GroupWorks Member Spotlight: American Wine Society First State Wine Guild

When Ajit Mathew George was in his early 20s, he was advised that if he wanted to meet “interesting people above [his] pay grade,” as one of his mentors put it, then he should collect wine. George took the note to heart. For more than 40 years now, George has collected and celebrated wine. Along the way, he’s become an interesting person himself: a 64-year-old former real-estate developer, honored philanthropist and founder of Meals on Wheels Delaware who, in so-called retirement, puts in 100-hour weeks via his far-flung ventures as serial entrepreneur, life coach, TEDx conference organizer and more.

“I have found wine to be a great icebreaker with people,” George says. “When you have a great bottle of wine, it doesn’t matter how rich you are, how poor you are, the wine becomes your ticket and passport.”

Since 2016, George has served as chairman of the American Wine Society’s First State Wine Guild, based in Delaware, which he calls home along with the British Virgin Islands. The American Wine Society is a national non-profit organization dedicated to bringing the finer points of the great grape to the casual wine-lover and beyond. George says the American Wine Society asked him to establish its Delaware outpost because of his work with the MidAtlantic Wine+ Food Festival, which he founded and ran from 2010-2015.

“We’re a small chapter,” says George of the 20-member First State Wine Guild, which uses GroupWorks to reach out to guild members and non-guild members alike regarding its half-dozen or so annual tastings and dinners. “But I’m trying to keep it fun, less work. It has been a really fun way to meet new people. It’s not an insider’s group; the members aren’t all collectors, most of the people are not, in fact.”

In the spirit of the American Wine Society’s mission, we asked George to give us his five tips to developing your palate — and enjoying one of life’s finer things.

1. Drink more. Really.
“Whenever you drink a bottle,” George says, “drink two bottles of wine at the same tIme. They can be $5 bottles of wine. You may hate them both, but you will like one more than the other. If you’re starting out, you want to train your tongue. You really want to get your tongue to understand the difference.”

2. Ask questions.
“Do you like what you tasted? If you don’t,” George says, “what didn’t you like?”

In forming answers, he says, you will begin to build a wine vocabulary, a way of expressing and explaining what it is you’re tasting. Your vocabulary doesn’t have to be fancy — in fact, it may be better if it’s not.

“Some people have made wine way too inaccessible by using fancy words,” George says.

3. Share more. Definitely.
“I travel a lot,” says George, who was raised in Kuwait to Indian parents, and immigrated to the United States as a teenager, “and the hardest thing for me is to have a great drink of wine by myself. A great bottle of wine should be shared with someone. In many ways, wine is a community experience.”

4. Try the $2-more/24-hour trick.
This tip’s in the name of broadening your outlook, as well as your palate. “Go to any wine store, and pick a price point where you can afford two bottles of wine. Spend $2 more [than you normally would], and get the next best wine,” George says. “Pour two glasses. Try the bottle again the next day. The wine will only change a little over 24 hours, and it’s a great way to know if your tongue remembers the taste.”

5. Just have fun.
“Don’t worry about having red wine with fish, or white wine with steak,” George says. “This is not a Biblical set of commandments.”

Indeed, it’s not: It’s wine!

“In the American Wine Society,” George says, “we have people who have a passion for wine, who just enjoy wine, and aren’t necessarily wine experts.”

As long as they’re interesting.