Friday, December 21, 2012

Become A Wine Snob on the cheap with Groupon

Wine, glorious wine. Is there a nagging feeling inside your head that you should learn a little something about wine? For moments like being confronted with a voluminous wine list at a posh restaurant, and not being able to distinguish between Burgundy and Bordeaux? And what the heck is terroir, or tannins for that matter? Wouldn't you want to dazzle your business associates, friends, family and hot dates with your mastery of the lingo of vino?

I asked myself these questions over the summer, and concluded that some basic wine education wouldn't hurt. But where to find wine classes that are not intimidating and inexpensive? Salvation came in the form of Groupon, the daily deals site that keeps bombarding my inbox with all sorts of cut-rate offers. Among the offers presented were deeply discounted wine classes, usually 2 to 2 1/2 hours long, which promised to help newbies distinguish between Barolo and Barbaresco. Below is a brief roundup of the ones I took part in. 

Who: Drinking Outside the Box (site)
Where: W52nd St. (Midtown West) 
Price: $29 Groupon deal (up to $68 value)
Class Name: Introductory Wine and Cheese Pairing

Did you know there was a Systematic Approach to tasting wine? Neither did I, but apparently there is since a sizable portion of the class dwelt on that stuff. We learned how to tilt wine glasses to judge clarity, color and condition. When it came to actually tasting wine, judging characteristics like sweetness, acidity, tannins, body and length proved to be a challenging exercise as the wine rolled off my tongue and straight down my throat. 

To make matters worse, while others could detect such exotic aromas as blackcurrant, tar and wet leaves (!), my unsophisticated nose smelled only apricot. Oh well. The class was informative and the instructor eager to turn us newbies into Robert Parker. The cheese pairing part was only emphasized towards the end of the two hours though, but the thick handouts did provide pairing suggestions for common wine varietals. 

Who: Vino Versity (site)
Where: 1st Ave & 86th St. (Upper East Side) 
Price: $25 Groupon deal (up to $65 value)
Class Name: Vino! Rosso! Pronto! (Red Wines of Italy)

Fond memories of last year's 5-week Italian vacation made me want to master vini italiani, thus this class sounded perfect. The lecture focused on the intricacies of Italian grapes (Sangiovese, Barbera, Nebbiolo, etc.) to different growing regions, their respective statuses (DOCG vs. DOC vs. IGT), and even to deciphering a typical label on a Italian wine bottle. Interesting, if a tad nerdy, stuff that will prove handy, I'm sure.

If that whirlwind North to South tour of Italian viticulture made you dizzy, hopefully sampling eight (eight!) representative wines will ease your pain. For me, given my limited prior exposure (mostly to Chianti and Moscato d' Asti) it was nice to compare and contrast various grapes grown in different areas to discover what their characteristics were, and which ones pleased my palate. At the night's end, the most important lesson I learned was to consider wines from Sardinia, Sicily, Friuli and other regions instead of just sticking to familiar offerings from Tuscany.

Who: New York Vintners (site)
Where: Warren St. (Tribeca) 
Price: $29 Groupon deal (up to $75 value)
Class Name: Grapes of Spain

New York Vintners had the biggest class size, with fifteen participants in the "Grapes of Spain" course I attended. Perhaps Spanish wines are hot at the moment, but for me it was another vacation-driven decision - two months traveling all over Spain, drinking wine pretty much every meal, THAT was the catalyst that ignited my love of wine. And I was here to learn more about what I had been drinking.

The Systematic Approach to Wines made another appearance, and being a bit familiar with it this time around, I pretty much nailed the acidity and tannin levels of the outstanding Spanish wines we tasted. Still had a tough time smelling fruits, vegetables, or whatever else is in the wine though. Nevertheless, the instructor's knowledge and enthusiasm were exhilarating as he expounded on topics ranging from oak barrels to the perennial Old World vs. New World wine rivalry. I couldn't resist buying a couple of bottles from the wine shop out front, that's how much I loved them.

As you have seen, a lot of wine was tasted (no spitting here!), thus fun was definitely had. I gained a little knowledge along the way too, but there's a long ways to go on the road to wine snobbery.  Never have I so eagerly awaited Groupon spam, all in the name of education.