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Written by Nikitas Magel   

Chef Cynthia Bloebaum's culinary spin on the Wine Class

licorice root"That's dried licorice root in anise oil." Cynthia Bloebaum was referring to one of the several edible tasting aids she had provided as a reference tool to each of the students in her wine class on Big, Spicy Reds. I was fascinated, first of all because I'd never actually tasted the real thing — it was certainly a far cry from a box of Good & Plenty — but more importantly, because her approach of providing fresh fruits and herbs to help identify the flavors in the wines she presented was, I felt, part of what made her teaching style so engaging. The exercise of thoughtfully tasting and analyzing wine, something I've grown quite familiar with, was suddenly fresh and new, now that I experienced it from this chef's culinary perspective.

As I sat there, listening to her frank and unassuming style of teaching, I felt a tinge of excitement over what was clearly an uncommon spin in wine eduction: a chef using real food in helping her students to focus on the individual components of a wine's flavor profile. So excited, in fact, that I was distracted from the otherwise handsome waterfront view directly outside the all-glass façade of San Francisco's South Beach Yacht Club, where our illustrious instructor regularly holds her classes.

As a chef for over 25 years, Cynthia Bloebaum knows food. And so, in addition to furnishing each student with a plate of tasting aids, she presented an entire menu of what amounted to six courses spaced along the nearly three hour class. Each food was matched with appropriate wines in a way that was designed to highlight the flavors of both, a practice in which she's clearly well-versed. As a culinary type, she's all about balance — whether it applies to the tastes and textures of the food and wines she serves together, or to ensuring that she provides an equal amount of time between a formal discussion on the wine regions and a more interactive demonstration of the pairings. And that's exactly the kind of approach that makes learning this sort of thing fun, interesting, and memorable. True to the namesake of her seminars, Cynthia's approach is to focus on the flavors of the food and the wine, which is what puts it all in perspective.

As with all of her classes, the chef herself planned and oversaw preparation for the entire menu, which was tailored to showcase a selection of spicy red wines from a number of both old and new world regions. As she launched into explanations of the wines, her assistants came out with the serving trays of the courses chosen to match:

  • Herbed Cheese, paired with two sparkling red wines: a slightly sweet and savory central Italian Lambrusco along with a smokey and heady Australian Shiraz;
  • Roasted Eggplant Spread and Green Olive, Orange, and Roasted Garlic Relish, matched with a group of four Syrahs, from a range of climates and styles: a meaty Crozes-Hermitage from the Northern Rhône, an atypically savory Australian Shiraz, a generously fruity but structured Chilean Syrah, and a heavily extracted fruit bomb of a California Syrah from Santa Ynez;
  • Black Bean and Mole Cream Soup, coupled with an equally spicy and rich California Zinfandel from Paso Rob [this was so tasty, I had get another portion];
  • Tuna, Black Olive, and Smoked Tomato Salad tossed with a mint and berry vinaigrette, paired with two very different wines: a very big, perhaps overly tannic Tempranillo from Spain's Toro region, and a lighter, grapey Nero d'Avola from Sicily [all proof, once again, that with the right dressing and preparation, a salad can sing with even a bold red wine];
  • Beef Brisket with Cynthia's signature BBQ sauce, served with horseradish mashed potatoes, and roasted zucchini, matched with two California wines: a Napa Valley Petite Sirah [that resonated beautifully with the bold, sweet flavors of the meat] and a Dornfelder vinified not in its native Austria, but in Santa Barbara [yet still demonstrated a flavor profile and tannin level that I felt did not quite stand up as well to the dish];
  • Cheese selection with Fruit Conserve, coupled with a fun and lively Zinfandel-based dessert wine.

From beginning to end, it was a sensational experience, and one that apparently attracts a bit of a following: a number of the people there have been attending Cynthia's seminars for well over a year. And some of those ongoing client relationships have involved trips to far away places — not surprising, given her knowledge and experience of a number of regional food and wine styles. That, combined with her straightforward, no-nonsense approach to teaching, make for a rewarding learning experience, regardless of your depth and level of wine knowledge.

In addition to her classes on the regional foods and wines of various wine-growing areas, Chef Bloebaum caters wine themed events and parties, and speaks, trains, judges, and consults on all things culinary and enological. For a full schedule of her classes in San Francisco, refer to LocalWineEvents. To get more information on her personalized, you may contact This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it directly, as she's warm and welcoming of clients both old and new.

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