Learn How to Pair Food and Wine Like an Expert

Going for the Afterglow

Okay, you might not land a job as sommelier at Paris’s La Tour d’Argent after four evenings with Sharon Coffield at the Wake Center, but you can put an end to showing up at dinner parties with an expensive bottle in your hand to cover the fact that you had no idea what to buy. Coffield’s immensely popular Adult Ed course, Food & Wine Pairing, begins again at the Wake Center on October 18. The blonde dynamo has a devoted following because, frankly, she’s energetic and full of joie de vivre. That’s all the French you really need, since this course takes you on a geographical treasure hunt around the world. You’ll learn which grapes thrive where, why rose is seasonal, how to use bridging ingredients like Dijon mustard to accommodate a particular wine with a meal, and what the origins are of raising a toast and the phrase “toast of the town.” You’ll hear a bit about different kinds of stemware and why they make a difference, and learn something about the many types of wine bottles. Classes begin with nibbles and tasting, schoolwork to which you can apply yourself with gusto.

“Lots of different people take my class for different reasons,” Coffield said, “but they all enjoy turning a nice meal into a glorious, memorable occasion. Matching the right wine with food is like a marriage made in heaven.” Passionate about food and wine, Coffield is also the assistant controller at Santa Barbara City College. Her husband taught World of Wine at UCSB, and their interest in food and wine is legend around town. Coffield’s class is so popular that two sections are being offered this fall. She takes obvious delight in helping others develop their pairing skills. “We cover a range from $6 a bottle to about $40,” she said. “There are so many to choose from in the wine aisles of Santa Barbara it can be overwhelming.” Mysteries of the transcendental grape are revealed, starting with white wine on the first evening, moving on to Bordeaux and Burgundies, red Rh’nes and zinfandels, and Champagne and sparkling wines during the last class. A final five-course dinner prepared and served by culinary arts students, with wines presented in-person by an area vintner, takes place November 14. It’s available separately for only $42. The four-part pairing series costs $35, and students receive an emailed PowerPoint extract that’s great to print out and take shopping.

A little sophistication isn’t the only goal; it’s also about having fun. Coffield said there are certain principles of pairing that are universal, despite differences of taste. “My passion is to help others with what I’ve learned,” she said, such as avoiding mistakes that deflate the pleasure of a well-crafted dish (showdowns between food and wine notoriously occur around vinegary salads, garlic, or an intensely flavored sauce).

Traveling the globe with a curious palate was a major influence for Coffield, and she’s been inspired to read extensively on the subjects of wine and epicure. We can all dream of exotic locales at our own tables, while people worldwide are dreaming of us and the bounty offered by our fabulous winemakers. Maximizing what we have is natural, and young or inexperienced chefs are encouraged in this class to take advantage of a little knowledge to become wise consumers.

Wine is an encyclopedic subject, but Coffield offers up some fun trivia for amateurs. White wine doesn’t necessarily come from white grapes, though it can; what counts is the length of time the skins remain with the juice. And did you know that wine is alive and has a youth, a prime, and old age? It can’t be bottled and then ignored. Wine storage is worthy of another entire course. The language of wine is also intriguing; descriptions such as dry or full-bodied, or labels telling where it came from exactly, or who imported it and from where, and what the blend consists of, are interesting and perfect small talk as you manipulate your corkscrew with newfound talent. There are even German wines made from the very ripest, individually picked grapes, one at a time. Talk about picky! In Food & Wine Pairing, you’ll not only have a great time, you’ll become a fascinating host or guest.

In the bestseller Joy of Cooking, appreciation of wine is “gently proclaimed as one of the Rights of Man,” and it’s also noted that racking, the process of transferring the young wine from one barrel to another, is best performed when the moon is full, the wind’s from the north, and the weather is clear. Fortunately, Food & Wine Pairing class will take place every Thursday from October 18 to November 8, regardless.


Food & Wine Pairing is held from October 18-November 3 at the Wake Center (300 N. Turnpike Rd.) and costs $34. Call 964-6853 or visit ce.sbcc.edu/cooking.htm.


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