Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Enderun Wine Appreciation Class

I like wine. There is almost always a bottle or two of white wine chilling in our fridge because not a week passes when I'm not having a glass of vino with dinner, or having friends over for a mellow drinking session. I must confess, however, that when dining out, I still get a bit overwhelmed by the thick, intimidating wine menus that servers hand you at fancy schmancy restos. I'm pretty sure that a lot of you feel the same way I do!

One of the bonuses of doing wine tasting tours is that you get to sample excellent wines that are not commercially available. In Bari, Italy, the accompanying food almost rivals the wines. Those juicy green olives and fresh pizza chunks are every bit as scrumptious as they look in the photo! 

However, it's no reason to shy away from appreciating this sophisticated alcoholic beverage . I believe that one of the best ways to get past wine's intimidating persona is to learn more about it. I consider myself lucky to have gone on wine tours in Italy and Australia, number one and seven respectively in the list of top wine-producing countries in the world. It's quite an experience to learn about the history and production of the wine I'm sipping while the verdant sloping terrains where the grapes have been grown are in full view before me. I also have a few friends who are wine enthusiasts, and being around them has afforded me opportunities to sample excellent wines. 

At a wine tasting in Iron Gate Estate, Hunter Valley, Australia, where they explained (with a bit of snootiness,) that they only use real cork for their bottles. They say using cork allows the wine to develop further characteristics as it ages. 

Wine producers also use the latest technology to create their product.

A photo taken quickly. Our guide warned me that there might be snakes around. Yikes!

Even if you can't go on a wine-tasting tour in a celebrated wine region, or don't know someone who is a budding sommelier, you CAN still get an expert introduction to wines right here in Manila. Enderun Colleges, one of the leading hospitality and business administration schools in the country, offers monthly Wine Appreciation Nights that are open to all. The course is run by Enderun Extension, which offers short courses, workshops and certificate programs in various fields ranging from food and art, to fashion and business. 

Pat and I attended the Wine Appreciation night last July 26 upon the invitation of Ms. Florence Elumba of Enderun Extension. Each session tackles a particular wine-producing country, and we had Italy for that night. Monsieur Gérald Savigny was our teacher and he walked us through the finer points of Italian wine. According to Gérald, even if you have one glass of wine a day for 75 years, you will still have not tasted all the wines in Italy.  Imagine that!

Florence welcoming participants to Wine Appreciation Night

Fellow students getting ready for class

One of the interesting things I learned during the session is the system of Italian Wine Classification. Wine production is strictly controlled by the government, and producers follow certain laws when it comes to labeling their wines, depending on a number of factors, such as the geographical boundaries of the wine region, grape varieties that are used, and years of aging. I found a nifty table from the website Italian Wine Coach that breaks down the classification into simple parts.

When you see "Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita" on a bottle, it means you are holding quality wine in your hand. As it is the strictest rank, a DOCG label means the wine is one of the best. On the opposite end is VDT, or Vino da Tavola wines, which are simple table wines with no vintage and no varietal name. Next to VDT wines are IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) wines, which refer to wines that come from a specific region, but do not strictly conform to wine laws within their region. What is surprising is that some of the best wines, called "Super Tuscans" have an IGT classification. Super Tuscans are Tuscan red wines that originated as Vino da Tavolas, since they used other grape varieties in their blends that made them ineligible for the DOCG classification. Despite their IGT classification, Super Tuscans are considered high quality wines, and a well-known Super Tuscan like Sassicaia can set you back by $150.

A DOCG dry white wine that is best enjoyed with food, like a buttery fish or slow-cooked pork.

We tasted four wines in the two hours we had the class. Gérald gave us pointers on how to analyze and appreciate the wine, even before taking a sip. First is to look at the wine's clarity against a white background. If, when you peek into your glass, you can see your thumb holding the stem, it means you have a clear/light, possibly young wine, as white wines darken as they age. Swirling the wine in your glass is another way to "prep" it as the motion releases the aromas present. "Aspirating" the wine is another technique to master. It involves pursing your lips and drawing in air through you mouth after sipping the wine, so you can further distinguish the aromas.

Although we were provided with paper cups for water, Gérald actually recommended NOT drinking the fluid because it distracts from tasting the wine's flavor

This is the part that gets a bit confusing for me. Aspirating is a bit tricky—I have to be careful doing it so I don't end up with wine dribbling down my chin! And up to now, I still don't understand how wine connoisseurs can distinguish things like "flavor" and "aroma." When I tasted a Chianti Classico Passanero, 2009, for example, I could not, for the life of me, distinguish the aroma of "dark cherries and black pepper." I sniffed and sniffed to no avail. Kulang nalang, masingot ko na yung wine! Guess my nose hasn't developed that sommelier talent yet!

Taking notes. There's a lot to remember!
The best tips I can give for figuring out the wine that's right for you is to keep an open mind, not to be ashamed to ask questions, and to take notes. For example, I have long determined that my favorite wine is the sweet and white variety. As such, when I am confronted by a wine list that I do not understand, I simply ask the server if they have any sweet white wines on the menu. When I discover a wine that I like, I take note of the brand, and the variety (I take down notes in my iPhone so I can always consult it!) I find that Rieslings and Gewürztraminers are the best varieties for the kind of wine I like. Moscato is another good variety, but as they are normally used to make desert wines, they can sometimes be too sweet for my taste. When friends order other wines, I try to take a sip to see if I'll like theirs. And of course, attending wine classes, and going on wine tours are highly recommended. This way, you get to taste a variety of wines, and are better able to distinguish and appreciate each kind. 

Enderun Extension's next Wine Appreciation Night happens on August 29, from 7-9 p.m.. To register, contact Florence Elumba at 0917-8811217, or email at extension Fee is P1,000 per participant per course.

Enderun Extension also has other courses worth checking out. They're perfect for working professionals who don't have the time to commit to whole day, months-long classes. They have the usual culinary courses and a Pastry Workshop. There's Beer Appreciation Nights and Spirits Appreciation Nights that I'm sure guys will love. And they also have non-culinary courses like Money 101, Fashion Entrepreneur Dialogue Series, and a Restaurant Management program for those looking to run their own food business. Learn more about them here

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