New York City Wine Class

NYC Wine Class Glass

NYC Wine Class Glass

After years of threatening to take a wine class to teach my beer-soaked palette something more than the difference between a red and a white, a wine connoisseur friend generously presented the editorial team of East Village Podcasts with a birthday gift of grapey goodness. For 2.5 hours, I was to be wined and lectured by Andrew Harwood and Jennifer Traul of NYC Wine Class on the finer points of wine (and cheese) in a class aptly titled, “Wine 101.”

Having recently sampled the ripple and Cheez-its of Bowery Wine Company, I believed it was time to take the next step.

The Arrival

Arriving by yellow limousine a little before 5 p.m., we approached the entrance to the unassuming NYC Wine Class offices in New York City’s Chelsea and rang the doorbell. “Come back in 5 minutes,” the voice announced. Undeterred (and gently advised) that our early arrival would not mean early admittance, we waited, and after five minutes the door flew open as if Willie Wonka was letting us into the chocolate factory. Up the “factory” steps we ascended to a simple but elegant space resembling a large dining room for a party of 24. The only difference between this and other dining rooms was the dry erase board where the tips and tricks of “Wine 101” would be scribed passionately by Andrew, the founder of NYC Wine Class.

After finding our seats, we introduced ourselves to our tablemates which included a friendly, older couple from New Jersey (I did not get the exit.) and a fearless, single woman from Tribeca who barreled forward in her wine education in spite of the overwhelming number of couples surrounding her.

In the beginning, there was Prosecco

While we waited for the class to fully arrive, Prosecco was served to commence the learning process. I shot down the first glass in less than a minute. “Bartender, heat me up! This glass is lonely!” OK, I really didn’t say that … but I did drink three small glasses of Prosecco before the last class member arrived at 5:30 p.m. (delayed by the Holy Father I’m told – that bastard!) and the session began. It was tasty – that’s a wine word, right? It’s also something I say about burritos but who cares.

Andrew and Jennifer presented us with two handouts. One sheet was a two-sided agenda containing a list of the ten (10) wines we were about to drink and the four (make it five, if you count the “Pyrenees Ossau Vielle” – and you should) cheeses to be paired with each wine course. There was plenty of room to take notes on the agenda sheet. In fact, during the evening I felt competitive enough about my note taking towards my partner-in-wine such that I could no longer stand her superior notes and simply scribbled “notation” on her notes. That will teach her.

The other sheet was the keys to the kingdom of wine drinking and titled, “Life of A Grape.” Revealing that the longer a grape was allowed to grow in the heat and sunshine, the more sugar it contained AND the higher the alcoholic content of the wine it produced, it was the first of many “learnings du vin”.

Enough – The Wine

Normally, I measure a wine’s taste by the price tag on the bottle. Higher price is good. Lower price is bad but if it’s a gift for someone, I’ll buy it. No no no. I’d nevvvver do that.

On this evening, pricing was not revealed until a few courses had been sampled, so I had to play by the rules. Starting with the Sauvignon Blanc grape, a Sancerre from the Loire Valley in France and a Fume Blanc (registering a bold 14% on the alcohol Richter scale) were the two, lead-off whites. Each provided a subtle and unique characteristic: the Sancerre more acidic; the Fume Blanc more sugary – hence, alcoholic and more full-bodied. (I was listening, wasn’t I?) Paired with the wine, the excellent Humboldt Fog goat’s milk cheese from Humboldt County, California, provided a welcome balance to the booze.

Swirling, Sniffing and Slurping

In the first and subsequent rounds, we also performed the three tasks of tasting that I’ve seen others do, but always thought it was arrogant horse-pucky. Once again, I was schooled by the wine mavens.

  • “The Swirl” – The wine is spun around the inside (hopefully) of the glass, unleashing the full force of the wine’s aroma.
  • “The Sniff” – Here’s the part where you stick your nose in the glass and smell the fermented grape. At no point did I suck wine through my nasal passages, though.
  • “The Slurp” – This is my favorite, after swirling and sniffing you throw in a mouthful of wine without swallowing, and then suck air through your teeth. Sound dangerous? To my surprise, I never dribbled.

Another round of whites came to the table including a Gewurztraminer and a Pheasant Grove Riesling. I’ve never been much of a “white guy,” therefore, the highlight was the stinky cheese with which the wines were paired – an Alsatian Munster. Aromatic, it grossed out most of my fellow classmates. “Peasants,” I thought. “I’m the Stinky Cheese Man.” Loved it.

In Round 3, the reds marched in and we emptied our glasses of the last drops of white in preparation.

It should be noted that we were not given clean glasses for each round. In fact, new glasses would have required 10x the glasses. But, water was provided and in combination with “The Swirl,” the water which we dumped into a small “bouquet” on the table provided adequate cleaning prior to each wine round for our neophyte, aural senses.

The red champion of Round 3 was a Lemelson Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley in Oregon. The cool temps of the Valley are evidently ideal for the Pinot grape. I am in agreement as this was my favorite of the evening and easily pummeled the Austrian Blauer Zweigelt containing “cranberry notes.” (Ah, wine.)

Good cheese in Round 3, too – the Boorenkaas, a Gouda from The Netherlands, the first cheese I have ever tasted with a butterscotch flavor.

Round 4 pitted glasses of fermented Mourvedre grapes – or Monastrell, if you are from Spain: a Bandol from Provence in France (earthy, full-bodied, heavy on the alcohol – a good one right before bed) and “the Juan Gil,” as Andrew called it, from Jumilla, Spain (fruitier and lighter in my opinion. A class favorite.).

Time for the Test

The final round was a test – the culmination of two plus hours of drinking wine, eating cheese and bread, and listening to Andrew and Jennifer’s careful direction. Sadly, slightly buzzed, I failed miserably and guessed that the J. Lohr, a Cabernet Sauvignon from California, was “very ripe, with raisin and spice character on the nose and palate.” What was I thinking?! Oh ye tastebud gods, you have failed me. In fact, it was a “jazzy oak… with appealing currant, black cherry, anise, mineral and leathery notes.” Argh, the notes!

Wine 101 – Final Analysis

My wine connoisseur friend generously paid $90 per seat for our two positions at “Wine 101.” I must admit, it was entirely worth it. Andrew and Jennifer are strong and patient teachers that never patronize or become frustrated. The wines offered a wide spectrum of the fermented grape, several varieties of whites and reds, and nothing tasted like Boone’s Farm. The cheese, too, was an unexpected surprise – it might even make sense to title the class, “Wine and Cheese 101.”

If you’re looking to learn wine, “Wine 101” is a great place to start. Go forth and imbibe.

NYC Wine Class Cheese

NYC Wine Class Cheese


April 20th, 2008

Entry Filed under: East Village, New York City


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