Twenty years ago, River Forest resident Jane Norrington visited a Napa Valley winery and kicked off a wine exploration that took her to wineries in Oregon and Washington and across the ocean to France, Italy and Spain. She tasted a bit of history in a 1976 Château Latour she remembers as “a really important glass of wine,” but also developed a keen interest in minimizing the snobbery associated with wine tasting and making memorable wine accessible to every palate.
Four years ago, while sitting with her newborn son, the mother of two with a former career in advertising, started wondering when or if she would ever be able to embark on the wine adventures she had come to love. As she flipped through photos remembering her travels, she began posting them to an Instagram account she gave the cheeky name, See Jane Drink Wine. By morning, the account had more than 100 followers. See Jane Drink Wine exploded from there now and now has more than 4,000 followers.
Norrington holds WSET Level 2 in Wine with Distinction certification through the Napa Valley Wine Academy and is in the process of establishing See Jane Drink Wine as an LLC offering cellar consultations as well as virtual or in person wine tastings for corporations and private clients.
“People want to see their friends more than ever, but friendships are malnourished right now,” said Norrington. “Wine tastings help people overcome the social awkwardness they may be feeling after the pandemic. A tasting can be a centerpiece that brings focus to a gathering.”
Norrington began offering private wine tastings in March. The social events, predominantly hosted outdoors, are steadily gaining momentum thanks to Norrington’s efforts to make the events bright and interactive. While virtual wine tastings are limitless in their attendance, Norrington considers 12 guests to be ideal for in person tastings.
“Wine tastings have a reputation for being stuffy,” said Norrington. “But wine is fun. It shouldn’t be intimidating to discover what you like in a wine.”
After consulting with a host about goals for an event Norrington takes up to a week to research suitable wines and typically selects three or four arranged by region, grape type or personalized themes. Hosts purchase the wines based on her recommendations and Norrington arrives to walk participants through the “five S’s” of wine tasting.
Guests “see” the wine first and learn how to discern wine age, grape type and alcohol content through visual examination. The “swirl” not only makes participants look cool, but releases aromas to set up the all important “sniff.” After a discussion guests enjoy a highly anticipated “sip” and then “savor” the flavor and discuss if the wine has a long or short finish. Norrington also educates attendees on wine regions, makes pairing suggestions and shares tips on how to locate good wines on shop shelves.
For folks looking for a value wine to please a crowd, Norrington suggests sourcing a Spanish Rioja Gran Reserva. Many are available for under $20 and spend a minimum of 24 months on oak before being bottled. The resulting wine is big and complex, but not too heavy and pairs well with Asian flavor profiles and shellfish dishes.
“When it comes to selecting wine, my goal is to empower people to make educated decisions in public spaces,” said Norrington. “And that starts with knowing what you like and don’t like.”
In fact, Norrington used to think she disliked all Chardonnays. Through education she learned she simply is not a fan of oaked chardonnay — she confidently enjoys unoaked versions of the same wine.
“Broadly declaring you dislike all wines of a certain type is like saying you don’t like the United States, but you’ve only ever been to Arkansas,” said Norrington.
Drinking wine is about discovery for Norrington and she cautions against purchasing the same wine again and again. On the most basic level she urges people to focus on independent producers rather than wines made for mass production. Mass produced wines are often over-priced and under deliver.
Norrington is eager to build See Jane Drink Wine into a vibrant interactive business in the Oak Park and River Forest communities and intends to help people discover wines they love to drink while developing the skills to help them discover enjoyable wines in any setting. Interested parties can schedule a tasting by visiting seejanedrinkwine.com.