Skip to Main content

Spanish wine and how to taste it: Q&A with visiting wine expert, educator

Feb 23, 2023

Ahead of the highly-anticipated St. Augustine Spanish Food & Wine Festival, we talked with Shaun Wright, the wine expert for Friday night’s Cava Reception and Dinner.

This VIP evening starts with a Cava reception in the historic Ponce de Leon Hall Flagler Room, progresses to the Solarium for three plated courses and a private musical performance, and concludes with a dessert social on the Solarium terrace.

Wright, who is a Master of Wine student and Fine Wine Manager for North Florida at Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits, gave advice to those looking to learn more about the world of wine and discussed his role in curating the Spanish wine pairings for the Cava Reception and Dinner.

Shaun Wright Headshot

What’s the difference between a Sommelier and your profession, a Wine Educator?

A sommelier is a French term meaning wine steward, it’s really a classification of folks working in a restaurant servicing a wine program and selling them directly to guests. The reason I make that distinction is out of respect for my sommelier colleagues that are actually in restaurants running programs. I'm a wine educator. I'm a wine salesperson. I'm a communicator. But I don't work in restaurants anymore, and I think that’s an important distinction.

I think some of the greatest wine educators and greatest sommeliers in the world do not hold any particular type of certification from a certification body. However, it's a good way to get a foundation.

How did you work with the chef for the Cava Reception & Dinner to curate a Spanish wine experience?

We’re celebrating wine throughout Spain starting with a Cava Rose & Brut, a rose, two versions of Tempranillo for the two main courses, and then finishing off with a Spanish-inspired cocktail for dessert.

When I put together a Spanish wine dinner, I want to pay homage to the classics. So, we’re pouring a classic Rioja on the main course, but we’re also looking to more modern contemporary facing regions with the Quinta Sardonia Sardón. We’re also looking at Spain’s most celebrated grape, Tempranillo, but we’re looking at it through two different lenses: modern and traditional.

In collaboration with the chef, we looked at what kinds of dishes and regions they wanted to celebrate and then picked through Spain’s vast offerings to select a good blend of wine that pays respect to tradition but also gives attendees a look into modern Spain.

What are some of the distinguishing characteristics of Spanish wine?

It tends to be that European wines, especially French, Italian, and Spanish, are very linked to local cuisine and local agriculture.

Spain is pretty large for a European country, meaning there is a vast difference between its regions. In the central area where it's very hot and high desert, the wines produced around Madrid are different from those produced in the North from La Rioja.  The wines coming out of the northwest in Rias Baixas will be very different from the warm and airy southwest Sherry country where they’re making one of the world's most unique wines. They're just very different as you move throughout the regions.

What advice would you give to someone new to wine tastings?

Approach it with an open mind. I see wine as food, you want to approach it just like you would when you go to a new restaurant. You might see some new foods and some interesting things on the menu that you might not have normally ordered, but are going to try new things and be excited about it. I would suggest the same thing with the wine.

Just approach it with an open mind. As a starting point, you can look for familiar flavors. But also look for flavors and aromas that you might not be familiar with. Ask questions, discuss, and enjoy the journey.

What are some basics of wine vocabulary that can consumers use to communicate their taste preferences?

First and foremost, you want to be truthful with yourself about what you like. Meaning, if you like dry wines, meaning wines in the absence of sugar- that have been fermented to dryness, then you need to be able to say, "I like dry wines that are not sweet." If you like wines that are slightly sweet, have the confidence to say "I like wines that have a little bit of sweetness to them" Don't be afraid to say that. If you like rich, full-bodied wines that do not dry out your mouth, which is a result of the tannins, you can learn to say, “I like low tannin wines that are fruit-forward and rich.”

How can someone get started on a journey of exploring wine?

As a consumer, find your local wine shop. Be friends. Have a conversation with the person that's behind the counter. Go to that same wine shop whenever you go to purchase wine. They will learn your preferences. The dialogue creates a greater bank of dialogue for them to help you find what you're looking for. They learn your taste, it's the best thing.

They become your wine expert and your tour guide through the world of wine. I had this relationship when I was first starting out. Sometimes when you're buying your groceries, you’ve got to pick up your bottle of Pinot, I get it. But consistently going, going back to your local wine retailer and having a conversation telling them what you disliked about the prior purchase and what you really liked about the prior purchase will help you find what you like in and develop that vocabulary.


It’s not too late to explore the world of Spanish wine at the festival’s Grand Tasting Saturday, Feb. 25 from 2 to 5 p.m. Guests have the opportunity to experience over 100 authentic Spanish wines originating from the regions of Rioja, Penedes, Catalonia, and more.  While they’re still available, buy your tickets for Saturday’s Grand Tasting here.



Tagged As