First Words — 01 March 2014
How to spot a fake wine connoisseur

By Mark Gauert

City & Shore Magazine

I’m looking over the wine list at lunch with Shari Gherman, president of the American Fine Wine Competition, and I’m getting nervous.

Gherman had just come off judging South Florida’s home-grown, national wine event. She’s a drinking buddy to all the 28 expert judges who swirled, smelled and sipped the 630 wines at the two-day competition in January at FIU in North Miami. She knows her wine – from obscure South African varietals we can only dream of tasting in person to familiar labels on the shelf at the supermarket that we’ve tasted enough, thank you.

I’m nervous that I’m going to pick the wrong wine at lunch with Shari Gherman.

That’s not to say that she’s haughty or intimidating about wine. No airs of palate superiority here, nothing in your face about your nose. Gherman is about as friendly and easygoing an advocate of wine produced in this country as you’re ever going to be lucky enough to sit next to at lunch while looking over a wine list. And, if she’s picking the wine, you can be sure that you will drink well.

Now it’s my turn, and – as I may have mentioned – I’m nervous. There’s a little too much drama, sometimes, choosing wine.

“What tips you off,” I ask, “that someone who thinks they know about wine really doesn’t know about wine?”

“Oh,” she says, smiling, “There are many tells.”

“People who say they only drink expensive wine,” she says. A great wine does not have to cost a lot. Of the wines – many expensive – entered in the 2014 edition of the competition, for example, judges in blind taste tests gave a Best of Class medal to a $15 Gewürztraminer from Ferrante Winery of Ohio. (A wine from Ohio? Yes.)

“People who wash out a glass with water before pouring another wine into it is another giveaway,” she says. Water changes the pH, thus the taste, of the wine. Just empty out the glass best you can, and pour the next wine right on in after it.

“People who smell the cork,” she says. “You only look at the cork to make sure it isn’t cracked or crumbling – you don’t have to smell it to do that. “Also,” she adds, “people who think good wine only comes from a bottle with a cork.” Plenty of excellent wine pours through a screw-top these days.

“People who only drink white wine with fish or poultry, and red wine with red meat,” she says. Such hard-and-fast rules were made to be broken, “a red wine works with a red sauce on any fish, and a big white would work on a steak with a creamier sauce.”

The ultimate giveaway that someone doesn’t really know about wine?

“People who say they only drink one kind of wine,” she says. “Only cabernet sauvignon. Only pinot noir. Only chardonnay.” That rules out so many opportunities to explore – and to enjoy – the worlds of wine. The licorice flavors of a syrah; the pepper and violet of a cabernet franc; the honey citrus of a pinot gris. Ignorance is not bliss.

We’ll get a chance to explore (and taste) all of them May 5 at the Pier 66 Hotel & Marina in Fort Lauderdale. Settle back with a glass of something you’ve never tried.

As for me, I settled on a 2011 Stainless Chardonnay from Chamisal Vineyards at lunch with Shari Gherman, a fairly inexpensive wine from California that I poured from a screw-top bottle into a glass I had not rinsed with water. I paired it with a plate of cheese ravioli in red sauce.

The combination of white wine with red sauce was delicious.

“See, there’s no reason to be nervous about ordering wine,” Gherman says, smiling again. “The best wine’s the one you like.”


More than 600 wines will be poured at the 11th annual American Fine Wine Invitational (AFWI) Charity Wine Gala, 6:30-11 p.m. May 5 at the Pier 66 Hotel & Marina, 2301 SW 17th St., Fort Lauderdale, accompanied by a feast, winery-tasting rooms hosted by the winemakers, auctions, music and more. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Autism Society of Florida. Tickets are $300. 561-504-0206,

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