Learning Along With Adventurous Raleigh Wine Educator Doreen Colondres
by Jasmine Gallup – Doreen Colondres Credit: Photo by Linda Nguyen
Vitis House | 1053 E Whitaker Mill Rd #115, Raleigh
In a small, warehouse-like classroom, chef and wine educator Doreen Colondres pours herself a glass of wine. The sparkling Austrian white is a pale gold that flows into the crystal-clear glass with a fizz.
“Acidity is what makes us salivate,” says Colondres, leading up to her first invaluable tip of the two-hour Wine 101 class. “It’s what makes the wine feel refreshing. The beauty of high-acid wines is they pair with everything …. When in doubt, serve bubbles!”
Colondres’s presence is as bubbly as the wine she serves—she’s overflowing with enthusiasm to share her deep knowledge of wine and winemaking, at this class, with 14 near strangers. She jokes easily with everyone in the room, chatting about why mimosas are the best pairing for a big American brunch.
“Acidity in the wine will reduce the fattening [taste of the food], and the fattening food will reduce the acidity of the wine, making them both perfect—so we can eat more and drink more,” she says, prompting laughter from the class.
Colondres, originally from Puerto Rico, founded her own wine school, Vitis House, in 2019, just before the pandemic. Now, as COVID-19 recedes, she’s adding more and more classes to her roster, including level 1, 2, and 3 wine courses for people in the restaurant industry, which lead to internationally recognized certifications.
Colondres didn’t start out in wine. Before becoming a wine educator, Colondres worked as a chef and food blogger, writing about healthy and flavorful recipes people could make at home. Her passion for food eventually led to appearances on cooking shows and the publication of her own cookbook, La Cocina No Muerde(translated as “The Kitchen Doesn’t Bite”).
“I’ve been always in love with the kitchen,” Colondres says. “[Both] my grandparents were chefs, and we used to have a lot of ingredients in the backyard. Cooking was always number one for my family.”
For Colondres, quality food starts with fresh, in-season ingredients. She’s a big fan of broccolini and heirloom carrots, which are rich in flavor and nutrients, and she likes to make roasted vegetables and soups, which can also be used as an accompaniment to seafood, she says.
As a chef, Colondres has a particular love for Mediterranean food and traditional Hispanic dishes, which she grew up cooking and eating.
“At the end of the day, it’s fresh and bright and tasty food that we can … come back to the house and make,” she says. “And it’s food that will keep us healthy.”
Health is an important piece of Colondres’s cooking philosophy. She’s spread awareness about obesity and diabetes through her cooking show appearances, where she encourages people to cook at home when they can, instead of buying processed meals or fast food. Colondres wants to teach people how to both eat and drink well, so many of her cooking appearances include basic kitchen techniques, tips for grocery shopping, and suggestions for quality ingredients and recipes.
“I don’t know when we started thinking that we were smarter, eating cheaper and eating faster,” Colondres says. “People see cooking as a duty, and we have to see it as a lifestyle. Buying ingredients fresh, and buying ingredients in season, we add so much flavor to what we do.”
It’s that philosophy of cooking that makes Spain the chef’s favorite place to visit, Colondres says. She’s traveled across South America and Europe, but she always comes back to the Spanish people.
“They live,” she says. “They live, and they live a healthy lifestyle. Their culture, their traditions, it reminds me of my childhood. It’s like people always have time to connect with others and to enjoy good food and good wine.”
Colondres has always loved the Spanish wines served in her hometown, she says, but her interest in learning more about wine started as an accident—literally. In her early twenties, while cooking at the house of a friend, she reached for a bottle of very expensive, very rare wine to add to a veal stew she was making.
“The owner of the house where I was cooking almost killed me,” she says with a loud, throaty laugh. “That day, I was like, ‘I need to learn more about wine.’”
Thus started a journey to France, where she helped harvest grapes; to Spain, where she judged a 2011 vintage in a wine competition; and to other places around the globe, where she studied wines.
Colondres’s easygoing approach makes learning about wine less intimidating for newcomers, especially people who are mystified by questions about what flavor notes they get on the nose or whether the body of the wine is light or heavy.
Colondres doesn’t hide her opinions, either. During the Wine 101 class, her digs at pretentious wine trends and “ick” noises at a particular Italian wine had everyone smiling, making the complex, elite world of wine seem a little more accessible.
Still, you get the feeling that an introductory class only scratches the surface of Colondres’s encyclopedic knowledge of wines, grapes, and production methods, among other wine-related topics.
“I always say, one life is not enough to taste all the grapes in the world,” she says. “The world of wine is so huge that one life is not enough to cover it all. There are thousands of grape varietals in the world. So that’s the beauty of it. You’re learning constantly.”
Colondres doesn’t just want to teach people about wine, however. She also wants to teach them about the cultures, traditions, and foods of other countries. Not everyone can afford to travel to France or Italy, but “with food and wine, you can bring those countries to you,” Colondres says.
Earlier this month, for example, Colondres taught a wine class for residents of a Raleigh apartment building. But “we were in Spain all night,” she says.
“It was such a relaxing experience,” Colondres says. “In the end, it’s all about how we can get you out of the craziness of life during the day and transport you to an atmosphere where you can discover something new, taste something new, have fun, meet people.”
As business booms at Colondres’s wine school, she has a slate of plans for the future. Eventually, she wants to offer regular cooking classes. Colondres also hopes to start organizing international trips for Raleigh locals, so they can experience the food and wine of other countries.
Colondres already has an extensive network of former students and wine-loving friends, but with every class, she makes more. As people trickle out of her Wine 101 course, one couple stops to ask Colondres if she has any recommendations for an upcoming trip overseas.
“Email me!” Colondres replies. “If you need any help.”