Mermaids and Merlot's no-pressure, no-pretension guide to wine | Drink | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Mermaids and Merlot's no-pressure, no-pretension guide to wine

Jessica Babin’s wine club brings women together to get more comfortable and confident around the drink.

Mermaids and Merlot's no-pressure, no-pretension guide to wine
Lenny Mullins
The first rule of Jessica Babin’s wine club is that there are no rules. You don’t have to be an expert, or have any intention of being an expert, drink with her. Bar Kismet’s WSET-certified wine director runs Mermaids and Merlot based on a simple piece of advice she got from a teacher—life is complicated, wine shouldn’t be—and a humble, humbling approach to her expertise.

“The more you learn about wine the more you realize you don’t know anything,” she says. “You’re never going to get to a point where you know it all.”

Two years in, Mermaids and Merlot—a women-centric series of tasting classes with a casual book club vibe—still feels underground. Babin sends out her course selection via a mailing list, and gathers her students at a closed restaurant on Monday nights. The club started as a favour to a friend, an excuse to hang out and get a little more comfortable talking about, ordering and drinking wine. When word got around, Babin realized she knew a lot of people who wanted to get to know the drink, and suddenly she was hosting a group of friends, and friends of friends, at Highwayman instead of her living room, teaching them an approachable, accessible, light-hearted lesson on wine.

“I used to doubt myself and wonder if I should make it harder, or more in depth. I was struggling with whether it was too simple, too safe,” says Babin. But a piece of advice from her Bar Kismet boss, Annie Brace-Lavoie reassured her to trust her gut. “She actually said to me, ‘You really should just wear that like a badge. It is just fun and it is just approachable and that’s cool. There’s a place for that.’ There are lots of places in the world to get a really in-depth lesson, but that’s not what I’m trying to do. Once that kind of clicked, I decided I’m just going to make this what it is.”

Before launching into a flight of six to eight wines—which have followed themes like pairing wine with junk food and an all-bubbly Galentine’s Day—Babin usually starts with a lesson on lingo to get everyone on the same page with vocabulary. Once palates are in sync, the Mermaids taste, take notes if they want to and talk about everything they’re experiencing. And according to Babin there are no wrong answers or observations.

“Everyone’s going to bring something new to the table,” she says. “I want people to feel like they’re coming into my living room and hanging out with me. Maybe you had a bad day and want to talk about that when drinking the wine, and maybe you want to talk about what you’re tasting.”

The next Mermaids and Merlot lineup is set to launch in mid-October with classes starting in November, they’ll take place Monday nights at Bar Kismet (and will welcome mermen to the table on occasion). This season she hopes to host more collaborative events, tackle fortified wines, bottles under $15 and, back by popular demand, junk food.

“At the end of the day I’m still from a small town in New Brunswick and I like to drink Schooner,” says Babin. “I think it’s cool to learn all this stuff but still be really humble about it.”

Sign up for the Mermaids and Merlot mailing list at

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