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Christian Mappala, 43, German wine expert and leader of the wine sensory seminars takes a “nose full” of wine.
Christian Mappala, 43, German wine expert and leader of the wine sensory seminars takes a “nose full” of wine. (Photos by Peter Jaeger/Stars and Stripes)
Christian Mappala, 43, German wine expert and leader of the wine sensory seminars takes a “nose full” of wine.
Christian Mappala, 43, German wine expert and leader of the wine sensory seminars takes a “nose full” of wine. (Photos by Peter Jaeger/Stars and Stripes)
After examining the color, the second step in judging wine is to smell the aroma.
After examining the color, the second step in judging wine is to smell the aroma. ()
The third step is to taste the wine.
The third step is to taste the wine. ()
Blind probe. Students test three different red wines, determining whether they are dry, acidic, light or strong.
Blind probe. Students test three different red wines, determining whether they are dry, acidic, light or strong. ()

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Chateau Laffitte and Schloss Johannisberg.

Napa Valley and Montalcino.

Pinot Noir and Weisser Burgunder.

The world of wine is overwhelmingly rich and almost endless. A jungle of terms and terroirs, tastes and characteristics.

How do you know what is good and what you should drink? At first, the answer seems simple. You should drink what you like. On the other hand, you don’t want to make a fool of yourself at a wine tasting by declaring loudly: "I love Liebfraumilch, the sweeter the better."

There is help for you. A basic course on wine appreciation is offered at Wies-baden’s Volks-hochschule, a German community school for adults.

The lecturer is Christian Mappala, 43, a German who works for Lufthansa’s personnel department at the Frankfurt international airport. He is a wine expert and dedicated wine lover.

He was a confirmed beer drinker until 1977, when he visited the Napa Valley wine region in California. There he had a life-changing experience: He fell in love with wine. "I love the taste of wine," he declared.

Back home, he learned about wine from the roots up. He signed up for wine seminars, visited wineries, went to wine festivals and attended wine auctions. He started his own library of wine literature. He shared his new hobby with friends, organizing wine tastings at his house. He turned himself into a wine expert.

As a birthday gift to help me improve my wine etiquette, my wife, Heidi, bought tickets for us to Mappala’s wine seminar. Held at Villa Schnitzler, a stately old home house in Wiesbaden, the course was both fun and informative, a pleasure for the senses. And a marathon for the liver — Heidi and I had to call a taxi after testing 12 wines at the end of the five-hour course.

Before the fun — the actual wine tasting — some serious work had to be done. We had to learn how to understand the tastes and fragrances of wine, how to train our senses to get more out of wine testing and tasting.

Mappala started his lecture with some basics of smelling and describing wine fragrances. Do you know that you have about 30 million cells for smelling, but that there are only four basic tastes — sweet, sour, salty and bitter? Do you know that 95 percent of what you think you taste in truth is smelling?

To prove his point, Mappala had prepared 12 glasses of wine with a few drops of concentrated fragrances added. We had to discover all 12. Some were easy: finding notes of grape, peach or lime. Others were difficult to track down: clove, coffee or green pepper — or harder yet, licorice. There was lots of sniffing, smelling and rolling of eyes. And laughter. This was a serious, but not too serious, affair. Then Mappala revealed the answers, resulting in some surprises and another noseful from the glasses to confirm what he had said.

The next step in improving sensory ability was to recognize the same fragrances, but this time out of black glasses so you couldn’t see the color. More excitement and laughter. To make sure we didn’t identify any aromas by process of elimination, Mappala replaced one fragrance with a new ingredient. What a dirty trick!

Next we tried to visualize wine fragrances through colors. Showing slides with abstract color paintings, Mappala told us to compare the fragrances of Riesling, Pinot Noir or rosè with the colors on the screen. It was interesting to compare the essence of color with the aromas of wines.

Finally came the highlight of the afternoon, the wine probe. First came a blind testing, with four levels of three wines. Three white wines to begin with. Look at the color, smell the fragrances, take a sip. Let the wine roll over your tongue, chew it.

What do you discover? A yellow green, a golden color. Fragrances of apple and wild lemon. The taste of a light crisp wine. Dry? Half dry? Or sweet? What grape? Riesling or Silvaner? What country is the wine from? A lively discussion ensues, guided by Mappala’s knowledge, wit and enthusiasm.

By the time the last three wines are glowing in the glasses, the atmosphere is very relaxed and peaceful. Three powerful, full bodied red wines stimulate all the senses. And an remarkable afternoon slowly slides in a wonderful evening. I’ll drink to that. Prost!

Know and GoChristian Mappala’s next wine seminar through the Volkshochschule in Wiesbaden is April 17, and there are still nine open spots. For details, call 0611-98890, or e-mail anmeldung@vhs-wiesbaden.de. He will also conduct a seminar of his own on May 29; e-mail cm@mappala.de for specifics.

Both courses are in German. However, Mappala speaks fluent English and can be booked by private groups, including Americans, with a minimum of eight people. The seminar lasts five hours and includes the wine sensory lecture, 12 wines to test, and assorted snacks, such as cheese and cold cuts. The price is 69 euros per person.

For information and reservations, contact Mappala through information on his Web site, www.mappala.de, or by calling 0179-146-1203

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