Wednesday, Apr 25, 2018
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Mary Alice Powell

Wine appreciation course proves chemistry is fun

"One not only drinks wine; one smells it, observes it, sips it, and talks about it," King Edward said. Those of us who recently attended J. Paul Rupert's course couldn't have said it better. But we have an addition to the noble quotation. When wine is paired with food it takes on a whole new meaning, as it did when we were served a variety from popcorn to strawberry tarts with selected compatible wines.

While serving as president and CEO of Anderson Chemical in Adrian, Mr.Rupert kept his chemistry profession alive through cooking. That led to enrollment in a wine course at Michigan State University. He joined the college faculty four years ago and serves as chairman of the Department of Chemistry and assistant professor. The wine appreciation program was presented for spouses of the college board of trustees. Mr. Rupert is considering offering a similar course in adult education.

"Wine is chemistry and chemistry can be fun. Chemically, wine is very simple: 85 percent water, 12 percent alcohol, and 3 percent flavor and aroma," he said. Chemistry students who register for his course, Exploring Wines and Vines, make their own wines in the laboratory.

A glass of wine with a yellow cast proved two points. "Look through the meniscus to examine the color," he encouraged. "If it is clear, it is good; if it is yellow like this, send it back." The wine with the yellow cast was made in his class, but he took the blame for it. The fruit was over ripe, he said, and should have been discarded. The bad wine won't be used in cooking. "Never cook with a wine you wouldn't drink," he advised.

The senses are key to an appreciation of wine. "We are born with sensory capability. Smelling is a learned sense," Mr. Rupert said. "If you don't have it, then you can't taste."

The smelling exercise could be embarrassing in public, but the professor says it's important to activate the wine. "Give it a good deep breath through the nose to fully capture it."

Swirling the wine in the glass is also important, but he said it is not necessary to lift the glass off the table for fear of spilling it. "It is perfectly all right to leave the glass flat on the table, put two fingers around the base and swirl it," he instructed.

When he was asked his opinion on boxed versus bottled wines, Mr. Rupert said, "Remember, how good the wine is is influenced by the grapes, not the package." He praised the boxed wines for holding the quality because the air does not get into the plastic container. He noted they also are cheaper. Labels he favors are Black Box and Delicato.

His mood and menu dictate his choice of wine, and it doesn't have to be pricey. He has enjoyed some $3 varieties. He said the best Riesling, bar none, is Left Foot Charlie's in Traverse City and for the best Sauvignon Blanc look for a New Zealand label.

Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor. Contact her at:

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