Wine Uncorked: More than Just Sniff, Swirl, Sip

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Wine Uncorked, a wine lover's recreational class, offered at the famous International Culinary Center in the Soho section of Manhattan offers the wine enthusiast the occasion to go beyond sniff, swirl and sip.

Unknown to most city dwellers, is the opportunity to participate in enjoyable cuisine courses taught in the same kitchens, by the same professional instructors that have taught some of Manhattan's most talked about Five Star Chef's. The International Culinary Center offers a variety of these classes for the food and beverage aficionado. They're held periodically throughout the year for those who want to explore their inner chef, their future chef or their amateur chef.


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For anyone that enjoys a fine wine from the Five Star to the home dining experience choosing the right wine can be a challenge.  Knowing the elements that create a standalone experience as well as food parings that can modify the beverage's tone and taste quality are important fundamentals that can be learned in the three hour time frame.

Wine Uncorked, is taught by Alexis Kahn, the Director of Beverage Education and General Manager of L'Ecole, the French Culinary Center restaurant associated with the IAC.  Secure in her expert hands, she proceeded to explain the process for the amateur wine connoisseur to distinguish, chose and participate in the sommelier experience. She began with an introduction to the process. No great wine has ever been bottled that did not go through the process. So it is with Wine Uncorked: the process begins with the vines.

The Nose Knows

During the introduction vials of aromas were sent around and we were instructed to sniff and identify the scent. Think Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline in the 1995 film, French Kiss, as we sniffed the vials of clear liquid the first scent, mind association, would be recorded as there were prizes involved. The scents were foreign and, for most of us, unrecognizable. Ah, se la vie.

To understand wine one must understand grapes and to understand grapes one must understand vine origin or species. Grape varieties are the key to wine varieties. It's hard to believe that vine species, are in reality, the pathway to the type of wine albeit Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and other wine types are really different grape varieties from the vine species, Vitis Vinipera. In the film Kevin Kline speaks to the plant with the affection of a lover and as the class progressed one could understand the importance of the vitis vinipera to the wine maker.

After understanding that grape varieties are the key to the delicious wines that we enjoy one discovers that there are more complex elements that determine the wines flavor. The word Terroir, pronounced "ter-whah" is often used in association with wine. For the wine novice, terroir can be daunting and yet it is simply the elements that create the sense of place in the wine. Those elements are likened to the nature debate in nature vs. nurture. Terroir is the combination of all nature involved in the wine and the human decision or nurture of the wine.

The participants knowledge of wine making can be extensive or limited to its origins and still the class moved effortlessly through the wine making process beginning with the ripened grapes, which are hand-picked or a mechanical picker is used that rolls over the top of the vine shaking the grapes loose through internal rubber bands and the grapes are place in either stainless steel or oak barrels for aging.

Old World; New World

The wine making process as an industry is divided into the old world or European regions and wine produced from these countries are typically referred to old world wines with new world wine being produced in the Americas and Oceanic region. Old world and new world wines have a distinctive DNA or fingerprint that is evident in the richness, body and range of the wine.


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After the break, the empty wine glasses that welcomed the class had been filled with eight varieties ranging from white to summer roses and heavy reds. The tasting began casually with explanations of swirl, sniff and sip and the importance of all three and a forth element of back aroma, which is the sensory fullness of the wine as it circulates around the taste buds, and in wine language is called "The Finish."

We started with the Whites that included Riesling, from Fingerlakes New York, Sauvignon Blanc, a California wine and Chardonnay from the North Fork of Long Island all New World wines. Old World wines including Rosé of Mourvedre of Bandol, France and Rosé of Garnacha, Rioja, Spain. Pinot Noir, from Burgundy France, Pinot Noir of Matinborough, New Zealand, a New World Wine, and Famille Grosbois from the Loire Valley in France.

We were asked to pick out aromas including berry, melon, oak or other stand out's as the wine grew full bodied in the glass.  Then we moved to food pairing. The chef's of the IAC had prepared a plate of specialty items that would interact with the wine to modify, embolden or contrast the wine's original taste.

We were treated to ground chuck mini-burgers cooked with fat and served on grilled wheat buns with Shiitake Mushrooms and caramelized onions. Also, two types of fish, Fluke and Salmon, French bread with butter, Peach Compote, a solid square of aged Gruyere cheese, a wedge of lemon, salt and Tabasco sauce and roasted almonds.

To Experience the Fullness

Wine Uncorked is about experiencing the fullness of flavor; sweet wines can be playful; while a more robust wine with higher alcohol content creates the completeness one expects in a wine experience. Wines take on different flavors paired with different foods.

The Sauvignon Blanc, a white wine paired with salty fish, in this cause, Fluke, took on two different tastes alone and when the lemon was used. The wine flavor was enhanced by the saltiness adding a fuller, rich flavor while the citrus destroyed the silkiness of the wine. The Famille Grosbois, an old world Red, on its own had a deep earth taste and personally was not inviting, and then  paired with very hot Tabasco sauce bridging that to very spicy foods, tamed the intense spices and became a better, smoother tasting wine.


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The Chardonnay, Paumanok, a barrel fermented wine from the North Fork of Long Island has a buttery popcorn taste and leaves a good finish. The Rosé of Garnacha, Cortijo III or Rioja, Spain is a delicate summer Rosé that offers a nice stand alone experience. The Riesling, a White from Fingerlakes New York paired well with the Gruyere cheese and would probably pair well with any White cheese.

Paired with ground chuck or a heavy meat, such as steaks or anything cooked in deep fat, a nice Pinot Noir, and in this case the Te Kairanga from Martinborough, New Zealand add elements of smoothness which is why when one visits any of the more famous steak houses they see the menu loaded with Reds, Burgundy's and Merlots.

Great Vino Debates

As the class completed the wine tasting instruction continued on Wine law and industry debates including the introduction of alternative closures; no longer will cork less be considered cheap as the debate moves to creating more Green alternative solutions and combating disease. Also, oak barrel aging verses stainless steel barrels and does this sacrifice generations of a precise method for efficiency and cost?

As the glasses were refilled the session was opened to general questions including terminology clarification such as, "What does it mean when wine is referred to as "having legs?'" As this is a question that can be answered; the reference in wine language to the wine having legs is the crest mark on the side of the glass during the swirl; the higher the crest the better the legs. 

And, the headache verses consumption argument as it was asked is there scientific evidence that offers proof of merlot induced headaches and why after a night of wine drinking does one have headache in the morning? Unfortunately, there is no scientific evidence to support Red Wine induced headaches and the only reason, apparently, for the headache is consumption.


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Wine Uncorked is an intensive, entertaining and informative look into the wine making process. The beginner, novice and expert all can enjoy the three hour session. It's a rare opportunity to understand wine taught from its simple to its complex issues by a passionate learned expert.

The International Culinary Center has trained some of the most highly skilled culinary talents that have brought many Manhattan restaurants the coveted stars and elevated already lauded eateries into the stratosphere.

Haute Tease

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