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Posted: October 09, 2013

Pairing made perfect

Meet sommelier Thomas Allen

Cathie Beck—The Wine Wench

I did not initially want to attend Cook Street School of Culinary ArtsWine 101: A Guided Tasting, taught by Certified Sommelier, Thomas Allen. I’d just put in a 60-hour work-week and what I really wanted was a remote control and a glass of really nice Pinot Noir.

And besides if you haven’t yet figured out how to taste, analyze and pair a wine at this stage of your game, don’t you have bigger problems than even Congress?

Yes. I was crabby.

Yet I attended Allen’s class (at the urging of a friend) and wonderful things happened: I lost track of time, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and, after decades spent immersed in food and wine worlds, I effortlessly learned more in one evening than most any “wine learning” experience I’d had to date.

The “effortlessly learned” part is critical. That happened because I had fun the entire evening. Sommelier Thomas Allen is unassuming, engaged, funny, and knowledgeable without one lick of pretention or affect. He wants to know your wine likes and dislikes, your wine experiences, how your tastes lean.

And the guy knows his wine. Prior to becoming Cook Street’s Wine Instructor, he began his culinary work at New York City’s Four Seasons Restaurant. He then spent time at a specialty food store chain and ultimately (then) pursued a publishing career. His career trajectory brought him to Denver and he elected to return to his childhood passion of food and wine and so entered the Cook Street 180° Culinary Program in 2008. A graduate of the International Sommelier Guild’s Sommelier Diploma Program and a Certified Specialist of Wine with the Society of Wine Educators, Thomas is currently working on his Certified Wine Educator accreditation and maintains a reputation as a true epicure among epicures.

Furthermore, his class handouts are cool. He hands out a colorful chart that illustrates all wine hues, hints and every possible description and makes them approachable. He walks you through the sip, the swirl and then the palate’s delicate acceptance of every nuance of a vino.

By the time you’ve spent the two hours lollygagging through beauties like the 2009 St. Francis Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County (California) and the 2011 Hahn Chardonnay, Santa Lucia Highlands (California), you don’t know what hit you – and you don’t care.

And that’s not because you’ve imbibed (you can spit or not – your choice). You lose time because learning why grape vines need to struggle, and why “primary fermentation” is a simple yeast + sugar = alcohol = CO2 + heat equation elevates your appreciation for the fruit of the vine and what ends up in your glass.

And then there are “little perks” of wine knowledge that bubble up in Allen’s class. Did you know that Riedel stemware truly is the best wine drinking receptacle made? (I didn’t – I thought Riedel a brilliant machine – which it is, but that’s not the whole story.)

And that you can pretty much use any glass receptacle to decant your wine? Pour it into a pitcher and swirl it a time or two and you’ve got an “open vino” as “breathing” as anything you’ve poured into that $275 artisan decanter you picked up in Italy four years ago.

Ha! It makes my wine heart sing when the wine snobbery delete button gets firmly pushed. My wine heart sings even louder when a fun and funny expert walks me through the paces of why we love wine and how to truly make a distinction.

But that’s not all. Cook Street School of Culinary Arts has made itself an iconic and nearly legendary institution for the cook who must cook – and who also wants to expand his knowledge base in the process. They offer classes almost every day of the week and from Thai to Vietnamese to Spanish and French foods and wines, the student who loves the craft cannot find a better resource. Classes like “Foundations of Meat Fabrication” and “Knife Skills” illustrate the school’s determined and comprehensive vision.

The aspiring professional chef will find everything from a Culinary Program to financial aid to Alumni Resources.

I’m just saying that it takes a certain commitment to establish a school, build a broad-base curriculum, keep standards superior and keep it all going tor years.

That’s why I had fun in Thomas Allen’s “Wine 101: A Guided Tasting” class. He’s an example of how and why Cook Street School of Culinary Arts grows more deservedly loved by Denver and the surrounding food and wine communities year after year.

Cathie Beck, a/k/a The Wine Wench, can be reached at: TheWineWench@comcast.net. Please forward any and all wine events, wine-related news items directly to her.

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