Kasaundra Howard, a self-described ‘wino’ abroad, talks about love of wine
People drink alcohol for various reasons. We drink to celebrate, we drink to socialize, and we sometimes drink to forget. Drinking is also a rite of passage that is experienced by people from many cultures when one finally hits the legal drinking age. Of the various kinds of alcohol, beers, vodkas, cocktails etc. consumed, none could be called a form of art more than wine.
Though lovers of whisky and brandy would likely argue that the tasting of those two liquors could likewise be listed as art, neither whisky nor brandy provides its avid fans with recognized mantels; unlike wine tasting, which classifies its professionals into different titles such as masters, connoisseurs and sommeliers.
The art of wine is so profound that institutions cultivating people into professional wine masters are set up all over the world to provide wine education. And, with the various intricate aspects of the liquid itself, the study of wine tasting is no simple task that can easily be accomplished halfheartedly.
Such schools are also available in Taiwan, like the Wine & Spirit Education Trust ( WSET) certified Taiwan Wine Academy (
) led by local certified educator, founder and program director Naseem Chen ( ) . The WSET is a British organization that provides classes and examinations in the fields of wine and spirits, and is also known as the leading provider of wine education.
From the Taiwan Wine Academy, is WSET Level 2 certified wine connoisseur Kasaundra Howard, whose passion for wine has made her the go-to person people want to talk to while attending local wine tasting events and expos. “Based on the courses I have taken with the WSET, you can say that I am a wine connoisseur,” Howard said. “But I don’t really define myself as a wine connoisseur, I just define myself as a wine enthusiast; someone that immensely enjoys wine and has a need to learn more.”
With her love of wine, Howard can be found at local wine events where her expertise and passion enable her to educate amateur drinkers seeking out a wine that fits with their individual needs, while aiding seasoned lovers of the drink in trying out new bottles that are otherwise rare in Taiwan.
The catalyst that started Howard’s initial interest in wine was a wall found in the home of her great-grandparents. Howard said she remembers that the wall was filled with a collection of obscure wine labels from wineries found in California. The visually stunning labels, which California wine companies are known to do excellently, were works of art in the eyes of the young wine enthusiast. “To a child, it wasn’t about the wine at the time,” Howard remembered, “it was just about the pictures on the wall, and that was curious to me because I was a inquisitive child.”
Howard’s first sip of wine, however, came at the age of 21 when, in accordance with family traditions, she received a bottle that shared the same birth year as herself. Though the specific bottle was spoiled before it was opened, Howard nonetheless developed a special interest in wine, especially those made with the red wine grape varietal of pinot noir. “I tried merlots, I tried cabernet sauvignon, and I’ve tried other things,” Howard said of her personal choice of wine, “but I started to become fond of pinot noir. Pinot noir a terroir expressive easy drinking wine, that isn’t too dry and low in tannins. For a beginner drinker at that time, it was something that pleased my palate.”
Howard would later travel to Hong Kong before coming to Taiwan’s Chung Yuan Christian University ( ) in Zhongli for her study abroad tour. The wine enthusiast said that she had never imagined herself getting back into learning about wine again when she first came to the county five years ago, at a time when wine was not as commonplace in her eyes. It was not until after befriending a fellow exchange student from San Francisco that Howard truly began to indulge and discover the profundity wine has to offer. Howard said that at that very beginning of her wine career, it was all about discoveries of the taste of wines based on the concept of “terroir,” the taste of place, which came about after purchasing a bottle of French wine that had the flavor of the earth.
Howard said that the experience was so memorable that it prompted her to want to learn more about the enigmatic alcohol, which led to her enrollment in wine school programs. “One could take the WSET, the ISG, the International Sommelier Guild, or the MW Examination — the Institute of Masters of Wine, among many others. For me, I chose the WSET because it focused on wine, wine regions and the building of one’s wine palate.”
Her enrolment into the Asia Wine Service & Education Center wine school in Hong Kong for the first level of her WSET education gave Howard the opportunity to experience the tip of the iceberg that is the art of wine tasting. The experience solidified, if not elevated her determination to pursue the art as her career of choice, which drove her to continue her second level studies back in Taiwan, where she is a familiar face at local wine events. More than often, Howard is seen using her expertise avidly helping different people find the most suitable wine for each person’s respective palate.
With her now enhanced pallet for wine, Howard continues to follow her path on the road to wine tasting mastery, now readying herself to pursue the next level of her WSET studies. “Wine is a living organism,” Howard said in conclusion. “As soon as you pop the cork it reacts to its environment, it starts to breathe and it starts to change, just like a person. How many drinks, if not things, in this world can do that? It intrigues me and enlightens me, it brings the adventurousness out of me, because everything I taste is always different and is always a new experience. Just when you think you know it all, something new always happens, and it’s flabbergasting to me, I love it, I love being in this industry.”
1. Kasaundra Howard poses for the camera in this undated photo. With a passion for wine, Howard is a WSET Level 2 certified wine connoisseur who is also the go-to person people want to talk to while attending local wine tasting events and expos. 2. Kasaundra Howard pours red wine with her coworkers. With her love for wine, Howard could be found in local wine events where her expertise and passion enable her to educate amateurs drinkers in seeking out a wine that if fit for an individual, while aiding seasoned lovers of the alcohol in trying out new bottles that are otherwise rare in Taiwan. 3. Kasaundra Howard pours white wine into the glass of her customer. Howard said that at the very beginning of her wine career, it was all about discoveries of the taste of wines based on the concept of “terroir,” the taste of place, which came about after purchasing a bottle of French wine that had the flavor of the earth.