By Colleen Flaherty
Killeen Daily Herald
More than 550 people attended last year's KNCT Wine Classic at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center, and event chairperson Pat McCray hopes to break that record Saturday during the public broadcasting station's third annual tasting fundraiser.
"We're hoping for 600," said McCray, who is also director of membership for KNCT-TV and KNCT-FM. "It's a fun event."
More than 150 wines from around the world, paired with heavy catered hors d'oeuvres, will be available for tasting.
In addition to wines from such renowned regions as France, Italy, South America, Australia and California, she said, 12 local vintners will offer their wines.
"When you come, you get a glass and a wine plate," McCray said, "and we start the tasting by everyone getting a glass of champagne. They are also given a program that tells which wines are at which tables and then they're on their own."
Wines are arranged in no particular order, McCray said, to encourage mingling and trying new wines.
There won't be chardonnay-only crowds, she joked.
The feel of the event is refined but comfortable, she said. New and experienced wine enthusiasts alike can benefit.
"This gives them the opportunity to try many different wines and expand their horizons, or expand their palates," she said.
Those with a budding interest in wine may consider attending a pre-tasting Wine 101 course, however.
Led by local certified sommelier Steve Hanik, of Salado, Wine 101 is a crash course in wine, from grape to bottle.
"It's a discussion of how grapes are grown and how it gets into the bottle and into your glass," Hanik said. "Basic stuff to take the mystery out of wine shopping."
Hanik focuses on "the big six" varietals, he said - chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and riesling for whites, and cabernet, merlot and pinot noir for reds - while talking about shopping for wine and pairing it with food, he said.
Now is a great time to get interested in wines, he said.
"It's not an aloof-type beverage as it was years and years ago," he said. "Right now it's a very popular beverage because wine truly goes with meals and we always try to approach it in that way. It's about the food, the family and the friends."
Wine quality has also become more standardized and reliable in recent years, he said.
Following the lesson, people can enter the Wine Classic tasting 45 minutes early to apply some of what they've learned. Friends can compare notes and impressions of wines they might have always wanted to try without investing in a whole bottle, Hanik said.
The scope of the event has come to attract people from as far away as Dallas and even Arkansas, McCray said.
To Hanik, that shows what a global community Killeen really is.
"It's speaks to the fact that this whole area is more dynamic and culturally attuned than probably a lot of people give it credit for."
But the event is also a celebration of local broadcasting.
KNCT radio and television are based at the Central Texas College campus and have provided "exciting, educational programming that is commercial-free" since 1970, McCray said. The station hopes to raise more than $30,000 during its biggest and only outside fundraiser this year.
The evening starts at 5 p.m. with the Wine 101 class led by Hanik.
Tickets for the class, to include discussions on pairing and assessing the taste and bouquet, or scent, of a wine, are $85.
The general wine tasting is from 7 to 10 p.m. Tickets are $60 for the wine tasting.
Class and Wine Classic tickets may only be purchased at the door.
Participants must be 21 or older. All proceeds benefit KNCT-TV and "Simply Beautiful" 91.3 KNCT-FM.
Contact Colleen Flaherty at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHfeatures.