There is a reason the word passion comes before vines in the local chain of liquor stores' moniker, Passion Vines Wine and Spirit Company.
"What we are always trying to do here is share our knowledge and connect our passion with yours, whether it's for sake, wine, cheese or chocolate," says Michael Bray, who owns the two locations in Somers Point and Egg Harbor Township. "Of course, we want you to leave here knowing something new that you didn't know before. But also vice-versa; even a beginner can teach an expert something about wine or sake based on how they perceive the flavors and aromas."
Besides offering a variety of adult beverages at reasonable prices, Passion Vines regularly hosts tasting and pairing events such as this week's Sake Saturday with Maria Proven-zano. A "self-taught amateur sake aficionado," Provenzano works full time at the Somers Point wine bar helping customers choose whiskey, wine and beer based on their taste preferences and sharing her passion for pairing adult beverages with food via tutorial events.
Her "fascination with Japan-ese culture in general" led Provenzano to study the art of brewing sake, versus "making rice wine."
"Usually with beer, you start with the barley or wheat and then ferment it with the yeast. But the difference with sake is you start with rice, which is very starchy and really doesn't have sugar. So they add a starter mold to get the yeast going," she explains. "Sake is really made in Japanese breweries, so 'rice wine' is kind of a misnomer."
Intrigued by everything from Japanese haiku poetry to the simplicity and elegance of the lifestyle there, Provenzano's research into Japanese culture goes beyond learning how to balance a piece of sushi with a set of chopsticks without spilling the sake in the other hand. And she's happy to share what she knows.
"Since it's from Japan, most people think you have to do sake with sushi," she says. "It matches well, and it's delicious, but you can do a lot more than just one flavor profile. Depending on the brew, you can do cheese or chocolate or maybe a spicy dish like Thai food. The goal is to make both the food and drink flavors really come out."
At Saturday's intimate event - less than 15 spots are available - Provenzano may pair citrus-flavored sakes such as Tozai Living Jewel or Rihaku Wandering Poet with sushi, while the "funky, mushroomy, dark cocoa" flavor in Bride of the Fox goes better with cheese or chocolate.
She's also likely to explain how the subtle flavors of sake come not from using those ingredients in the brewing - sake has just four basic ingredients: water, rice, starter mold and yeast - but from the distinctive water springs on which the breweries are built.
There's always something brewing at the Somers Point wine bar, whether it highlights beer, a specific winemaker or pits whisky versus whiskey, as with a special event at Greate Bay Country Club on March 13. Whisky Wednesdays are a regular fixture at Passion Vines in Somers Point, but Bray says he often accommodates larger crowds off premises.
And the master class with Laphroaig (Scotch whisky) Master Am-bassador Simon Brooking and Cooley's (Irish whiskey) Master Ambassador Joanne Ryan is expected to draw many area aficionados.
Advanced registration is required and spots are limited. Call 609-601-8463 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Felicia Compian:
Whisky Wednesday Master Class
Featuring Laphroaig Master Ambassador Simon Brooking and Cooley's Master Ambassador Joanne Ryan,
6 p.m., March 13, Greate Bay Country Club, 901 Mays Landing Road, Somers Point. Cost: $49.99
Held 4 p.m. Saturday at Passion Vines, 265 New Road, Somers Point. Cost: $20