By Sasha Smith, New York City Correspondent

You know how it is when you go to the wedding of a not-very-close friend and you’re seated at the table with all the other not-very-close friends, like the guy who worked at the groom’s ill-fated online start up for 6 months circa 1999, and the bride’s friend from her semester abroad in Buenos Aires?


Well, that was kind of like this week’s class, a motley crew of wines from a random assortment of countries that most US wine drinkers know little about. Technically it was “wines of Central and Southern Europe,” basically Switzerland, Cyprus, and everything in between. My hopes were not high. But just like diminished expectations make sitting at the marginal table so much fun (no one is asking you to make a toast, and the consequences for getting hammered are pretty mild when no one knows who you are), these wines offered some great, unanticipated surprises.


First was a 2006 Craftsman Hárslevelu from Hungary. Hárslevelu is one of the grapes that goes into Tokaji Aszú, Hungary’s noted dessert wine. Somewhere between off-dry and medium-dry, this has all kinds of soft, ripe fruit nicely balanced by fresh acidity and a pleasantly bitter note on the finish. For nine bucks, you could do a lot worse.

A 100% Robola (yeah, I’ve never heard of that grape either) from Cepholonia tasted like alcoholic iced chamomile tea, but in a good way. I could have done without the overly tannic Croatian Plavac Mali, but the Berger Blauer Zweigelt, at $12 for a liter, would be lovely fruity/peppery accompaniment to barbecue. (Unfortunately, you get no points for suggesting food pairings on the exam.)

The show stopper though was a Dobogó Tokaji Aszú 6 Pottonyos. I’m a huge fan of botrytized sweet wines in general, and Tokaji is one of my faves. I tried to run through the whole WSET systematic approach on this one but quickly gave up and switched from spitting to drinking. This stuff is like nectar – can you blame me?


On a more serious note, I can feel the pressure starting to mount. I came across this paragraph on Cyprus in the Oxford Companion to Wine (aka our textbook) the other day:


“Commercial wine-growing is confined to the southern foothills and slopes of the Troodos mountain range at altitudes varying from 250 m to 1,500 m (800–4,900 ft) above sea level. The vineyard area is divided into six regions: Pitsilia (the highest), Marathasa, Commandaria, Troodhos South, Troodhos East, and Troodhos North. Three of the regions contain designated subregions: Madhari in the region of Pitsilia; Afames and Laona in Troodhos South; and Ambelitis, Vouni tis Panayias, and Laona Kathikas all within Troodhos East. Pitsilia and the northern (higher altitude) half of Commanderia have igneous soil and subsoil. Elsewhere soils are of sedimentary limestone with a particularly high free lime content.”


No offense to Lenn’s Cypriot fans, but these are some crazy names. There’s no way in hell I’m going to remember them. If there’s a diploma candidate in Cyprus right now who’s reading the Oxford New York entry and wondering how she’s going to memorize Cutchogue and Canandaigua, I feel your pain.