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Posted: Saturday, 27 June 2020 10:50

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Review: Tale of Two Online Wine Courses by Sonal and Magandeep

June 27: During the Covid-19 Crisis there is nothing much meaningful to do or a lot, depending on whether your glass is half full or half empty. But for wine novices flipping websites on internet and getting confused, here are two new Online Courses designed by two Indian wine specialists, Sonal Holland MW and Magandeep Singh with years of teaching experience and at a reasonable price of Rs. 2200/Rs. 2500, that will help you with wine appreciation, years after the Covid Crisis, writes Subhash Arora who reviews them for readers thirsting for wine and knowledge

I often say it is important to have a connoisseur guide a novice for 20 minutes to propel him/her to the path of Nirvana through wines-or at least make them enjoyable. I also say that one lifetime is not enough to learn all about wines. Is there some dichotomy here? I think not. Nobody stops you from enjoying wine without any guidance- you don’t need an MBA to run a successful business either. Believe me, I have seen people drinking white wine and pouring red into it, ‘cos wine is wine’! It is helpful if you knew the wine basics to take you over the initial intimidation or avoidable ignorance and embarrassment.

New Online Wine Courses

To comprehend and appreciate my apparent contradictory statements, you need to attend the two Online courses being offered by Sonal Holland MW and Magandeep Singh. Both these experts have been imparting wine education for over 10 years- including the WSET courses which Magandeep and his team was conducting till a couple of years ago and Sonal who started Sonal Holland Wine Academy even before she earned the coveted title and still teaches them.

Sonal Holland Wine Academy (SHWA)

Earlier this week, Sonal Holland MW launched her Online Course Wine-Pro, a 60- minute capsule split into 10 modules following a brief introduction by her. The modules include assessing wine quality, wine styles, wine production in brief, wine tasting like a Pro, grape varieties, reading a label, service and storage, food and wine pairing. It has an interesting module on Wines in India, rounded off by 10 popular myths in wine. A noteworthy feature is that many of the 40-50 slides give a Pro-Tip. For instance, always remember BLIC- Balance, Length, Intensity and Complexity to know if the wine is of high quality.

The program is a compendium of basic information with well-bulleted slides, and Sonal elucidating each slide meticulously and lucidly. The course can be finished in one sitting or you may take 30 days to watch as many times as you like. However, I would recommend getting used to the operating system before starting to avoid minor irritation.

There is a multiple choice question and answer section at the end that has to be completed in 20 minutes in one go, before one can get a certificate of participation signed by her. It is recommended that one goes over the capsule a few times till it is absorbed by the system and one is comfortable with the contents. You may like to open a bottle of wine to share as the lessons progress through modules. The questionnaire would then be easy to handle and take-away better.

Institute of Wines and Beverages (IWBS)

Magandeep Singh, a French Certified Sommelier and his team including Gagan Sharma DipWSET introduced an online wine module at the month-beginning. It comprises over seven hours of videos spanning an expanse of wine-centric topics - definitions, classifications, grapes, wines styles, tasting, commenting, buying, storing, serving and pairing with food, and pronouncing the French and Italian names correctly. They have tried to make learning simple and the contents easy-to-understand. The course aims to help budding professionals and enthusiasts alike.

Upon completion of each module, there are small interactive quizzes that candidates can take. Each module is in the video informal chat format to keep the interest alive. Each registrant is awarded a certificate by the Institute upon the successful completion of all modules.

Each module is full of slides and Magan/Gagan explaining in an informal style on the top right corner in each video. A bit of bantering between the two in the food paring section is a welcome change though one wished they stuck to only wine with food. The 51- minute video segment on Indian wines and a module on Pronunciation are welcome-it is irritating to listen to many professionals including sommeliers mispronouncing French and Italian words. In fact, one would like to see German and Spanish words also covered in the expanded version.   

The course sells online for Rs. 2500 AI for the total package of 11 modules. ‘This is almost 50% lower than what it was initially intended to be priced but we strongly believe that learning should always be encouraged,’ says Magan. There is a lot of information packed in a 113- page booklet that comes as a resource material and is a gem and may be useful months after the course is finished.

Similarities or not   

Sonal’s course exemplifies my conviction that one should have a basic introduction-even if it is 60 minutes and more than a novice might bargain for, but it puts a wine-illiterate on to the right direction. It is cut-and-dried; no nonsense and basic course that makes you a ‘Wine-Pro’. A bit unsettling to think that a person can become a Pro in 60-minute capsule-though one can pretend one and might even fool the gullible at a party of novices. She has covered the base well to impart adequate wine knowledge though I did not get the impression that she focused on motivating one enough to choose wine over liquor as she claims in her opening Act.

IWBS is more extensive in its content and if you are an enthusiast without much knowledge, you would agree with me that one life-time is not enough to know about wine. The key factor is ‘know’, of course. Her course would put you on to the path of wine drinking with the hope that you desire to learn more at your pace and through more advanced or focused courses in future. If you are not interested, you would never need to take a wine course again; just save the ‘notes’ and give a looksee once in a while.

Both Courses have a chapter on Indian wines which is important; we need to give Indian industry increasing importance and support. One can choose the speed of the Presentation in both. But if you get excited enough to want to learn more for professional reasons or for personal growth in the wine world, the IWBS course will tickle your fancy, with 7+ hours of videos full of wine wisdom.

Brag Factor

If you value awards and certificates, Sonal’s course offers a big Brag Factor- the only Master of Wine in India tutors and awards you the certificate of participation signed by her. You could even put it in your Facebook Status as ‘studied under Sonal Holland MW’ or ‘Sonal Holland Wine Academy’- pretty much like people register for an Online Course conducted by Harvard and hesitantly announce that they have studied in Harvard University.   

Sans Tasting

Unfortunately, both the courses miss out on interactive wine tasting, the most essential aspect of learning and enjoying wines. Whenever asked about any wine training course, my sincere advice is always to first find out wherever Tastings are being organised in town and attend them, tasting as many wines as possible and ask any number of questions till they are ready to throw you out.

Both Sonal and Magan agree with me and are trying to figure out how to make this happen with the Online Courses. ‘We did think about it and are awaiting clarity on the retail side of wines. In fact, we shall even try and organise weekly video calls so that all doubts can be cleared collectively in a classroom style format,’ says Magan.

Sonal says that during lockdown the course could not be made more interesting. ‘We plan to add many videos of wineries etc. to make it more interesting in the next phase.’ One hopes she would also consider adding a guided wine tasting session or two (even at an extra payment). She does plan an interactive tasting session for the registrants, she says.

During these testing times, it is increasingly difficult to organise wines and unless you have family members also willing to share the bottle, the cost of wine alone would be more than the Course; Sonal charges Rs.2200 AI while Magan charges Rs. 2500 (AI) for the modules squeezed in 7+ hour videos- plus resource material of 113 pages. 

Both courses have their merits. The cost of each course is very reasonable- that of a bottle of decent imported wine or little more than a super-premium Indian wines. One may consider taking them both and then decide which direction to head in the wonderful world of wine. The decision will certainly take you through a healthier path and certainly a more enjoyable culinary journey for the rest of your life.

Who knows, another Master of Wine or a DipWSET (Gagan Sharma) may be inspired and in the making through one of these courses?!

To register for Sonal: https://sonalhollandwineacademy.com/ and register on the page

To register for Magan: https://courses.iwbs.in/home/course/learn-from-home-wines/1

Subhash Arora

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