For graduating seniors, many emotions accompany the end of their time at Mines. It is a time of celebration, but also a time of change and uncertainty for many students. In order to celebrate graduating seniors and provide a fun and informative experience, the CSM Alumni Association sponsored “Choosing Wine With Confidence,” a wine tasting class and alumni networking night.
Serena Bruzgo, Deputy Director of the Alumni Association, started off the night with some kind words and introductions. Bruzgo welcomed students saying that the night was “a way to celebrate all the graduating students.” Bruzgo continued to talk about the involvement of the CSM alumni, and seniors’ upcoming transition from student to alumni saying, “Once you graduate, you become a part of a very successful and very close group of alumni.” The goal of the association, as Bruzgo stated, is to “keep you connected to the school and connected to each other.”
The many alumni in the audience and helping to serve the wine were proof that the association is as connected as Bruzgo said. After Bruzgo spoke, a few of these alumni took the stage to offer some advice to the students and talk about their own journeys after college. The alumni strongly encouraged joining the association and asked students to consider that, “We are all beneficiaries of the rich tradition of giving back to the school.” They ended by addressing the seniors saying, “You’re here thinking about your legacy, or maybe it’s just the free wine but that’s ok.”
After introductions the wine tasting began. The stage was turned over to Mark Hejtmanek, an executive wine sommelier from the International Wine Guild. Hejtmanek explained that “sommelier,” literally translated, simply means “wine waiter.” Hejtmanek went through extensive training to receive his title, and his tasting school is one of the top five schools in the US. But for the students in the audience, most barely legal to drink, Hejtmanek just hoped to give a “little glimpse into the world of wine.”
Wine tasting, it seemed, was more complex than the audience has anticipated. After seeing most seniors immediately reach to drink their freshly poured wine, Hejtmanek quickly said, “The hardest part of tonight will be waiting to drink until I tell you to.” After putting down the glasses, the audience was led through the three-step process of proper wine tasting.
“When tasting wine you do it in three steps: sight, smell and taste. Always in that order,” Hejtmanek stated. Starting with sight, students swirled their glasses above clean, white paper and looked for imperfections in color and clarity. Good wine should always be clear, and the color is an indication of the age of the wine, amongst other traits. Hejtmanek noted, “White wines get darker with age, while red wine will get lighter with age.”
Next was the smell, which can be broken into two areas, the aroma and the bouquet. The aroma reflects the grapes, the soil, and the region in which the wine was produced. To smell the aroma, students placed their noses close to the surface of the wine. The bouquet reflects the actions the winemaker took in processing of the wine, such as what type of barrel was used to age the wine. The bouquet is smelled at the top of the wine glass after the wine has been vigorously swirled. In order to pick out the smells, it helps to look at a list of smells common in white and red wines. Hejtmanek explained that many wine experts will smell an entire pantry of spices to pick up the smells in the wine, saying, “It’s all about memorizing smells.”
The last step, taste, was by far the crowd favorite. In tasting, the students were asked to focus on sweetness, acidity, bitterness, and texture. Each different taste says something about the wine. For example, red wines taste very bitter when young, but taste sweet when aged. Hejtmanek talked about the balance of taste, comparing it to an orchestra, “It’s like the arrangement of a band. The sound isn’t right when you shift the instruments around.” Hejtmanek continued, “Wine is the most complex food on the planet with over 10,000 taste isomers in each glass.”
There were six wines sampled throughout the night, everything from a pinot noir to a sauvignon blanc, ending with a sweet dessert wine. Hejtmanek was an excellent teacher and showed enthusiasm for his craft. Whether or not students left feeling like expert wine connoisseurs is beside the point; the night was a fun way to say goodbye to seniors, and hopefully, hello to future alumni.