Grape expectations: Hospitality class teaches intricacies of wine tasting

Michael Claus Ottenbacher, professor of the hospitality management's wine tasting class, holds up a bottle of wine in front of a sign in Justin Hall. The classes Ottenbacher teaches are offered in the fall and spring semesters. (Olivia Bergmeier | Collegian Media Group)

If you think the phrase “fruit-forward, foxy, buttery, burnt and chewy with a barnyard odor” sounds like something from a random wine review generator, you wouldn’t be alone. But, Kansas State’s Introduction to Wines course, HM 442, offers a light at the end of a dark tunnel of pretentious wine tasting phrases.

The classes range in size from 35 to up to 100 students per class and are offered every semester in the hospitality management department.

Michael Claus Ottenbacher, professor and Department of Hospitality Management head, teaches the wine tasting course, and he said he believes it is vital for those looking for work in hospitality.

“I think wine is an important aspect of the hospitality industry and for restaurant and food service,” Ottenbacher said. “Not to just sell the wine, but to really understand it, and very often customers might have questions.”

Ottenbacher said a solid understanding of the intricacies of wine opens the door to financial profit.

“You can also give recommendations to match wine with food because if that is not well done, you cannot really lose money but give up the opportunity to make extra revenue and profit and then to also enhance the customer experience,” he said.

To get to the point of really utilizing wine in the industry, Ottenbacher and sommelier Cristina Milostan, who helps to direct the classes, teach an introductory course beginning with wine basics, moving to a more advanced understanding of food pairings and specialties.

“They learn the basics about wine, which is how to serve wine, how to open a bottle of wine, how wine is produced, what has impacts on the taste and the quality of the wine and then also how to taste wine, how to describe wine and also how to match wine with food,” Ottenbacher said.

Ottenbacher said he believes his class is not only for students involved in the hospitality, but for a wide variety of programs at K-State as he said it imparts students with refined knowledge.

“When you’re going out for a business meeting you also should understand or know the basics of wines,” he said. “It helps you to feel more comfortable.”

Ottenbacher touched on the topic of wine appreciation. There are many aspects of the production process that goes unnoticed to the public eye.

“I think if you also have more knowledge, you also see how many steps, how much hard labor and how much expertise goes into winemaking and really appreciate the product much more,” Ottenbacher said.

When asked what his favorite wine was, Ottenbacher said he prefers a dry Riesling, which has a lower level of alcohol.