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Students taste wine — and notice the difference

Cordon Bleu wine class

My introductory wine students at the Cordon Bleu in Dallas did their in-class tasting on Friday. This is not only an important part of the class, but a big deal for the students. Many of them had never drunk wine before, let alone tasted it in a serious, professional manner.

And, apparently, they learned something.

At some point during the class, maybe around the third red wine, I started to get the sense that the past two weeks were sinking in. Teachers with more experience can probably describe this sensation better — the light bulb going on over the head moment, when everything I had lectured, cajoled, threatened, and discussed with them in class was finally making an impression.

They realized that the tannins in the merlot were bigger than the tannins in the pinot noir, and that the tannins in the cabernet were bigger than those in the merlot. They tasted — and could explain — the fruit difference between the shiraz, merlot and the two pinots. They even seemed to understand the difference between the two cabernets, a youngish one from Sonoma and an older one from Napa.

Most importantly, when we talked about food pairings for each wine, most didn’t have the blank look that had been on their faces since the first day of class. White zinfandel, which had been their stock answer for any pairing, never came up. Someone suggested pot roast for the Oregon pinot; someone else said absolutely not. The wine wasn’t big enough. I was almost giddy.

I even got a compliment. I had warned them that this wasn’t going to be an afternoon at the beach, where everyone would get a pleasant glow. I told them this was a serious, professional tasting, doing 10 wines in a little less than two hours. It was swirling, smelling, discussing, and then tasting, spitting, and more discussing. What did the wine smell like? What did it taste like? How was it different from the others? What do you think it costs? Is it a value? What would you pair it with? Of course, they didn’t believe me. No one ever does when I tell them tasting wine is hard work.

Anyway, about three-quarters of the way through, one of the students (whose test grades reflect how much  attention he pays in class) said: “Mr. Siegel, you’re right. This is work. I couldn’t do what you do. I wouldn’t want to do it.”

It’s the small victories in teaching, right?

The wines we tasted:

1. Pikes Riesling 2006. A dry Australian — OK, but nothing spectacular.

2. Husch Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2006. Good example of the California style, with some grapefruit mixed with tropical fruit.

3. Joullian Chardonnay 2006. Not as oaky as some from California, but oaky enough so that the students got the point.

4. Lange Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2006. A good wine, but not as good as I have had from Oregon.

5. X Winery Pinot Noir Los Carneros Truchard Vineyard 2006. To my mind, one of the two best wines we had, with wonderful fruit and soft yet sturdy tannins.

6. Dusted Valley Stomp Merlot 2004. Very ordinary New World style merlot. The least favorite of most of the class.

7. Teira Zinfandel 2005. A stunner — low alcohol, with spice and blueberry. I was ready to go buy a case and make a pot of red sauce for spaghetti and meatballs for the class.

8. Wishing Tree Shiraz 2005. The students who had tasted lesser shirazes, like Yellow Tail and Rosemount, were excited they could tell the difference between those and this one.

9. Liparita Enlace Cabernet Sauvignon 2002. A nice Napa cabernet, with the requisite zingy tannins and dark fruit.

10. Mantra Revelations Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2005. This Sonoma cabernet was, as the class noted, younger and easier to drink, though not as complex, than the Enlace.

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