Yeast

By Sonia Dovedy

The dense odor overwhelms my nose while walking down the supermarket aisle. I’m looking for a simple bottle of water so that I can quaff my thirst in this wind-chill. Turns out, the bottled water section just so happens to share shelf space with…the bread section.

You know, ten weeks ago, I would have just described this scent as “bread,” and I would hardly have been irritated by the fumes. But today, I know that this smell is something deeper than that, something I have smelled so often these past weeks. And that pungently unpleasant, suffocatingly sharp group of molecules emanating from the packages across from me is quite plainly yeast.

I dash out of there as fast as I can.

Did you know that yeast is the catalyst in the chemical reaction that turns lovely little sweetheart grapes into alcohol and CO2? Also known as vin, VINO, wein, vinho, and oh yes, wine.

Chemistray graphic

It feels amazing to be back in school! I just finished my first summer course of my program, An Introduction to Wine Level 1. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

So, yes, I tasted a ton of wines, but this class went far beyond simply enjoying wine. (In actuality, we hardly consumed any wine, as spitting is essential to bringing out the residual tastes and textures in the mouth.) This course was about meeting the wine, sensing its personality, understanding its roots, its values, its character, and tapping into our own sense organs.

For example, I now understand a dry spicy Riesling. It likes to be chilly, thriving in regions such as Alsace, France, and prides itself on being quite sour, crispy, and refreshing. I also understand that if a red wine is harshly astringent, it is probably just too young and excited. It needs some time to grow up. Age and maturation will soften the tannins.

I could share cool things with you about wine all day, but what I really want to talk about is the evolution that took place within me during this course.

Let me back up a little.

Class One. We all arrive. I have just come from yoga class, so naturally I am in yoga attire. Behind me is a stay-at-home mom. There are two disheveled-looking boys who have just gotten off their shifts at a restaurant, a few girls my age. There is a wine-expert-in-suit and a gentleman-in-light-pink-lacoste-shirt-and-boating-shoes. Very eclectic crowd. We line up our glasses as our professor passes around our first wine, showing us how to observe, smell, swish, sip, and spit.

So the first thing I notice is that this wine is definitely red. Well that was a cinch. I put my nose in the glass, and I am getting the smell of, hmm, well…honestly it just smells like the smell of wine. This is a silly class, I think.

Meanwhile, I glance around to see wine-expert-in-suit furiously swishing his wine in the glass and making chewing noises as he spits out into the spit cup. Strange. Disheveled #1 is scribbling and scratching his disheveled hair. What is so fascinating to note? Stay-at-home-mom is in deep contemplation. Boating-shoes raises his hand and affirmatively states, “I smell cherry cola, good leather, and a hint of pepper.”

What?!? I look at him in disbelief and submerge my nose back into the wine, trying to pick up anything, anything at all. That doesn’t work, and instead makes me sneeze. I doubt whether I will ever be a decent wine taster. Oh boy.

Slowly, surely, effortlessly, the world around me has started to change for my little nose. I open my cupboard and at once, the aromas of dried figs and those dried currants hidden up in the corner jump out at me — YES, I remember these scents from my red Bordeaux wine. The dust of cocoa powder that flutters up when I open the box instantly brings clarity to that bitterness that I sensed in the Chilean Cabernet. Green bell peppers, olives, nutmeg, cumin, new tennis balls, grass, green apples, and more come to life. I’ve started to pause during my day and pay attention to different things that I perceive in the nose, making little mental notes in my olfactory’s factory.

I like to close my eyes and visualize different things that I have smelled before, when I search for what is “in the nose” of the wine. A little conversation takes place, of memory, recollection, and the present moment.

Do I sense those lemon piths that make me wrinkle my nose? Or is it oxidation from a browned apple core that was sitting out on the counter today? Cooked fruits from Thanksgiving pies? Or fresh fruits from the springtime? Yes, this one takes me back to kindergarten, to the peach syrup from those canned peaches Mom used to pack me for school. This one reminds me of mildewy sweat from the yoga room. That one of wet-wipes — yuck. I smell gushers and Robitussin cough syrup. Yuck again.

Fast-forward to Class Five, and I am really starting to get the hang of this. Together, my comrades and I enter into a deep discussion about the nuances in each glass. As my nose opens up, I become more chatty and daring, sharing what I actually do smell, even if it’s something silly, like “a forest”. Sometimes, people even agree with me, which is something I never thought would be possible in Class One! Our disagreements are what really make things interesting. We stimulate new ideas and we laugh at the crazy things that come up in our noses. For instance, Disheveled #2 always finds a way to smell “basement” and “cigars”. And sometimes he is right. It’s a subjective study indeed.

What I realize is that in order to taste wine properly, you have to pay attention to the fragrances that surround you. It requires a keen sense of imagination. And it is much more enjoyable with a friend to bounce ideas off of.

What’s more, I find the practice of wine tasting to be much like yoga.

Let me try to explain.

Yoga postures, or asanas, exercise each cell in the body to sharpen and sensitize your physical awareness. Wine tasting exercises my nose and my brain’s power to remember and recall smells. In just nine short weeks, my nose has become sharper and pointier, like Pinocchio minus the telling lies part. I’ve realized that I rely so much on my sense of sight, and that perhaps sight is overrated. Smelling and tasting sense organs on their own are far more incredible in the details of information that they can provide.

Learning wine has strengthened something within and is starting to teach me a bit more about myself. Just like yoga, this study is refining my insides like a pencil sharpener. My goodness. This world is too exciting. I think it calls for a celebration, don’t you?

Cheers to wellness, spontaneity, and refreshing imaginations.

You can find this post and others on Sonia Dovedy’s food, yoga, travel blog at Bake with Sonia.

After Graduation: Starting a Wine Business

by Kim Simone

Alumna Kim Simone (May ’14) shares her post-degree career path and founding her company, Vinitas Wineworks.

kim1One of the questions I heard frequently from people while I was attending the Gastronomy program was “What are you going to do with your degree?” It’s not exactly a traditional program with built-in job training (with the exception of the culinary program.) We do it because it’s a part of who we are and what we love. I bet that most of us use the degree to forge our own way in the world of food, creating a place for ourselves in one of the many industries that pertain to our chosen field of study, be it cooking, writing, education, hospitality, and so on. I chose wine.

At the same time that I started the Gastronomy program I also jumped into the wine world, working first in a large retail store and then for a medium-sized Massachusetts wine distributor. And although I was climbing up the industry ladder, I got an idea pretty early on that a job in sales wasn’t the place for me. My real love has always been educating the public and “geeking out” over the finer points of whatever is in my wineglass. Which is why, after years of thought and planning, I founded an independent wine education and consulting company after finishing my degree last May.

Wine-is-fun-single-1080x675I specialize in wine education classes and hosting wine events for the general public. These can be either private events (e.g. tastings in people’s homes, private parties, etc.) or something bigger like a fundraiser for a nonprofit. I also provide training for those in the hospitality trades that either need some guidance within their own store or restaurant, or who need someone to train their staff to be better servers or wine consultants. My education through the Gastronomy program and the Elizabeth Bishop Wine School has really prepared me for this new role. Both the hands-on tasting classes led by Sandy Block and Bill Nesto, as well as the History of Wine class, really opened up this fabulous world to me. The most important thing I feel that I can pass on to my clients is that wine doesn’t have to be scary. It is complex, yes, but there truly is something out there for every palate. Once you learn what you like the possibilities are endless. Through my events and blog I provide the place to ask those questions that you might think are a little bit dumb and get that knowledge flowing.

Kim Simone can be reached at kim@vinitaswineworks.com or www.VinitasWineWorks.com.

Honoring the Work of Domenico Sestini

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn Wednesday, October 22,  Bill Nesto M.W. , Metropolitan College Wine Studies instructor, and Frances Di Savino presented the book which they co-authored,  The World of Sicilian Wine (UC Press, 2013), at the Accademia dei Georgofili, in Florence, Italy.   Since 1753, the Academy has promoted practical research in the fields of agronomy, forestry, geography, and agriculture.

Bill and Frances lectured about the culture of wine in Sicily in honor of Domenico Sestini (1750-1832) whose memoirs of his research in Sicily were an important source for their book on Sicilian wine.  Sestini was an accurate and sensitive observer of Sicilian viticulture and enology.  A member of the Georgofili himself, he lectured to its members, on three occasions in 1812. He wanted to inform them about the inspiring achievements that Sicilians had made in cultivating wine grapes, making wine, and exporting it abroad.

More than 200 years later, Nesto and Di Savino came back to the Accademia dei Georgofili to continue his work, to honor it, and to thank him.