The meat of the matter remains an intimate audience with Zraly, who was recently presented with the 2011 James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award by chef Jacques Pépin (a friend with whom he shares a birthday, no less). A professional wine educator for 40 years, Zraly is the author of the best-selling book Windows on the World Complete Wine Course and the forthcoming memoir A Glass Half-Full. The latter chronicles his wine-world rise from formative years in Ulster County tending bar at the Canal House and palling around with “first wine friend” Eric Miller, son of Benmarl Winery owner and painter Mark Miller, to his 25 years as wine director at the famed World Trade Center restaurant Windows on the World, which fell in the September 11 attacks, and his persevering mission to educate and enlighten a bevy of beverage professionals through his Windows on the World Wine School, named “Best Wine School in New York City” by New York magazine.
Zraly is a 1974 SUNY-New Paltz graduate. While the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art opened after his tenure, Zraly said that he’s pleased to donate his time to a cause closely aligned with his profession. “I do believe that there is a very close relationship between art, wine, music. First of all, we’re talking about the senses. I deal with the sense of smell; music is the sense of hearing the sounds, the notes; and then, of course, art is the sense of sight,” said Zraly.
With six galleries and more than 9,000 square feet of exhibition space, the Dorsky has allowed visitors to feast their eyes upon more than 100 exhibitions, including in-depth studies of Robert Morris, Alice Neel, Judy Pfaff and Carolee Schneemann. In honor of its tenth anniversary, this year’s exhibitions highlight art and artists of the Hudson Valley.
Like a trip to the Museum, Zraly intends to provide an evening of educational fun that stimulates the senses. “I like the idea of getting some educational benefit out of an event. With ‘One-Hour Wine Expert,’ I’m taking my 40 years of wine story and giving it to you in one hour. It’s not about wine, per se; it’s about texture, it’s about smell, it’s about mouth-feel. It’s about the olfactory. It’s one-hour therapy, to be honest with you. I ask people to choose their favorites, white and red, and that tells me something about them,” he said.
He will guide tasters through the six major grapes of winemaking, light to full-bodied: whites Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay; reds Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. With the United States in the number-one spot for worldwide wine consumption, the knowledge is sure to come in handy for most diner demographics.
“You don’t have to know wine; you have to know food: the idea of the texture of Dover sole versus a tuna steak, veal scaloppini and a veal chop. The point is, you start by trying to figure out the texture of the wine and how it goes with the meal. There is no right answer in taste; finding what you like should be a fun experience. If you’re consistent in your choices – light-style wines, full-bodied, et cetera – a little knowledge can help you to understand your preferences,” he said.
After the main course, Zraly will serve as auctioneer. Highlights of the silent and live auctions include bottles of three different Saint-Emilion Bordeaux in the 1990 vintage rated 98 by Robert Parker; large-format bottles of Chateau Clinet, Chateau Tropling Mondot and Silver Oak Alexander Valley, as well as additional fine wines in single and multiple lots; destination vacations to Ticino, Switzerland, Windham, New York and Upper Captiva Island, Florida; and artworks by Fernand Leger and Richard Hunt.
At $150 per ticket, $1,350 for a table of ten, Zraly said that the evening is a true bargain for epicures. “The best place to buy wines where you can actually, if you will, ‘steal the wines’ is at a charity auction, because people donate their best stuff... Let’s put it this way: Bordeaux, if you go to Christie’s or Sotheby’s and they have a fine wine auction there, two-thirds of all auctioned wines are going to be Bordeaux. They are number one, collectively, in the world,” he said.
Zraly oversees charity auctions exclusively, and has been known to tussle for a bottle or two with overly conservative bidders. “It can cost me thousands of dollars to be the auctioneer. With [a special bottle], I’ll say, ‘That’s the last bid? That’s the best you’re going?’ Then you’re bidding against me. ‘$500? I just came up with $600.’ I’m a winner, the charity’s a winner and I get the bottle of wine,” said Zraly.
Win, lose or draw, competitive connoisseurs are ensured a memorable night. The Fine Wine + Fine Art benefit is co-chaired by Arthur Anderson and James Parrish. For more event information or to purchase tickets, visit www.newpaltz.edu/museum or call (845) 257-3844. To view auction lots, visit www.dorskymuseum.org.