Drop-in series: Bottoms up! Students learn the art of wine tasting

Inspired by the late Steve Jobs’ commencement speech at Stanford University where he shared how auditing a calligraphy class in college inspired him years later to add diverse fonts to Apple computers, we set out to visit classes around campus that make us think differently about what it means to be educated. This is one in a series of drop-ins.

Sipping a glass of wine in the middle of a lesson tends to be frowned upon in the average classroom setting. But at FIU, students pine for seats in the storied wine-tasting classes offered by the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management.

Landing a spot in one of these coveted courses isn’t an excuse to get a little tipsy during the school day. It’s training in the ancient art of sampling and assessing wines from all over the world, a skill that prepares students for careers in restaurants and business management as much as it enhances their dining experience.

Wine-tasting classes are taught by Patrick “Chip” Cassidy, a professor and wine connoisseur with decades of success in the industry as a buyer.

Cassidy begins class with a lecture on the wines in queue for the day’s tasting, including a brief background on their country of origin. Students sample between three and six different wines each class, ranging from reds and whites to sherries and sparkling wines. Tastings are coupled with breads and other small plates to cleanse the palate between wines and to learn which wines pair well with different foods.

“Most of the students in my class are going to go work in hotels and restaurants, and they’re going to be around wine. They should know about quality and understand the difference between one wine and another,” Cassidy said.

Class is held in the school’s state-of-the-art wine-tasting lab, the Southern Wine & Spirits Beverage Management Center, which features charcoal air filtration, sampling stations with spittoons and red overhead lighting used for blind tastings of white wines. The lab creates the ideal setting for a blind taste test, the goal of which is to teach students to identify a wine’s origin, age and composition just by its smell, taste and other qualities.

“You couldn’t be in a better environment to learn about wine,” Cassidy said.

Wines of the Old World focuses on wine production in Italy, France, Spain and more. Like its counterpart course, Wines of the New World, the class teaches students to identify by taste the grape varietal of wines produced in each region of the world.

“You get to learn about all the wines that are in Europe,” junior Felipe Mosado said. “The class teaches you how to taste wine from if the wines are heavy bodied, light bodied, the aromas, the taste, if they’re dry, espumoso [sparkling].”

Mosado, a marketing major, took Wines of the New World in the fall as an elective, and he liked it so much he took Wines of the Old World in spring, declaring hospitality management as a minor.

“Hospitality can help a lot with marketing,” Mosado said. “I very much recommend taking hospitality classes, because they are a lot of fun. You get to learn a lot and see a whole new side of things you haven’t seen, like wines. You get to learn a whole different world.”

Senior Julia Liebling said she originally took the wine courses to see what the field of hospitality had to offer outside of hotels and restaurants; but the classes guided her to pursue a career in the wine industry after graduation. She even won a scholarship to continue studying wine in California.

“I took my first wine class last fall and I kind of fell in love with learning about wine,” said Liebling, a hospitality management major. “I think taking Chip Cassidy’s classes has been absolutely influential towards me figuring out what I want to do after I graduate.”

Cassidy said: “It shows good taste to know something about wine. Wine brings out such wonderful flavors in the food, and the food brings out such wonderful flavors in the wine. Once you take a wine class, you’re hooked for life.”

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