Wine and Perfume Tasting Doesn’t Make Good Scents

23 Mar

I haven’t worn perfume in eight years.  Eight years represents the tenure of my wine career to date, and none of my current or former employers have allowed me to wear perfume or scented body lotion.  One even called me out when I changed my shampoo to a brand that was more strongly scented than its predecessor.  Despite the fact that it sounds a little nuts, this perfume ban is not unreasonable.  Why?  Because perfume and wine do not mix.  A person’s sense of taste is heavily informed by her sense of smell, which is why when you have a cold, your favorite foods taste bland — because you can’t smell them.

A few days ago, I was flipping through the current edition of Self magazine, and what should I find on page 30, but a short article entitled “Wine and Perfume Party,” which instructs readers in how to set up a party where guests alternate smelling and sipping wine with spritzing and smelling different popular perfumes.  The idea carries an endorsement from  “wine pro and founder of,” Alyssa Rapp, who says that “sniffing fragrances that complement the wines you’re tasting can enhance your appreciation of both.”  Wrong.  What’s actually going to happen is that the Sauvignon Blanc you sip will taste like a mouthfull of Chanel No. 5, which will likely ruin your appreciation of both.

By all means invite your girlfriends over for a perfume party, and drink wine if you want, but stick to evaluating the fragrances only and save the wine tasting for another time.


Daniel Boone Was a Man…Who Loved Wine

18 Mar

Fess Parker, best known for playing both Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett, died today at age 85 at his home near Santa Barbara, CA.  Much like his most famous characters, Mr. Parker was a pioneer.  In 1989, long before the movie Sideways brought Hollywood fame (and lots more tourists!) to the region, he planted a small vineyard in Santa Ynez Valley with the intention of selling his grapes to local producers.  It wasn’t long, however, before his little vineyard project became a full-fledged winery.  Indeed, Fess Parker Winery is billed as Frass Canyon in what is arguably Sideways‘s most famous scene, when Paul Giamatti’s character Miles drinks the contents of the spit bucket in the fictional Frass Canyon tasting room. Today, Fess Parker Winery has more than 700 acres of vineyards and produces a score of wines.  And, Mr. Parker’s contribution to Santa Barbara’s wine tourism scene doesn’t end there.  As a real estate developer, he built a posh inn and spa in the town of Los Olivos as well as the eponymously named Fess Parker’s Doubletree Resort on the Santa Barbara waterfront.

Having once lived and worked there, I have a real fondness for Santa Barbara wine country, and it’s evident to me that it wouldn’t be where it is today without Mr. Parker’s many contributions.  So tonight I’ll raise a toast to Fess Parker with a Santa Ynez Valley Chardonnay.  Here’s to the King of the Wild Frontier!

Forget Green Beer, Make Mine Green Wine

17 Mar

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, and while many of you will indulge in an ice cold beer tinted green by McCormick’s food coloring, I’ll be drinking green wine.  And by green wine I mean Vinho Verde, a light, low alcohol, slightly fizzy white from Portugal whose name literally translates as “green wine.”  But, it’s not green.  Not in terms of its color, anyway.  The green in this case refers to the wine’s youthfulness.  Vinho Verde is not the kind of wine you lay down in your cellar and fret over how many years you should wait until its perfectly aged and ready to drink.  Happily for the impatient among us (that’s me!), it is best when it’s super fresh and meant to be drunk immediately after you purchase it.

Given its name, Vinho Verde is the perfect St. Patrick’s Day beverage choice for those, like me, who would rather forgo the Guinness or green Bud Light, but there are also a whole slew of reasons to consider reaching for the VV well after the holiday has ended.  Here are my top 5:

1.  A good green wine can be had for very little green.  There are lots of great Vinho Verdes to be had in the $7 to $11 range.

2.  Vinho Verde’s alcohol level usually hovers around 10%, meaning you don’t have to worry about getting buzzed on a single glassful.

3.  Although it’s not fully sparkling like Champagne, Vinho Verde does have a small amount of fizz.  This spritz makes the wine feel exceptionally fresh and lively.  Not to mention, it’s just plain fun.

4.  It’s the perfect picnic wine — light, fresh, great with finger foods, and easy to love.

5.  Vinho Verde’s flavor profile — crisp green apple and crunchy pear with a twist of lime — makes it a perfect Spring and Summer sipper, meaning you can enjoy it well beyond St. Patrick’s Day.

Black and White and Red All Over

16 Mar

Recently, on the New York Times‘ wine blog, The Pour, asked “How Important Is It for a Red Wine to Be a Dark Color?” On the face of it, this seems perhaps to be a silly question, but it’s not.  Consumers notice, and are more often than not impressed by a wine’s dark color.  The reasons for this are not necessarily black and white, but winemakers know it, and it’s a big part of why they blend, say Grenache with Syrah or Zinfandel with Petite Sirah.  In both of these very common blends, the latter grape is much darker than the former.  An effort to achieve dark color is also why winemakers feel inclined to use extended maceration times because the longer the skins hang around with the juice, the darker the resulting wine will be.

Anyone who has ever provided wine in a service setting — restaurant, bar, winery tasting room — knows dark color matters, too.  Being a member of this group I can attest to this fact.  If I had a dollar for every time I heard a customer exclaim delightedly, “Wow!  Look at that color,” upon seeing a dark wine poured in his glass, I could buy myself lots of deliciously pale (and expensive) Barolo.

But, there’s proof that dark wine matters beyond observational experience and drawing conclusions about why winemakers do the things they do.  There is Alicante Bouschet.

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Alicante Bouschet is a grape that is known as a teinturier variety.  While 99.9% of grapes have clear juice regardless of the color of the skin, tenturier varieties have red juice.  What does this mean for wine?  Darker color.  From the late 19th century up until the 1960s, a grape called Aramon was the most widely planted winegrape in France.  Aramon was good at some things.  It was very productive and naturally resistant to many diseases, but in terms of color and flavor, it was sorely lacking.  Enter an ancient teinturier variety called Teinturier du Cher, which is an ancestor (a grandparent, if you will) to Alicante Bouschet.  Not only was Tenturier du Cher blended with Aramon to boost its color and flavor, in 1824 Louis Bouschet crossed the two creating a new variety called Petit Bouschet.  Later, his son Henri crossed Petit Bouschet with Grenache and Alicante Bouschet was born.

Alicante Bouschet also made its way to California, but there’s not much to be found today, having been displaced in favor of more popular grape varieties and because we now have the modern technology to extract deep color from most any grape we want.  With the exception of Francis Ford Coppola’s Alicante Bouschet, which comes from Lodi, it’s now most often found in very small amounts in zinfandel blends that come from old vine vineyards in northern Sonoma County. Today, Alicante Bouschet is more a curiosity than a major player, but the mere fact of its existence is proof that human beings are attracted to dark colored wines.  Whether that’s silly or not.

Snooki Hooks Up With Hennessy

14 Mar

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It’s official.  Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi of Jersey Shore fame has joined the ranks of George Clooney, P. Diddy, Chelsea Handler, and Orson Welles.  How’d that happen?

According to Perez Hilton, Snooki was the hostess with the mostest at last Thursday night’s New Jersey launch party for Hennessy Black, making her just the latest in a long line of famous people who use their 15 minutes (or more) to promote alcoholic beverages. Clooney has been the pitchman for Martini Vermouth and and contributed his talents in the form of voiceovers for Budweiser commercials.  Diddy is more or less synonymous with Çiroc vodka, whereas Chelsea Handler, who also favors the clear stuff, recently ended her long-time love affair with Grey Goose in favor of Belvedere (the current sponsor of her book tour, natch).  Mr. Welles was a spokesman for Paul Masson back in the day, delivering the famous ad line, “we will sell no wine before its time” with equal parts tipsy and gravitas.  There’s also some rather entertaining behind-the-scenes video of him drunkenly ad-libbing his lines while filming a Paul Masson Champagne commercial.

Question is, do celebrity pitchmen and women really have a measurable impact on alcohol sales?  I mean, it’s not like drinking Çiroc puts you that much closer to making the guest list for Diddy’s White Party, or sipping on Henny Black at the club all night means you’ll end up fist-pumping, grinding on the dance floor, and possibly flashing your underwear to strangers…. Oh, wait, never mind.

P.S. – For more on star-studded adult beverage ads, check out Paste Magazine’s great post, “The Ten Best Celebrity Alcohol Endorsements.”

If At First You Don’t Succeed, Blog, Blog Again

11 Mar

I am guilty of blog neglect. Maybe you’ve noticed I haven’t posted anything in more than three months. My apologies to anyone who’s visited recently and wondered, “WTF happened to Ms.  Drinkwell? Did she drop off the face of the blogosphere?” Well, yes, but only temporarily.
My neglectful ways are about to change. This is my public declaration that I am picking myself up, dusting myself off, and getting back on the horse to give it another go.
Ms. Drinkwell is officially back in the saddle again.

The 3 Words Every Wine Consumer Wants to Hear

5 Nov



photo courtesy of Paul Goyette


A colleague of mine, who’s an intelligent and affable guy who knows plenty about wine, spends a lot of time with customers patiently listing the attributes of the wines for sale.  He waxes poetic using vivid descriptions like, honey-dipped rocks, bruised apples, dusty plum compote, raspberries rolled in crushed granite, and pepper skin to describe the wines’ flavors.  He’s enthusiastic, he’s creative, he knows the wines very well, but in the midst of all that talk of fruit and rocks, he often forgets to say the three little words that every customer wants to hear, “this is good.”

That’s right.  It’s that simple, and that complicated.  And, it doesn’t just apply to wine.

Ever logged onto Yelp to find a mechanic or hairdresser?  Taken a look at TripAdvisor before booking that hotel on the beach in Maui?  Read an Amazon review before deciding whether or not to drop $250 for the new Kindle?  You’re not alone.  In fact, you’re one of millions.  TripAdvisor alone has about 12 million unique visitors each month.  The reason why is easy enough to intuit.  We’re looking for a guarantee of quality before we spend our hard-earned cash on a hotel room, a book, or a bottle of wine, and what better way to find out if something is worth our money than to go to the source(s) — people who have already experienced the product we are considering and can tell us whether or not their experience was a good one.  Which begs the question, don’t these people need to be experts in hotel rooms, books, or bottles of wine in order for their opinions to have real merit?  The answer is, no.  At least according to James Surowiecki, the New Yorker staff writer behind the “Financial Page” column and author of the book The Wisdom of Crowds.  His theory is that a large group of people with some knowledge is smarter than a small group of “experts.”

Mr. Surowiecki’s position is good news for wine blogs like Palate Press, which taps a large number of bloggers/columnists for content, and for sites like CellarTracker, which allow users to view a multitude of wine reviews, opinions, and scores both from other users and from mainstream “experts.”  Obviously, given the popularity of user reviews and the fact that the web makes them very easy to access and share, the notion that a group is smarter than the experts is not very good news for established wine critics like the ubiquitous Robert Parker.  But, it also seems to indicate that those wine blogs which amount to little more than post after post of wine reviews by a single author aren’t necessarily the way to go either.

If Mr. Surowiecki is correct and groups are smarter than experts, will shelftalkers bearing an excerpted description and numbered score from RP or WS become a thing of the past?  Will the traditional wine review, whether in print or online, live on in the future?  Will there be a place for wine experts at all?

Maybe the definition of what’s good is for all of us to decide.