On Saturday night, while the Wine Goddess put the finishing touches on her Italian wine-and-goodies basket for Lowell General Hospital's annual Sun Santa fundraising drive, I left the house at 6 p.m. to present a wine-tasting seminar to 19 Cambodian Americans. They are young college professionals, some of whom have graduated and are working as nurses, software engineers and graphics artists. All participate in a leadership program run by the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association. The group meets each month with CMAA's Board of Directors, headed by President Kevin Coughlin, and work on personal, professional and community-building skills and initiatives.

On this night, Coughlin and directors Metrey Keo, Evan Horn, Vanna Howard and Arthur Ryan, deputy superintendent of the Lowell Police Department, joined in the fun.

My presentation, which was supposed to last one hour, turned into a 2-hour convivial adventure. It served two purposes: First, it was a surprise reward for the program paarticipants; and, second, it was another learning experience for them.


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A private room at Lenzi's Mill House Restaurant was the perfect venue. White linens accented the tables, which glittered with six crystal wine and water glasses and two dinner plates at each seat. We'd be sampling four wines during a four-course meal, highlighted by Mike Lenzi's delicious chicken pot pie extravaganza.

I was excited. The tasters were fashionably dressed and remarkably curious about wine. Several men wore flattering bow ties. The women, well, let's just say they sparkled like Dom Perignon.

My goal was to introduce the group to two whites and two reds from four countries: New Zealand, France, United States (California), and Argentina. I wanted to emphasize the different aromatics, textures, styles and tastes of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon.

I explained that not everyone would smell the same bouquet of 200 potential aromatics associated with wine or taste the same flavors. The palate is a personal preference to a large degree. However, I urged them to be bold in their evaluations and not to worry about what they felt or tasted from wine.

Check its color, I said. Are the whites clear, yellow straw or golden? Can you see through the reds? Is it the color of cranberry juice or inky and purple?

Smell what's in the glass. Is it flowers or fruit? What kind?

Take a sip. Are the tastes rich or bland? Flavors of citrus fruit, cherry or dark blackberry?

Now swallow. What's your mouth feeling? Is the texture light in the mouth, medium or heavy? Does the liquid cling to the tongue, evaporate quickly, or leave a nice, long, fullfilling flavor that says, ooh la la?

After each sampling the tasters recorded their reactions on a simple 5-point rating sheet, with 5 being the top score. The results are tabulated below.

One Wine Novice observation: From their reactions, Cambodians have great sensory skills for enjoying wine. Several men surprised me by picking up small and distinct tastes like coffee, chocolate and plum in the reds. As for the women, they were very adept at smelling the floral qualities of the whites and identifying the citrusy (acidic) flavors from fruity ones. One even picked up the subtle tangerine notes in the Sauvignon Blanc (A+).

At the conclusion, I gave them a special treat: We all tried a delicious a German Dr. Loosen medium dry Riesling that is a sumptuous match for any spicy Asian of Indian dish. They cooed in appreciation, and I think the Wine Novice picked up several new fans. Yet, it was my pleasure to spend a wonderful evening with these young leaders.We should all be proud of their ongoing contributions to our city and suburban communities and grateful to the people who are guiding them.

The tasting results:

  • 1. 79.5 points, 2010 Mohua Sauvignon Blanc, New Zeland, $12.99 -- A wonderful pairing with the bleu cheese appetizer, the intense flavors of zesty lime, grapefruit and nectarine proved popular with a crowd bent on elegance.
  • 2. 73 points, 2007 Jean Bousquet Cabernet Sauvignon, Argentina, $13.99 -- A full-bodied red enlivened by plum jam and a black pepper finish. Interesting how the women rated this slightly higher (3.84 average) than did the men (3.72 average).
  • 3. 62.3 points, 2010 Picket Fence Chardonnay, California, $15.99 -- This creamy, buttery oaked Chardonnay proved confusing on the palate. It excelled with 6 tasters (4 or more points) but was panned by the vast majority.
  • 4. 61 points, 2009 Joseph Douhin Laforet Burgogne Pinot Noir, France, $15.99 -- The cherry nose was a hit, but the earthier, Old World style of a dry, lighter red did not resonate with a crowd that appreciated power and zest on the palate.

Read more at http://blogs.lowellsun.com/winenovice. Follow Jim Campanini on Twitter @suneditor.