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Shannon Bryan

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Posted: July 15, 2014

Learn about wine on a sailboat: Sunset Wine Sails in Casco Bay with Wine Wise

These Sunset Wine Sails aren’t simply wine tastings. You’ll drink wine, no doubt about it, but instead of thoughtlessly tossing back the glass like you usually do, Archer will insist you pay attention to it.

Written by: Shannon Bryan
Aboard the Frances during a recent Sunset Wine Sail with Wine Wise, featuring white Burgundies and fresh shucked oysters. Shannon Bryan photos.

Aboard the Frances during a recent Sunset Wine Sail with Wine Wise, featuring white Burgundies and fresh shucked oysters. Shannon Bryan photos.

Tell the truth: The last time you bought a bottle of wine, did you make your selection based on which wine had the coolest-looking label? Maybe you were drawn to the most budget-friendly red or an alluring two-for-$10 sale on a pinot noir.

Or perhaps you reached for the same chardonnay you’ve been buying for years, partly out of habit and partly because you’re certain that if you stray from the wine you know, you’ll regret it. And that’s a risk you’re not willing to take. Not with your wine, anyway.

Sommelier Erica Archer gets it (she doesn’t want you to drink wine you don’t like, either). She’d also encourage you to get over it.

“There are so many people who love this beverage,” she said. “But they don’t know anything about it.”

Shannon Bryan photo

Shannon Bryan photo

Archer wants to change that, one wine events at a time. She is the founder of Wine Wise, a wine education and events company in Portland (although her wine walks have branched out into Ogunquit this summer). She leads Wine Walks through the Old Port, stopping at four local restaurants to sample wine (paired with a little food) and to help her fellow wine lovers branch out from the bottle they’ve been buying for years.

“Generally speaking, labels are going to influence purchases, price is going to influence purchases, familiarity with the winery…but people don’t understand how to look at locations, vintages, if it’s an estate bottle, alcohol levels,” she said. “So I help people really feel comfortable and feel inspired and hopefully to branch out and try different things.”

Shannon Bryan photo

Shannon Bryan photo

And during the summer, when the weather accommodates (and it usually does), Casco Bay becomes the classroom. Archer hosts Sunset Wine Sails a couple times a week aboard Frances, a gorgeous 74-foot gaff-top cutter that you’ve probably spotted (and gawked at) sailing in the bay. The sails depart from Maine State Pier and zig-zag through Casco Bay, sailing past islands and lighthouses and other boats, whose guests will wave cheerily at you (and you’ll wave back and smile, knowing you’re drinking wine and they’re probably not).

These Sunset Wine Sails aren’t simply wine tastings. You’ll drink wine, no doubt about it, but instead of thoughtlessly tossing back the glass like you usually do, Archer will insist you pay attention to it. Each wine has its own personality, you know, and as you sample throughout the evening, you’ll likely realize that you’ve been ignoring those splendid nuances that differentiate one wine from another. And missing out.

You’ll sniff, you’ll swirl, you’ll sip. You might struggle to describe the flavors – is that caramel? Banana? – and when Archer asks, “Do you taste the blackberry?” you’ll sip again and say, “Whoa, I do!”

Anne Nadzo, left, takes a sip of wine. Shannon Bryan photo

Anne Nadzo, left, takes a sip of wine. Shannon Bryan photo

You’ll learn to pay attention to that subtle pulsing in your gums – an indicator of a wine’s acidity. You’ll learn to heed the level of heat you feel on the back of your throat to gauge the wine’s alcohol content.

And all the while Erica leads the class along in her lively, funny way, stopping now and then to sip the wine again and say, “Wow, that’s really good. Can you smell the vanilla?”

Each event has a theme (be it refreshing summer whites, Italian reds or the wines of Greece), and you’ll get a fine geography lesson along the way. Taste how the grapes harvested from the valley differ from the grapes grown higher up the hill? You will.

Erica Archer, left, pours wine for guests during a recent Sunset Wine Sail. Shannon Bryan photo

Erica Archer, left, pours wine for guests during a recent Sunset Wine Sail. Shannon Bryan photo

And as Archer circles the deck to pour everyone the next wine, you’ll hopefully take a few minutes to watch the sun settle into the horizon, take a deep, chest-filling breath of ocean air and think to yourself, “I’m drinking wine on a sailboat. And it is good.”

By the end of the class, you’ll feel like wine conqueror prepared to storm any wine shop within a 50-mile radius. Or maybe that’s just the wine talking.

At the very least, Archer hopes, you’ll be emboldened to try something new. In fact, trying something new will be your homework assignment.

“It’s only $15. If you don’t like it, you don’t like it,” she said. “Just pay attention to what you don’t like. If you bought a bottle you didn’t like, learn from that. And come to another wine event and we’ll talk about it!”

A group can go through a few bottles of wine during a Sunset Wine Sail. Shannon Bryan photos

A group can go through a few bottles of wine during a Sunset Wine Sail. Shannon Bryan photos


The Sunset Wine Sails run two to three nights a week and cost $65 in advance and $70 the day of (but they typically sell out in advance, so advance registration is encouraged). Sails depart from Maine Sate Pier in Portland and run into September. UPDATE: Erica also hosts wine sails in Camden!

Sunset Wine Sails run through September. For more information and the full schedule: www.winewiseevents.com

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