Wine 101

| 02 Mar 2015 | 04:30

    "i'm really enjoying your wine column every week," my father-in-law, mr. w, confided over the phone, "but i just have one question." i braced myself.

    "sure," i said, "anything."

    "you know when you're talking about how a red wine will smell like cherries," mr. w continued, "or a white wine will taste like vanilla or peach, well, i mean, where do those characteristics come from? it's all juice from one fruit. a grape. how can it all taste and smell so different?"

    my mouth hung agape for several seconds, after which i went into what turned into a 30-minute treatise on the basics on viticulture, winemaking and fermentation. a remarkable thing happened, though: he wasn't bored. i'm so used to friends and family closing their eyes and putting up their hand after a couple minutes of my wine-geek babble and saying, "ok josh, that's enough. i was really just being polite." but that's a testament to the type of man he is. mr. w's the type of guy who has a thirst for knowledge, and he was truly soaking up everything i had to say.

    at the end of my lengthy explanation, there was a long pause on the other end of the line. then he simply said, "well that explains a lot! you should teach a class on that."

    while i do continue to conduct private tastings on a regular basis, i do not have the means to conduct a large class for more than a handful of people at a time. i love doing wine tastings, because every single one is different. each tasting is tailored to a specific group of people, depending on how formal they wish it to be, and what types of wines they want to cover.

    wine classes, on the other hand, tend to be much more rigid and are oftentimes over the head of a hungry beginner. there's a fine line between teaching the basics of wine and winemaking and not talking down to someone.

    i've been to a number of these classes, and the best example of a great "everything you've ever wanted to know about wine but were afraid to ask" type of seminar is the international culinary center's wine's uncorked class.

    the international culinary center, housed in the prestigious french culinary institute, offers a myriad of classes through its recreational division. these are basically classes that any layman can take, as opposed to a student studying to be a restaurant professional. the great benefit, however, is that you are learning from the same instructors who are teaching the professional classes-but at a speed and knowledge level that is more moderate.

    the class i attended was taught by alexis kahn, who has worked at tribeca grill and eleven madison park, and who became general manager of the french culinary institute's own restaurant, l'ecole, in 2006. her ease with the vast amount of material made understanding the basics of wine a breeze. she even made some of the more typically dry sections about viticulture and grape growth interesting and stimulating.

    the classes offered by the international culinary center range in price, depending on the subject, but the highly educational three-hour wines uncorked course was $175. that included tastings of eight different wines and several fun snacks to pair with those wines. all in all, a great evening of learning and tasting.

    now if i can just convince mr. w that it's worth making the trip from pennsylvania and crashing on our couch for the weekend to take the course.

    the next wine uncorked event will be on tuesday, july 14.

    for more info on the international culinary center's current courses visit their website:, or call 1-888-90-taste.