Cutting through the fog

If you're still on the fence about the health benefits of wine, research out of Copenhagen's Institute of Preventive Medicine may tip your carafe in favor of another glass. Wine drinkers, say the Danes, not only are smarter, but they're psychologically more stable than their non-imbibing friends.

Lettie Teague '83 doesn't doubt it. The wine editor of Food & Wine magazine, which boasted one million-plus readers even before this cheering research, Teague knows that wine may not make your date any droller but it sure does help mask the jug ears. "You have a glass of wine and people actually look better to you," she told a broadcaster.

Don't let Teague's irreverence fool you. This woman knows wine, but she conveys her knowledge simply and without pretension, which makes her a very popular columnist. Whether she's describing a nifty new route du vin or the pinot noirs of the Santa Lucia Highlands, Teague avoids snobbishness at all costs. Ditto the dense and silly prose that many grape hacks feel obligated to write.

"So much has been done to make wine impenetrable," she says in a phone conversation from her office in New York City. Part of her job is to cut through the fog.

Here's what makes wine worthwhile to Lettie Teague: First, its smell--in the bottle, in the barrel, and on the vine. Then, the way it tastes. Finally, the people who make it, the places it's made, and wine stewards. Her enthusiasm for the last brought home the 2003 James Beard Foundation's M.F.K. Fisher Distinguished Writing Award for "The Secret Life of a Sommelier," published in the July 2002 issue of Food & Wine.

For that column, Teague spent several evenings working as a sommelier at Veritas, a Manhattan restaurant with three thousand wine selections and diners who don't blink an eye spending $6,000 for a couple of good bottles at dinner. Her feet went numb from the track-meet pace up and down the cellar stairs, and her heart skipped a few beats matching high-rolling patrons with just the right vintages, but she liked the wine-tasting part a lot.

Sommeliers at Veritas taste everything they serve. "It was paradise," she drools, recalling a 1990 Vosne-Romanee, a 1989 Latour Corton-Charlemagne, and a 1991 Cote-Rotie.

Not that the wine editor of a food magazine with such broad readership ever need experience a parched throat. She often tastes twenty-five wines a day, "just to keep current," and punctuates her routine with the occasional tasting marathon, like a recent three-day sprint in Auckland, New Zealand, where she lost heaps of tooth enamel swooshing six hundred acidic young wines. By day three, she recalls, painfully, "You would taste and want to scream."

Most days, though, she wakes up with a smile. The credit, she says, goes to a Dublin, Ireland, wine merchant and his family with whom Teague lived during her junior year abroad. It didn't take long for her to decide that the wine business was a "civilized endeavor, well suited to an English major."

After graduation, she sold wine at retail, was a sales rep and then public relations manager for a number of wine merchants, moved into magazine writing as food and wine editor for Diversion magazine, and then, six and a half years ago, as wine editor at Food & Wine.

"I feel like I'm in the .0002 percent of people who have a job that is everything they could wish for," says Teague, and you have to agree. Even her marriage to Alan Richman, the award-winning food critic, seems like a fine blend. That she's apparently smarter and psychologically more stable than most doesn't hurt, either.

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