This certified sommelier pairs her enological know-how with a good bit of sass.
The stuffy days of wine appreciation being solely for the upper echelon of society are over. At least we like to think so. And in our ongoing quest to get wine-smart, we called upon Laurie Forster – host of WBAL Radio’s The Sipping Point: with Laurie Forster, The Wine Coach and a certified sommelier who has been studying wine professionally for more than 12 years – to help us step up our wine game and bring the lofty world of wine down a peg or two. She’s also pretty damn funny.
Fly Magazine: How did you get started with all of this?
Laurie Forster: I worked for Kraft Foods for a while and ended up selling software to food and beverage companies. Taking clients out for fancy dinners became part of my job. I like to joke that when I first started doing it I could never find any Yuengling on the wine list. So I had to start learning a little bit about wine just so I could order the right wine for the meal and pronounce it correctly. So, I was inspired to learn about wine from a business perspective. But once I did, I just fell in love with all the amazing things you learn about – the geography, the way the wine is made and the people that make it, the place where the grapes are grown, the customs, the food.
FM: So you’re not only a certified sommelier, but you’re also a stand-up comedian. What’s the connection there?
LF: I took a stand-up comedy class about six years ago as a bucket list thing. I’ve always used humor in my wine education and tastings, and I thought, “What if I put this all together? Stand-up and wine tasting.”
FM: Do you have a favorite wine-related bit from your act?
LF: I do a whole thing about recycling. I think recycling is a great concept, but I’m sometimes embarrassed to put all the bottles I consume on the curb. I’m afraid my neighbors are going to judge me.
FM: How do you deal with that problem?
LF: I actually put them in my neighbor’s bin. I think my neighbor has a serious problem. I do a little thing about the wine tasting notes that they write in wine magazines – they get so out of hand. They go so over the top that when you read them, it doesn’t even sound like they are about wine anymore – it sounds more like 50 Shades of Grey. They’re like “Firm and generous, erupting with fruit…”
FM: (laughs) That’s great. I was going to ask how you could intelligently describe wine without sounding pretentious.
LF: When I do wine education, I usually teach people what I call the three-step process. So, we talk about the body of a wine – which has a lot to do with the weight of how it feels in your mouth. I’m sure you’ve heard people say, “light-bodied wine” or a “full-bodied wine.” That tends to correlate with alcohol percentage, so wines that feel light on your palate tend to be your lower-alcohol wines, and wines that are heavier and full-bodied tend to be your higher-alcohol wines. Reds tend to be higher than white. Describing the body is the first part. The second part is the aroma – the smell of the wine. People say, “It smells fruity.” That’s ok, but I try to get people to go to the next level. Is it tree fruit, like apple or pear? Is it stone fruit, like peach or apricot? In my comedy show, I do it this way: I say, “Tell me a candy that you ate as a kid that you smell in the glass right now.” If they smell Twizzlers, then we’re talking cherry. If they smell Jolly Ranchers, we’re talking watermelon. It kind of takes the pressure off a little bit. The third piece is for white wines – we talk about acidity. Wines that have that crisp pucker factor like you’d get from a lemon are Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc. If they are soft and more mellow like a buttery Chardonnay – that’s the other end of the spectrum.
FM: How long can you have your nose in your glass before you look like a douchebag?
LF: (laughs) Definitely less than 20 seconds. … But the whole deal is when you swirl your wine, it vaporizes the alcohol and makes it more accessible to your nose so you can actually smell it. We can’t smell liquid – we can only smell vapors. So the more you swirl it and stick your nose in, the more you can get out of the wine.