Whether it's walking into a wine retailer, aimlessly walking aisles of bottles, looking for familiar words and attractive labels, or faced with a hopelessly long restaurant wine list, few potables have the ability to confound more so than wine. There is plenty of literature available on the subject, but structured tastings and courses led by those in the know make learning an entirely enjoyable enterprise. When the wine learning takes place at one of Cleveland's best restaurants, it's a match made in gastronome heaven.
Starting February 16, L'Albatros Brasserie + Bar general manager Brandon Chrostowski, certified by the Court of Master Sommeliers, will lead a series of introductory wine classes, Wine 101, at the popular French boîte in University Circle.
"When you break it down, which we are trying to do, to the fundamentals, it's simple," says Chrostowski. "Through five consecutive Tuesdays, we'll run our guests through the major regions, the things that are talked about in the news, or in the wine shops - help people feel comfortable ... with talking wine."
The first class will tackle viticulture and vinification, along with sparkling wines of the world, from cava to Franciacorta. "It sounds like a lot to bite off, but having taught these classes before, there are major points you want to hammer home," says Chrostowski. "It's going to be full of definite points. Why does wine from California have more alcohol than wine from Germany? What does malolactic fermentation mean and what does it do?"
The initial course will introduce the most important, though often overlooked practice of enjoying wine. "It will outline how to taste - what's in the class, what to look for," says Chrostowski. "Every time they taste, they can start to look for three or four factors to describe the wine.
The second class will cover France, specifically Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Loire Valley. "It's simple things: how is Bordeaux divided? What's the difference between a Left Bank and a Right Bank wine? What's with the grand crus, and how do they differ from a premier cru in Burgundy?" The classes are designed to provide a framework, so a class attendee may see Gevery-Chambertin in a retail situation or wine list, and immediately think "Cote d'Or, Burgundy, and pinot or chard," says Chrostowski.
The third class will focus on Tuscany and Piedmont, with a bit of Spain, namely Rioja, thrown in for good measure. The fourth class will explore the ever-popular New World wines of South America and the United States, focusing on California's varied offerings.
The fifth class will discuss dessert wines, including fortification, sherry, port, Cognac, Armagnac and Madeira.
Each class will include six to eight tasting wines, with hors d'oeuvres that are representative of the wine regions being highlighted. "David Uecke is the chef de cuisine, and he's got a really nice touch with food," says Chrostowski. "The flavors speak for themselves, so, without actually going to places like Tuscany, you'll be immersed in its wine and little bites of its food."
Chrostowski will provide study materials condensed from his wine studies, featuring maps and outlines, which will provide guests cheat sheets and a place to take additional notes. That classes are limited to 25 spaces, and the cost for all five classes, from February 16 to March 16, is $150, inclusive of tasting pours, hors d'oevures and study materials. Call the restaurant (216-791-7880) to make reservations.