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Wine evolution class also teaches basic appreciation

Ron Smith, World of Wine columnist

Students enrolled in my PLSC 307 class about wine must be 21 to enroll, and taking it will not make them 'wine snobs'. They will, instead, have an appreciation of what goes into making a glass of wine drinkable as well as the history associated with it from the beginning to the present day.

They have the initial wine tasting during the second class at the Prairie Rose Meadery in Fargo, where they will get to appreciate the world's oldest recognized wine product made from honey. It will also give them a chance to initiate the winemaking process that will take place under the watchful eye of Susan Ruud, the entrepreneur of the Meadery. They will come back and bottle up a couple of bottles each, just before Thanksgiving break, to take home to likely include with their holiday feasting. It will also give them something tangible to show what they learned to do in one of their final semesters at NDSU.

"Where do I start?" many have asked me, and in this limited class, it starts with the bottle and the labels they have on them. What the various shapes may imply — i.e. the uniquely shaped 'Fiasco' bottle of Chianti, or the Bordeaux square-shouldered bottle versus the Burgundy sloping-shouldered bottles.

Then I warn them about the controversy that surrounds the closure of the wine bottles — to cork or not? When consuming wine with serious wine lovers, making a negative statement about difficulties getting a bottle uncorked, or even making a favorable statement about an alternative bottle closure might move a friendly discussion into the forbidden realm of discussing politics or religion in mixed company.

I acquaint them with what is roughly considered the big six of wines in America. The three whites: riesling, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay. The three reds: pinot noir, merlot/cabernet sauvignon and syrah/shiraz.

Next come basic flavor interpretations of fruity, oaky, acidic, soft tannins and aftertaste, which all begin with the five S's of wine tasting: See, Swirl, Sniff, Sip and Savor, with the emphasis of this being just to get acquainted with tasting the wine.

History is replete with wine lovers to acquaint students with including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Napoleon and, believe it or not, Richard Nixon. Each had their favorite wines, which made an impact on their market success at the time.

Never to be glossed over is the impact of the Prohibition imposed by the 18th Amendment — the Volstead Act, and the Judgment of Paris, where American wines from California upstaged French wines and opened the world to an unending selection of wines from which to select.

The course includes a formal wine tasting at the NDSU Alumni Center, a field trip to Carlos Creek Winery in Alexandria, Minnesota, on a Saturday, and at least a couple of wine tastings at our home.

Ron Smith, a retired NDSU Extension horticulturist, writes weekly about his love of wine and its history. Readers can reach him at