A tasting in progress at Harriet Lembeck’s Wine & Spirits Program. (Photographs by Kristine Larsen.)
HARRIET LEMBECK’S WINE & SPIRITS PROGRAM
203 E. 29th St.
The doyenne of wine teachers—she took over the legendary critic Harold Grossman’s classes after his death in 1974—runs the city’s oldest wine school from a charming townhouse. Lembeck’s intense course is definitely not a cocktail party, but a serious learning experience: Only crackers are served, home study is required, open book quizzes are given, and a blind tasting is part of the final exam. No grade inflation here: The final certificate is given only to those who qualify ($800 for ten weeks, beginning March 7 and September 12; or $60 to $100 per head, depending on wines, with a twenty-person minimum, for private lessons at the townhouse; or $750 plus wines, with an eight-person minimum, for home visits).
Zraly founded this popular school in 1976 after creating the famous restaurant’s fabled wine list. His passion, unpretentious manner, and entertaining style hold the interests of classes as large as 125, as he paints the big picture of wines ranging in price from $10 to more than $100 per bottle, always with an eye for value. Over 40 percent of the highest-quality wines come from Zraly’s own cellar: He starts with the white wines of France, identifying the grape varieties and their characteristics, then swirls and sniffs his way through the United States, Germany, Burgundy, Bordeaux, and more, with Champagne as the grand finale ($895 for eight classes, beginning March 7 and September 27).
THE FRENCH CULINARY INSTITUTE
Focusing on the art of pairing food and wine, the “Great Wine and Food Made Simple” course draws on the experience of author and master sommelier Andrea Immer, along with the FCI’s wine faculty. Students taste wines from the major grape varieties and regions, examining how they interact with different foods: For example, popular barrel-fermented Chardonnays taste wonderful as a cocktail, but should only be paired with spicy foods because they overpower anything delicate. Up to 36 students try between six and nine wines per class, accompanied by foods prepared à la minute ($895 for six classes, beginning March 15 and September 6; Andrea Immer will not teach this spring’s classes, but will return in September).
The idea of tasting only Italian wines might sound limiting—until you find out there are more than 2,000 grape varieties, more than any other country, and 28,000 producers. Want to dip a toe into Italy’s grape barrel? Rent the Vintage Room at Sergio Esposito, Joe Bastianich, and Mario Batali’s high-end wine store, to try eight of the country’s best over the course of three hours, with an assortment of antipasti and a host on hand to guide you (two to six people; average cost, $150). The “Studio del Gusto” room offers a more informal stand-up tasting, for 15 to 70 people: Guests visit a different sommelier at each wine station, while an in-house chef prepares an Italian meal (average cost, about $130 per person).
CRUSH WINE CO.
153 E. 57th St.
If an expensive, lengthy wine course feels like too much commitment, Drew Nieporent’s new wine store offers a quick primer for $50. One-off classes for fifteen enthusiasts will be held at least once a month in the private tasting room, which resembles the inside of a giant wine barrel. Nieporent will call on the expertise of chefs and sommeliers from his Myriad restaurant group, including Daniel Johnnes from Montrachet and David Gordon from Tribeca Grill. Lyle Fass shows that you don’t have to drink sake with sushi as he pairs wines with dishes from Nobu (March 16, 6 to 7:30 P.M.), and Daniel Johnnes matches Burgundy wines with a trio of French classic dishes created by chef Chris Gesualdi from the kitchen of Montrachet (March 23, 6 to 7:30 P.M.).