A local wine bar, Sip, offers different classes, and when I heard some friends raving about it, I knew I had to take it. My cousin signed up a group of us to attend, and it quickly became my favorite part of the week.
For $75 (plus gratuity) you get three classes, each of which comes with a cheese plate. I did the math, and based on the amount of wine we drank each class, that equals out to about $4 per glass of wine. Not too bad. There were three different groups of people at the classes, but our table was definitely the most fun. It was basically a bunch of Queen girls, plus this guy named Chad. I think he was probably afraid of us at first (I mean, wouldn’t you be?), but we’re all friends now.
We were given these fun worksheets and were able to write down the names and details of each wine. The first class was all about the six major grapes — Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Carbernet Sauvignon/Merlot, Syrah/Shiraz. That was definitely something new to me. I know it seems pretty obvious, but for whatever reason I didn’t know that the types of wine were called what they’re called because of the grape. Somehow I missed that through all these years of wine drinking.
We swirled and smelled and sipped six different wines, comparing color and taking note of different flavors. We held the glass up to the light, and my cousin Jessica made it her mission to write down very specific colors in her description boxes. Haystack. Cranberry. She said “It’s like the colors of JCrew sweaters.”
There was a little coffee cup there for you to spit or pour out any wines you didn’t like, but I only poured out one of them through the entire three classes. It’s hard to give me a wine I don’t like.
The second class was all about whites. We talked about the difference in Old World and New World wines. Old World is basically anything from Europe, while New World can be from the United States, Australia or South America. I found that I like Old World a lot better, which was a little surprising to me. All of the Old World whites we tried were French, and we learned that the labels of French wines include the region — Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy — and you have to learn which grapes grow there in order to know what kind of wine it is. Old World whites tend to be in cooler climates and have a balanced, earthy taste. New World will most likely be in warmer climates and have bold, fruity flavors.
My favorite actually ended up being a Chardonnay, which I would NEVER pick in a restaurant or store. That was surprising.
The third and final week of this class was about reds, my favorite. Reds are my jam. It was similar to the white class, comparing Old and New World wines. Our teacher described Old World as classical and New World as rock-and-roll. That’s a good way to differentiate between their characteristics. Old World reds are more balanced, while New World reds are more saturated and fruity.
We also learned about the term “dry.” When we say a wine is dry, it has to do with the amount of sugar in it. If it is totally dry, it has no leftover sugar after it ferments. If it’s sweeter, it has some leftover or added sugar. Also, when we say a wine is “dry,” it comes from the tannin in the wine. Tannin is what makes the wine last a long time, and it comes from the stem of the grapevine and causes your mouth to dry out when you sip it. Most wines are “dry” wines, because they don’t have that leftover sugar, but if it really dries out the mouth, it can be described as “tannic.”
I literally loved all of the red wines we tasted, but I think my favorite was the Bourgonia Pinot Noir Old Vines. Again, I was surprised because I typically would choose a Cabernet at a restaurant. I feel like I’ve learned so much. Our teacher talked to us about the popularity of the wines we tried, and we discussed how if you feel like you can’t pronounce something, you don’t order it. So the other Pinot Noir we tried was called Hitching Post (it’s the same one from the movie Sideways), and it is the most popular seller. However, when people take the class, they almost always choose the Bourgonia over Hitching Post. This just shows you that you can’t be afraid to order something just because of the name. Venture out!
We learned all the good wine terms, as well. “Sweet,” as I mentioned, means the wine has some leftover sugar. “Crisp” means it has a lot of acidity, like grapefruit or other citrus. “Oaky” means it has a toasty aroma or even some notes of vanilla. This also sent my sister and I into a complete fit of hysterical laughing during class. I looked at her from across the table when we were talking about wines being “oaky,” and all I said was “Do you know what this reminds me of?” and my sister just held up her hand and said “Stop.” She knew we were about to get really tickled. I finally got it together, and told her it reminded me of the episode of The Office when Michael Scott says “It has an oaky afterbirth.” It took a good 10 minutes for us to recover from that one. “Earthy” can also mean it is fruit-driven, and can have a taste of leaves, mushrooms or even wet earth. “Tannic,” as we know, means it dries out the mouth. And “Spicy” means exactly that — it kind of kicks you in the throat. It can have a taste of pepper, cinnamon, clove or anise.
After our reds class, we took our “final exam,” which was just a survey to help us figure out what we like overall. We also received a diploma for graduating Wine 101, and now, as my cousin Tasha said, I can go on and get my master’s.
My people and I have dubbed ourselves The Wine League, so we must find a way to continue our new Monday tradition. Sip offers other classes, and I’ll definitely be taking them. I want to learn everything I can, plus these classes have been incredibly fun.