On Wednesday, January 31, 5-8:30 p.m., our Chef’s Training Instructor Celine Beitchman, will teach an extra-curricular wine class, The Principles of Wine, for CTP students. Students can register by speaking to Jeri, Olivia, or Judith at the front desk.
Along with a formal tasting, students will receive a foundation in basic factors that influence wine styles and quality, from how grapes are grown and harvested to proper storage of bottles in your home. Other subjects covered will include the “Noble Grapes,” wine and your health, and the key countries producing and exporting quality wines.
To find out more about Celine’s love of wine and where she gleaned her expertise on the subject, we decided to ask her a few questions . . .
Tell us about your background and education with regard to wine. You have a certification?
Having grown up in the food business, I’ve always had an interest in wine . . . more or less an end-of-shift-drink interest. The subject of wine seemed so vast and daunting that I just kept putting off learning more, figuring I could always count on the front-of-house staff to fill me in on the very basics and enough to make simple pairings.
While I was private cheffing for the Barnes & Noble clan, I got my first taste of what wine is capable of when its well made, well cared for and, of course, well paired. The family had an extensive cellar and, every night as they opened and decanted another incredible bottle, they’d pour a glass for the cook. So by the sipful over a hot stove, that’s where my wine education really began.
A couple of years back, I decided to take the leap and find out what my tastings alone couldn’t reveal. I spent about a year going through the three-level courses at the International Wine Center in NYC, finishing up with an Advanced Certificate in Wines & Spirits.
When and how did you develop your interest in and passion for wine? How did you become an oenophile?
I had taken a workshop with Sandor Katz in the public program at NGI in 2008 and read his book Wild Fermentation cover to cover. For me, there’s an amazing kind of letting-go in the process of fermentation which I think we could all take a lesson from. I was experimenting with yeasts and bacteria in my home kitchen and started to think about tackling wines.
Pretty soon, I was swept away, and my counters overflowed with sauerkraut, kefirs and my first batches of honey wine (which caught more flies than…). I began noticing flavor more and more, the subtleties from batch to batch, and well, in a way that was my first step towards oenophilia. Some French winemakers call themselves grape growers, not wine-makers. I wonder if yeast cultivators would be more apropos.
What role do you think wine plays in a health-supportive diet?
Well first off, let’s not forget we’re talking about alcohol, which can be very taxing to the body-mind in excess. Everyone needs to find their personal limit. There’s a lot of back and forth about what safe drinking levels are – issues like reservatrol, histamines and sulfites – but that still doesn’t give the full picture and certainly doesn’t point to any significant role in health-supportive diets.
At school we talk a lot about balance and the energetics of food within the context of a contractive-expansive model. I think that wine can play a useful part in that story. If you’ve taken my classes, you might have heard me chase you out the door with the phrase, “Go get expansive!” Now, maybe, you know what I mean.
What wine essentials does a chef need to know?
First, I think it’s important to taste a lot. You need to get a sense of what you like and what you don’t like. That can only come from personal experience. Second, know that you can’t possibly taste everything, so get some basic styles that you like under your belt and branch out from there. When you’re in a pinch, the Old World wines from Europe, typically terroir-driven wines are a safe bet for general food pairings. Start by looking at what foods are native to the region producing that wine you love and you’ll be guaranteed a perfect paring.
What are the challenges of pairing wines with vegetarian and vegan foods?
The challenges are not so obvious. It will, of course, depend on the style of the meal in all cases. For instance, our 3-course Friday Night Dinners are usually filling and well-balanced enough to handle a multitude of wine pairings.
Typically with foods that combine a lot of flavors, we pair to the most dominant taste, but even in that direction there’s a lot of subtlety. The biggest challenge is not overdoing it, since vegan and vegetarian meals don’t always have the fat and protein that’s needed to buffer the wine’s alcohol content. So when paring with meat-less meals, I recommend lighter, lower-alcohol wines or a great deal of restraint.
What are your favorite go-to resources for learning more about wine?
The internet is chock-a-block with more information than I ever know what to do with from bloggers to major publications weighing in on every aspect. I usually start there. I also have a great wine store, Gnarly Vines, in my Fort Greene, Brooklyn neighborhood, where the owner stocks small-batch artisanal gems that fit my budget every time. He does multiple tastings throughout the week, and that’s where I get a lot of my first-hand knowledge by the glassful.