The professor meets her match. One of my favorite classes during the Master class in the University of Gastronomic Sciences: wine tasting.
He was a burly man with a lot of salt and pepper in his hair and a huge jacket that, like the rest of us, he didn't want to remove in the drafty 19th century classroom at the University of Gastronomic Sciences.
20-some of us students sat around 5 tables. In front of us was a line of wine glasses filled with red wine and covered with a circle of paper to protect it from the air. We wouldn't be drinking it anytime soon. It was a wine tasting class, one in a series that started with theory, went to rows of black, opaque wine glasses containing cinnamon sticks, pineapple chunks, or green bell pepper, and finished with the best part: smelling and tasting the wine.
But the smelling part came first.
The professor, Anne Noble, told us, "When you take a break later, remember that I don't want to see any of you smoking. It ruins your sense of smell, it ruins your sense of taste. No smoking!" She was a serious woman, and this was said with more force than her usual no-nonsense tone. We were mildly terrified of her.
The man in question was one of Italy's master sommeliers, an olfactory genius who served in many competitions and wine judgings. He was here with us today so that we could partake in his wisdom. So far, he hadn't actually said anything to us.
We were divided into groups, and Master Taster was with mine. We began with the first wine glass, passing it around, sniffing, looking at the color, writing down what our noses had been trained to smell in the past weeks from the black glasses. We prodded some words out of Master Taster, and got him to say how many wines he tastes, on average. "In the past week, over a hundred." He was pro.
We told each other what we had written.
"Spices. Red fruit, raspberry. Maybe cloves?"
"Yes, red fruit, wild berries. Some cherry?"
We usually ended with a question mark.
When the Master spoke, he frowned in concentration. "Rose water. Lingonberry. Dried raspberries." We realized it made perfect sense. We sniffed the wine again -- yes! Rose water! How could a person possibly pick out rose water from a glass of wine? We were awed at his superhuman nose, and our confidence was boosted because we could actually smell it, too (note: after he told us).
He wasn't arrogant, nor overly poetic, though there was a certain elegance to the practiced, casual way he swirled his wine and how the descriptions rolled off his tongue in his Italian accent. He was matter-of-fact and sincere, and he had an expert nose.
It was time for a break. Some us went to buy a snack, but stayed away from the caffè because our professor threatened to knock it from our hands if she saw it, as it messes with your sense of taste and smell. I looked out the window and saw the master sommelier huddled in the cold.
He was talking to a colleague and smoking.
And that was not the only cigarette he smoked during the course of the three-hour lesson. Every break we got, and sometimes during the tasting, he'd quietly lumber out and smoke outside in the freezing cold. He may have gone through half a pack of cigarettes by the time we were done.
Some people are gifted with an incredible talent for tasting and smelling; some have honed it down with hundreds of wines tasted in the matter of a week; and some have done both and can still smoke who knows how many packs of cigarettes a week.
I love Piemonte’s food and wine, the city of Turin, and my proximity to the Alps! My goal and challenge is to see as much of the region as possible using public transportation, but if you have a car I’d appreciate the ride. My intro to wine was at the Univ. of Gastronomic Sciences, and I love visiting family wineries, plus discovering Piemonte's craft beer scene. I’m hard-pressed to choose a favorite wine, but Nebbiolo never disappoints (from Barbaresco to Ghemme). As for beer, the Birrificio San Michele makes an incredible beechwood smoked brew.