James McIntyre, CIO of the YMCA Of Greater Cincinnati, didn’t much care for alcohol until 1997 when a friend told him about the health benefits of wine.
“I went to the store and thought, ‘Hey, that label looks pretty! I think I’ll grab that bottle!” says McIntyre, who at the time worked for Pricewaterhouse in Washington, D.C. Being a self-proclaimed “over-analyzer,” McIntyre did a deep dive into wine knowledge. Born and raised in the Hunter Valley wine region of Australia, he had stomped around in his boots there, studying the old vines and chatting with the vineyard master about the business of wine making, so he already had some background knowledge.
With a thirst for expanding that knowledge, his wife, Terrie, encouraged him to get his sommelier certification. McIntyre studied for six hours a day for six weeks. That, along with the requisite knowledge he had beforehand, helped him ace the test.
“It was a blast,” says McIntyre, noting that the questions also include understanding of beer, whiskies, liquors, cocktails and sake. “As for the wine, you have to know not just the kind of wine but that this one tastes like roses and strawberries, and this one tastes like green pepper and blueberries.” One must also know about the different fermentation techniques, wine regions, and type of soil in various growing regions.
When McIntyre was at Pricewaterhouse, he used to train partners on how to taste wine properly, how to read the wine list and how to interact with the sommelier.
“There’s that whole awkward moment of dealing with the sommelier as he’s opening the wine,” says McIntyre. “What do you do with the cork? Squeeze it? Throw it to the side?”
McIntyre still hosts wine appreciation dinners with friends, family and work associates, teaching them how to fully appreciate wine.
“We compare and contrast Pinot Grigio, the lightest white, to Chardonnay, the heaviest white, and Pinot Noir, the lightest red, to Cabernet Sauvignon, the heaviest red,” says McIntyre.
“The whole goal is to get people comfortable with wine and to understand that we are all in this together, stumbling around, trying to do the best we can,” says McIntyre. “I’ve got one eye open, and in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king!”