Want to make the most of your trip to Napa and Sonoma Valleys? Start out your tasting adventure with a two-hour class, “Tasting Like a Professional” at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at Greystone. The setting for the class is an impressive amphitheater in the Rudd Center for Wine Studies, an old stone structure overlooking the vineyards of Charles Krug winery. This semi-circular room is complete with individual stations equipped with tasting sinks, viewing lights, and rows of stemware.
At the class on this Saturday in late September, we had couples and singles from Iowa, Texas, California, New York, and Tennessee with us. Each attendee had his or her own personal goal. Some wanted to enlarge their palate. “I always drink chardonnays,” said the woman from Cedar Rapids. Some were veteran Napa Valley visitors that wanted to increase their wine knowledge. The guys from New York said, “We only drink red wines and would like to understand how to appreciate rosés and Sauvignon blancs”.
Traci Dutton, our instructor for today, is the CIA’s sommelier and chief wine and spirits acquisition manager. One of her main lessons focuses on helping us increase our “sensory olodexâ”. She stresses note-taking, too. “Can you imagine remembering everything about this wine after tasting 100 of them, much like wine judges have to do at wine competitions?”
And Traci should know. She has been a competitive judge at the Dallas Morning News Wine Competition and the Los Angeles County Fair “Wines of the World” Competition, two of the largest in the country. She lead us through appropriate swirling for aromas, tasting for palate flavors, and assessing the wine’s finish. We received a proper wine-spitting lesson then as well.
Following an overview of wine-making basics, Traci leads us through trying to identify aromas with Le Nez du Vin olfactory wine essence
As we proceed to the blind tasting
At the conclusion of the class, Traci reminds us that sensory detection is a practice sport. Now we’re heading back down California’s Highway 29 for our wine-tasting weekend. According to the Napa Valley Vintners Association there are 400 wineries and numerous winery brands in Napa Valley. We’re now ready to hit those practice fields prepared for tasting like a pro.