Course Helps Students Overcome Fears in Ordering Wine
NEW BRUNSWICK "WINE can be very intimidating," said Francis
Schott, co-owner of Stage Left restaurant here. "But with more people interested
in learning about wine, spending time in a course with other beginners is the
first step to overcoming that fear."
Francis Schott: "The
palate is like a muscle: The more you use it, the stronger it becomes...."
Mr. Schott should know. In his restaurant, he teaches a wine course that since
its start has been sold out, with 30 to 35 students paying about $350 each.
The course began nearly five years ago, when he was bartending at another restaurant.
Unlike many instructors whose courses are sponsored in whole or part by wine
distributors or producers, Mr. Schott refuses to allow his course to be infiltrated
by any outside organizations.
"There are a lot of wines to choose from when selecting wines for a class,"
he said. "I pick my wines from the broadest possible market because I prefer
to buy wine that I believe in strongly and would sell in my own establishment."
With encouragement from his former boss, Jim Black, owner of the Frog and the
Peach Restaurant here, Mr. Schott formed his first wine class there in 1989.
"I had an intense interest in wine and after taking a course at the World
Trade Center's Windows on the World," Mr. Schott said. "I decided
to expand my knowledge by visiting the vineyards of California and Europe. I
spent time with wine producers and went through the various processes in which
wine is made, distributed and collected."
Kevin Zraly, who teaches the course that was held at Windows on the World,
said he found Mr. Schott to be a dedicated student.
"He has a passion about wine that you really have to have if you want
to bring your knowledge to the point where you can teach others about the subject,"
Mr. Zraly said. "People can sense it."
While still teaching the course at the Frog and the Peach, Mr. Schott met his
future partner of Stage Left, Luis Riveiro, who was given a gift certificate
for the course by his wife, Daina.
"I enjoyed the course so much, I took it twice," Mr. Riveiro said.
"Francis has a way of taking you through the sometimes difficult intricacies
of wine and making it exciting and fun, but at the same time he covers a lot
in the course.".
Through the course the two developed a friendship and later, along with Mark
Pascal, came up with the idea of opening a bar. "That idea evolved into
Stage Left," said Mr. Riveiro, who also owns the Gallego Riveiro restaurant
in West New York.
One night a week during the seven week course, Mr. Schott and Mr. Pascal, also
a partner of Stage Left, introduce 12 to 15 wines to the students.
Mr. Schott begins his first class with component tasting, breaking down the
main ingredients that are found in almost every wine. Students taste tannin,
oak, acids, fruit aromas and grape sugars, all of which are served separately
in wines thinned with distilled water. A glass of unadulterated wine dominated
by each component is also served as a control.
Lecture and Tasting
week a different wine is featured, with full lectures and discussions about
the various regions and producers, followed by a class tasting to judge appearance,
aroma, taste and finish, a term that wine connoisseurs use to describe the length
of time a wine remains on the palate.
The first class focuses on California wines; the others study French white
wines, Alsace wines, dry white German wines, Champagne, sparkling wines, red
wines from the Rhone Valley, Burgundies, wines from Italy, Spain and Australia,
sweet wines, Sherry and port.
Mr. Schott said he planned to extend his next session, which begins on May
11, to eight weeks to include French country and rose wines.
Mary Ewing Mulligan, who holds the title Master of Wine, which represents the
highest level of knowledge and proficiency in the wine industry, reviewed the
course wine list used by Mr. Schott at the request of a reporter. She gave it
"There are some good wines served in his class," Mrs. Mulligan said.
"If you want to learn about wines, you certainly have plenty to choose
Mrs. Mulligan is one of 10 Masters of Wine in the United States and the first
woman in the United States to achieve the title, which is given by the Institute
of Masters of Wine in London. She is the co-owner of the International Wine
Center in Manhattan, where she also teaches wine courses. She said Mr. Schott
might be overwhelming his students with too many wines to taste in one evening.
"To me, that many wines is too much," she said. "It becomes
difficult for the student to distinguish one wine from another after seven or
Mr. Schott said he believed in developing the student's palate with many tastings,
adding, "The palate is like a muscle - the more you use it the stronger
it becomes and by the middle or second half of our course, students can really
distinguish what they like and don't like."
Learning What to Expect
Many students in the course agree. Anne Giarratano of Monmouth Junction, a
self-proclaimed beer drinker, said she had hoped to gain enough knowledge to
order wine in a social setting.
"I'm in medical supply sales, and it would be great to be able to order
wines when having dinner with a client; up until now, I've always ordered beer,"
she said. "Since I've taken the course, I know what to expect when the
wine arrives at the table, with little or no surprises."
For others who already know what they like, a course like Mr. Schott's can
expand their wine horizons.
"I admit it: I approached this class with great trepidation because I
knew what I liked and thought, well, he'll teach me about some other wines and
just maybe I'll like them too," said William J. Hamilton, the City Attorney
here. "It's opened up a whole new world for me, and I'm enjoying wines
I never would have thought of tasting before."
Elizabeth Miller of Edison said: "By breaking the wine down and giving
us a wine vocabulary, I was able to distinguish what I like from what I don't.
Now I can name the elements in the wines that appeal to me."
While most in the class are novices others have had some previous knowledge
of wine and have still left with a greater understanding.
"I was shocked by the amount of things I didn't know," said Thomas
Padavano of North Brunswick. "I think the science of wine surprised me