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Welcoming John McDermott to Wine Review Online
By Michael Franz
Aug 16, 2023
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Along with my colleagues at Wine Review Online, I’m delighted to welcome John McDermott to our ranks.  He started up last week with a set of six reviews, with a column up this week, and you’ll find his recommendations virtually every Wednesday going forward on the WRO “Reviews” page.  As a columnist in our rotation, you'll see additional articles from him on a regular basis going forward.

John has dedicated over a decade to the rigorous study of wine, combining both formal education and informal exploration.  His wine education journey began at the Cape Wine Academy of South Africa, and more recently, under the auspices of the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET).  

While John is currently an attorney for a large technology and social media company, he spent years working in wine sales, gaining an understanding of consumer trends first-hand.  John loves wines of all types and is always looking for something new to try, but he frequently returns to mature classics from Rioja, Barolo, Bordeaux, and the Loire Valley.  John enjoys traveling to wine regions across the globe, and he has explored wineries throughout South Africa, Italy, France, and the U.S.

In his down time, when John is not exploring new wines, he is a volunteer for the Heart’s Delight Wine Tasting & Auction, one the preeminent wine events in the U.S., held annually in Washington, D.C.

As I was working with John to gear up for his debut with us, I asked him for a very informal rundown on his love affair with wine so that I’d have a bit more material to work with when introducing him to our readers.  I felt a bit bad about asking more of him when he’d already submitted a sample column for me to consider as well as some reviews, so I told him he could save time by just shooting some additional information—even just as “bullet points.”  Well, what he sent was so well written and engaging that I’m going to simply post it here, effectively letting John introduce himself.  

But before turning him loose, let me just say that:  This guy can write.  John's “sample column” was so well done that I asked him to join us immediately after reading it, and it won’t be a sample for long, as I’ll gladly publish it with virtually no editing.  Similarly, what appears below has barely been touched since it left John's keyboard.  So, keep an eye out for all of his future contributions to Wine Review Online, because lots of people love wine—but very few can recount their wine romances compellingly!

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"I didn’t grow up around wine at all.  My first introduction to wine was while studying abroad in college.  I was studying international justice in Stellenbosch, South Africa and learned that I could take a wine appreciation course for college credit.  Being only 20 years old at the time (and below the legal drinking age in the US), the prospect of earning college credit for drinking alcohol was an enticing proposition, and the sole basis upon which I enrolled in the class.

A few weeks into my course, knowing only enough to be dangerous, I stopped by Cederberg Winery while hiking in the surrounding mountains, about 3 hours north of Stellenbosch.  While there, I sat for a tasting that included their Sauvignon Blanc.  It was nothing special in the grand scheme of things, but I’ll never forget the distinct aroma of green bell pepper in that wine.  It was the first time I had ever discerned a scent in a wine, other than “wine.”  I was still very new to wine at that point, but I knew that the glass in front of me contained nothing but fermented grape juice, and something inside of me needed to know how that fermented grape juice led to me smelling green bell pepper.

That one experience sparked a curiosity in me that continues today.  After that, I began taking my wine course much more seriously.  I began scouring local bookstores for books on wine and read everything that I could, including Oz Clarke’s “Grapes & Wines”—a book that was surely intended as a reference tome, but which I read cover to cover that semester.  I passed my course with distinction, earning a certification from the Cape Wine Academy in the process.  When I got back home from South Africa, I went to every wine shop in town, seeking someone that would hire an almost 21-year-old college student.  Every single shop I went to said no, except for the very last one, where the owner told me to come back in a month, when I’d turned 21…and that a job would be waiting for me then.

The job didn’t pay much, and offered no formal benefits, but I was allowed to taste for free anything on the store’s Enomatic® wine dispensing machines.  Once a week, the store would also do a live tasting event, and my boss allowed me to take home anything that wasn’t empty at the end of the day.  I particularly remember being able to take home quarter-full bottles of Opus One and Dunn Howell Mountain on separate occasions—a treat for anyone, but especially for a lowly college student.

I continued working in that wine shop all through college and law school.  And though I stepped away from the trade after that, I continued reading and studying wine in my spare time.  Of the various wine writers I’ve read over the years, Jancis Robinson and Rajat Parr have probably had the largest impact on me.  Jancis’ wine reviews, which are both engaging and direct, serve as a style that I try to emulate.  And Raj’s “The Sommelier’s Atlas of Taste,” which I find unparalleled in its depth and approachability, was critical to building out my understanding of terroirs around the world.

As an aside, once I finished law school, I became a corporate litigation attorney.  I loved litigation because it gave me the opportunity to write legal briefs.  Crafting written arguments was what gave me the most satisfaction as an attorney.  I’ve more recently transitioned to a role as an attorney working on internal investigations for a large technology and social media company.  While I’m very happy with my job (and the much better work-life balance it provides), there are no opportunities to write in the new post.  Because of this, I’ve been looking for a writing outlet for some time, and I’m truly thrilled to get to combine my love of writing with my long-time passion for wine when contributing to Wine Review Online."