Sip, Sip, Hooray!

By Becky Fitzgerald on January 19, 2023

K-State First Lady talks reds and whites at wine-pairing luncheon

Prairie Star restaurant’s tag line of “Dine, Drink & Gather” was put into action yet again recently as 60-plus women sipped and savored at January’s Ladies Luncheon. The guest of honor and luncheon speaker was K-State First Lady Sally Linton, a certified wine judge, who spent 90 minutes pouring out her considerable knowledge of wine and wine tasting.

If the enthusiastic praise of Linton’s presentation, the three-course meal, and the selected whites and red were any indication, attendees certainly left the event venue with glass-half-full mentalities.

Linton was at Meadowlark at the invitation of Ladies Luncheon hostesses Olivia Collins and Beth Pannbacker. Collins, who retired in 2010 from the Staley School of Leadership at Kansas State University, had continued to maintain and cultivate relationships at K-State, and it was she who suggested to Pannbacker last fall that perhaps they could entice Linton to speak at Meadowlark.

Sadly, Collins died on Dec. 13 and wasn’t able to see her idea to fruition, but Pannbacker was quick to credit Collins when she addressed the group, noting Collins’s ability to make meaningful connections and shine a spotlight on education and mentoring others.

“I wanted to bring a bit of Olivia’s spirit to the program,” Pannbacker said. “She had set everything up, and I just had to follow up on the plans. She liked to eat, drink, and be merry, so that’s what I encouraged us all to do that afternoon.”

One remaining task was planning the menu and selecting wines, which Pannbacker described as a collaboration between Prairie Star team members, Linton’s assistant, and Chad Lohman, owner of Nespor’s Wine & Spirits. The result? Butternut Squash Soup paired with The Ned Sauvignon Blanc, a seared salmon salad served with Josh Cellars Pinot Noir, and a Reisling (Heinz Eifel Auslese) paired with Dark Chocolate Cheesecake for dessert.

Prior to the soup’s arrival, Linton, who is married to K-State president Richard Linton, shared a bit of her background. After earning a degree from Indiana University in marketing and management, with minors in psychology and sociology, she headed to Purdue University to begin her career. During her tenure at Purdue, she continued her education, earning a Master of Business Administration and a Master of Science focused on agribusiness.

A career that began in the management of U.S. Department of Agriculture grants shifted to leading the marketing and public relation efforts for the Indiana wine industry. Linton led the rebranding of Indiana wine, encouraging consumers to "Taste the Experience," bringing the wine to the people. Linton also is a certified wine judge and has judged at international competitions throughout the U.S.

It’s her years as a judge that prompted last week’s lively wine and dine experience. Linton offered instructions for using our senses of sight, taste, and smell to evaluate the vino, pointing to a tongue map and aroma wheel available at each place setting. She asked the audience what flavors they detected – “Go ahead. Put your nose into the glass,” she said.  – and described Sauvignon Blanc as a food-friendly wine because of its high acidity and fresh, fruity notes.

Linton offered tips for storing and chilling wine, explained why certain wines pair well with certain foods, called slightly sparkling Vinho Verde from Portugal one of her favorite “front porch wines,” and mentioned briefly the world of fine wine collectors who spend as much on one bottle as some do for cars or homes.

Linton emphasized, however, that many pleasing wines can be purchased for about $15 a bottle. Pannbacker echoed that, saying the wine served at the luncheon ranged in price from about $12 to $18 a bottle.

Linton shared the following ways to enjoy wine:
   ~ Drink what you like. If you don’t like the taste of the wine, pairing it with food won’t generally change that.
   ~ Pair wines with higher acidity levels, such as white varieties or Pinot Noir, with buttery/fatty foods such as salmon, fettuccine alfredo, etc. The acid balances the fat.
   ~ Wines sealed with corks are best stored on their sides so the cork stays moist. Corks can shrink when left dry, which breaks the seal of the bottle and allows air to enter. Excessive exposure to air can cause the wine’s taste to spoil.  
   ~ When serving wine with a meal or opening a bottle to share with friends for Happy Hour, remember the chill rule of 1, 2, 3. Chill reds for one hour, whites for 2 hours, and sparkling wines, such as champagne, for three hours or longer. It’s a common misconception that red wine should be served at room temperature. Rather, it’s best served cool (60 to 68 degrees).