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Lean In MBA Reflections: Life & Wine Tasting
Xiang Xuan, Tsinghua University Class of 2017
(translated by Stacey Zhao, GMBA Class of 2017)
On the afternoon of April 9, 2016, Lean In MBA, the Women’s Leadership Club, and the Family Business Club jointly sponsored a wine tasting. The bilingual English-Chinese event was led by honorary guest speaker Claudia Masüger from Switzerland, CEO of Cheers wine importers. Ms. Masüger brought Cheers success in the wholesale and retail wine business through both B2B and B2C channels, with the ambition to make good wine available at reasonable prices to young consumers from all over China. Claudia’s expertise and background in wine made her the perfect speaker to lead the event.
Ms. Masüger opened by explaining the basic process of assessing sparkling, white, and red wines as well as wine tasting’s role in daily life. After the hostess’s introduction, the event commenced with the opening of sparkling wines. Ms. Masüger noted sparkling wine’s mood-livening capacity at leisurely parties and during holidays. She then demonstrated the two most commonly used techniques to open sparkling wine. The first is to remove the plastic, then push one’s thumb against the bottle while slowly twisting open the wire. A more sophisticated approach is to tear the plastic top off and tilt the bottle at a 45° angle while unwinding the wire; with one clean flick of a knife blade, she popped off the cork. Ms. Masüger then brought out a variety of sparkling wines for further demonstration.
Ms. Masüger also explained how to appreciate wine varieties such as champagne, suggesting that it is best chilled and served in narrow wine flutes. The shape of wine flutes keeps the wine in its optimal condition. When holding the glass, she explained, one should grip the slender part of the glass, keeping the wine cool.
White and sparkling wine tasting starts with holding the neck of the flute, then slowly rotating the flute, letting the wine’s full fragrance spread, then lifting the flute to observe the reflection of the wine, and finally tasting the wine. With Ms. Masüger’s guidance, we smelled the wine filled with fragrant hints of fresh lemon, peach, fruit, and just the right acidity. Ms. Masüger asked everyone to take a nibble of lemon before tasting the white wine, to experience the sweetness of the wine by bringing out the contrasting flavors.
While attendees enjoyed the champagne, Ms. Masüger shared the story of her love affair with wine. Despite being a fourth-generation wine expert, her journey was not all easy sailing. She arrived in Beijing with two cases of wine, and for three years she found herself constantly putting out fires left and right while acclimating to the local environment and market.
As Ms. Masüger’a assistant poured a grape variety adopted by the Sauvignon Blanc from Chile's central valley region of South America with a screw cap seal, she dispelled the misbelief that corking offers a superior seal for fully maintaining the wine’s taste. Furthermore, she noted, with changing habits of wine consumption, long-term storage for investment and collection of wines has diminished, and twist cap packaging is quite practical and useful. Furthermore, Ms. Masüger explained that wine storage is critical, because it is vulnerable to oxidation and must be stored in a dry, cool, underground wine cellar. To keep wine longer, one should seal or twist on caps that will discharge air from the bottle to maintain its taste.
Beginners have the ability to mold and refine their own wine preferences. Wine can numb the tongue, reducing sensitivity to taste. Thus, before transitioning into the finale of red wine tasting, Ms. Masüger asked everybody to have some cookies and water in order to refresh their taste buds. She explained that red wine is best experienced at room temperature.
Within two hours, participants had gained a deeper understanding of wine and associated customs, better appreciating its remarkable cultural value and versatility as a complex pastime intersecting with the everyday dining experience.