Thank goodness! Given what Zraly, 65, has gone through and accomplished, it certainly would be understandable if he wanted to take a breather. Fifteen years ago this Sunday, September 11, , terrorists destroyed the twin towers of the World Trade Center in downtown Manhattan, killing thousands. Zraly was wine director of the fabled Windows on the World restaurant in the North Tower from its opening in until its destruction that terrible day. Among the dead were 72 of his colleagues at Windows and its ancillary dining spots on the th and th floors.
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Many people there had attended the previous seven classes of the fall course but others—long-time friends, family members, importers, and culinary folks who may have already taken the course in years past—were there just for the last night, propelled by sentimental reasons and a palpable love for this celebrated wine cognoscente.
Kevin Zraly and me. Photo by A. Manfull I know Zraly only through a very old edition of his renowned book, Windows on the World Complete Wine Course, and a few telephone conversations but I wanted to witness this iconic teacher in his element. My daughter and I arranged to attend the last class. Novi was the founder and chef at the highly acclaimed Depuy Canal House in High Falls, New York, just north of the city in the Hudson Valley, where Zraly got his start in the wine business.
Zraly, all of 19 years old at the time, was working in the Canal House when a party of nine, as Zraly recalls, came in for dinner. Those coveted stars shook up the restaurant as they endeavored to live up the expectations set forth by Claiborne, and Zraly found himself behind the bar. Opened in April —as a private luncheon club on the th floor of One World Trade Center—this restaurant quickly rose to fame around the world.
Many of the people with whom Zraly worked died on September 11, and Zraly remembered them on Monday night. His two sisters were nearby, also immensely proud that their brother had accomplished so much. All were moved by the events of the evening. When I found out this was his last class, though, I had to make it happen. The last class of the course is always devoted to champagne and port and this particular course was preceded by a private champagne reception to mark the special occasion!
Our good fortune! Peripatetic is the only word that comes to mind to describe his delivery, a style that makes it impossible to close your eyes in spite of the late hour and the copious amounts of wine. A master showman, he effectively weaves facts in with his trademark humor as he dispenses a wealth of information.
For example, what distinguishes French Riesling from German Riesling? What are the three grape varieties that may be used to make Champagne?
There is a lot of bantering with the students, always calling out someone for doing something. Standing directly in front of us, he feigned incredulousness that we could have been so crass as to have broken all protocol and actually tasted the wine; I fully expected him to whip out a ruler from his dinner jacket, and he said as much! Everyone was doubled over in laughter. In January, he will begin teaching 12 advanced wine classes at Sherry-Lehman. Classes will take place on Monday evenings and each will focus on red wine from a different region.
You can be sure I will bring this to his attention! I hope to be in a few of those classes. In the meantime, I bought the newest edition of his book, significantly larger than my first copy of his book. Congratulations, Kevin! We all left with smiles on Monday night but I saw a tear or two as well. It seems the end of an era. Photo by Susan Manfull.
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Kevin Zraly Retires from Windows on The World Wine School and Champagne Corks were Popping