Stage Left Exterior
Private Rooms
Old Vines Wine Shop
Gift Certificates
Wine Tastings and Other Events
Recipe of the Month
Who We Are
Contact Us/Email List
Hours and Directions
Stage Left Reservations
New York Times

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
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

Wine Class GuestEach 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 high marks.

"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 from."

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 eight tastings."

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 the most."

Stage Left | 5 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ 08901 | T: 732.828.4444
Menu | Hours and Directions | About Us | Contact Us | Mailing List
Reservations | Gift Certificates | Newsletter
Copyright 2000-2016 Stage Left Restaurant & Old Vines Wine Shop. All rights reserved.