Tag Archives: wine education

el centro wine class

Beverage management at El Centro

elcentroMy third class at Dallas’ El Centro College ended last week, the first in the Beverage management format. Which means there are now 15 culinary students armed with the knowledge that restaurant wine prices are too high, the three-tier system is not our friend, and that vodka is more adaptable to cocktails than Scotch.

Beverage management replaced the wine/beer and spirits format I started with, as part of the plan to upgrade the Food & Hospitality Institute curriculum (part of which, rumor has it, involves giving adjunct instructors like the Wine Curmudgeon a desk). Beverage management focuses more on the theory and skills the students will need when they work in the industry; hence, a terrific presentation from Eddie Eakin of Dallas’ Boulevardier and Rapscallion restaurants on bar management and especially on how to cost cocktails. Who knew how expensive a dash of bitters was?

Having said that, there is still a consumer side to the class, and we will do 11 class tastings in the fall, from sparkling wine to craft beer to single malt Scotch to cocktails. The goal, over the long term, is to offer beverage management as well as separate wine and beer and spirits classes. Until then, taking beverage management as a continuing education student is one of the best values in the wine world – $177, which includes not only the tastings and some smart and fun guest speakers but my lectures, which are more or less like getting the blog in person once a week.

Finally, a word about this semester’s class. I have taught some version of this class for almost three years, first at the soon to be late Cordon Bleu in Dallas and now at El Centro, and every day I do it I understand why so many teachers enjoy teaching so much. The students paid attention, wanted to learn, and hardly ever used Snapchat in class (because, as cranky as I am, I notice these things). We had intelligent discussions about pairing food not just with wine but with beer and spirits, whether terroir existed in beer (very controversial), and the value of three-tier system. Some of them even disagreed with me on that one, which made me smile that much more.

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Winebits 432: Small Wine, wine education, restaurant wine

Small wine

I’d like a bottle of Rhone Rangers, please.

Not so fast, Big Wine: A group of Australian family producers, angered by Big Wine companies who market their “family” roots, have issued a furious denunciation of the practice. “I’m really sick of the latest trend for corporate misuse of the term ‘family’ when promoting wine brands that were sold by the family founders eons ago and conning wine loving consumers and trade alike,” Robert Hill-Smith, the fifth-generation vigneron at Australia’s oldest family-owned winery, Yalumba, told the The Weekend Australian newspaper. Hill-Smith said Big Wine subsidiaries portraying themselves as family companies undermined the validity of family-owned businesses actually owned by families. This is a fascinating story; wineries never air this sort of thing in public, though they say it in private all the time. It also speaks to Big Wine’s need not to be seen as big, something that never seems to bother General Foods or Procter & Gamble. Why that is I’ll leave to the experts.

Score one for the Italians:  The Wine Curmudgeon regularly bemoans the lack of wine education in the U.S., which is why this Italian proposal is so impressive: Children 6 to 13 would spend one hour a week learning about Italy’s wine industry as part of the national education curriculum. “We’re not trying to teach kids to drink – although even if we were it wouldn’t be so bad,” said the sponsor of the legislation. “It’s been shown that knowledge creates responsible drinkers. But this is just an extra subject that will enrich the education of our students. We make children study music in school without expecting them to become musicians.” Hopefully, the various neo-Prohibitionists who are trying to roll back U.S. drinking laws will note this and pause for a moment.

Won’t they ever learn? A website called Elite Daily, with 2.8 million Facebook likes, ran a piece about how to buy wine in a restaurant and impress your date in the process. The story, supposedly written with advice from a top wine retailer, repeats almost every misconception about restaurant wine I have lamented since the blog started. Gruner veltliner! Plus, it recommends buying white wine from France’s Loire, which is a wonderful idea save for the fact that many wine lists, and especially those at mid-priced restaurants, have little, if any, white Loire. Or we should buy cabernet franc from Spain, which hardly exists. Or we should buy a wine called Rhone Rangers, which is not a wine, but a group of producers in California who make wines with Rhone grapes. Maybe we can enroll the people at Elite Daily in the Italian school wine educations classes.

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El Centro wine class evolves into beverage management

el centro wine classMy El Centro wine class has evolved into beverage management this semester, but that doesn’t mean we don’t do wine any more. Rather, it speaks to the school’s commitment to upgrading its curriculum (and there may be big news about that later this spring), and I’m flattered that I get to help.

Beverage management covers most of what students need to know to understand how the wine, beer, and spirits programs at a restaurant work. In one respect, it’s not much different than what we did in the wine class, since I spent class time talking about putting together wine lists, how to deal with distributors and sales people, and the rest of restaurant wine.

What’s different is that the class is more rigorous in what students learn, and that ?s not necessarily a bad thing. The wine class was wine appreciation taught through my perspective; beverage management offers my perspective, but it’s more than that. Par stock may seem boring, but it’s crucial if you’re going run a successful operation. Why do restaurants always not have the wine I order when they never run out of chicken breasts ? That’s one of the secrets of par stock.

Plus, we get to taste beer and spirits as well as wine.

The only drawback is that the class is less consumer friendly than the wine class was. Having said that, it should still be worthwhile for anyone who wants to take it as continuing education, something El Centro emphasizes. Where else can you listen to me rant about three-tier or offer my insights into high alcohol wine?

Finally, a word about my students this semester. I’ve never had a bad class, either here or at the Cordon Bleu in Dallas, and rarely any bad students. This is one reason why I don’t sound like an old white guy when I talk about younger people. But this class, so far, has done most of them one better. They pay attention, they ask good questions (though I wish they would ask more) and they’re a whiz at cleanup after class. What more could a teacher ask for?

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Winebits 410: Judgment of Paris, wine education, wine production

judgement of paris ? Only 40 years? The 40th anniversary of the Judgment of Paris, when California wines bested their French counterparts in a taste-off that established the former as world class, comes next year, and plans are being made to celebrate it (though, apparently, only in the U.S.). How about a congressional lunch next spring with wine from all 50 states, including two of the California wines that won? Or a vertical tasting with some of the winning wines. It’s almost impossible to underestimate how important the Judgment of Paris was in helping California wine take its place as some of the greatest in the world, and it’s no coincidence that so many of the French critics who took part still refuse to accept the results.

? Not enough education: A Chilean wine expert who thought the world needed more wine education is surprised at how much he underestimated the market for his business. Raul Diaz told the drinks business trade magazine that “there is increasing demand for training that strikes a balance between being informative without being too intimidating or ‘know it all.’ ” Sound familiar? One of the moatr frustrating things about the wine business’ lack of interest in education is that not only ignore how much moe wine it would help them sell, but that they could make money with it. But, as I always note, I’m a lousy businessman.

? Italy back on top: World wine production estimates for 2015 are in, and the Italians have regained their place as the top wine producing country in the world, replacing the Spanish, who were tops in 2014 after a record harvest. France was second and the U.S. fourth, as the experts think world production will increas two percent this year. That’s an impressive number given declining consumption in Europe, the drought in California, and financial woes in Australia.

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The Wine Curmudgeon’s fall 2015 wine education extravaganza

wine education

Have Curmudgeon-mobile, will travel.

Take your pick. All provide wine education as only the Wine Curmudgeon can — which means that if you’re stuffy, hung up on scores, or think wine is not supposed to be fun, you should probably look elsewhere:

? My wine class, also open to non-credit students, at Dallas’ El Centro College. We’ll cover the basics, including how to spit, the three-tier system, restaurant wine, and how wine is made, plus at least 10 tastings focusing on the world’s wine regions. Cost is $177, which is a great deal if only for the tastings. But you also get my incisive commentary and occasional rant, which means the school is practically giving the class away. We’ll meet 7-8:50 p.m. on Thursday between Sept. 3 and Dec. 17. Click the link for registration information.

? The annual Texas wine panel at the Kerrville fall food and wine festival, 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 5. This is always one of my favorite events, not just because I hear some terrific folk music, but because the audience appreciates Texas wine and wants it to be better.

? The southwest chapter meeting of the American Wine Society in Arizona, on the last weekend of October, where I’ll talk about U.S. regional wine.

?The American Wine Society’s national meeting Nov. 5-7 in suburban Washington, D.C., where I’ll give two seminars. Not coincidentally, conference registration begins this week. I’m doing “The Texas Revolution: How the Lone Star state learned to love grapes that weren ?t chardonnay, cabernet, and merlot” at 4:45 p.m. on Nov. 6, and “Five U.S. wine regions you probably don ?t know, but should,” at 11 a.m. Nov. 7. The latter will look at wine regions, including one in California, that deserve more attention than they get.

And, perhaps the most fun part of all — the Wine Curmudgeon’s latest marketing effort, which will allow me to spread the gospel of cheap wine anywhere I drive. Yes, a personalized Texas license plate that says 10 WINE.

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Wine Curmudgeon will return to El Centro, and not just for wine

el centro wineMissed the Wine Curmudgeon’s El Centro wine class this semester? Never fear — you can take it in the fall, as well as a beer and spirits class next spring. Call me the adjunct instructor for the beverage program in the college’s well-respected Food & Hospitality Institute.

Not bad for someone who got a C in advanced reporting in college (a grade I’m still eager to dispute 30 years later, because I damned well did B work).

I wasn’t sure I’d be back after finishing this semester, given how strange the ways of academia are to someone who has worked for himself almost continually since 1991. For instance, I’m still not sure what went on at one faculty meeting, other than everyone kept using the word rubric. But Steve DeShazo, the institute’s director, and Swee-Hua Goh, my faculty team leader, apparently figured I did something right. Plus, most culinary schools these days are moving to a full beverage program, and they saw their school needed to as well.

For which I am grateful. Teaching the class was huge fun, and my students were a treat. I say this not just because they gave me the benefit of the doubt when I went off on one of my rants about wine scores or terroir, but because they wanted to learn about wine. Two students, who came into the class not having tasted much wine and not liking what they had tasted, figured out enough to know why they didn’t like it, and even found some they did. What more can a teacher ask for?

I’ll post more about registering for the 2015-16 fall and spring semesters this summer; the wine class is RSTO 1319. Until then, know that you can take both classes as continuing education students — $177 for 15 or 16 weekly classes, which includes tastings most weeks. As someone who has always preached value, that’s about as good as value gets.

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Winebits 379: Big Wine, diet soda, regional wine

big wine ? Big and getting bigger: Wine sales in the U.S. were mostly flat last year, which makes the growth in E&J Gallo’s various brands. including Barefoot, all that much more impressive, reports Shanken News Daily. Total U.S. wine sales were 321.8 million cases in 2014, and 17 million of those were Barefoot — more than five percent of the total. Given the thousands of wine brands in the world, that one brand, and especially one that isn’t sold in many wine shops, accounts for that much wine is difficult to imagine. It speaks to Big Wine’s ability to put product on store shelves and to market it onces its there. It also illustrates the divide in the wine business between what we’re told we’re supposed to drink and what most of us do drink.

? Is diet soda dead? Which matters to wine drinkers because the sales of diet Coke, Pepsi, and so forth appear to have started an irreversible slide, down 20 percent from their all-time high in 2009. The reasons are many, reports the Washington Post, but center on health, including the artificial nature of diet soda. So where will diet soda drinkers go next? It’s not soft drinks, which are also declining in sales, again for health reasons. The Wine Curmudgeon could offer wine as an alternative, pointing to the growth of Barefoot and what are considered wine’s heart health benefits. But that would mean the wine business is interested in attracting non-wine drinkers through education and outreach, something that we know isn’t true. Ah, missed opportunities.

? The next Napa Valley: During my many years working with regional wine, the one thing that has always made me crazy is hearing someone from a U.S. region talk about how they wanted Texas or Colorado or Virginia (or wherever) to become the next Napa Valley. To which I always asked: Why do you need to do that? Why can’t you be the best Texas or Colorado or Virginia (or wherever)? Turns out I’m not the only who feels that way. Rob McMillan at Silicon Valley Bank writes that he sees the same thing all the time, and with California wine regions. “Do you really want to be like Napa?” he asks. The post is a little technical for consumers, but the point is well made. If you can’t make world-class cabernet sauvignon, why would you even think of being like Napa, let alone build a region behind that goal?