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Wine-tasting with the pros

As a viticulturist, Kimberly Fallon showed novice grape growers how to develop a vineyard.

As a sommelier, Fallon developed menus pairing specific dishes and vintages.

Fallon's true passion, however, is helping others develop a language to talk about wine.

An eight-week seminar Fallon teaches on tasting wine this winter is designed to "liberate the senses," as participants learn the tricks of professional winetasters.

"Wine is like any other art form," says Fallon, who studied with the American Court of Master Sommeliers.

Each week beginning on Jan. 9, Fallon features a different grape variety, starting with sauvignon blanc and ending with syrah, a progression from simple to complex, she says. Using the senses of sight, smell, taste and touch, students will gain an appropriate terminology for wine and practice a consistent approach for evaluating every bottle, Fallon says.

Fallon, who holds a Masters of Science in viticulture and enology, promises history and geography lessons during each session, along with explanations of a wine's evolution and its cultural importance. The 49-year-old also gives a short course on how wine is made.

"Wine is so charming because it displays these ... qualities," Fallon says.

The difference between inherent grape attributes and the "bouquet" that results from winemaking's various methods is often a confusing concept for beginners, Fallon says.

She encourages students to pay closer attention to the smells of other foods around them, whether it's ripe cantaloupe in the produce aisle or freshly brewed coffee.

"There's hundreds of aromas in wine," Fallon says.

But to encourage self-reliance, those aromas aren't up for discussion once blind tasting begins. Participants in Fallon's seminar simply sip, take notes and then rate four wines according to preference without seeing labels in advance. The process is empowering, particularly when people doubt they have a sophisticated palate, Fallon says.

"All you need to know is what you like."

After Fallon unveils the bottles, the class determines if price and value match up.

"People realize there's an ocean of good, $10 bottles of wine out there," she says.

Invaluable for growers, industry marketers and tasting-room employees, Fallon's seminar — now in its third year at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center — engendered a second series. Fallon will follow her introductory course with an international look at wine-growing regions and their particular varieties in March.

A course pairing food and wine is next for Fallon. She plans to do all the cooking, promoting her philosophy that the combination of food, wine and good company is the key to happiness.

"Wine and food is better," she says.

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail slemon@mailtribune.com.

Kimberly Fallon pours a glass of red wine before tasting it. - Jamie Lusch