting procedures we were taught at the beginning. We were all captivated by our own professionalism, and gracefully raised our glasses in a toast to ourselves. How charming.

I was well into my fifth glass of wine when I felt my face flush with heat and redness, my hand felt sloppy when writing in my journal and I started stammering when asking questions. I somehow managed to regain self-control just as the wine took me over for good. This is likely thanks to my cunning tactic of foregoing my swallowing ways in lieu of spitting out the subsequent subjects—it was the only way out for me. But most of the students weren’t there as journalists and slowly but surely the Wine School’s generosity started working against the school’s purported pedagogy, the class slowly growing loud, drunk and unfocused, as Icelanders getting their drink on are wont to.

Lesson learned

At the Wine School, we not only learned the procedure of tasting the wine, but also the lesson also touched upon history, philosophy and ideology. It was quite an in-depth course that truly enlightened me. Today, I can confidently impress my friends by delivering fancy-sounding words like “terroir” and refer to certain type of grapes in casual conversation. Jóhann certainly seems to know everything there is to know about wine, and, like the best teachers, employed that knowledge to not only educate, but to entertain.

Not to mention: I learned what the whole deal with tasting the wine at a restaurant is all about. The idea isn’t to see if you “like” the wine you ordered—rather you are being given a chance to determine whether it might be damaged or not. Most people will certainly be able to tell if the wine is faulty. If you just don’t like the taste, don’t send the waiter to fetch you another vintage. Rather, learn how to choose your wine in advance.

Go to Wine School!

Wine School is for:
Anyone wanting to expand their knowledge of wine, by drinking copious amounts of the stuff.

What’s interesting about Wine School?
It’s hands-on. You learn about the most popular wines, their grapes, regions, the process of making wine and how to properly taste it.

What to expect from Wine School?
Knowledge and confidence, as your lips rest on the edge of a wineglass.

How much do tuition fees run you?
5,900 ISK

Where to find it:
Gestastofa Ölgerðinnar’s website should provide the information you need. Vínskólinn offer courses in English—an easy way to get in touch is by emailing Jarþrúður.

What if I’m interested in beer and how it’s made and enjoyed?
Then you should be reading this article:

A School For The Beer Curious by Magnús AndersenA School For The Beer Curious
In a small lecture hall doubling as a private bar, twenty men raise their glasses and have a big gulp of Egils Gull as Stefán “Stebbi” Pálsson begins the bjórskólinn (“beer school”) curriculum.

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