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Wine 101 at Central Market with Justin Vann

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When I saw that Central Market was hosting a wine class, I quickly signed up. I was a bit wary of the Wine 101 title, as I felt I was at least at a 201 level, but I figured I still might learn something useful, and since I always have fun getting tipsy, why not give it a shot?

Justin Vann, Central Market's Wine and Beer Manager, spent two-and-a-half hours with a full classroom, teaching us the ins and outs of wine tasting before having us sample several "mystery" glasses and guessing the variety. I must admit that despite my extensive research history with wine (i.e. drinking a lot of wine), I found myself furiously scribbling notes and learning quite a bit about the flavors of fermented grapes.

There are five main ways of tasting wine. Justin dubbed these "The 5 Ss": swirl, sniff, slurp, swallow (or spit), and savor. Swirling releases the aromas and provides visual cues for the wine. Sniffing the wine is an excellent source of information, because the nose has 10,000 receptors as opposed to the tongue's measly five. Slurping allows you to "inhale through the wine." Swallowing (or spitting) obviously provides the taste component. Savoring is the ultimate test: Do you like the wine?

He also provided practical tips as to which wines pair well with which foods. Clearly the bottom line is to drink what you like, but some foods can affect the flavor of wines, and vice versa. He loves Chablis with oysters and recommends Champagne with onion rings (one of my personal favorite combinations). You can choose wines that enhance the flavors of food with complementary flavors, or go for the opposites attract method. It's generally best to consult a sommelier on these types of questions, as wines can vary greatly even when you're talking about the same varietals.

We learned that despite all the products out there claiming to keep wine fresh after opening, the best thing to do is keep it cool in the refrigerator and store it on its side whenever possible. Once opened, cork the wine you are planning to save as soon as possible, so that oxidation is minimized. As for aerators, Justin feels that these are a bit overrated, but that it's truly a personal preference whether to use them or not. He's more into decanting, whether it be in crystal or a plastic salad bowl. And while some of these things seem very basic, it's always nice to actually hear an expert confirm what you already thought, especially when you get to drink lots of wine at the same time.

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