Sometimes in life, one moment changes everything. For me, it was the moment I "got" wine. It was 40 years ago, but I remember it like yesterday. I was lucky enough to be included in a wine tasting group formed by industry leaders, including the buyer for Chicago's most important wine and spirits chain, a member of Chicago's first family of wine, an importer of France's finest, a leading salesperson, a knowledgeable consumer (the only member who could afford to actually buy the wines the rest of us represented) and me. It was known as "the women's wine tasting group" (not always without derision), because we were the only female wine pros in town.
For our monthly meeting, I organized a blind tasting of Sauvignon Blanc, pedestrian for the others' vaulted palates but important to me as a sommelier and – at the time - a newcomer grape. Of course, Sancerre and Pouilly- Fume were in the lineup; these French classics accounted for nearly all the Sauvignon Blanc consumed in the U.S. that didn't come in a three-liter jug, with others from Chile and Italy. (New Zealand wouldn't enter the market for decades.)
My Aha! Moment
The wines were poured, we swirled, we sniffed, we slurped and spit. Then – whammo! I tasted a wine – which turned out to be produced by Napa Valley's Beaulieu Vineyards – and I understood. I understood that this wasn't just a drink, just a drink made from a grape grown in a place. I got that this wine and every wine is an entity in itself, in the same way that a child is more than the union of mother and father, but possessing its own personality and character born of many factors, some quite mysterious. (Have you ever heard a parent say something like, "Where this kid got blonde hair, we'll never know,"?)
What's the Big Deal with Wine?
An acquaintance once said to me, "Mary, can you explain why people think wine is such a big deal?" I didn't know how to reply. Was it astronomy – a major factor in traditional farming – that wasn't a big deal? Or bio-dynamic agriculture, a force in combatting climate change? What about chemistry, crucial for producing healthy wines? Or dining, wine's ability to transform any meal into a taste sensation? Economics? (A 2017 report by John Dunham & Associates tabulated wine's contribution to the U.S. Economy as $219.9 billion.) Geology? Health (pro's and con's)? History – wine being our oldest natural beverage along with water and milk? Literature? Microbiology? Religion? Travel? You may understand my confusion.
"Those that can, do. Those that believe others can do too, teach."
One of my favorite expressions is "Those that can, do. Those that believe others can do too, teach." As a sommelier, I loved being one of the top-grossing restaurant wine accounts in the U.S. As a retailer, I loved leading the Midwest in sales, profit and product turn. Now, as an instructor in culinary schools, I love knowing that young chefs will support their business revenue with wine sales. As a restaurant trainer, I love watching servers increase tip income and guest satisfaction by recommending wine. And as a wine instructor for The Chopping Block, I love the Aha! moment, when a guest's face tells me that they get it, they understand what the big deal with wine is, even if it's simply what "red wine with red meat" really means.
For your own Aha! moment, begin at the beginning with "The Origins of Wine's Flavor Characteristics", subtitled How to Bluff Your Way thru Wine. We'll lay a solid foundation for all your wine exploration to come, with discussion of wine chemistry, wine history, practice in professional tasting technique and tasting of 5 international wines.
Join us for this class on Friday, September 17 from 6:30pm-8pm. This class is being offering in our new hybrid format, which means you can either join us in-person at the Mart or virtually from wherever you are. Our state-of-the-art technology means everyone can experience this informative class!
No wine knowledge is complete without an understanding of France. During The Vineyards of France, we'll discuss France's ascendance to the greatest winegrowing nation on Earth, her fall from grace and her struggle to regain eminence. We'll also learn how to read a French wine label, taste five French classics and discuss regional food pairings.
This will also be a hybrid class offering on Friday, October 8 from 6:30pm-8pm.
Our new class offering, 3 Grapes x 2 Regions illustrates how one grape can produce wine of vastly different characteristics – just like aqua blue, navy blue and powder blue are all blue but vastly different. In a tasting of Chardonnay (including Champagne!), Pinot Noir and Malbec, we'll understand the four factors that create in one wine unctuous, buttery flavors and in another lean, minerally flavors; ripe berry flavors in one wine or licorice and bitter chocolate in another; a wine to pair with sushi or a wine to pair with sirloin.