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Spotted Frog wine courses offer some tasty knowledge

By MATT JAMES Of the Record staff

Wine is often an intimidating subject. With hundreds and hundreds of wine makers and no easy way to know what’s in any one bottle, many find wine purchasing to be a daunting task. Because of this, many wine classes advertise their accessibility. But the Spotted Frog’s wine courses seem to succeed more admirably than most. If you were to walk into the caf on a recent Wednesday you’d find a tight collection of small tables set up in the front of the room, each with a place setting featuring four cheeses, four crackers, and a wine glass. The wines sit on a low table on one side of the room. As guests take their seats, Spotted Frog Caf manager Zev Rovine begins his talk.Occasionally the classes will cover a winemaking region like Burgundy or Alsace and occasionally they’ll cover a type of grape or wine, like Pinot Noir or sparkling wines. Each class invites its own range of wines and its own range of issues. This past Wednesday, the subject was Chardonnay and it illustrated how Rovine constructs the courses.

"I picked Chardonnay in this one," he said, "and instead of holding the class on a style, I’ll show the variety of styles."

Rovine who was trained at the American Sommelier Association, and who has presented numerous wine courses for restaurant staffs and others leads the classes with a running commentary covering each of the evening’s various aspects, inserting humor as he goes and always encouraging responses from the class members either in the form of questions or comments. So, as the classes progress, tasters can ask about everything from biodynamic winemaking to what sort of food might go well with a particular style. "The more questions people ask, the more information we can throw out there," said Rovine.

The courses usually draw a wide range of participants. Last Wednesday the Chardonnay classes included a group of 20- and 30-somethings, plus some slightly older participants and at least one person not long past his 21st birthday. "One of the things I’m really proud of is the span of people who come to the classes," said Rovine. He said they range from their mid-twenties to their mid-sixties and include everyone from tattoo artists and doctors to local sommeliers. He added that the courses should appeal to many.

"Anybody who likes wine and has a desire to learn more," said Rovine. "The thing about wine is that the more you learn about it, the more you appreciate it," he noted.

Wine education inevitably helps the whole wine industry, he added.

"The more comfortable people feel with wine, the more comfortable they’ll feel buying good wine," he said. That means customers are more likely to purchase a better glass of wine at the wine bar, and they’re more likely to ask about something different or try something new. For that reason, Rovine also keeps the prices relatively low for the wine events. Class prices range from $25 to $50 per person for the current series. For that, participants get to try four wines paired with four different cheeses. The low prices assure that the classes are accessible to a broader range of the community and allow people to attend regularly. "The best way to do these tastings is to come to a lot of them," said Rovine.

That way, he noted, participants can gain a wide range of wine knowledge about a variety of grapes and regions. Rovine said he began the classes this past July to help promote the caf’s wine bar.

"I started to do it because I wanted to broaden the awareness of the shop as a place where you could try different kids of interesting wine," said Rovine. Since then the classes have run intermittently. The most recent series, which runs every Wednesday, began on Oct. 19 and goes through Nov. 30. After that, Rovine said he expects to continue the classes after a short break. So far, the courses have been an attraction.

"The one on ‘Big Reds’ was extremely successful," said Rovine, "[and] we had a lot of success doing the regions too."

Because of that success, the 20-person classes often fill, and reservations are encouraged. But otherwise, Rovine said requirements for the classes are few. "Come sober and come ready to learn," he said. "And expect to have a good time."

For more information about the Spotted Frog Caf and Wine Bar’s wine courses, visit http://www.spottedfrogbooks.com or call 575-2665.


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