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Wines go better with friends

Kim and Ralph Hersom at Ralph’s Wine & Spirits in Hingham.

Kerry Brett

Kim and Ralph Hersom at Ralph’s Wine & Spirits in Hingham.

HINGHAM — It’s not every day that a sommelier will serve you fish that he caught that morning. But Ralph Hersom, owner of Ralph’s Wines & Spirits here, has always had a flair for exceeding expectations. In a recent wine and food event called Corks and Forks, Hersom served that fish: a striped bass pulled from Buzzards Bay that morning.

Corks and Forks is Hersom’s way of giving customers more confidence about pairing pours with dishes. Get home cooks talking about food they want to prepare for guests, and conversation is animated. But ask what wines they’ll serve alongside, and confidence dips. Hersom knows this lack of confidence from his days as wine director at Manhattan’s Le Cirque, and as cellar master for Windows on the World in the former World Trade Center. He hosts Corks and Forks weekly with his wife, Kim, a personal chef.

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On a recent Wednesday, a lively group of 15 — all women except for one lone fellow — is seated at the shop’s sleek counter, which allows us to peer into a mini demonstration kitchen. With a New Zealand sauvignon blanc, Hersom encourages everyone to taste without food, then to try it with sweet peppers stuffed with warm goat cheese. One participant thinks the tanginess of the cheese brings out grassy wine notes. Another decides that the chevre softens the grapefruit juiciness in the glass.

By the time we get to a German riesling and the striper, prepared with a Cajun spice rub, attendees are talking over one another and asking: When do you decant? What white goes with spicy food? Are dark-colored roses sweeter? The somm-turned-proprietor and his wife happily answer everything, looking pleased.

Wine educator Rebecca Rethore Schimmoeller also draws an enthusiastic, inquisitive crowd. The tasting director of Pour Favor conducts events for corporations and private parties. This year, she launched a monthly tasting she calls Camberville Uncorked, which is held at Nave Gallery Annex next to Redbones Barbecue in Somerville’s Davis Square. A recent class is attended mostly by couples. Rethore Schimmoeller reassures them that everyone’s palate is different, so they shouldn’t worry about right and wrong answers.

The theme is California, and includes Golden State history and background on the wineries. She encourages experimentation with a platter of fruit, cheese, and charcuterie. As often happens at tastings, conversation grows livelier after the first splash of white, a chenin blanc-viognier blend (which pairs surprisingly well with dried mango), and later, a dry rose.

By the end of the evening, folks can’t decide whether they like the cabernet sauvignon better with the meaty bresaola or the dark chocolate.

Rethore Schimmoeller tells them they can have it both ways. Students are already more confident.

Corks and Forks ($40) is held at Ralph’s Wines & Spirits, 211 Lincoln St., Hingham, 781-749-9463, Camberville Uncorked ($40), run by Pour Favor, is held at Nave Gallery Annex, 53 Chester St., Davis Square, Somerville, 617-721-4775,

Ellen Bhang can be reached at
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