Everyone has heard the cliché, “wine, women, and song”. In fact, there are versions in languages across the world. In Hindi, it’s called, “Sur, Sura, Sundari”, which translates to “music, wine and woman”. In Portuguese, it is spoken as “putas e vinho verde”, which translates to “whores and green wine” (which sounds a lot more pleasing than ‘green whores and wine’). The underlying focus and meaning with these and many other sayings about wine and women is the man’s pursuit of pleasure. But our being women and our being a modern version of woman, there is something to be said for our embracing a lifestyle which allows for our own pursuit of passion or pleasure. But so many women, this writer included, have bypassed opportunities to delve deeper into the everyday choices we make. Knowledge of wine should be in our brain banks and our arsenal. I’m not the type of woman who looks to others to pick and choose for me, so why would I leave my choice of the wine we will serve at a dinner party in the hands of someone behind a register? As in, “Oh, just give me a good red” or “whatever you recommend”.
It was when I needed to pick a few good wines for a cocktail reception we were hosting that I happened upon Vino-Versity, a wine store in Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The store has description cards for every bottle of wine sold. The cards are color coded by price, but also formatted with information that focuses on the “who”, “where” and “taste” aspect of wine. The cards explain the region and the type of grape and other information that left my head swirling a bit. Confronted with a very large store and lots of information, led me to the realization that I had no idea what I was doing in trying to pick a good wine . This fact led to my feeling intimidated. And my intimidation ultimately spurred my decision to ask for an interview.
And so it was that I ended up on the phone with Shari, an operating partner in Vino-Versity. In terms of finding someone to put our mind at ease about beginning the process of educating ourselves to understanding wine and choosing a good red or white to keep our bar stocked, Shari is the woman to have on our side of the wine bar. She has her own language when describing wine. So much so, I kept fighting off images of our leaving a life in the city to open a vineyard in the French countryside. Then, of course, I had images of myself in a wine lounge, sitting around small tables nibling on cheese and crackers, speaking and commenting on policy and politics, but this image may have been created by learning of Shari’s prior history as an owner of the same. As Shari mentioned, and as I believe, at the end of the day wine is about passion. So, here’s to loose men and green wine.
There seems to be an idea that the wine culture is somewhat snobbish and I think it can be intimidating to people and it can turn some people off in terms of trying to learn more about the myriad wines, tastes and other concepts that go into a good bottle. What do you advise a woman if she wants to become more knowledgeable about wine? There are two sources of intimidation in the wine culture and one is the ‘wine snobs’. If we took this element out of the equation, the wine rooky would feel more comfortable trying different wines they might like. People are afraid to make a comment on a wine for fear they might be wrong.
As far as the intimidation behind wine itself…one could argue that wine is similar to food. We’re not scared of food. Wine tasting is the same. It’s about trying the wine. When one tries a wine, the first and last thing he or she should walk away with is, “Did I like this?” Someone who tastes a wine and decides whether or not she likes the wine has nothing to do with the language of wine.
That being said, we can discover what we like by discovering the textures of wine. Or, discovering that we tend to like wines from this particular country or that region. But people tend to get into trouble describing what they like. What we teach in our classes at Vino-Versity, is to try to ask yourself what the wine reminds you of.
Try to think of the answer in three separate categories: Fruit, as in what fruit does this wine reminds me of? What savory qualities like herbs, earth, spices or any of these non-sweet essences am I reminded of? And the third quality is feel…what does the wine feel like in my mouth? So, for example, does the wine feel velvety or does it feel glassy.
Is there a right or wrong answer? Would I have a different taste experience than the person standing next to me? Everyone has a different palate. Some palates will like one essence or one fruit; others will not.
In terms of the social aspect to wine as an alcoholic beverage, do you think of it as exclusionary or as a social experience? I was thinking about wines prior to our interview and the thought came to me that wine is the only alcoholic beverage that encourages relaxation and calm, but in a group experience. We don’t often hear of college kids binging on wine. And it’s rare that people get together to enjoy Martinis throughout an evening. Wine seems to possess its own category of social interaction. So, is wine something that promotes the idea of a social experience? There is something civilized about wine. At the end of the day, I think I believe that wine and even liquor (talking about college) that have been made honoring the craftsmanship of artisan liquors and wines, are not meant to be consumed quickly. One wouldn’t even consider shooting it down as a shot. Wine is a complex piece of art – a mix of art and science. On some level, it is inherently not intended to be consumed for its alcohol but for its art. Wine can accompany almost any social event. And it changes the mood.
What are your thoughts on the growing market for organic wines? In terms of taste, does organic offer a better taste experience? Does organic wine contain sulfites? There is no such thing as 100% sulfites free wine, because sulfites are naturally occurring. But the question is, are sulfites added into the wine, and secondary to that, are there other chemicals added? Some consumers have been told or actually do have a sulfite allergy. But then we have a consumer who is becoming a part of a movement based in the belief we are living in a toxic world. As far as taste, in my opinion, there isn’t much of a difference in taste. And the organic wines of today have evolved, even from 5-years ago.
What about this idea of buying locally? Has that translated into the wine market? There are tons of vineyard gems in Long Island, Hudson Valley and Upstate New York. There are also wines from those regions that are mediocre or worse. New Yorkers live in a small, micro-region and most people who drink wine don’t often go to the Hudson Valley. And if they do travel there and taste a wine that wasn’t pleasing, they may make forgone conclusions. However, it seems more people are experiencing wines from these regions; maybe it’s the economy, and a function of that local travel is that they are in some ways jumping onto the green movement and discovering that within the last 5-years there have been great improvements in the wines offered by local vendors.
I’d also say that in terms of small vineyards, and it’s the same with clothing, furniture and other items, there is no doubt that when something is handmade and tended to by an artisan, the product will always be exceptional. There are tons of big wine producers out there who are excellent at what they do. But couldn’t we argue that if a producer was producing 10,000 cases, which needed 10,000 hands that it becomes more difficult to remain hand crafted? The opposite is true for artisan producers, if they are skilled at what they do.
Is it possible to find one wine that everyone loves? Taking into account that everyone will experience their pleasure of the taste of wine differently, I could offer that there is a region in France called Vouvray. The region grows a white grape called the Chenin Blanc. Dry or “Sec” Chenin Blanc (it can also be made in a sweeter style) is a go to white wine for everyone, even the red wine drinker. Another are the grapes from Alsace (Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, for example), which is the northeast region of France. These wines tend to be vivacious and offer a full spectrum of fruits and savory minerals that appeal to most everyone’s brains.
In terms of red wines, two grapes that pop up for me are the Malbec wines grown in Argentina. Everyone seems to enjoy. The wine is purply, black and is easy to drink. It’s not too big or harsh and seems to have a good balance between being fruity, without being too sweet, and it is also savory. This is a good wine to go with foods. Chefs like it because it tends to balance with sweet, spicy, and salty foods.
And then there is the Pinot Noir. This is a grape that everyone seems to love because it’s light in tannins. Even though we don’t see tannins with our eye, I call them the glue of the wine. Tannins help the juice to become tightly compacted, which is where one will get the real power in wine. Pinot Noir seems to deliver an elegant wine, no matter what region of the world it is from. Sometimes, the Pinot Noir is more tannic if it comes from North Burgundy, so I would suggest a Pinot Noir from the Southern Burgundy region.
You are knowledgeable about this. Thank you. I guess what I would end with is the idea of wine being a social experience. Especially for moms and women who might visit your site. Pull out the cheese. Pour a great white or red. It’s social.
Follow Vino-Versity on Twitter.