Getting a Wine Education
When I leaned about the Culinary Institute of America‘s Wine Lovers’ Boot Camp, I was intrigued. Just thinking about two days of sampling world-class wines and learning the secrets of tasting wine sounded like the perfect training regimen.
Showing up to class on the first day, I wondered if I was up to the challenge. Would I be able to develop a palate for tasting and appreciating wine? Our instructor, John B. (Buechsenstein), informed us that we could improve our sensory abilities to taste and recall wine. Relieved, I was ready to commit myself to the program.
Classes were held at the Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies. Within the historic building, a modern classroom provided the perfect setting for studying wine, with natural light, light boxes at each station, sinks, and a high-tech ventilation system. When we arrived, 12 wine glasses were laid out at our seats. After learning basics about the history of wine, how it is produced, and the major grape varietals, we were ready to learn to taste.
Our status as wine students afforded us the opportunity to dine in the Test Kitchen, where tomorrow’s chefs were learning their craft. With so many choices, it was impossible to sample all of the sumptuous dishes, and selecting what to eat from the buffet became a challenge.
Tasting Like a Pro focused on a system for evaluating the wine and learning how to taste. With over 40 wines to sample, the spit cup was essential. We learned to study the wine and check the visual characteristics of clarity, color, and viscosity. Then we moved on to the nose: the condition of the wine, its development, intensity, alcohol levels, aromas, use of oak, and the overall complexity.
We learned to describe flavors, aided by an exercise in smelling aromas typically found in wine. For the first time, I was able to detect tobacco, smoke, and earth characteristics. Fruit and floral aromas have always been easier for me to find. We were given wine notebooks in which to record our observations. I was becoming a wine geek.
Next we moved on to the palate and how the wine tasted. Was it sweet or dry? What type of body style? What aromas were present? Did it contain enormous amounts of tanins and how acidic was it? Finally, was it balanced? How long did the flavors linger in the mouth?
Believe it or not, at the end of the first day, I experienced sensory overload. After a short break, we reconvened for our class dinner held at Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant. Our instructor had selected a special three-course meal complemented by local wine. The first course was a selection of appetizers, including a selection of seafood and savory bites served with J Cuvee 20, MV Russian River Valley.
The main course was grilled Five Dot Ranch grass-fed strip loin with a molasses-black pepper glaze, crispy potatoes, fresh vegetables, and bacon-mushroom jus, complemented by a Boony Doon Le Cigar Volant. The savory crispy salmon was served with beans, olives, greens, and a red wine emulsion in a sun-dried tomato broth, paired with Grgich Hills Estate Fume Blanc, both were delicious.
The Chocolate Lava Cake came with caramel and vanilla bean ice cream and was accompanied by a Blandy’s Malmsey Madeira 10 year. It was a winning combination with neither the dessert nor the Madeira outshining the other – a lesson in how to pair food and wine.
The final class day focused on tasting the remaining 24 wines. Now that we knew what we were doing, it was really fun. We also learned to detect wine flaws, a helpful skill, when sending back “corked” wine in a restaurant. The day flew by as we swirled, sniffed and savored each of the wines. At the conclusion of class, we toasted our instructor with Mumm Napa Brut Prestige sparkling wine. I was never more proud to receive a certificate for completing a course.
Details: The Culinary Institute of America offers a variety of culinary and wine classes to the general public. Wine Lovers Boot Camps last from two to five days and offer a full range of wine education experiences. And the best part is their location in the heart of Napa Valley, with access to numerous wineries and restaurants.