Sunday, April 4, 2010

WineSmarts - Residential School

Brad Post:

Over the past 10 weeks I've been immersed in wine appreciation, as part of a curriculum using a blended format (i.e., part on-line and part residential school), in a class titled VIN 150 - Introduction to Wine. 

Recently, after several weeks of recorded, online lectures and a thorough self-guided wine exploration (e.g., my tasting notes reflect my progress), our class gathered together on the campus of Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) in Ankney, IA with the face-to-face class to delve further into wine.

In attendance were culinary students, those with an interest in wine service (i.e., many of which are working toward sommelier accreditation), winemakers and winegrowers, and wine retailers.  Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if Iowa, if not already, then soon, will have the highest number of sommeilers per capita than any other U.S. state - thanks in large part to the efforts of enology instructor Paul Gospodarczyk.


The two-day wine residential school launched with several students surrounding a table in the culinary arts program building.  Placed in front of our small group was three glasses of a white wine standard - the same wine unaltered.  This unaltered standard was provided for us as a way to judge against the upcoming wines we were to describe.  Soon 13 "altered" wines were whisked into our room, a semi-circle of tables, marked only with a letter on the base of the glass.

In total silence each of us was to work our way around the "doctored" wines and sniff out the truth and to write down as many descriptors as we saw fit.  Behind the scenes, and prior to this moment, inside each wine standard glass was placed a common scent for each student to try to identify.

Here is the list of white wine scents: pineapple, bell pepper, lemon juice, honey, vanilla, lychee, oak essence, lemon peel, apricot, butter, cloves, asparagus, and apple.

I'm not exactly sure how everyone else did but I did slightly better than 50% (maybe an F+).  It was only a couple of weeks ago when I asked my brother "what the heck is a lychee" and now I was tasting it.  Well, I tasted it but thought it was cooked green beans.  Still do.  Weird.  Doesn't taste anything like beans as it tastes like, well, like lychee.

After the reveal, we were given an opportunity to re-smell and try to commit to our odoriferous-linked memory these scents.  It is strange how scent works. To me "butter" smells like, get this, butter smells like the chemical that's in insect repellent known as DEET.  So butter=DEET to me, at least, when I smell it in wine.  Again - strange.

Lectures, discussion, more lectures, and then on to the red wines.  Just like the white wines, we were given a standard red wine and then another 13 adulterated wines.  My initial, personal success rate didn't improve a lot, but after subsequent smellings I was better able to detect the scents.

Here is a list of the red wine scents: black pepper, co-co or chocolate, butter, anise or licorice, soy, cloves, asparagus, bell pepper, molasses, prunes, tea, vanilla, and oak essence. 

Mixed throughout this intensive residential school was mini-lectures focusing on world wine regions and their administrative organizations, characteristic qualities of wines,  and on day-2 - the tastings.  We tasted and evaluated five white and five red wines and became fairly adept at it too.

There is one thing about wine industry people - they are a lot of fun!  From dinner at a French restaurant to wonderful backyard conversation over a bottle of port or sipping accidental sparkling Marechal Foch, life, frankly doesn't get much better.

My enology certification is almost complete with only one class to go.  My final course requirement will have me working the Mid-American Wine Competition along side my fellow wine students but also with notables such as Doug Frost (MS, MW) and other wine industry big-wigs.  Lots to learn but what a wonderful subject to drink in.

Lastly, if you have any interest in furthering your own wine education, whether that means wine service or wine science, then I suggest checking out this web-blended program at DMACC.



  1. Brad,

    Congrats on everything and in particular getting the lychee thing down. To me lychee is 99% scent and only a little taste - not beans but more like melon. Maybe it is the consistency and mouth-feel which makes me think of melons.


  2. Brad - thanks for sharing! I guess I never thought about wine tasting classes like this...and I never thought about educating my nose! Love it!

  3. For many of us who enjoy wine we lack the lexicon to fully describe the wines we love. This class slows one down, almost to a crawl, to evaluate very systematically the flavor profile of wine. Sounds rather clinical...and it is in a way but in a good way.

    Judy, my nose is seriously getting "schooled"! And as a side benefit, I'm much more comfortable deciphering the labels from France, Germany, Italy and other confusing lands.