A Q & A with the Commonwealth Wine School’s Kim Simone
We live in an era of customization. Personalization is, after all, what helps life simple pleasures stand out; when we can capture our unique idiosyncrasies and predilections and make something our own, we feel both understood and special. We take ownership of the smallest details of our clothing, food, and valuables, adding our own touch of magic to the world around us. An exciting trend for weddings and celebrations is adding a personal spin on a central component to any good party: the wine. To uncork the details on custom wine blends, we spoke to Manager of the Commonwealth Wine School and expert in all things wine, Kim Simone.
Kim’s career spans nearly two decades in the wine business, most recently as the Corporate Sommelier for the Legal Sea Foods restaurant group where she assisted in curating wine lists for multiple restaurant concepts and developed educational materials for the staff. Kim is also founder of Vinitas Wineworks, a wine consulting company that collaborates with retailers and wineries. Currently, she and colleague Mark Lenzi co-host the Franklin Wine Club and are hosts of a podcast titled The Wonderful World of Wine. Kim holds Level 3 certifications through both the WSET and the Elizabeth Bishop Wine School. She is a Certified Specialist of Wine and attained the distinction of both French Wine Scholar and Spanish Wine Scholar with Highest Honors from the Wine Scholar Guild. Kim holds a Masters’ Degree in Gastronomy from Boston University and a BA from Colgate University.
Here are Kim’s thoughts on current trends & blends:
Q: Tell us about yourself and the Commonwealth Wine School.
A: Commonwealth Wine School, located in Harvard Square in Cambridge MA, opened in Spring 2020 to provide wine education to a variety of students. There was a real need in the greater Boston area for a centralized place not only for wine professionals to come and earn wine certifications that are valuable for their careers, but also a place to offer fun classes where the general public could taste wine and learn about it in a fun, casual way. We offer both these types of classes, and our business has been steadily growing. The Director of the school, Jessica Sculley, is a former math and science teacher, so has a deep commitment to education and is passionate about wine, and we have a staff with the best wine educators in Massachusetts; we’re so proud to be able to offer quality wine education.
Q: What types of classes do you offer? Have you ever offered a class about creating your own wine blend?
Our classes are broken down into two segments: certifications, usually for people in the wine industry but those are also open to enthusiastic non-professionals, and fun, creative classes about wine, cheese, sake, pairings, and other beverages. We have been in discussions to create a blending class event for summer. It’s a fun, hands-on experience that adds to the educational element of understanding single grape varietals (one grape variety) and how various varietals work together to create fantastic blends.
Q: What advice would you give a couple who want to create a bespoke wine for their wedding? What are some of the things one should consider when blending wines?
A: At the heart of a good wine is balance. Whether you are making a single varietal wine or blending several, you want to aim for harmony in the final product. And by that we mean not only do the flavors have to taste good, but the textural components like acidity, sweetness, tannins, and alcohol have to work together; if one stands out too much or overwhelms the others you can get a wine that doesn’t taste as good as it could. So it’s important to have a good understanding of what all the blending partners bring to the table (one may be fruity while another has more tannins) before you start mixing and matching so you can do your best to arrive at a final blend with balance. Start by tasting all the wines separately and make notes on what they each bring to the table so when you start blending you can use each of the components to their full advantage.
Q: What are some popular/trending wine blends or wedding varieties?
A: Tradition is always strong when it comes to weddings, and you want to try to make your guests happy, so often you’ll find the most popular styles such as California Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon. These choices can be great for a glass during the reception, but sometimes a way to bring more meaning to the wine menu is to have wines that are special to the couple or their families. For example, if the couple met while studying together in another country, perhaps serve some wines from that place, or dive into the cultural heritage of the families. But red blends are very popular right now, and a crowd pleaser as well, so they can be a great option for a wedding. And sparkling wine has stood the test of time for popularity; Champagne of course, but Prosecco is still incredibly popular, and with the new rosé Prosecco on the market you can have your pink and your bubbles all in one!
Q: What are some classic wine blends? Why have they stood the test of time?
A: Probably the most famous blend is Bordeaux. In French winemaking you tend to see the wines named after the places they come from as opposed to the grape varieties they are made from, which can be confusing for a lot of wine drinkers to understand what they are getting in the bottles. So the name “Bordeaux” might be confusing to a lot of consumers, but most American wine drinkers know and love Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, which are the primary grapes in Bordeaux blends. And many, many outstanding traditional wines from Europe are also blends, including Chianti, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and even Champagne. I think these wines have stood the test of time because the reasons behind their creation are so sound; you want to take advantage of all the quality aspects of each component and blend them with other wines that round out the edges. Blending really can make a final wine that is better than all its parts.
Q: What are some common myths about creating a blend or about wine more generally?
A: One of the things we try to get across to our students, especially in our fun, popular classes, is that one shouldn’t stress out about wine. At the end of the day it’s just a beverage, but one with a lot of cultural baggage that can intimidate a novice. We always encourage people to ask a lot of questions, and don’t be scared to try something new. The best way to learn is to taste and ask questions! There is a lot of wine out there, and once you have an understanding about your likes and dislikes you will be better equipped to find something new and interesting to try.
Q: If you were to create a blend to celebrate love what would it feature?
A: Marriage is about two people coming together to create a unit that is better and stronger than its individual parts, which is also the definition of a good wine blend. So I would think about the components of each of the wines and figure out how the others would not only balance that one out but make it better in the process. Love brings out the best in us, and a good wine blend should feature care, stability, compromise, and hopefully longevity!
Q: Along with creating a custom label and having a bottle placed on each table and/or gifting guests a small bottle, can you think of other ways a couple can share their signature blend?
A: Sending a customized bottle as a Save-the-Date card would be amazing!
Q: Anything else you would like to share with our readers?
A: I think the creative use of wine as part of a wedding celebration is wonderful. It’s so meaningful for couples to put a unique spin on their special day by including something important to them. I’ve known couples who were homebrewers who made a special beer for their weddings, and others who included other hobbies that were important to them. If you make your day special in a way meaningful to you as a couple, your guests will truly appreciate it.
Emily Marcus is a Boston-based freelance lifestyle and travel writer. A recent graduate of the MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Emily’s work can be found in numerous regional and national publications including Connect Corporate Magazine, Alma, New England Living, and Bride and Groom. She has served as the Arts Editor for both Southeast Florida Style and Design Magazine and Charleston Style and Design Magazine. Emily is currently an Academic Advisor at Northeastern University where she also teaching writing courses.