Celebrities and Wine: Girl Talk

Celebrities are often admired for their fancy clothes, cars and shoes. But what about wine? Some celebs are known for their obsession which influences them to travel the world in search of modern vineyards and vintage wines that everyone can enjoy.  However, some celebrities seek to share (and profit from) their knowledge of good wine with the masses and have been quite successful at branding themselves as “experts.”

1)      Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb

As the anchors of the fourth hour of NBC’s Today Show, these ladies usually talk very little about the news and instead like to focus on what they are drinking. On any given “Winesday Wednesday” or “Thirsty Thursday” you can catch these ladies with a glass of wine in their hands before noon. The fun atmosphere created by KLG and Hoda has attracted a devoted following, especially among college students. However, after being challenged by Ladies’ Home Journal magazine, Gifford and Kotb went without booze for a whole month in January 2013.

2)      Vicki Gunvalson and Tamra Barney

Another duo from the Real Housewives of Orange County on Bravo TV, Vicki and Tamara attempted to turn their friendship and mutual love of wine into a successful business venture. They started Wines by Wives, a celebrity wine club that features only “exclusive” wines picked specifically by the Housewives themselves. Members choose a Housewife and each month receive two bottles of the red or white wine that she selected. Some proceeds also go to that Housewife’s charity of choice.

3)      Bethenny Frankel

Frankel was a former Housewife of New York City who saw a niche in the alcohol market just waiting to be tapped: low calorie alcohol for health conscious women. Although her Skinnygirl brand originally started out as vodka, it has expanded rapidly since being acquired by Beam Inc., in 2011. The line now includes wines, tequilas and ready to drink cocktails. Frankel’s business savvy has revolutionized the alcohol market and is beginning to make its mark on the wine industry as well.

A Brief History of Wine

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When most people think of wine, they think of the Italians and the French. However, wine actually has its origins in the ancient fertile grounds of Mesopotamia. The oldest confirmed wine vessel was found in present day Iran at the Hajji Firuz Tepe. Chemical tests confirmed that the earthenware jar dated to 5400 BC and contained wine.

Wine also appeared in the deserts of ancient Egypt thanks to trade with the Phoenicians in the Middle East. The Egyptians made many technological advancements in wine making and storage including a new type of porous, clay jar that was used for over 5,500 years until the invention of wooden barrels and glass bottles by the Europeans.

The Greeks continued to cultivate wine and passed on their passion once they were overtaken by the Romans. The expansion of the Roman Empire allowed for wine to flourish as well. Roman soldiers would plant vineyards to make wine for themselves while conquering other areas and as a result many were exposed to the wine making process. They also made several technological advancements including the wine press, which crushed grapes with a stone and collected their juice underneath.

Wine was exceedingly popular because of its reputation as an antiseptic.  Water was often unsafe to drink so wine was consumed by everyone, including children. However, not everyone was drunk all the time. Water was often mixed with wine, which would kill the bacteria and make it safe to drink.

After the Roman Empire and its trade networks collapsed, the future of wine was uncertain. However, wine is necessary for Christian religious ceremonies and monks were put in charge of cultivating grapes and making wine. The dogmatic Cistercian monks and royal Dukes of Burgandy in Europe began to focus on the quality of wine and developed new methods and standards for production.

European explorers and immigrants brought wine to the New World as well. At first, Europeans just traded with the new colonies, but wine up until the 19th century had a limited shelf life and was basically undrinkable after a year. Vines from Europe were brought over, but they were contaminated by bacteria and fungi. After crossbreeding European and native grape plants, a fungi-resistant species was born. The Napa Valley region of California was almost immediately successful after the Gold Rush brought thousands of immigrants to the region. By the end of the 1800s, there were 400 vineyards in a previously desolate area.

Wine making has continued to evolve as our knowledge of genetics has expanded. Improved technology and advancements in science will continue to increase our knowledge of wine and could lead to a very interesting future that all wine-lovers should look forward to.

Starting from the Bottom: A Date with Charles Shaw

You can’t write a wine blog without drinking, right? I decided to start at the bottom of the barrel with the legendary “Two-Buck Chuck” from Trader Joe’s. A college student’s best friend at such a cheap price (although it was actually $3!), the Trader Joe’s wine guide says that the wine is “made for us by one of California’s largest winemakers – a real stickler for quality and consistency – these wines are fruity, uncomplicated and meant to be drunk young (and often).”

Several urban legends including the banning of corkscrews and subsequently wine on airplanes after 9/11, have tried to account for the mysterious origins of this unusually inexpensive beverage. However, it is more likely that the overproduction of grapes along the California coast have allowed the owner, Fred Franzia, to bottle excess wine at bottom dollar prices and pass on the savings to happy consumers.

After perusing the selection at my local Trader Joe’s, I decided to start simple with a classic Merlot and a Pinot Grigo.

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Full disclosure, I tend to be more partial to white wine, but this is likely due to my limited experience with red.  My mom brought me a bottle of red wine back from Iowa (of all places) after she visited there this summer and needless to say I did not enjoy it. Who knew they grew grapes in Iowa anyways?

So I decided to start with the Pinot. A girlfriend and I popped the cork on Thursday night and we were both impressed! The wine was very light and fruity and easy to drink (for better or worse). Although it was not exceptional or anything special, I think I might buy it again to have on hand for an average weeknight dinner.

The next day I tried the Merlot.

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Based on my previous experiences with red wine, I had very low expectations. However, I was pleasantly surprised! The wine was very smooth and not bitter at all. I think I may have even liked it more than the Pinot. I also think though that the more you drink wine, the more you become accustomed to the acidity that can be a turn-off at first. I will have to explore this hypothesis more in future posts.

Overall, my date with Charles Shaw was a success! I think that considering the low price and palatable quality of the wine, there may even be a second date in our future. I would recommend it for anyone on a budget who does not care about impressing other people with their expensive taste.

Beginning my Life on the Grapevine

Hello! My name is Kacie and as a college student in Boston who just turned 21, I am interested in using my new legality to explore and learn about the mysterious world of wine. I’m originally from Maine and grew up in a house where the only alcohol you would find was the occasional Sam Adams that would appear in my dad’s hands during a particularly stressful Patriots game.

However, I have long been interested in the magical world of sunny vineyards, French sommeliers and girl talk. Though I’m not exactly sure what made me decide that drinking wine was fancy and luxurious (Kathie Lee and Hoda perhaps?), since turning 21 I have decided to ditch my illusions about wine culture and discover what it is really all about.

So that is my desire for this blog: to immerse myself in wine culture and share my findings on the web. Although I know that red grapes make red wine, there is so much I would like to learn about the wine-making process. For example, for health reasons, I would like to know if people still use their bare feet to stomp on grapes.

And of course I want to go to a wine (and cheese!) tasting and find out what it really means when someone says a wine is “oaky” or “dry” and be able to use those terms accurately by myself. Pairing the perfect wine with the perfect meal seems like it could be an important life skill or at least a neat party trick.

I certainly can’t be the only person who has struggled with a corkscrew and am also interested in learning about the latest wine technology and gadgets that could assist me on my educational foray into wine culture.

I hope to use “Life on the Grapevine” to chronicle my findings as I enter the sophisticated world of wine and put an end to the intimidating “wine snob” stereotype.  Whether it is a $3 bottle of Trader Joe’s wine or a $1,000 French Bordeaux, wine brings people together from all over the world and I can’t wait to learn more about this ancient and elegant beverage.