It could be argued that having extra money for booze in college is just as important as showing up for an exam. Kevin Zraly definitely had his priorities in line during the educational heyday. As a history student, his side job was waiting tables, which introduced him to the wonderful world of wines, and a renowned oenophile was born. Zraly — who will be stopping in the Q.C. during Charlotte Wine and Food Weekend (www.charlottewineandfood.org) — is the author of a best-seller, Kevin Zraly's Complete Wine Course, and headmaster of the Windows on the World Wine School in New York. A global traveler who's whet his palate with thousands of wines, Zraly has good news for all wine lovers: "We're living in the best time in the history of wine making," he says. Now that's something to toast, right?
Creative Loafing: How do you pair food and wine?
Kevin Zraly: I actually address this during the one-hour wine expert session on April 21. I'll talk about what, in my opinion, are the six major grapes in the world. I break it down to three whites (Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay) and three reds (Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon). The question about wine and food is based first on texture. So, looking at the food that's there, I'm going to put the texture of the wine with the texture of the food. Rather than saying light, medium and full body, which people don't understand, I use the texture of milk to better explain. Riesling around the world is like skim milk in the texture situation. Sauvignon Blanc is like whole milk and chardonnay is like heavy cream. And it works the same way for the reds: Pinot Noir is like skim milk, Merlot is like whole milk and Cabernet Sauvignon is like heavy cream. For the lighter style foods, like in the fish or the poultry categories, I'd recommend the Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc or even Pinot Noir because it's the lightest in reds. But for the heavier wines, which would be the Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, you need some meat in essence. Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay — a white masquerading as a red — is good with a sirloin steak.
What do you think about the growing trends in boxed wines?
Actually, if you had asked me that question 10 years ago, I would have said, "Don't bother." Boxed wines are becoming a norm, because just speaking of the environment, glass is so expensive to produce, and it's also very expensive to transport. The green thumbprint is definitely going toward boxed wine, and with that in mind, everybody is making better quality. This is the first time I've been able to say that.
What advice do you have for folks who are new to the world of wine?
Trust your own taste buds and sense of smell because 95 percent of taste is smell. In my book, I have a whole chapter on understanding your own sense of smell. Age plays into it, medication changes things, and if you're male or female changes things, too. My point is that everybody should just trust their own judgment and drink what they like.