Calling Maryse Chevriere simply a sommelier does her something of a disservice. Author of the new wine “demystifying” book Grasping the Grape, apart from being an expert in her field Chevriere is also a frequent food and drinks contributor for sites like Chowhound and Serious Eats, an author of wine labels, and the 2016 James Beard Award-winning humorist/illustrator behind the hugely popular Instagram account @freshcutgardenhose. If that handle calls to mind a scene from Somm, a popular documentary about a group of professional winos studying for their Master Sommelier exam (and which depicts the field’s snobbery at its best—and most entertaining), that’s intentional on Chevriere’s part.
“The Instagram account was born out of procrastination and a couple of glasses of wine,” she admitted to Observer shortly before the release of her book. “I was studying for my certified sommelier exam at the time and was making a bunch of index cards. I got bored, distracted by my phone, and started looking at wine porn. I came across a lot of really cool descriptions that we often see and just looked over at my index cards, and began thinking, ‘I wonder what that would look like.’ So I started doodling these things that I always say and I know my friends say. I decided to throw it up there and see how people would respond to it.”
The results depict, among other things, a coconut-and-orange-peel duo baking on the concrete beside a pool, some very burly berries flexing with wine casks, and an acrobatic balancing of an apricot pit, a lemon drop, and a tennis ball perched precariously on a sipper’s nose. They’re fun, to be sure, and tongue-in-cheek, but they also manage to make the real wine reviews they illustrate actually relatable. It can be hard to imagine what “meat and rocks” smell like in the context of a drink; seeing it drawn out can invoke the sensations better than words.
For Grasping the Grape, Chevriere enlisted illustrator Sarah Tanat-Jones to create the art, but the effect is much the same. Chevriere starts from the beginning, with very simple instructions on everything to look for on a wine label. She breaks down some of the jargon that often confuses and overwhelms newbies in the wine store. For example, Old World wines are often named for their region, while New Worlds title after the grape…love a Sauvignon Blanc but not sure what you’re getting in a Pouilly Fume? They’re the same grape!
The bulk of the book is devoted to descriptions of the world’s most popular grapes, helpfully color-coded so you can flip to either the red or white sections, depending on what you’re after, and accompanied by helpful (and hilarious) similes that describe each grape’s character as no one else has explained them before: “Chardonnay is the girl that changes for each boyfriend, Riesling the typecast actor…” Chevriere lists a few. And of course, they’re complemented by drawings to illustrate her analogies. “I like anything that’s like a children’s book for adults, that presents an easily accessible way to get into this,” she said.
That’s what it’s really all about for Chevriere: accessibility. “There’s a barrier for people in talking about wine or feeling like, ‘I just don’t know anything about wine.’ Well, just because you haven’t studied it doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to, like, say what tastes good or doesn’t taste good,” she said. “You don’t have to study food to go to a fancy restaurant and give your opinion on it.”
All interests one acquires inherently start with a period of knowing nothing, and feeling a little dumb about it. With wine, few feel even equipped with the language to ask a simple question of the person who seems to hold all the secrets: the one manning the register of your local bottle shop. @freshcutgardenhose strips the industry of its alienating snobbery, allowing Grasping the Grape to swoop in and provide exactly what’s needed next: precisely enough information to be confident in your curiosity. Turns out, this pursuit is actually better-suited to those with a thirst for constantly trying new things. As Chevriere puts it, “There’s a place to be serious about wine, there’s a place for everything. But, at the end of the day, the best part about drinking wine is discovering something new, discovering a place, sharing it with people.”