Learning about wine? It's like putting on your training wheels

Stuart Roy took a job as a waiter at a Steak and Ale restaurant in the early 1980s to help pay his way through college. Now he's director of wines and spirits at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas.

On Saturday, Roy will conduct a tutored wine tasting session during the Vintage Celebration fundraiser at the Museum of York County in Rock Hill. The event is an annual benefit for the Culture and Heritage Museums.

Roy, who offers a knowledgeable but very down-to-earth perspective on wine, has managed restaurants in Martha's Vineyard, Houston and elsewhere during his more than 20-year career in the restaurant and wine business.

The Vintage Celebration includes tasting tables throughout the museum, live and silent auctions, a wine raffle, wine pull and wines sold at discounted prices.

Wine and beer tasting tables open at 7:30 p.m. and the event continues until 11 p.m. General admission tickets, which need to be purchased by Friday, are $50 CHM members, $60 nonmembers and $90 couples for CHM members.

An exclusive Vinter Tasting begins at 6:30 p.m. for Vinter level participants.

Vinter levels begin at $375 for two tickets and run to $2,000 for eight. For more details, contact special events manager Michelle DiEduardo at 329-2121, ext. 113, or by e-mail at

The Herald asked Roy a few questions about wine.

How did you learn about wine?

I'm an old restauranteer who became a waiter to pay his way through college. And I just fell in love with the business. And as I grew, I got more and more into wine. I ended up selling wine for a distributorship. And then Caesar's (Palace) needed a wine director and they came to me. I've been here two years now.

Why is there this mystique about wine?

It's harder to grasp, I guess. Vodka is vodka. A beer is a beer. The people that really get into wine are your more educated people.

A lot of people are very intimidated by wine . . . but it's also simple. It's just a type of food, bascially, that has alcohol in it.

How can you determine if you've got a "good" wine?

It usually has to do with the balance of the wine. One of the key things I look for -- and I probably taste between 50 and 150 wines a week -- is balance. You want a nice balance between the acidity and the fruit. So you have a nice, long finish to the wine.

What advice can you offer the novice on buying wine in a store or ordering wine in a restaurant?

I would start with your lighter stuff, your Rieslings and your Sauvignon Blancs, something that's light, that's not too high in alcohol, and see how it matches with food. Start kind of like on training wheels.

How do you develop an appreciation for fine wines?

Your palate changes, just like food, just like when you were growing up. As you get older, your palate develops and you care for beets and things that you might not have cared for when you were a little kid.

It's kind of like that when you grow in wine. I'm to the point now that I have to have a wine that has a nice balance to it and I have to have something in the wine that interests me. It comes with experience. It's a taste you cultivate.

How does price correlate with quality? Or does it?

It does. But you can get very interesting wines for $15. You can get very good wines for $25 to $30. My goal is to drink the $25 to $30 one that drinks like the $100 one.

What wines are popular right now?

Pino Noir is by far the hottest thing going right now. Remember that movie, "Sideways"? "Sideways" just made a whole big push for Pino. People are learning that it's lighter styled, it's very well balanced, it goes down easy. And it can go with just about every type of food. Wines from Australia and Spain are very hot right now, too.