|Sommelier Heath Huidt
On the first day of class, our teacher, Heath Hiudt, asked students to share a little bit about their backgrounds and reasons for taking the course. Many of the students had careers in the service industry, and some (like me) were there for personal enrichment. However, one thing I noticed was that, regardless of background, a significant number of classmates were repeat students.
Have you ever heard that quote about how there are things you know, things you don’t know, and things you don’t know that you don’t know? Looking back, the latter category is how I feel about my first impression of UNLV Vine to Wine. I simply didn’t know that I didn’t know how interesting and varied the curriculum was. So I wondered to myself how and why these students had taken the 13-week, 7-hour-per-day class two or three times – wasn’t once enough?
After being in the course for 8 weeks now, I can honestly say I completely understand why people take it multiple times. Granted, when my first class series ends on September 22nd, I will walk away with an incredible amount of knowledge and will forever be a more informed wine drinker because of it. However, once you start to learn about winemaking history, tasting, service notes, etc, I think it’s a natural reaction to want to dig deeper. Your knowledge can be as broad as you want it to be, but part of the real fun is picking a specialty you love and drilling down until you know it inside and out.
This week in class we covered Germany, Austria, Hungary, Portugal and Spain. We sampled some incredible German Rieslings and were able to draw on our past knowledge to contrast them with wines from Alsace, a nearby region in France that’s also known for that varietal. We learned how to decode the mystery of German wine labels, which offer a wealth of knowledge if you know where to look for it, including typical information like the producer, vintage and varietal as well as not-so-normal information like the ripeness category, dryness level, and quality level.
We learned about the Austrian Antifreeze Scandal of 1985 and got into some spirited debate amongst ourselves about just how dangerous ethylene glycol is when added to wine. And we sampled a unique Hungarian wine called tokaj, which uses individually-picked botrytised grapes that are ground into a paste and added to traditional wine.
In the afternoon during our Spanish tastings, one classmate brought in a delicious Manchego cheese wedge for all of us to share, which definitely enhanced all the riojas and garnachas we were sampling. While most wine drinkers equate Portugal with port from the Duoro Valley, we had the opportunity to sample a non-dessert red wine from the region. As one classmate put it, “I love this way more than Port! Why would you take a nice glass of wine and turn it into Robitussin?” While I’m not sure I agree (I’m a big port fan) the passion my classmates have for all things wine always makes for lively discussion.