Wine, Spirits, and Cocktails—Oh My!

A Live Chat with Professor Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan, Master of Wine

On February 11, 2016, Professor Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan sat down for a live Q&A session with her fans from across the globe. The chat is over, but the transcript is posted below for you to enjoy.

Photo of Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan
Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan

JHL: What are the differences in evaluations and techniques used by wine connoisseurs, beer connoisseurs, and coffee connoisseurs? Do these share a common root of study?

SIMONETTI-BRYANThe question about assessment between wine, beer and coffee with their differences and similarities.  With this I could go on delightfully for hours!  The SHORT short version is that all quality parameters start with what I see as FBLICAT- 

F– Finesse

B– Balance

L– Length

C– Complexity or Concentration

A– Ageability- for wine- does it have the structure to age

T– Typicity- does it taste typical for where it’s from? what it’s made from? the style?

All of these amount to an assessment after tasting each one.

JAE: With California experiencing severe droughts in the last 1-3 years, how has this affected the Californian wine industry? How has this changed the taste of its wine and how was this change of taste received by the wine community, if at all?
SIMONETTI-BRYAN: Various regions in California have experienced drought in different ways. For example, last year Napa Valley’s water reserves were about 40% above the previous year (which was 15% of their capacity…EEK!) while other areas didn’t fair so much. We’re all hoping for a great El Niño…so far so good! In all honestly though it will take many years, probably 10+ years, to get back to pre drought conditions.

IRENE MAYER: Hallo Professor Jennifer. My husband would love to join me in a glass of wine here and there, or take part in wine tasting events. However, we believe there exists an allergy for him with wine, because every time he drinks wine, no matter how small the amount, he gets “hot flashes.” Does that even make sense? We were told that maybe it has something to do with the “chemicals” the wine producers put into the wines. What’s your opinion? I hope you can shed some light on this issue. Thank you for your time. Warm regards, Irene Mayer in Pueblo West, Colorado.

SIMONETTI-BRYAN: It sounds like your husband is allergic to wine or possibly alcohol. My husband, believe it or not, has a similar reaction and doesn’t like how any alcohol makes him feel. If it’s red wine he has an issue with it very well could be the histamines from the skins of the red grapes. If it’s something like champagne it could be de-hydration. Those are the only options I can think of. If you prefer, send me a note through The Great Courses and we can talk some more about it. There are chemicals in wines, but the laws in place for the US are some much more strict than other countries. I wouldn’t worry about it…unless it’s home made wine in the tub (if ya know what I mean)

RHICHI: Since owning a home bar means it’s not terribly likely you’ll need all the fresh garnishes/mixers you see bought and prepared in full cocktail bars every day, what are some good ones that you can stock that won’t just go bad on you?

SIMONETTI-BRYAN: All garnishes from fruits (lemon twists) or vegetables (olives) have some expiry date eventually, but other than cocktail umbrellas…almost all garnishes will tarnish at some point. But I like lemons for lemon twists and olives as you can keep those in the refrigerator.

THOMAS: Lately, I’ve used grapefruit in place of Lemon twists. Long lasting and I eat the grapefruit when it is about to turn.

CHERYL: Hi Jennifer we love your course! If you had two weeks to explore wines in France, how would you go about it? Would you stay in one place? Pick an area and drive. Would neophytes. Need a guide – not for travel, but to get access to the inside? Not an unlimited budget. Thanks

SIMONETTI-BRYAN: Thank you! I’m so glad you like the courses! Two weeks in France, huh? Well, my husband is from Pennsylvania and he didn’t enjoy Burgundy as much (because it looks almost just like Pennsylvania), but the wine is to DIE for! So it depends on what you want to do. Because it’s so close to Paris, Champagne is a really good option. It’s a 45 minute train ride and they have lots of places you can drop in for glass of bubbly. So that would be a first stop.

Port over looking the valley in Portugal
Port over looking the valley in Portugal

JAZZ: How many grams of sugar in a 6 ounce glass of robert mondavt merlot?

SIMONETTI-BRYAN: Why? Are you by chance drinking a glass of Robert Mondavi Merlot and you are diabetic? Kidding asside, it’s a dry wine and technically dry wines are considered under 5 g/L of what is termed residual sugar after fermentation. What that translates to per glass? Depends on how many glasses per bottle. If it’s 5 glasses per bottle that you pour, then 1 gram of sugar 🙂 You should know though that the body processes alcohol similarly to sugar as well.

JENNF: Hi, Jennifer. I enjoy wine, but I’m new to understanding it better. When buying wine for a gift, what is a go-to wine that would be appropriate? Since I don’t know much yet, I want to make sure I’m choosing a high quality wine that is still within my price range? What do you recommend?

SIMONETTI-BRYAN: Depends on what your price range is! Generally speaking Champagne is always a welcomed gift (in my opinion)…however they can be pricy. So you may want to go with a Prosecco or a California Bubbly such as Domain Carneros Brut or go middle. Also depends on what the person likes. OR you can go with one of your favorites and share the passionate story that goes along with it. I do that all the time!



JILLY: Terroir aside, what are some interesting differences in processing a California Central Coast single varietal -such as nebbiolo or grenache vs. the processing currently done in France or Italy….

SIMONETTI-BRYAN: For nebbiolo in Italy (varying on the producer) they generally use Slavonian Oak barrels (and usually larger so less oak influence) whereas in the new world the fruit is much brighter and fruitier so it can handle more intensely flavored oak such as newer French Oak barrels. Also, there is a lowering of fermentation temperatures or cold soak versus in Europe to retain some of that fruitiness to balance with the Terroir given elements – sugar=alcohol, body, lower acid, etc.

JOEDUFFUS: Drawing on your past career… Is investing in a winery prudent?

SIMONETTI-BRYAN: Depends on why you would want to invest in a winery. Personally, I’ve been asked if I wanted to start a winery and I say “HELL NO!”…WAY too much work and farming for me. It really is tough work. Winemaking is agriculture, so unless you are prepared to make an investment that has Mother Nature to contend with in our years of Climate Change, I personally wouldn’t.

ERREICHU: In your opinion, which key characteristics make up a restaurant’s successful beverage program, for example in a farm to table establishment with a moderate entree price range, an extensive by the glass list and or intensive staff training, etc.?

SIMONETTI-BRYAN: The characteristics I think that make up a restaurants successful beverage program (using the example of farm to table establishment) would be start with a small range of BTGs that have a great farm to table story, build out from there after learning the preferences of your patrons and always do intensive staff training with some incentive programs on the side to incentivize your staff to pay attention and sell more. The worst thing to do is load up on your own personal favorites and then have to painstakingly “hand sell” every bottle to each table. Start small, engage with customers and build from there. And make sure it matches with the menu.

PATRICK SHERMAN:  There was an article in the Wall Street Journal a couple of years ago about the wine rating system (bottles receiving high rating points of 1st or 2nd place etc.) The system, according to the WSJ, seems flawed and not clearly representative of the actual quality of the wine and more about money to judges and/or wineries. There were several “blind” tastings where the judges gave 1st place status or very high points to various wines and then the exact wine(s) in a different “blind” test didn’t even rank in the top 10 with similar quality wines. Can you address how much of this is actually happening in the industry and if the ratings really make that much difference?

SIMONETTI-BRYAN: OK…this one is a tricky one to be diplomatic and nicey nice to everyone. Yes, there are competitions and rating systems out there (I don’t know about WSJ…never tasted with them before), that will give gold medals to “friends” or go against the rating that other judges who tasted it blind. I wish I could say that were not so, but business is business. That’s why I decided not to do competitions any more except for Paul Pacults Ultimate Wine Competition.

Photo of Portugal
Portugal, 2005

AIDA: I am going to Portugal for a second time. In what region were the pictures below taken?

SIMONETTI-BYRAN: That picture was taken in the Douro Valley at Quinta do Noval one of my favorite producers! Gorgeous place with the terraced vineyards. Go to the Douro and travel down the Douro Rive to Oporto…a great city with LOTS of wine bars!

DAVE WIGHTMAN: Do you think screw tops will become universal in the future? I hate cork bits in my wine! Is there really any difference in quality and aging with a screw cap?

SIMONETTI-BYRAN: I don’t think screw caps will become universal. Because of the Coravin, I believe some may keep to cork. I hate cork bits in my wine too. Jury is still out on how screw caps impact long term aging (10 years +), but for the most part there doesn’t seem too much difference if the wine is under 5 years from the vintage.

CHERYL: The Coravin really augments learning while viewing your courses

SEB11: What kind of wines do you recommend if you are calorie conscious/ dieting, sugar-conscious, or worried about alcohol inhibiting your ability to burn fat?

SIMONETTI-BYRAN: LOL…I get this question all the time. First of all Skinny Girl Wines are NOT lower in calories than others of that same alcohol level. I personally am calorie conscious and use MyFitnessPal app to take into account wine calories before my day even begins 🙂 Most people don’t realize that wine has 100 calories per 5 oz glass (ish). Good news is that it has no carbs and no fat, but does have potassium.

CHERYL: We just bought unbreakable wine glasses that are enormously tall….not sure if we like them. Do you have any favorite glasses for home use?

SIMONETTI-BRYAN: What…did you buy the glass that fits a whole bottle? Challenge accepted! Kidding asside, my favorite geeky glass is the Riedel Vinum Chardonnay, but they break so easily. Ravens croft has come out with some titanium reinforced glasses and some you can even put in the dishwasher that aren’t half bad.

PHIL AND PHYLLIS: Hi Jennifer. We have several bottles of wine from 1999 2002 I mean old. Are they good? If we taste them, how can we tell if they are bad? Great course on Cal wines.. Thanks.

SIMONETTI-BRYAN: Oh jeez, if 1999 is “i mean old”…I FEEL OLD! TO answer your question, if the red wines look brown, they’re probably oxidized, so not good. However, you can buy the Coravin and it is a contraption that has a hollow needle that you can pierce through the cork and taste a few ounces to check without opening the bottle.

PHIL AND PHYLLIS: Haha ya wine from the 1900’s.. thanks. We will try it.




LASHAN ARCENEAUX: What is your favorite wine and why?

SIMONETTI-BRYAN: Lately? I’ve been going through an Oregon Pinot Gris phase…and I’ll do that go through phases like nothing else will do. Then I taste something else and then all I want is that! My favorite region wines though come from Burgundy- particularly whites from the Cote de Beaune and Champagne.

LRICK CARMICKLE: Where are the best values coming from these days?

SIMONETTI-BRYAN: IMHO the best values are coming from South America, particularly from Argentina. And if you are a cab lover that loves big bold and want that Napa Richness, but not the wallet, go to Chile, particularly from Puente Alto- it’s like the Howell Mountain of Chile. Other areas are New Zealand and South Africa…Spain too (for everyday prices on Ribera del Dueros).

AL: Do yeast type and barrel type count as much as place where the grapes are grown in the effect on taste?

SIMONETTI-BRYAN: Yeast type with certain types of wines can make an enormous difference- such as with Sherry Sacchromyces Bayanus, not Ceravisae. And Barrel fermentation/maturation has an enormous impact. Having said that you only have what Mother Nature (Terroir) has given. If you have great grapes, you can make it even more intense or crappy depending on what you do with it.

Similarly from JHL: What makes certain countries popular for their wine (France, Italy) and others not so much (Germany)? Is it the terrain and climate of the countries or more because of their cultural reputation?

SIMONETTI-BRYAN: The popularity of regions has more to do with popularity with cuisine (well, in this country anyway). Back in the 70s it was French cuisine that were making headlines and it raised the image of wine and French wine became popular. Then when Italian cuisine became popular, then Italian wine popularity followed. Same with popularity of Italian Fashion, wine followed. In terms of lesser known wine regions (I LOVE Hungary btw), there are some authors out there who specialize in these regions such as Alice Feiring from The New York Times. Her thing is natural wines and wines from Moldova and Georgia (country).

CHE: Hi Jennifer. What is your opinion about organic wine?

SIMONETTI-BRYAN: Dear Che, Hello! My opinion on organic wine depends on what area we’re talking about. Is there a difference in taste between organic and conventional? While some would argue “yes”, I have yet to find a Master of Wine, Master Sommelier or Winemaker who can blind taste the difference. Having said this, when a producer is more meticulous with their methods and paying more attention to the health of their vines and to the environment, that is better for the environment and has a high of resulting in higher quality wine. This is why biodynamic producers are amongst some of the highest quality producers- IMHO 🙂

PATRICK SHERMAN: Professor, can you recommend a Cab that has a heavy hint of chocolate/berries? I bought years ago a case of Cab from Spring Mountain (Falcon Crest) and I’ve never been able to find anything like it since. I’m not sure what happened that year, but the wine was incredible and now those bottles are selling for $700 each. Thanks for your time tonight. Super cool.

SIMONETTI-BRYAN: Dear Patrick, Hello! Yes, there are many cabernet sauvignons that have hints of chocolate and berries. The chocolate comes more from the oak treatment than the fruit itself. I would need a bit more information on what price points as anything below $700 is quite a wide range 🙂 I myself like Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon for about $35. It’s a great value I find. If you want something a bit bolder, I’d go for Cade Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon or Pine Ridge Howell Mountain Cab. Those are very rich, dense chocolaty cabs.

AIDA: I received several different styles of Riedel wine glasses as gifts. Do they really make a difference when drinking wine?

SIMONETTI-BRYAN: Best wine I’ve EVER had? Wow…I’m not sure. There are so many factors involved. I once had a Master of Wine tell me he had a $5 white zinfandel with a bunch of flight attendants in a jacuzzi and he argued that was one of the best wines he ever had. Ha-ha. The wines I’m drinking at home vary with the seasons. However, I live in LA right now, so it’s 75-80 degrees right now. I’ve been drinking Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc ($24) and Portlandia Oregon Pinot Gris ($20). Must try wines under $20? I just did a segment on Fox News on that. Click here.

THOMAS: Can you provide a source of investment grade whisky?

SIMONETTI-BRYAN: Dear Thomas, Hello! Do you mean investment for selling purposes or investment for enjoying purposes? Honestly, my favorites are The Macallan, Highland Park and some Japanese Whiskeys. With the exponential increasing demand for Scotch (which I assume you mean as you spelled it without an “e”), particularly as the economies around the world increase and the limited source of peat, my guess are that the peated whiskies are those that are going to be in the most demand down the road give finite resource.

GEORGE: Speaking of ratings, you mention the importance of having a known professional doing these ratings. In your course you mention the magazines Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast, as well as a few well known critics, Robert Parker and Jancis Robinson among others.  Could you please comment how respected are the following: The Decanter, Wine Advocate, Beverage Dynamics, Int’l Wine Cellar and Wine & Spirits magazines, as well as James Suckling and Antonio Gallioni? Thank you!

SIMONETTI-BRYAN: All of those critics are very good. The important thing is to follow the one that is closest to your palate. I wish I could say all of those that you mention take personal preference out of their ratings and it’s not a factor, but in reality- we are human beings- so somewhere there will likely always be a hint of bias in there unless the ratings are given totally blind. You could always go to- and here’s the shameless plug here- and sign up for the app so that you can find out what your personal preference and have recommendations just based on your palate and not the preference of critics or others…just you. I enjoy reading notes of other people though. It does give me a sense of what it tastes like.

GEORGE: You mention that “a $100 wine should taste like a $100 wine, regardless of preference” – something along these lines.
Suppose two reputable critics rate a $20 wine 95 and 94 respectively, and a $100 wine 88 and 90. Let’s assume same type of wine – Tempranillo, for instance. So which wine is better, teh higher rated $20 wine or the $100 one, which “should taste like a$100 wine”?

SIMONETTI-BRYAN: That’s the rub, isn’t it? That’s why I don’t like the 100 point system. I don’t know if the critics are saying “this is a 95 for a $20 tempranillo and this is only 88 points for a $100 tempranillo”. I personally trust MWs as I know their methods and tastes and they taste blind. I also trust certain competitions such as The Ultimate Wine Competition with Paul Pacult, but other than that…I’m afraid unless they specify…your guess is as good as mine. I think the point is that if your palate matches that of a particular critic and you recognize that, follow him/her.

LASHAN ARCENEAUX: I’ve been purchasing a lot of wines lately. How do know/learn which wines would taste better with age, and how to tell which should be consumed young?

SIMONETTI-BRYAN: Dear LaShan, Hello! Good for you that you’ve been buying a lot of wines lately. We in the wine industry salute you! In terms of which ones to lay down, that varies depending on region, grape variety and producer. I couldn’t really answer without knowing more. However, when I want to know if a partiuclar vintage from a specific region is age-worthy or not, I go to vintage charts such as those found on

LASHAN ARCENEAUX: What is the best way to blend wines? I am looking to experiment with some blends of my own.

SIMONETTI-BRYAN: Best way to blend wines? That’s like asking “what’s the best way to party?”. Ha-ha. Are you buying grapes or buying wine in bulk or after it’s been bottled? I would definitely need more information to answer this question properly.

ANNE: Do you have a favorite Michigan or Ontario, Canada wine?

SIMONETTI-BRYAN: Dear Anne, I do not have a favorite Michigan or Ontario wine, but if you had any recommendations, I’d gladly try them! In terms of Canadian wines, you’ve likely heard of Iniskillin Ice Wine, but I know there are a ton more out there and they can be expensive (but they are so good!).

MELLIE: What are some of the best Pinot Girgio’s in your opinion French or California or other?

SIMONETTI-BRYAN: Dear Mellie, I had a wine instructor who once told me “The French make the best French wine and the Italians make the best Italian wine and the Californians make the best California wine”. Yeah, I thought it sounded like a weak answer too. However, it is true. Each of these places makes a different style and they are made because there are people out there who enjoy each of them. I personally like the Oregon Pinot Gris made in a similar style of those to Alsace in France. Dry Pinot Gris in Alsace can be a bit heavy – I’m talking personal preference here, not quality assessment- for me and I enjoy a good Oregon Pinot Gris. I’ve been drinking the Portlandia Oregon Pinot Gris ($20) great value with lots of flavor.

KATHLEEN MILLIGAN: What do you think of the wine industry in Missouri?

SIMONETTI-BRYAN: Dear Kathleen, Hello! To be honest, I have not had an abundance of experience with Missouri wines. I’ve had some Chamourcin and some Norton- and the examples I’ve had were good- but I’ve never been to Missouri and can’t say that I have a firm grasp of its terroir or style. Any recommendations if you had any I’d welcome!

JOEDUFFUS: Cheers! Why are bourbon whiskies so similar whereas Scotch whisky types are so different?

SIMONETTI-BRYAN: Dear Joe, perhaps you’re not trying enough Bourbons? The alcohol levels alone vary so widely as do the amounts of corn to grain and the maturation vessels. You do make a good point though that in a way, there a lot more bottlings of Scotch within a given brand than Bourbon. I think the Scotch producers have done a better job at bottling different ages- 10, 12, 18, 30 years- as well as vessels- sherry barrels, sauternes barrels, port barrels, etc.- of their whiskies which can be a contributing factor as well as the use of or lack of peat in the process which is a huge factor in taste.

JAE: Has climate change affected the wine industry? If so, to what degree and how is the wine industry adapting because of it?

SIMONETTI-BRYAN: Dear Jae, what a GREAT question! This is something that the industry has been wrestling with for decades- and continues to. There are also some books you can get on the topic on Amazon. John Gladstones has a great book called Wine, Terroir & Climate Change. The bottom line is that regions will move, grape varieties will change, but wine will still be here.

JHL: Nowadays Gin and Tonic has become a trendy cocktail for young adults and college students. Is there a reason why this drink has become fashionable again and is there an art to predict trends for wine, spirits, and cocktails?

Napa Valley 2007

SIMONETTI-BRYAN: Honestly, there is about as much science to in vogue cocktails and wines as there are to clothes. Having said that, climate change does have an impact on wine, much more than cocktails. I also think there is a generational thing that happens. For example, “My grandpa drank Four Roses, so I’m not going to…” or you’ll have someone say “My great, great grandfather came from Scotland and now I think that it’s cool to drink Scotch”. Who knows? In terms of what is being marketed, that’s a different question as that is more predictable. Who has the money/budget and who is getting in front of the gate keepers which in the alcohol industry’s case is the retailers, bartenders, sommeliers and restaurant buyers of wine and spirits. Sometimes it’s a campaign by a region- for example about 10 years ago Prosecco producers pooled money together to bring people to Veneto- what do you think was on everyone’s By the Glass lists. Prosecco! It became the cool thing to have on their lists 🙂

JHL: What makes certain countries popular for their wine (France, Italy) and others not so much (Germany)? Is it the terrain and climate of the countries or more because of their cultural reputation?

SIMONETTI-BRYAN: That’s a good question. Popular to whom? If you are talking about popularity amongst consumers here in the US, it depends on volume, volume exported, quality level, budgets to export, consumer demand, trade buyer demand and reputation for quality. Given the United States has a three tiered industry- wines come into an importer who sell to a state wholesaler who then sell to a retailer/restaurant who then sell to the consumer- sometimes it is the power of the importer/wholesaler. Also cultural trends have had an impact such as the popularity of Italian cuisine on America. 30 years ago, you would not find papparadella pasta in the pasta aisle in the supermarket and no one knew what aioli was. Now along with Italian cuisine came the popularity of Italian wine. There are quite a few books on the topic I’d recommend Wine & Society by Stephen Charters for more info 🙂

Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan is among a small number of people to have received the highest credentials in the wine and spirits industry. She is one of only a few hundred people in the world to have achieved the Master of Wine (M.W.) title from The Institute of Masters of Wine in London, England-the highest and most difficult title to achieve in the industry.
Her lecture series The Everyday Guide to Wines of California is now available to stream on The Great CoursesPlus.