A hint of expertise, a dash of camaraderie and a pinch of Big Red spirit could be observed in Statler Hall at a practice session on Tuesday of the University’s wine tasting organization, Cornell Cuvée: Wine Education and Blind Tasting Society. The club, named for the French term for “blend,” will embark on an international trip to participate in a wine tasting competition this summer.
The club, which runs throughout the year, offers an opportunity for interested students, particularly those in the Nolan School of Hotel Administration, to expand their base of knowledge and experience with wine.
“We have practice twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays,” said student captain Jake Rallo ’22. “They’re an hour and a half long, during those practices we learn about different wine regions, but we also actively taste wines in a blind setting.”
Students are presented with a “flight” of wines, or the set of samples used for tasting in a particular round. They are then allotted ten minutes to work as a team to identify the type of wine, its region of origin, the vintage of the wine –– the year the grapes were harvested –– and are then asked a series of questions led by team coach Prof. Cheryl Stanley, food and beverage management. Stanley has been the club’s faculty advisor since its founding.
At Tuesday’s practice session, three teams of students took careful sips from a set of glasses, took notes on pieces of paper and turned to each other to compare opinions. Once the time was up, a spokesperson from each team reported their conclusions on the origins of each of the samples to the professor.
This year, the club has nine “Level I” members, those who are in their first year with the club, which are usually juniors, and 15 “Level II” members, returning students or those with more experience, which are usually either seniors or graduate students. First-years and sophomores are not allowed to participate.
Jessica Molitor ’23, a hotel student with a concentration in food and beverages, spoke about her experience as a Level I member this year.
“It’s very much broken into semesters, so the first semester we spend a lot of time learning about the grapes, learning about the different varietals, learning about regions, and then the second semester we spend a lot of time tasting and making sure we understand the flavor components and everything, the aroma components and everything,” Molitor said.
Level I students only smell the wine rather than tasting it, in order to train them to focus on identifying the wine by its distinct aromas and build up the proper vocabulary concerning the latter, in part by listening to how the Level II students describe their samples.
Stanley described the club’s history, which started back in the fall of 2014. They went international for their first competition the next year.
“We competed at Millésime, which is at the École Hôtelière [Hotel School] of Lausanne, Switzerland,” Stanley said. The team competed at Millésime again in 2018, as well as at the Left Bank Bordeaux Cup in France.
This summer, Rallo explained that the team will be returning to both locations, as a group of five students competes at Millésime on June 3, and another group of four students attends the event in Bordeaux on June 10. Three students also attended the Sciences Po International Tasting competition on April 2 in Aÿ-Champagne, France.
To become a member of Cornell Cuvée, students must commit to two semesters. Level I students would be expected to fill out an application and do an interview, whereas at Level II, members have to complete an examination as well. At this point, they may be eligible to travel with the team to a competition.
“There are certain course requirements or professional experience that are necessary because they’re coming in with a certain amount of knowledge,” Stanley said. “For example, Hotel Administration 4300: Introduction to Wines, or Viticulture and Enology 1104: Wines and Vines.”
After the first round of questions at the practice session, students were asked to identify which of the wines they tasted were of the same grape variety, to rank them in order of age and other similar questions. Finally, another spokesperson from each group gave a brief presentation, referred to as a wine note, describing in detail the character of a particular wine, its flavor and which dish might make a good pair with it.
Following this, the club began the process again from the beginning with the second out of its three flights of wine to taste for that meeting.
As a professor teaching introductory courses in the Hotel School, Stanley sees several of the same students take advantage of the opportunity that Cuvée offers, including Molitor.
“Many of the students have actually taken the courses as well, so it helps them build upon their knowledge in the organization,” Stanley said.
Molitor said her participation in Cuvée has greatly contributed to her undergraduate career and remarked on the camaraderie of the club.
“As someone that is studying for hopefully my sommelier exam, to become a sommelier in the future, it’s such a great way to be introduced to it and kind of become part of that world,” Molitor said.