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Expanding the Palate: Teaching Yourself to Drink (Well)

Luke
Posted by Luke on Aug 14, 2015

Back in college, when my friends and I had just hit our 21st birthdays and had more free time and spare change than sense, we decided to figure out the drinking world through random selection. We'd have one night every month where we each bought a bottle of something we hadn't tried before - a new gin, a liquor shaped like a bear, etc. - and put it through its paces. Budding mixologists that we were, we threw things together based on luck and instinct rather than any knowledge and named our new cocktails based on how well they turned out. We drank everything from The Golden Glory to The Eternal Suffering, had an excellent time, and never thought to write anything down.

Those nights, and the ability to make my dad's favorite drink (dirty gin martini on the rocks in a short glass) were the basis of my knowledge of alcohol for a long time. It wasn't until I moved to the big city that I heard about the craft cocktail craze and made friends with some knowledgeable bartenders. I also had a chance to explore the subtle worlds of wine and beer. I hadn't thought of those old experiments for a long time until I reorganized The Chopping Block's liquor cabinet last week.

liquor_cabinet

My colleagues have covered the liquor selection we sell in the store, and how to use our favorites. They're even featured in cooking classes like Summer Cocktails and Appetizers. But a lot of the bottles we keep in the cabinet aren't ones we sell. They're for the bar at our private cooking parties, or ingredients we use in classes like From Beer To Eternity. There are names in there I don't recognize, things I've never (knowingly) tried. It was a heavy reminder that, even while I've been trying to educate myself, there's a lot out there I still don't know. It sorta made me take a step back. At which point I saw this.

winecabinet

And just like that, I was overwhelmed by how much I still have to learn. If my knowledge of cocktails is elementary, my knowledge of wine hasn't made it through kindergarten yet. I can tell a red from a white, and I've tried enough to know I really like Pinot Noir. But every time someone starts comparing varietals, I get that panicky 'Haven't Studied For This Test' feeling I thought I'd left behind. There's really no excuse of it. We have a great wine selection, and both our Sommelier and our buyers are brilliant folk who work really hard to make that selection affordable. I have a lot of opportunities to learn about this, so I decided that's exactly what I'd do.

Wine_Tastings_Aug_MM
​During August, we're hosting free wine tastings every Thursday. They're lead by Viktorija, (who also has some great blogs I highly recommend) but it's the retail team that's pouring and talking about the wines. That meant I could not only learn something, but cement that knowledge by turning around and teaching it to someone else. When they asked for volunteers to do this, I jumped!

winetasting

We poured three very summery wines this week. Skouras Moscofilero is a Greek white wine, with a citrusy tang that makes it perfect for veggies, salads, and the lighter seafoods. The Guilhem Rosé is our newest wine, almost heavy enough to taste like a red, with a fruity taste that makes it perfect to cool the heat of spicy foods. Finally, we poured the Mas de Gourgonnier, a red with tannins that clear the palate, making it perfect for those summertime burgers. And guess what? I typed that from memory. After Viktorija set me up and talked me through the wines, and I turned around to teach others, I'm pretty sure I'll remember these facts for years.

winetasting2

When I tell people I'm learning a lot from this job, this is what I'm talking about. There are always opportunities to pursue my interests, educate myself and be a teacher to others. I'm not working next Thursday, but I'll definitely be stopping by the Merchandise Mart to see what we're sampling and learn something from my coworkers. I'm also planning to take Viktorija's upcoming wine class Choosing Wine Like a Pro, where she's going to walk us through some of the tricks she uses to fill our wine lists with such an excellent selection.

lukewinetasting

What other opportunities are there in this city? I'm sure y'all know some great venues for wine tastings, or local liquors I've missed. (Not Malort. One of my coworkers made sure I didn't miss that one. Thanks Jess.) As always, I'd love to hear your suggestions in the comments.

wine_classes

Topics: Wine, Wine & Spirits

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