Hobby Roulette: Wine 101

This week we finally kicked off our exploration of hobbies after a short vacation and one false start. We tried to do some drinking and painting at a local place called Brush Party, but it got cancelled while we were on our way to the studio (we will reschedule). But on Wednesday evening we had our first wine tasting class at a new restaurant in Gilbert called MWC Bistro. It’s a lovely little place in a mostly empty strip mall on the corner of McQueen and Warner in the spot that used to be Down Under Wines & Bistro. It is owned by the same folks who own My Wine Cellar in Ahwatukee, which is a great place we’ve been going to for years across several ownership changes.

We found MWC via Living Social. We paid $35 per person for four, 90 minute wine tasting classes over four consecutive Wednesdays in July. The deal came with four wines per tasting, plus small food pairing samples. The regular price for the class series is $80 per person so the Living Social deal was a steal. Leslie and I are really novices when it comes to wine so we figured this would be both fun and a learning experience.

We arrived at MWC Bistro a few minutes before 6 p.m. and were led to a large table in the back that was set for 14. There was one other guest there when we arrived — a woman named Jean who was in a wheelchair and whom we later learned was a stroke survivor who took a cab and the light rail on her own all the way from midtown Phoenix just for the class. Soon the table filled up with a wide range of people from a couple of older ladies to a pair of hipsters and their “dates” who may or may not have been beards. We ordered some food because it was dinner time including an order of french fries that were delicious. We both ordered salads for dinner — mine was with shrimp and Leslie’s had chicken and they were great. After a while a woman named Samantha introduced herself as our instructor (er, sommelier) and quickly poured each of us a glass of bubbly and offered a toast.

Samantha turned out to be a wonderful teacher with a great sense of humor and tons of knowledge about wine making, wine tasting and even wine purchasing. Over the course of 90 minutes we learned about how wines are made, the differences in taste due to harvest times, the different kids of yeasts used to ferment grapes, and the types of aging containers. Of course, we also learned the proper way to taste wine, beginning with a visual inspection to look for legs, brightness and color as well as sniffing for fruitiness, intensity, earthiness and more. If I’m being honest I had a hard time smelling all the things she said she smelled, whether it was pears or cherries or oak or stone. The hipster across from us dug his nose into his glass deeply with each tasting and remarked about various smells he sensed, but frankly I think he was full of shit. Most of the wines pretty much smelled like wine to me, but hey I’m new at this so perhaps my nose will mature with time!

After the visual and smell tests we were ready to taste, which began by swirling the wine all around our mouth and over our tongue before swallowing. We discussed things like sweetness, body, acid, tannin, complexity and finish. I’m pretty sure I can figure out dryness and sweetness, but mostly I just knew whether I liked the damn wine or not. For this first class we tasted a sparkling wine, a Chardonnay, a Merlot and a Zinfandel. Samantha hid the labels until after we discussed the wines to keep us from making assumptions, which was really great because it allowed me to taste the wine for what it was without preconceived notions.

Leslie and I are pretty basic when it comes to wine. She only likes dessert wines — VERY sweet wines like Muscat and late harvest Riesling. Although lately she has been obsessed with Sangria. I like sweet wine in moderation, but lately have been trying to open up my palate to explore reds like Merlot and Pinot Noir, partly because I know red wines are good for the heart. So the first four we tasted were not typical of what we’d drink, which I guess was the point of this. I thought the sparkling wine was good (a touch dry for me but not bad), but the Chardonnay was not my cup of tea. I enjoyed the Merlot but wouldn’t order it, and then came the Zinfandel. I gave it the sniff test and figured it’d be too dry for my liking, but the moment it went down my gullet I was pleasantly surprised. I really liked it, and it kept getting better with each sip. I had never tried a Zin, so I was very excited to add a new varietal to my repertoire. I forgot the name of the Zin, but it was from Amador County in Northern California (I’ll get the name next week at class number two).

We have three more classes over the next three weeks and I’m looking forward to it. I’d say wine tasting is a definite yes in terms of hobbies! I am excited to try more varietals and open my mind. I’m not so sure Leslie is going to get as much out of this class as me, but even just trying new things is a step in the right direction. And hey, she likes what she likes so who am I to argue — that’s why they make so many different kinds of wines!

As for MWC Bistro, I’d highly recommend it for dinner and drinks. The food was great, the french fries were amazing and the wine and beer selection was above average.