Wine enthusiast and journalist Chasity Cooper describes her oenophile journey using checkpoints. The first was when she visited a winery during a study abroad trip to Spain 11 years ago.
“It was just so memorable,” she recalled. “We tasted different cheeses with the wines, we’re buying wine for a couple of euros and bringing them back to the States.”
The second was in her senior year of college when Scandal debuted on ABC. Like the show’s protagonist Olivia Pope, Cooper was living in DC at the time and was captivated by the fixer’s penchant for drinking wine out of oversized glasses. It was the first time she had seen a Black woman confidently handling her vino. Emboldened by the character, Cooper started buying, tasting, and reading books on wine but was still not immersed in the industry.
That all changed at the third checkpoint in 2016.
“I’m kind of the person who learns by doing,” explained Cooper. “I would go to different wine bars, different wine shops, tastings, ask questions and write about it on my little blog. I did that for about a year, still in DC at the time. And then I remember one of the wine shops I featured on my blog. I was like, ‘Hey, I’m really trying to get into this wine game. Can I be an apprentice of some sort?’ They’re like, ‘you can come work for us.’ And I was like, ‘okay, cool.’ So I worked part-time at the wine shop.”
That experience proved invaluable. Cooper eventually moved to New York and started writing about wine for some publications. She also pursued the first-level Wine & Spirit Education Trust certification. Later, Cooper would receive a scholarship to complete levels two and three. The stillness of the pandemic last year provided her with opportunities to create content, host virtual tastings, and bolster her writing portfolio. Her passion for all things wine has taken her to the Chianti Classico in Italy, as well as tastings in Paso Robles, California; Bordeaux, France; and Eugene, Oregon.
Now solidly into the wine game, we asked the WSET-certified wine journalist to take us back to where it all started, when she was just a newbie trying to discover her palate.
Cooper gave us the insider’s guide to the best gifts for the budding wine enthusiast.
1. The VINOTES Wine Tasting Notebook
Why it’s a great gift: “I have a friend, her name is Shontel Horne, and she created basically a wine note-taking book. It’s called Vinotes. I would definitely give a newbie that because as you’re tasting the different wines, it’s going to be helpful for you to be able to jot down, ‘Oh, I really liked that Albariño. I really liked that unoaked chardonnay from Chile. Who was the producer? What vintage was it? What flavors did I taste?’”
Where to purchase: Shopvinotes.com
2. The Wine Bible By Karen MacNeil
Why it’s a great gift: “It’s a huge book by Karen MacNeil, who is a renowned wine writer and author. And that just kind of gives you the lay of everything like regions and different grapes from all over the world. It’s a bible essentially.”
Where to purchase: Amazon.com
3. Estelle Colored Glass
Why it’s a great gift: It’s a Black-owned brand. They are on the pricier side, but you can get two and just drink out of the wine glasses. They’re beautiful. I think the glass is blown in Poland. It’s a nice gift to have. It’s cool to be able to feel good about what you’re drinking out of. Granted, I’m not above drinking out of a solo cup or coffee mug. But I’m not gonna lie to you and say I don’t like a nice sturdy wineglass with the stem.”
Where to purchase: Estellecoloredglass.com
Tighter budget?: Camille Long Stem Wine Glasses, $11.95 – $13.95
Why it’s a great gift: “It doesn’t have to be super fancy. I remember my very first decanter. It was a gift from a friend, and it was just a beautiful huge bowl, and you get to swirl the wine and just let it sit. I also have one that kind of looks like a flower vase. They come in different shapes and sizes. And really what the decanter does, it opens up and aerates the wine. You can decant any wine of your choosing, but I tend to prefer wines that have a bit of age on them. So you know if we’re in 2021 I definitely decant anything 2018 and beyond; 2017, and definitely a 2014 or 2012.”
Price: $29.95 – $45.95
5. Zulay Kitchen Silicone Wine Stoppers
Why it’s a great gift: “Definitely a great set of stoppers. Champagne stoppers, the little rubber stoppers to help keep your wine fresh up to a certain point. With sparkling, I like to say a regular champagne stopper, one to three days. But if you have a rubber stopper on your red wine, or you have one of those pumps, that’s a good thing to have. And in case you live by yourself, and you’re like, ‘Hey, I’m not gonna kill this whole bottle of wine tonight, but I want something to enjoy tomorrow,’ you get the stopper, and it comes with this pump. So you’ll put that on top of the wine, take all the air out, and set it on your countertop. I would say you don’t want to leave it out for too long.”
Where to purchase: Target.com
6. Pulltex ® Waiter's Black Corkscrew
Why it’s a great gift: “Double-hinged corkscrews are like my jam. And people sometimes are intimidated by this, but it’s super simple to use. Just put it at an angle and use the hinges to take the cork out. But you also don’t have to spend too much money on one of these. I like to just keep them handy because I feel like I’m opening a bottle of wine. I mean, you have people who use the automatic joints too. I just like working for my wine.”
Where to purchase: Crate&Barrel.com
See also: Rabbit ® White Compact Electric Wine Opener, $50.00
7. Non-Alcoholic Wine
Why it’s a great gift: “I did dry January this past January, and I had a number of different non-alcoholic alternatives. There’s this wine brand called SIP Cozy. That’s a non-alcoholic brand. Gruvi is another one. They have a sparkling as well. The thing about drinking is it’s so communal, it’s so conversational, and social. So people who don’t drink are like, ‘I’m gonna feel left out.’ There are options for you.”
Price: $8.00 – $92.00
8. Where I'd Rather Be Wine Region Sweatshirt
Why it’s a great gift: “I do have a friend who is a sommelier, and she owns her own wine shop. It’s an online platform where she sells different accessories and clothing and stuff like that, Black-owned, and she’s doing incredible things as well.”
Where to purchase: Thewinoshop.com
9. Gift Certificate
Why it’s a great gift: “There are so many Black-owned wine labels now. So many to choose from. So I would say give somebody a gift card to the McBride sisters website or Andre Mack Maison Noir. So a gift card to a local wine shop, wine.com, — they definitely carry a number of different Black-owned wines — that you could be able to explore. Or if you just want to head to Trader Joe’s and splurge, or you have a budget of $25. Just kind of choose from different wines there. But I think for a newbie who is looking to explore different types of wines, you definitely want to be able to support Black business and support Black winemakers.”
Price: From $25.00
10. Mango Steam 23 Bottle Wine Rack with Glass Table Top, Black
Why it’s a great gift: “I tend to prefer wine racks that are functional, but also stylish. Like, the very first wine rack I bought when I moved back home was from Wayfair. And it’s cute. But then I went on to Amazon, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is even cuter.’ It’s smaller, and it fits all these bottles and just really looks cute against the wall. And it doesn’t take up too much space.”
Where to purchase: Amazon.com