The Instant Sommelier: Choosing Your Best Wine

Course No. 9033
Instructor Paul Wagner, Wine Author and Lecturer
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Course No. 9033
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers You will understand the variations in wines and better appreciate your own tastes: what you like and why you like it.
  • numbers You will be able to confidently order wine in a restaurant, purchase wine at a store, find the perfect gift, and speak knowledgably to a sommelier.
  • numbers You'll gain practical tips for everyday GOOD wine drinking.

Course Overview

With nearly 150,000 wines for sale in the U.S. market, the world of wine can seem needlessly complex. Cut through the clutter with eight down-to-earth, practical, and accessible lessons that will take the intimidation factor out of choosing, drinking, and enjoying wines, led by Professor Paul Wagner, who has dedicated his career to what he calls, “democratizing wine appreciation.” From swirl to finish, he’ll introduce you to the vocabulary you need to speak intelligently about wine and to understand what each term means when it comes to finding wines you’ll love.

The same can be said with wine. You don’t have to master the entire repertoire of grapes, techniques, ingredients, variations, and other components to truly appreciate the wine you’re drinking. Simply armed with the senses you already have, an expert guide, and a glass of your favorite, you can learn how to better enjoy the wine you’re drinking, while at the same time gaining a deeper recognition of your own tastes.

But let’s face it. Choosing wines can feel daunting. There are nearly 150,000 wines for sale in the U.S. market alone. And there are just as many books, articles, websites, and other resources instructing you on the plethora of ways to choose, drink, and enjoy wine. So, how do you cut through the clutter and find the best wines for you? Paul Wagner, an instructor for Napa Valley College’s Viticulture and Enology department has spent the last 25 years helping people do just that. He’s dedicated his career to what he calls, “democratizing wine appreciation.” After spending years working in wineries, leading hundreds of tastings, and having hands-on experience in every aspect of winemaking, he shares his deep and comprehensive wine knowledge through the eight down-to-earth, practical, and accessible lessons of The Instant Sommelier: Choosing Your Best Wine, which will take the intimidation factor out of choosing, drinking, and enjoying wines. From swirl to finish, he’ll introduce you to the vocabulary you need in order to speak intelligently about wine and to understand what each term means when it comes to finding wines you’ll love.

Explore Each Glass

In addition to each insightful lesson, Professor Wagner includes tasting exercises, where you’ll flex and develop four of your senses:

  • Vision. Examine how really looking at wine and understanding how to identify the color and clarity of the wine can allow you to assess if it is fresh and lively, or older and more evolved.
  • Smell. You’ll hear sommeliers go overboard describing all the essences they can smell from one glass, but the reality is you’re looking for two basic smells: fruits (from citrus to berries) and vegetables (grassy or herbal). Knowing what smells appeal to you in a wine can help you find more wines you will probably like.
  • Taste. Cooks can tell you there are six basic flavors: salty, sweet, bitter, sour, spicy hot, and umami (a meaty flavor). Learn how to translate what flavors you like into wine descriptors—sugar, acid, and tannin—and how to use that information to select new wines you will love.
  • Touch. Far from dipping your finger into your glass, the term “touch,” in wine, refers to the body of the wine, which is determined by how it feels in your mouth. The richer flavors of a fuller bodied wine such as a Chardonnay or Cabernet often go well with richer foods, while a lighter bodied wine will be more refreshing.

Economies of Wine and Taste

Most important, Professor Wagner’s lessons are eminently accessible. You won’t be dealing with rare vintages or bottles that cost more than your mortgage. In fact, as you better understand your own tastes and pair reds, whites, and rosés to your own personal palate, you’ll discover that the “best” wines—the award-winners or most expensive bottles—are not always YOUR best wine.

But before you discover this, Professor Wagner breaks down exactly what makes some wines better than others and why you do often pay more for them, including:

  • The region of the vineyard,
  • The conditions during the year the grapes were grown,
  • The ripeness of the grapes,
  • The balance of acid, and
  • The equipment used in the winemaking process.

Given that winemaking is a wonderful combination of art, science, and the unpredictability of Mother Nature, it's no wonder that the old saying goes: “The best way to make a small fortune in the wine business is to start with a large fortune, and then watch it slowly dwindle away.”

However, even understanding the expensive grapes, techniques, labor, and equipment that go into creating a “great” wine—and thus, raising the cost per bottle—it’s often difficult to taste the difference. When it really comes down to it, your preferences are all that matter. As Professor Wagner states, “If you want the wine that you love, you have to pay what it costs to buy that bottle. That’s why it’s so important to understand what you like.”

Red, White, and Bubblies

Many people can tell you they prefer whites, reds, or rosés, but it gets more complicated beyond that. Professor Wagner spends one lesson each digging into the different nuances between each genre of wine and suggesting what food best complements each type. Among dozens of options, you’ll examine:


  • Muscats: These include Moscato, Moscatel, Muscat of Alexandria, Gewürztraminer, and similar styles, which have a lovely floral character in the nose, a pure flavor of fruit, and relatively low acidity. The sugar found in these wines pairs well with spicy foods.
  • Chardonnays: Oak aging and powerful flavors provide winemakers with additional flexibility to create new style options that can pair well with richer foods such as roast chicken and creamy sauces.
  • Sauvignon Blanc: An herbal white wine, often without oak aging. They typically offer notes of herbal green grass, green peppers—and even a note of what Professor Wagner claims to be similar to cat pee. Don’t let that turn you away. A good Sauvignon blanc can be delicious and can perfectly complement a seafood salad.


  • Cabernet Sauvignon: Flavors of plums and blackberries, sometimes with a little bit of

green olive, these full-bodied wines are typically aged in barrels to soften up the tannins and add nice notes of vanilla and cinnamon to the wine.

  • Pinot Noir: Often drinkers will taste black cherries, strawberries, and sometimes a little hint of something like leather or even a bit of mushroom. The variety of flavors it presents, and the medium body, means it pairs well with a huge range of foods.
  • Merlot: Boasting aromatic notes of plums and sometimes even licorice, Merlots are medium-bodied, and with tannins that are soft enough to enjoy when the wine is only a few years old.

Bubbly and beyond:

  • Sparkling Wines: See how Prosecco, Asti Spumante, Champagne, and other similar bubbly wines can be enjoyed with most dishes that pair well with white wines. But they will also surprise you by working well anytime you might choose to drink a beer—for example, with Mexican food.
  • Sherry: Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso, Cream Sherry, and Amontillado, among others, make wonderful aperitif wines to stimulate the appetite, but the sweeter ones can also work well after dinner with dessert or on their own.
  • Madeira: The founding fathers reportedly drank about a bottle of Madeira a day while they debated the writing of the Constitution. A rich and powerful wine, it’s fortified and essentially indestructible. The notes of deep rich flavors include orange rind, figs, and vanilla, perfectly complementing blue cheese or dark chocolate.

Building Your Wine Confidence

Once you understand the differences in each type of wine, Professor Wagner introduces you to the history of wine, tracing the evolution of this globally celebrated drink back to ancient Babylon. And he’ll review how to put everything you’ve learned throughout this course into practice when ordering or buying a wine.

Many people look at a sommelier as a tool of the restaurant whose job is to help increase your bill! But a good sommelier understands how to help you find a wine that will make YOU happy—regardless of the price of the bottle. As mentioned, there are 150,000 wines in the United States alone, and at a good restaurant, it can feel like they offer at least half of those on their wine list. The sommelier is there to help you wade through the clutter and find something you will like, so it’s important to know what you like, why you like it, and how to explain that to the sommelier. And don’t let the presentation ceremony intimidate you. Professor Wagner walks you through exactly what to expect and how to respond to each step, including why smelling the cork isn’t necessary.

If you enjoy drinking wine, want to learn more about wine, or you’re just curious what all the fuss is about, join Professor Wagner for this short course jam-packed with everything you need to know about wine on an everyday basis. All you need is a corkscrew, a couple of wine glasses, and an open mind when it comes to the wonderful world of wine.

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8 lectures
 |  Average 22 minutes each
  • 1
    How to Explore Your Glass of Wine
    In this lesson, we explore how to use four of our five senses to explore a glass of wine, and what these senses can tell us not only about the wine, but also about our own taste profiles and sensitivities. This is the first step toward determining which wines we really like the best. x
  • 2
    Key Elements in Wine and How to Taste Them
    When sommeliers talk about wine, they focus on a few key elements that define wine style and character. Now that you know how to use your senses to taste wine, let's use those tools to identify these elements and help you understand them. And in the meantime, this will also let you speak to those crazy sommeliers in their own language! x
  • 3
    Choosing White Wines
    What kind of white wines do you like? In this lesson, we'll explore the best-known white wines and get a basic idea of what each one tastes like. Once you are familiar with these, you'll be able to talk to a sommelier in a restaurant without fear, and you'll be able to use these examples to understand thousands of other wines in the world. x
  • 4
    Choosing Red Wines
    Now that you have a firm grip on white wines, let's tackle red wines using the same basic techniques. And since there are even more styles of red wine than white, this one will be even more fun-and more helpful in your visits to a restaurant or wine shop. x
  • 5
    Choosing Sparkling and Dessert Wines
    While 90 percent of the world's wines fall into the categories of red and white, here is where we discover the rest, from sparkling wines and roses to legendary dessert wines and aperitifs. Sure, sparkling wine may be perfect for celebrations, but by the time we are done with this lesson, you'll use it for far more than that. And you'll have a lot of other wines that will serve just as well. x
  • 6
    The History of Wine: From Babylon to James Bond
    Since the beginning of recorded history, wine has enjoyed a special place in social celebrations around the world. In this lesson, we follow the course of wine's role in society and how it affects the way we enjoy wine today. x
  • 7
    The Wine Service Ritual in Restaurants
    There are few things that cause as much anxiety as ordering wine at a fine dining restaurant. And yet, it doesn't have to be this way. This lesson explains each step of formal wine service, gives tips on the best way to proceed, and focuses on how you can you best use this moment to make sure that your wine, and your dinner, are a success. x
  • 8
    Having Fun with Wine
    Wine isn't just another drink. It's part of a meal, part of a celebration, or maybe just a celebration in itself. This lesson will lead you through the ways that wine can add joy to lots of different occasions and guide you to find the ones that might be best for you or for your guests to enjoy in any situation. x

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Instant Video Includes:
  • Ability to download 8 video lectures from your digital library
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DVD Includes:
  • 8 lectures on 2 DVDs
  • Printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
  • Closed captioning available

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Course Guidebook Details:
  • Printed course guidebook
  • Charts & diagrams
  • Photos & illustrations
  • Questions & answers

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Your professor

Paul Wagner

About Your Professor

Paul Wagner, Wine Author and Lecturer
Paul Wagner is a Viticulture & Winery Technology Instructor at Napa Valley College. He is also a guest lecturer at many universities, including the University of Rovira i Virgili, the University of Bordeaux, and the University of Porto. He has judged more than 100 international wine competitions and has spoken at more than 80 conferences throughout the world on wine, wine tourism, wine education, public affairs, and...
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The Instant Sommelier: Choosing Your Best Wine is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 29.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Instant Sommelier Been to a number of live wine talks to compare to. This lecture has good information and presented in a enjoyable way. Speaker has good knowledge but more important he comes across in a friendly and comfortable way.
Date published: 2020-05-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from fun and interesting Not a technical course but very informative and fun. Mr Wagner knows wine and gets his points across easily and in an enjoyable talk.
Date published: 2020-05-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Perfect Intro to Wine You’re curious about wine. Maybe you drink socially and would like to be a little more knowledgeable about what’s in your glass. Maybe you’ve heard people gushing about oak barrels and producers and “notes of raspberry” and you’d like to know what all the fuss is about. You’ve come to the right place. And even if you already know a little (or a lot) about wine, Paul Wagner’s “The Instant Sommelier” has something to offer you. This course is just eight lectures long, and most of them are closer to twenty minutes than thirty. It’s amazing what Mr. Wagner (he’s not a professor, but a longtime wine writer, teacher, and aficionado) is able to cover in this seemingly brief span. After a couple of lectures about the basics of enjoying wine – what to look for and how to look for it – there are three lectures on different types of wine (red, white, and sparkling/dessert). Mr. Wagner then closes out the course with one lecture on how to order wine in a restaurant, and another that’s essentially a reminder to enjoy yourself. That’s the signal theme, and the chief virtue, of this course: the instructor is all about enjoying wine. He obviously loves the subject; I’ve rarely seen passion that was so infectious from a simple video. Mr. Wagner is constantly reminding viewers that the most important thing to do is not to watch his course, but to go out and try different wines, and ideally share them with friends! (This, I think, is what the course offers to those who already know something about wine: a reminder to get back to loving it!) My experience trying to learn about wine is that it frequently goes something like this: you pick up an intro (often a book), and after a couple of promising chapters about palate and finish and whatever else, you hit about forty pages of wine regions, producers, and varieties, with a more or less emphatic suggestion that your ability to find good wine will depend in no small part on your knowledge of this sprawling, esoteric list of names and places. There is absolutely none of that in this course. The lectures on individual types of wine are about what you might call broad “themes”: how the wines should look and taste, how to serve them, and other major parts of the puzzle. The instructor introduces about half a dozen important types of grapes in each lecture, but you probably already recognize a lot of them (Cabernet Sauvignon, anyone?). He is, again, insistent that anything you learn in this regard is in the service of your enjoyment of what you’re drinking. By the end of the last lecture, I would have gladly sat through a much longer course with this instructor. But I guess that’s the point – this is a quick, nonthreatening introduction that leaves you genuinely wanting to learn more. “The Instant Sommelier” might seem like a grandiose title for such a brief course. But as Mr. Wagner says repeatedly, knowing about wine is only a small part of a sommelier’s job. Their real task is helping you find a wine you’ll enjoy. After watching this course, you’ll be a much better sommelier to yourself. ~
Date published: 2020-04-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enjoyed the class and Professor I knew nothing about wine when I started this course and I have been very pleased with the information presented. Paul Wagner held my interest with his wry sense of humor and I feel confident that I can use this knowledge making selections when we get together with friends and family. Thank you for the ease of learning!
Date published: 2020-03-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Expertise Made Simple While people such as Paul are truly expert in all things wine, this series presents a way for those of us who simply love wine to feel even more comfortable about the nectar of the gods. His love for wine comes through without the haughtiness that often accompanies wine ventures.
Date published: 2020-02-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great information I bought my first Great Couse a few weeks ago. My husband encountered me to check theses courses out. I am enjoying The Instant Sommelier very much. As a wine drinker I wanted to learn more about wine. The presenter is easy to listen too.
Date published: 2020-02-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great little course for the wine enthusiast. I enjoyed this course. It was packed with fun facts and useful information. It gave me the confidence to try new wines.
Date published: 2020-01-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Place to Start Your Wine Journey This is an outstanding course. While we have viewed all Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan’s courses, and enjoyed them, “The Instant Sommelier” is the place most people should start. Paul Wagner is a very good teacher and uses the “KISS” principle (Keep It Simple Stupid), which my wife says is the approach which is most applicable to me. (Not sure what she means??) Paul Wagner gets down to basics and will remove any fears one might have about ordering wine in a restaurant or purchasing from your local winery or wine store. He will quickly inform you about the importance of ignoring “wine snobs” and just enjoy the wines you like. I highly recommend this course as an introduction to wines. For many—this will be all you will need to have a lifetime of enjoyment selecting and drinking wine. For those who want to delve deeper—each of the courses on wine which Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan teaches will be very helpful and enjoyable to gain more knowledge about all the wine growing regions and their wines.
Date published: 2020-01-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Teacher is great. He’s fun and easy to follow Learned a lot we didn’t know about wines. We’ve taken other GC wine classes but this was easiest to understand. Does this teacher have any other classes?
Date published: 2020-01-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from How to Really Enjoy Wine I knew a little about wine, but this course has taught me what I have been missing. Paul Wagner is easy to listen too and comprehend. The world of wine is a little complex, but Mr. Wagner takes you step by step, from explaining the various kinds of wine & their origins, to how to order them & really enjoy them.
Date published: 2020-01-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good for beginners I found this course to be a very good introduction to wines and wine tasting for people new to this endeavor. The instructor clearly presents the basics of wine tasting and presents the major types of red and white wines. It is a good course for beginning wine tasters. It is informative without being snobbish and the instructor has a good sense of humor as he presents the basics of wine culture and tasting.
Date published: 2020-01-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of my best Great Courses Upon now completing the course, I have learned a lot and improved my wine choosing abilities. Instructor Wagner did a great job, with just the right amount of information for the viewer without being too complicated or too simplistic. I highly recommend this wine choosing course.
Date published: 2019-12-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Review of Wine Basics Superbly delivered and well organized presentation of the fundamentals of selecting, enjoying, and matching wine to food. What's not to like?
Date published: 2019-12-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Information! I just finished watching the whole series of lectures and I can say that I LOVED every word. Paul Wagner is a wonderful teacher and has a different perspective than other instructors. I will definitely be watching this multiple times.
Date published: 2019-12-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course We bought this course for a driving trip to Missouri over the Thanksgiving Holiday. This course was well presented and organized to provide the learner with the necessary details. We bought the video version but the audio version would be sufficient. The instructor was very versed in the subject and we really enjoyed his down to earth way of presenting ways of learning about wine. The best way we feel would be to have a several bottles of wine ready to taste to experience exactly what he was describing. This was not able to be done while driving but he still got his point across. I recommend this course to any one wanting to learn about wine, winemaking, and food pairing.
Date published: 2019-12-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from "Wine 101" for dummies; and wine staff, and you me Instructor Wagner states that his goal is to help folks find what they like for wine, and that this will be as diverse and changable as wine itself. The basics of wine smells and tastes (sweet, acidic, tannic), and which grape varietals have what flavor characteristics, are clearly explored with a humorous enthusiasm in presentation. Outstanding food pairing advice is given throughout the wine varietal information and also generically explained in the last "Having Fun" chapter. Wagner also has a goal to provide the verbiage and suggested style to communicate between the vintners, culinary staff, purveyors, and consumers concerning what to order or buy. The suggested style is humble and observant, quite refreshing as a suggestion for wine tours and groups, and sommeliers. Another included goal is to enable a better interaction between sommeliers and customers. Actually, I'm more used to a sommelier type situation at a tasting, not at a dining experience. This offering must be compared to "The Great Courses" offerings by Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan. The viewpoints are orthogonal, in the sense that Wagner is "eagle view", short; while Simonetti-Bryan is detailed and delightfully exhaustive. I strongly recommend both. Although Wagner was for me an inexpensive quick review (binge watched over 3 days, with lots of web lookups), it makes sense also as a fast startup for Simonetti-Bryan's detailed presentations and wine- centric tasting exercises. Wagner's tasting exercises emphasize elucidating personal choice and food pairings. Furthermore, Wagner is trying to improve my consumer experience, while Simonetti-Bryan seems more in depth about "living the life". My takeaways are a better parameterized awareness, and entitlement, of finding my situationally best wine and food pairing. The wine temperature information was very welcome. Furthermore, I realize I've probably overlooked wines including sherry and port, but especially Madeira (moderation is required due to ABV). Both Wagner and Simonetti-Bryan emphasize "not getting drunk"; Wagner as an enforced social custom through the ages, and Simonetti-Bryan as a less enjoyable taste experience. The Guidebook was very good. The TGC web "Resources" include the spot on readings (without the auto-link to Amazon, unfortunately), also few but great web sites with embedded links. Personal caveats include that: * "Chapter 7" the "Wine tasting ritual", and the exposition of wine packaging, and corks was overdone. Although bottles and corks are still very current, I personally assume a disruption at some point. So, what happens to wine staff, sommeliers, vintners; and in what time-frame? * Especially with rose wines and New Zealand whites and South American red wines, screw tops do not at all detract from a great experience for me. Barrels, jugs, biodegradable alternative packaging, could maybe humbly start to love 'em! Have to go to the web sites for more info, and the "Journal of Wine Research" (linked within the one of the web resources) has lots of info about packaging and customer perception, and sustainability issues. I got lost following "Research" links in the better web resources. Perhaps Wagner, who is very informed from his background with production, supply chain and delivery, and market direction, would provide one or two more "Eagle View" chapters and speculate about the possible future of wine industry innovation. I look forward to any "Wine 201" by Wagner.
Date published: 2019-11-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Great Start! I found this course informative and fun. Finished it in just over a week. It covered more than what I was expecting. It was worth the price paid.
Date published: 2019-11-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing instructor I bought this course last week and couldn't stop listening. Mr. Wagner is an incredibly wonderful teacher, very knowledgeable and very entertaining. I knew almost nothing about wine when I started and this was a great introductory course on the subject. My only complaint is that the course was so short. I could have easily listened to 20 or 30 more lectures.
Date published: 2019-11-14
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