Bay Area native Leslie Sbrocco, the down-to-earth owner of Thirsty Girl, a national network of women who love "wine, food, travel, libations, and fun," is someone I would have killed to have at an event with me back in the day. Her 101-style seminar, "Taste Wine Like a Pro," is for rookies who can't tell a chardonnay from a Chianti, experts just looking for a refresher, or non-believers who were dragged in. Sbrocco, who refers to the acidity of a wine as the "bra" ("It lifts and separates and makes everything look sexy," she says mischievously), has no patience for wine snobbery, period.
"Drinking wine is just fun!" she says with an infectious laugh, after she tells me about the glass of rosé bubbly tattooed on her ankle. "It doesn't matter to me if you're drinking white zinfandel or Burgundy, what matters is you're enjoying it with food and enjoying drinking it.
"As the country gets more into food, wine is its natural partner, so learning about it makes your buying decisions smarter," she continues. "You don't have to be a wine geek about it."Sbrocco's seminar teaches the "four S's" of wine — see, swill, smell, and sip — and explains why you like the wines that you do. She emphasizes the basics, so that when you hit the show floor, you're not stuck drinking a varietal you can't stand, further cementing your disdain of wine nerds who swear by vintage and make pretentious wine-tasting faces, just because you're too unsure to move on.
"The most important part of learning about wine is tasting wine," she says. "Once you start tasting it and deciding what you do and don't like, that's the most important thing."
In the same vein, keynote speaker Kevin Zraly's seminar, "The One-Hour Wine Expert," puts your palate through the paces with the goal of helping you drink what you want. The course aims to teach the essentials about the six major grapes — giving you the cajones to work the room and actually have an idea of what you're doing and why. No more, "I totally taste a hint of worn shoe leather. You're so right," when you're really thinking about how quickly you can get drunk or get out of there.
"Once you see how many wineries are there, and how big the room is, you're going to be overwhelmed," Zraly says over the phone from his home in New York. "In reality, the maximum is 30 or so wines that you can try before 'other things' start to kick in. You have to pick and choose your starting and ending points to get the most out of it."
Zraly, a recent winner of the James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award, was present at the inaugural Boston Wine Expo in 1991 and has continued to drop by every few years.
"Boston is a very big wine market, that's for sure. The interest in wine is definitely there," he says. "And the culinary scene in Boston, 25 years ago, I'm sorry, but forget it. Today it's a mecca."
Go on, taste that earthy, lush berry with a hint of chicken coop and violets. You'll love it, I swear.