Life in Wine with the Dauntless @JeanKReilly, a Master of Wine!


The Mount Everest encompassing all things wine is Master of Wine or Master Sommelier, a distinction earned only by the most tenacious and fearless women and men with an insatiable quest for knowledge. Personally, I consider them the modern age explorers, think perseverance of an Iron Man winner such as Mark Allen and Natascha Badman, and stealth like Chanakya and Vishwanathan Anand. MW or MS is a novel blend of doctorates such as PhDs in Law, MBA, Language, & Journalism all entwined together with an unparalleled combination of fearlessness and faith.

354 MWs across 28 countries in the world, out of which 41 MWs reside in the US, 15 of which are women, and only 1 lady MW in Florida, to be precise Orlando. Needless, to say we are honored and humbled to introduce Master of Wine Jean Reilly to our fellow oenophiles and WSET Diploma students (including yours truly), aiming to follow the foot steps of these high achievers.

RP: Master of Wine, eh? What precisely does it mean and tell us about your arduous journey into becoming one of the 15 women MWs in the United States.

MW Jean Reilly: Becoming a Master of Wine took me 7 years, $100,000 and an incalculable amount of blood, sweat and tears. There are no courses to take when studying for the Master of Wine title, it’s more of a DIY venture. The exam is a 4-day long intellectual marathon. Half of the day is spent on essay questions, such as ‘Assess the role of oxygen in the maturation of fortified wine,’ or ‘Discuss the impact of climate change on the global wine business.’ There is also a blind tasting of 36 wines. Students are expected to divine the grape variety, the country, the region in that country the wine comes from and possibly the town or vineyard if they’re important. And more detailed questions as well, such as the weather during the year the grapes were growing, the temperature the wine was fermented at, the type of vessel it was matured in, etc. When I started, no American had passed in 4 years, so it was a daunting prospect. But also fun; while cramming for the exam was difficult, I had a great time running around vineyards on five different continents, interviewing winemakers and viticulturalists. By the time I passed the exam, I had visited over a thousand wineries and also worked in Burgundy and New Zealand during the harvest.

RP: Why wine? What drew you to wine and how did your career unfold?

MW Jean Reilly: I was always interested in wine. My parents drank French wine with dinner when I was growing up and I can remember sneaking sips out of their glasses when they weren’t looking. Then I lived in Paris for a year when I was 19; wine is just part of the lifestyle there so that’s when it really got into my blood. In my early twenties, I picked up a book on wine (partly to keep my then boyfriend from lording his superior knowledge over me) and I was hooked. I read as many books as I could find and tasted everything I could get my hands on. I was in banking at the time and continued in that path until 9/11 when I decided I wanted to do something different. I had been writing a column about wine while I was in finance so I expanded that to a full-time job, which gave me an opportunity to further my education by asking really geeky questions at the wineries I visited.

RP: Does being a woman pose a challenge in the wine industry?

MW Jean Reilly: The stereotype of a wine expert is a white man, with white hair, wearing a tuxedo. However, I have found people in the wine business to be very open and helpful. There is also research that suggests that women are more sensitive tasters than men; perhaps this is why a dramatically increasing percentage of the new Masters of Wine are women.

RP: Tastings: Be it blind or open, what criteria does one utilize to assess a wine? And does price matter?

MW Jean Reilly: There are many things we look at when assessing the quality of a wine. The concentration is one of the first things any wine drinker notices. The amount of time the taste of a wine stays in the mouth (the ‘finish’) is also very important; a wine that has a 10 second finish gives you 10 times the pleasure of a wine with a 1 second finish. And then there’s what we call ‘complexity’, which is just a function of the number of different aromas and tastes.

In wine, there certainly is a correlation between price and quality, particularly at the moderately-priced end of the spectrum. However, when you spend over $100, you are usually paying for scarcity and prestige. I think the $15-$25 bracket is one of the most exciting right now, with many wines delivering enormous value.

RP: Wine Pairings: is there a trick behind a successful dining experience?

MW Jean Reilly: My best advice for anyone who wants to understand food and wine pairing is to try at least two different wines with every dinner. You don’t have to be part of the Walton family to do this without extra expense; there are loads of wine preservation devices on the market now, including Coravin and VacuVin, that make this more practical. The single most important aspect of food and wine pairing after having fun with it is to be willing to experiment. I often do employee or client appreciation events around food and wine pairing and one of the biggest ‘ah-ha’ moments is always when someone tries a red wine with a dish normally paired with white wine. Don’t be afraid to try a Beaujolais with halibut and a Chardonnay with a steak. Be bold and listen to your palate.

RP: Are wines considered fashionable? What are the latest trends in the wine business?

MW Jean Reilly: Wines continue to grow in popularity in the US. Recently, it is the ever-curious Millennial generation that has been driving the growth. They are more open to trying new things, which has led a much broader range of wines appearing on the market. We have yet to see what the iGen thinks about wine the first of them are just turning 21 but I think this trend will continue for quite some time.

Ros is one of the trendiest wines right now. The Millennials missed the White Zinfandel craze and so were quick to appreciate that there is a world of high quality ross out there that are dry, food-friendly and just plain exciting. There is also a trend to making white wine in the way it was made several thousand years ago (and still is in some parts of Georgia and Armenia). These wines are fermented with their skins, in the same way as red wine. The result is a gold colored wine called an ‘orange wine.’ Often they have less sulfur added. Sometimes these hollaback wines are enticing; other times, well, let’s say that a little modern know-how is not always a bad thing.

RP: As an MW, you also assess spirits? Gin, vodka, whiskey etc

MW Jean Reilly: I love both spirits and beer almost half of the events I do for corporate groups at Masterful Wine Events revolve around spirits or beer. If there were a ‘Master of Spirits’ title, I would be studying for it. I just started offering spirits classes at Slate Wine Academy and I am really looking forward to engaging with the spirit-loving population.

RP: For people considering a career in the wine industry, especially through the WSET program, what piece of advice would you offer them?

MW Jean Reilly: The wine industry is full of career-changers Americans just don’t turn 21 and say ‘what I want to do is work with wine!’ But before launching into a career in wine, you have to do 2 things. First, you need to understand the structure of the wine industry. Due to regulations dating to the repeal of prohibition, it is quite convoluted and it takes some study to figure out where you might find a good fit.

Then, you need to learn about wine. I teach classes that lead to professional certifications through the WSET, which are the most academically rigorous and the most recognized in the industry. One thing I would caution people is to start at the right level. If you have been in the industry, you’ll want to skip Level 1. If the school you contact tells you that everyone has to start at the lowest level, run the other way; that’s just not how education works. There are also numerous other certifications out there. Having one of these certifications really gives you a leg up when you’re looking for a job.

RP: Wine Education: Tell us how it can be helpful especially to the emerging market of millennials.

MW Jean Reilly: People who like wine always end up getting more pleasure out of it when they learn more about it. Starting with a good book is a great first step. But if you want to learn about tasting wine and understanding the terms people use to talk about wine, you really need to take a class you can’t learn to taste from a book. There are loads of options out there from the $25 2-hour wine classes at Tim’s Wine Market which are an incredible deal- to more challenging certification classes like the ones I offer at Slate Wine Academy. The millennial generation is much more knowledgeable about wine than earlier generations so those who don’t know much may feel left out. And of course wine knowledge is very important in business entertaining. As a junior employee, being wine savvy can bring you to the attention of senior management. Before I left the world of finance, I can remember being invited to several dinners with the president of my company just so I could pick the wine and talk about it with the customers he was entertaining.

RP: We heard through the grape vine you are also a certified sky driver? Tell us about it?

MW Jean Reilly: I did my first skydive in 2005 after working at a winery in New Zealand during the harvest. I learned an amazing amount but it was absolutely grueling. I was working 13-hour days and I didn’t have a day off until I’d been there three weeks. So I guess you could say I needed something extra to help me unwind. When I finally became a Master of Wine in 2010, I had some spare time for the first time in 7 years and decided to get certified. Now I have several professional licenses that allow me to teach skydiving and also put on skydiving shows at unorthodox places like resorts or golf courses. Sometimes, I even get to arrive at a wine tasting by parachute. I think in addition to the adrenaline rush, what appeals to me is that it is a great stress-reliever. You’re never thinking about what’s going on in the office when you’re in freefall!

RP: We have to ask what is your favorite wine?

MW Jean Reilly: I have thousands of favorite wines and I get asked that question frequently. Over the years, I have learned that my answer should depend on what I think the best bottle in the cellar of the person asking the question might be; they’ll usually take it out and share it with me if I can name it. So, Rashmi, I think my favorite wine is . . . the Rangen de Thann Riesling from Zind Humbrecht?

Here’s how you can enroll in MW Jean Reilly’s classes Slate Wine Academy.

For Wine Tastings and additional seminars check out Tim’s Wine Market with5 locations including Orlando -1223 North Orange Ave Orlando, FL 32804. location phone407-895-9463.

Florida residents employed in an industry related to the production, sale or service of alcoholic beverages, wishing to advance their knowledge of fine wine, craft beer and/or distilled spirits or obtain recognized certification of professional expertise can apply to The Merendino Foundation for scholarship assistance.


Curry Yogurt Chicken Kebabs

Curry Yogurt Chicken Kebabs (photo courtesy

Curry Yogurt Chicken Kebabs (photo courtesy

Curry Yogurt Chicken Kebabs is aFourth of July menu winner from Not only does it showcase Florida dairy products and Fresh From Florida flavors, it’s also an easy,delicious andlow-fat main dish option. Withjust2.5 grams of total fat and 0.5 gram of saturated fat per serving,this dishwon’t weigh you down during a day of celebrations. Our countdown to food and fireworks continues tomorrow with more great nibbles and noshes.

Curry Yogurt Chicken Kebabs

Yield: 4 servings (2 skewers plus 1/4 of the dipping sauce, per serving)


1 (8-ounce) container plain fat-free yogurt

1 lime, zested and juiced

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

1 tablespoon curry powder

1 jalapeno pepper, minced


1/2 cup plain fat-free yogurt

1/2 cup local honey

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Dipping sauce:

1 (8-ounce) container plain fat-free yogurt

1 lemon, zested and juiced

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

1/4 cup freshly chopped cilantro

1 teaspoon freshly minced garlic

2 cups chopped seedless cucumber

1/2 teaspoon salt


8 wooden skewers, soaked in water for 1 hour (or substitute with metal skewers)

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into 1-inch cubes

2 red bell peppers, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 red onion, cut into wedges

2 cups pineapple wedges

1. For the marinade, stir all ingredients together in a small bowl; set aside.

2. For the glaze, stir all ingredients together in a small bowl; set aside

3. For the dipping sauce, stir all ingredients together in a small bowl. Refrigerate until serving.

4. For the kebabs, thread each skewer with alternating pieces of chicken, peppers, onion wedges and pineapple. Place skewers in a glass dish (or large re-sealable plastic bag) and pour marinade over to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 2-4 hours.

5. Preheat broiler and line a broiler pan with aluminum foil. Lay skewers on pan and lightly brush with some of the glaze. Broil skewers about 5 minutes, then brush with remaining glaze. Turn skewers over and cook 5 minutes or until

chicken is cooked through and edges are browned.

6. Serve hot or cold with dipping sauce.


LEGO® Contest 2016

Our annual LEGO Contest was a huge success! Forty-eight very talented kids showcased their LEGO creations at the Orlando Public Library. Thanks to our partners: LEGOLAND, iBrick Academy, WonderWorks, K&H Brick Supply, Exploding Bacon, NAWIC and the Central Florida Fair. Save the date for next year’s contest: December 2, 2017! Visit for more kids’ events at the Orange County Library System.

Top 10 Worst Beers of 2016

Assembling my “Best Of” list is always a challenge because I seem to try so many great beers. However, putting together a “Worst of” list is pretty easy for two reasons: 1) bad beers stand out in my mind more than good beers, and 2) I don’t drink that many bad beers anymore so the field of contenders is much smaller.

I’ve been doing beer reviews since 2008, which means I’ve reviewed pretty much every macro lager, light lager, and other generic fizzy yellow brew by now. It sucks having to make a list of bad beers made entirely of craft brands, but it has to be done.

The rules are basically the same as those for the “Best Of” list:

  • Only beers I reviewed for the first time this calendar year are eligible.
  • Re-reviews don’t count.
  • Both macro and micro brews are eligible.
  • Only one entry per brewery.
  • Only one entry per style.
  • Bottles and cans that were well past their freshness date (or seemed to be) were not eligible.

NOTE: Paragraphs in italics indicate excerpts from my original review.

  1. Sprecher Black BavarianSprecher Black Bavarian

When it was announced at the tail end of the Beer Bloggers Conference that next year’s event would be held in Milwaukee, everyone in attendance received a free bottle of Sprecher Black Bavarian. We can’t get Sprecher here in Florida and I wasn’t able to get that brewery’s beers when I lived in New York, either. I can’t say I’m missing much based on this brew.

Though fresh, this bottle seemed off to me. The aroma was musty, the taste was pretty bland, too. Only minute quantities of the usual schwarzbier character were found here. Dry, astringent aftertaste sure didn’t help. Probably considered an average to below-average example of the style and not one I’d want to try again.


  1. Brew Bus Rollin DirtyBrew Bus Rollin Dirty

I feel bad including this beer on the list since Brew Bus is a local company based in Tampa. This was also a giveaway at #BBC16, but free or not, I don’t hold my tongue when it comes to my beer reviews. And I’ll admit I’m not a fan of Irish Reds. I can only think of a few examples of the style I truly enjoyed, and this was not one of them.

Subtle caramel malt flavor and sweetness; slight red fruit flavor (cherry, plum). Mild earthy hop character, but low perceived bitterness. No roasty or chocolate flavors. Nothing off-putting but nothing to really enjoy here. This probably would be enjoyable for mainstream drinkers who want something mild and like the red color, but connoisseurs will probably be disappointed.


  1. Saltwater LocaleSaltwater LocAle

This should be an ideal Florida brew since it’s only 3.7% ABV, a blonde ale, and it comes in cans. Yet, it tastes like it was made by an amateur homebrewer. It tasted of both butter (diacetyl) and creamed corn (dimethyl sulfide); though I will say it was quite sweet. It also went flat very quickly and the head evaporated quicker than a soda. Those are all signs of a poorly-made beer.

And what’s really ironic is I bought this because I had it at the Harbinger Beer Fest and really liked it! Perhaps they released a bad batch, who knows?


  1. Weyerbacher Sunday Molé StoutWeyerbacher Sunday Mole Stout

Two brewing trends seemed to peak in 2016: citrus-infused IPAs and molé-style stouts. The quality of these offerings can be graphed as a bell curve, but in the case of Weyerbacher Sunday Molé Stout, it’s towards the bottom.

Cinnamon, chocolate and peppers create for an interesting combination of spices along with some natural fruit character from the base stout. Coffee is completely obscured by the spices (which is really odd considering how fresh this bottle is). There’s dark malt, but no roasty taste; hops are muted as well. Finishes with a solvent-like sensation. This should be a great combination of flavors, but it’s kinda gross. Even the mouthfeel is thick and tepid with a lingering spicy aftertaste. This was very disappointing.

NOTE: I’m counting this as a spice/herb/vegetable beer rather than an imperial stout.


  1. Rochester Mills Newton’s ALEchemy Double IPARochester Mills Newton's ALEchemy Double IPA 003

I had never seen or heard of Rochester Mills (a Michigan-based brewery) until I moved to Florida in 2015. I liked that all their beers are packaged in full 16oz pint cans and the prices were quite low, too. The first beer I tried was okay, but it was all downhill from there. I’m not sure how they managed to screw up a Double IPA, but they did.

Hops impart OJ concentrate flavor, especially on the finish. Palette has a strong yeasty flavor; slightly sulfury and phenolic. There’s a spicy/peppery taste that lingers (and is rather gross). Nowhere near as bitter as the style should be. Seems to be emulating the New England style, but doesn’t come close. Needs more actual bitterness and a different hop selection.

This brewery actually sassed me on Twitter, so I won’t be buying their crap anymore.


  1. Kentucky Bourbon Barrel StoutKentucky Bourbon Barrel Stout

Everybody loves beer aged in bourbon barrels, right? What if there was an entire brewery based around that concept? That’d be a winning formula if they made good beer. I’ve tried several of the Alltech Lexington Brewing And Distilling’s brews and they’ve all been disappointing at best and disgusting at worse.

Mild palette of dark malt with generic, nondescript sweetness. No distinct roasted malt flavor whatsoever. Some firm dry bitterness at the apex of the swig followed by a short coffee flavor and some alcohol warmth. No chocolate or vanilla notes. Bourbon barrel character is virtually undetectable. This fails as both a bourbon barrel brew and a coffee stout. Entirely too mild and insipid.


  1. Sun King Wee Mac Scottish-style AleSun King Wee Mac Scottish-style Ale

This was yet another beer that was given to me by a brewery at the Beer Bloggers Conference. They actually gave me a few different beers and they were all pretty lame across the board. There isn’t much to say about this one because it’s so boring. Yet for some reason I dislike it immensely.

Mild, bland palette. Malt-focused, but little distinct character. Trace confectionery notes; slightly minerally. No hop presence. Can is fairly fresh but seems old, though no signs of oxidation. Entirely too bland to enjoy. No glaring flaws, just nowhere near the style guidelines.


  1. Samuel Adams Whitewater IPASamuel Adams Whitewater IPA 001

Whenever Sam Adams makes a trendy style beer I get a little embarrassed for them because I know they’re going to turn a niche style made for discerning palates into something mild and mainstream. Whitewater IPA is supposed to be their take on the “White IPA” style (a witbier/IPA hybrid), but it completely fails.

Overall palette is similar to Blue Moon: witbier-ish but faux. Dry bitterness throughout with slight orangepeel flavor. Apricot presence is invisible. Strong black pepper sensation on finish. Seems to have a dirty taste and maybe even some unintentional sourness. Off-putting. Palette is extremely astringent with lingering unpleasant aftertaste. Not refreshing at all. Difficult to believe this is the intended taste; seems like a bad batch. Flavors do not harmonize. Can’t finish it.


  1. Orange Blossom Honey PilsnerOrange Blossom Pilsner

Here’s another local brew I feel bad for including on this list and especially this high up [or should I saw “this far down”?], but the truth needs to be told. I’ve tried a few of Orlando’s own Orange Blossom Brewing Company and I’ve yet to be able to enjoy one. Supposedly this is a pilsner with honey added as an adjunct. That’s an interesting, experimental brewing technique, but the final product is a complete mess.

Does not seem like a pilsner at all. More of an amber ale. Missing the body of a lager. Honey flavor is evident, but tastes like cough syrup. No hop character. Palette is barely tolerable. Not at all crisp as a pilsner should be. Completely tepid, slightly thick. Texture is at least smooth and finish is mostly clean. Tastes and drinks like an old can, but it’s actually quite fresh. This is nowhere close to a pilsner and completely lacking in character. Seems like a failed homebrew, not a commercial product.


1 NGB Gluten Free LagerNGB Gluten Free Lager 001

I’ve never been a big fan of sorghum-based gluten-free lagers except for Albany’s Steadfast Beer Company. They tend to be twangy, astringent, vegetal, and/or anything other than what real beer should taste like. Most are tolerable, but this was just plain awful. I can’t say I’m surprised considering it’s made by the Minhas Craft Brewery which is also responsible for all those terrible “Boatswain” brand beers sold at Trader Joe’s.

I’m just going to include my review verbatim in order to do it justice:

AROMA: Almost completely odorless. The faintest lager-like aroma. 4/12

APPEARANCE: Clear gold; highly carbonated. White head fizzles away quickly like a soda. Looks like a cider. 1/3

FLAVOR: Borderline flavor-free. Some generic lager taste, though sorghum twang/grit presence is noticeable. Some apple juice character (acetaldehyde?). Not repulsive, but extremely lacking in palette. 7/20

MOUTHFEEL: Thin, crisp, watery texture. Clean finish. 3/5

OVERALL IMPRESSION: Not as twangy as much sorghum-based brews, but it has nothing going for it at all. Bottle was 5 months old. 3/10




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Top 10 Worst Beers of 2012

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Top 10 Worst Beers of 2010

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