Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A week at the CIA studying the effects of alcohol

No, it wasn’t a CIA study to prevent alcoholics from becoming terrorists. I got a scholarship to an intensive week-long Master Wine Class at the Culinary Institute of America–the world-famous Napa Valley culinary school affectionately known as the CIA.

But this wine tasting is not the lean-against-the-wooden-bar-while-cracking-jokes most people experience. Rather picture clinical analysis. Each of us 17 participants sit at a station complete with light table–to analyze wine clarity, a sink–you spit not drink, and a tiled counter top with small squares to organize the 10 or more sparkling clean glasses each holding 2 ounces of the various wines for tasting.

Right at 9:00 on the first day we were introduced to STP, which stands for Systematic Tasting Process–a rigorous list of about 20 different criterea we analyze for flights of wines each day.

We did learn some important background information, like: the best time to taste wine is when the body is just beginning to get hungry–that’s why many tastings begin at 10:30 in the morning; increased levels of alcohol first affect abstract thought–I wondered if Einstein drank wine, then speech, fine motor, gross motor and finally passing out; and a prison study that basically determined a little wine helped inmates out perform a control group and a group given whiskey.

Then on to rigorous tasting of wines poured from bottles with bags, so that students could not tell varietals or winery. We noted specific color, nosed for fruit, non-fruit and type of wood (mostly American or French oak) used, if any, and finally tasted for those components. I filled a page for each wine in my tasting notebook.

Then, before the brown bag was taken off to reveal the wine, we discussed whether the wine came from a cool or warm climate, from the New World (America, Australia, New Zealand) or Old World (Europe as in mostly France) as well as the age and grapes used.

After only the second day and at least 25 wines later, I’m learning aromas I never knew existed. Have you ever experienced lanolool?

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