What a great way to start the New Year: Wine 101, a beginning course/pairing event for novice wine drinkers. It took place on Jan. 12 at Napa & Co.in Stamford, CT, where proprietor Mary Schaffer started by sitting us down with four samples in four plastic cups.
One was a clear liquid, one a pale yellow, one light brown and one darker brown. I took a guess at what they were just by looking:
A light bodied pinot grigio
A merlot, of course
And a full-bodied cabernet sauvignon
Don’t need no stinking course, I’m a wine expert! Then Mary told the class to pick up the clear one and have a taste. Wham, bam, what a shock! Or should I say, shot: It was pure vodka–Ketel One, we are told.
Next, a taste of the pale yellow revealed it was, ugh, lemon juice, followed by sugar water and tea. We had just completed step 1 in the Wine 101 class by answering the question, What is wine? A combination of alcohol, acid, sugars and tannin.
An introductory wine course is a great way to bring in a new set of customers, gain a reputation as being product knowledgeable and, hopefully, sell a few more bottles of vino. Ordering and drinking wine can be complicated and intimidating, so exposing more people to the basics of wine will result in increased enjoyment and higher sales.
With a group of wine beginners, it’s a good idea to start off with a little product knowledge before sampling. These customers want to learn the who, what, where why and whens of wine as well as sampling. How do we taste wine, how does climate affect wine growth, what makes for a bad bottle of wine (it’s estimated that 10% of wine sold is bad to a degree), serving temperatures, food and wine pairings.
At the Napa & Co. event, we sampled six wines from a number of producers that provided a good comparison of light whites to heavy reds: a ’13 Dr. Thanisch Riesling from Mosel German; the ’13 Au Contraire chardonnay from California’s Russian River; a ’12 Greywacke Wild Yeast sauvignon blanc; an ’11 Louis Jadot Burgundy pinot noir; the ’09 Antano Reserva tempranillo from Rioja, Spain; a 2011 Four Vines “Biker” zinfandel from Paso Robles, CA; and a 2012 Routestock Cellars cabernet sauvignon from Napa Valley.
The wines were paired with French fries and spicy dipping sauce, mushroom goat cheese bruschetta, mac & cheese, meatballs–you get the idea. The restaurant served the more successful items on the menu to demonstrate how various wines can be matched.
It was a fun and low-key way to learn about wine. Most important, we came away from the class answering the question what’s a good wine? One that tastes good to you. Enough said.