An educational happy hour
June 14, 2011
One of the biggest misconceptions about wine is that a bottle has to be expensive to taste good, said Kirsten Fox, owner of the Fox School of Wine.
"There are huge numbers of great wines that are on the market that cost $10 and under," Fox said during an interview with The Park Record. "Are they ones you’re going to stock in your cellars or does your whole dinner stop when you take a sip? Probably not, but there are great, functional amazing tasting wines for us who drink wine with friends at home."
This is one of the reasons why the Fox School of Wine holds its wine tasting classes during the summer and winter.
This summer’s classes will begin Friday, June 17, at 6:15 p.m. in the Silver Baron Lodge in Lower Deer Valley.
"The intent of these classes, which a lot of locals call ‘an educational happy hour,’ is first and foremost for people to have fun," said Fox, who is recognized as a certified wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators. "The second intent is for these people to taste different wines that they may not otherwise be exposed to, and the third is to educate them and let them know about good-tasting and inexpensive wines."
During a given class, the students will taste five wines and hear a short lecture from a wine educator or a restaurant sommelier, Fox said.
"The wine educators have more of a global approach to their presentations," Fox said. "Those classes are more about why a wine is grown in a certain region and so forth."
Sommeliers, on the other hand, order and take charge of the wines sold in restaurants where they work.
"The usually have an extensive knowledge of wine and food pairings," Fox said. "If you’re a sommelier you tend to focus on the food and wine combination."
Each teacher chooses the five types of wines they want to talk about.
"All the wine we try in class is available at the Utah Liquor Store within a couple of weeks before the class is held," Fox said. "That way we know we’re not trying wines that we can’t get in Utah."
At the end of the class, everyone votes on each of the wines and gives them a grade A, B. C, D or F.
"Only after the class has voted and we have a grade point average for the bottles does the wine professor reveal the price and any critics review scores," Fox said. "That way the reviews or prices do not taint the grades."
Sometimes they class agrees with the international experts and sometimes they don’t.
"We’ve had wines that have scored a 91 by the exalted wine critics, and have gotten C- in class because we don’t like them," Fox said with a laugh. "I also love it when people taste an $11 bottle of wine and love it."
The instructor for the upcoming Friday class is Michael Szczesny, an experienced, Park City-based certified sommelier.
"He is so sick of hearing that all Riesling wines are sweet and all Merlot sucks and all Chardonnays are oak-y," Fox said. "He told me, ‘I’ve got to do a class that shows basically none of those conceptions.’
"We hope people can leave with a broader base of knowledge when they go to a liquor store or pick up a restaurant wine list and look for something other than the norm," she said. "So many of us, when we find something in our right price range, find it easy to go right back to that bottle. This way, you only pay $20 to take a class, and, in essence, you get to taste these five wines and haven’t had to buy five different bottles of wine knowing there is a risk you may not like them."
The Fox School of wine opened its doors in 2008.
"I have always loved the package that wine is the history, the farming, the families, the earth and how the earth delivers these beautiful grapes that a wine-maker crafts," Fox said. "I love it when you sit down and typically enjoying the wine with friends, family and the whole eating experience. So you can say I opened the school because I love the whole process that is wine from the growing to the consuming.
Wine is a social thing, Fox said.
"It’s also a culture and you can learn so much about cultures from what they have done in terms of their wine making whether it’s a country where every meal has a carafe on the table country or where wine is something new, like in South Africa," she said.
One of the most difficult aspects of holding these classes is trying to get some of the students to open their minds, Fox said.
"That usually happens when someone comes into the class and tries to explain how much they already know about wine, and turn their noses up to the tastings," she said. "My passion is that broadening-of-the-palate experience, so it’s challenging when someone comes and says, ‘This doesn’t taste at all like a Chardonnay I’ve had before.’ Well, that’s the point."
Still, the satisfaction of seeing someone learn to appreciate wine outweighs those "little" challenges, Fox said.
"There was a young couple that brought the husband’s parents to class one year," she remembered. "The father came in and said, ‘I’m a beer drinker and I’m here because my son dragged me.’ I said, ‘OK, I respect that. My husband would prefer to pick up a beer than a glass of wine as well. So just ask your questions as things come along and we’ll enjoy the time together.’
" the end of class, the man was asking questions like, ‘Is merlot the person who makes the wine or what’s in the bottle?’ which was great," Fox said.
The real reward came a year later.
"The young couple returned for their anniversary and brought the parents back to class and the father walked in proudly and announced he had a little wine cellar with 80 bottles," Fox said. "He said very clearly that he still loved his beer, but still enjoyed the whole different world of wine and had fun in the class, which wasn’t about the ‘snootiness that is so often associated with wine.’ That was a big success in my world."
The Fox School of Wine will hold the first of its 2011 Friday Night Wine Tastings Class on June 17 from 6:15 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Silver Baron Lodge, 2880 Deer Valley Drive East, in Lower Deer Valley. To sign up, visit http://www.foxschoolofwine.com or call (435) 655-9463. Cost is $20. The school needs 48 hours advance notice for cancellations.