Meeting the Master: A Day with Kevin Zraly

My husband and I were lucky to discover that Kevin Zraly, renowned wine educator and author of “The Windows on the World Complete Wine Course”, would be attending the Rendezvous with Riesling and teaching a one-day Master Class at the New York Wine and Culinary Center in Canandaigua, NY recently.

We attended the Master Class and unanimously agreed that it was one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences that we have had in a long time. I went into the day full of anticipation after pouring through Kevin’s book and admiring his work from afar for years.
We sat right up front in the Wine Spectator Educational Theater, a gorgeous amphitheater at the heart of the Center, and were very pleased that we did. We got to see Kevin in action, front and center, and had the opportunity to interact with him during his class.

I was particularly excited to find that Kevin is extremely personable, funny and a bit sarcastic, all of which delights his students and sets them at ease. I can tell you that he kept our attention for the entire day, no small feat for a nearly 7-hour course schedule. Kevin started out by going around the room and asking each student to introduce themselves and what their occupation is. Not surprisingly, there were several winery owners and winemakers among us. Also present were wine educators, members of wine associations and consumers. Quite a fun and interesting group!

Kevin then began his One-Hour Wine Expert segment in which he gave us an overview of the wine industry and highlighted key topics within “The Windows on the World Complete Wine Course.” Some of the really cool things that he shared with us included his description of white wine varieties. He compared Riesling to skim milk, Sauvignon Blanc to whole milk and Chardonnay to heavy cream in terms of body and style. And he named the best Rieslings as being from The Finger Lakes, Alsace and Germany, much to the delight of The Finger Lakes winery owners and winemakers among us. Kevin demonstrated how to fully appreciate and taste a wine by showing us his Sixty Second Wine Expert method of tasting and judging. He had us look at the color, swirl and sniff once then a second time and then swirl and cover the glass with one hand and then sniff, noticing the different and more pleasing smell that the wine emitted after lifting your hand off.

Then, Kevin instructed us to sip and drink the wine, taking notice of how it tasted during 0-15 seconds, 15-30 seconds, 30-45 seconds and 45-60 seconds. Was the acidity pleasant? Could you still taste the wine or did it rapidly lose its flavor? Did it spike at any point? Was the finish pleasing? Of course, this may not be ideal for every day wine drinking, but it sure lends to an increased understanding of the wine if you’re judging or opening a special bottle.

Our next segment was a 30-yr. Perspective in the Wine Industry in which Kevin discussed the key highlights of the emerging and developing wine industry from a historical perspective. One of the neat things that he shared was that originally wine consumers primarily consisted of men, at 90% and that now that percentage is equal to women at a 50/50 ratio of consumers. Another key fact about the industry that he mentioned was that 2007 was the 14th year of consecutive growth in the wine industry and that wine is now mainstream.

After lunch, Kevin concentrated heavily on the wines of New York, comparing NY Wines vs. The World and then concluding with A Tasting of NY Rieslings. We learned that New York wines tend to be lower in alcohol for the most part and that the Finger Lakes, Alsace and Germany produce balanced Rieslings and that 2006 was a particularly good year for Finger Lakes Rieslings. Our tasting of NY Rieslings was enlightening, I enjoyed each of the wines we tasted. The wines were the 2006 Dr. Frank Dry Riesling, 2006 Hermann J. Weimer Reserve Riesling, 2006 Chateau Lafayette Reneau Johannisberg Riesling, 2006 Pindar Vineyards Late Harvest Johannisberg Riesling and finally 2003 Heron Hill Riesling Ice Wine.

One of the most memorable parts of the day was when Kevin invited John Ingle, the owner of Heron Hill Winery, to describe the process of producing, picking and bottling his Ice Wine. He told us about how the winery staff has to time picking of ice wine grapes just right, that it needs to be 17 degrees Fahrenheit outside for several hours consistently, which is oftentimes in the middle of the night, and then the wine staff can pick and net the grapes. Wow, now that I heard that, I realized that a small bottle of ice wine that retails for nearly $100 is completely justified and the wine should be savored and appreciated even more.

Unlike many other classes that I have attended, no one bolted for the door at the conclusion of the Master Class. Quite the opposite, actually. The lines to see Kevin and speak with him one-on-one were long and he cheerily sat for pictures and signed his book. I can tell you that I will seek out more opportunities to see Kevin and participate in his classes if at all possible. Originally I feared that my husband, Rich would be bored after a few hours, but he wasn’t at all. He told me that he loved the class and Kevin and we both left the Center with a new understanding, appreciation and excitement for wine and those in the wine industry. Not to mention we are now raving fans of Kevin’s!

If you were among our class that day, I would love to get your input as well. Please feel free to comment on your experience and anything I may not have mentioned.

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