Week One, Day One: The Introduction to Wine Class
July 4, 2012 Leave a comment
Next week starts a brand new semester and among the classes I’ll be teaching this block is my sentimental favorite – The Introduction to Wine Class. I offer Professional Wine Studies, Wines and the Culinary Arts, and Wine and Food Pairing as well as semester-long looks at both Old World Wines and New World Wines, but the introductory class remains my favorite.
It’s great to see wine newbies go from “What is Wine” to “The Legend of Sassicaia” in just over 12 weeks. I always like to start Week One/Day One simply enough with “Wine, Defined.” I am sure that every wine educator out there has their preferred version of the answer to the question, “what is wine”? My is quite simply, “Wine is a beverage produced by the fermentation of fruit, mainly grapes”. Of course this answer leads to many questions and further disucssions…what is fermentation, why grapes, and “can you make wine from Welch’s Grape Juice”? Of course, the answer is yes…it just won’t taste very good!
And it never fails, within the first ten minutes of class someone will mention the following subjects: Boone’s Farm, Four Loko, Sangria, Hellow Kitty Wines, Prison Wine, Mad Dog 20/20, Saké, Arbor Mist Blackberry Merlot, Thunderbird, Mimosas, Cristal, and Ace of Spades. Fellow wine educators, I bet you have your own list, I would love to hear about what your students ask on day one!
And somehow, we get through it all. I like to have a basic “learn how to taste” session on Week One/Day One as well, both to get the class off to an engaging start and also to lay the ground work for the more detailed, directed tastings we will have as the class progresses.
My introduction to sensory evaluation class is admittedly quite technical. I tell the students what the wines are, but I ask them not to focus on that one particular wine but rather to use the wine at hand to learn about the sensory evaluation of “every wine or any wine.”
I use just three wines; an unoaked, crisp Chardonnay (A Macon-Villages is ideal), followed by a simple yet sweet white wine (I’ve been using Flat Creek Estate Muscato D’Arancia), and finish with Sterling Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
The basics of sensory evaluation class that I teach on Week One/Day One does not follow the basic steps of wine tasting. We will get to all the expected steps (sight, swirl, sniff, snort, whatever…) in the course of the session, but not exactly in that order. I tell the students that we are going to do approach the wines in the proper order (dry before sweet, white before red, light before heavy) and that we will let each wine “reveal” its secrets to us – in other words, each wine has something special to teach us. I choose my flight of three to include a wine that perfectly shows acidity, one that has sweetness, one with bitterness and tannin, and make sure that within the set of three, each of the major aroma families is there in an easy-to-recognize manner. I want the class to be chock-full of “a-ha moments.”
Then I launch right in, teaching what I call “The Nine Elements of Wine Flavor.” The nine elements are: Acidity, Sweetness, Bitterness, Tannin, Umami, Aroma, Body, Balance, and Alcohol. I told you it was technical! It does start off quite scientific, with discussions of pH, IBU’s, R.S. and ABV, but by the time we add aroma to the mix I make sure the step off the path of “paralysis by analysis” and let the students just relax and enjoy the flavor of the wine. And somehow, it all comes together in the end.
If you’d like a copy of my handout about “The Nine Elements of Wine Flavor” just send me an email request to” firstname.lastname@example.org .
The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” of Austin, Texas.