For Wine Folly’s Madeline Puckette, wine is a lot like art.
And as a Pacific Northwest native who has traversed from musician ( “…but the type of music I write very much belongs in Berlin,” she says) to graphic designer for Star Trek conventions (“I just got sick of hearing ‘Make another photo of Kirk doing something cool!’”) to a stint at a newspaper designing advertisements, Madeline has an undeniable “artist” vibe. She dreams of retiring as an old woman who masters the slide guitar. She notices the stunning wispiness of the clouds overhead. She wants to talk about her favorite video editing software as much as she does about wine tannins and lees — which is to say, a lot.
She’s got an artist’s sense of awareness, and as she unrolls a picnic blanket and pushes a rogue lock of her short black hair away from her face, it’s easy to see Madeline is not your average sommelier. Just look at her head shot for Wine Enthusiast’s 40 Under 40 List Tastemakers.
“Wine is about paying attention to things and thinking about what they are underneath the surface,” Madeline explains. “It’s something you learn appreciating art, appreciating music, appreciating whatever. So when I learned how to do that with wine, it opened up how I appreciate taste as a form of art.”
Wine is about paying attention to things and thinking about what they are underneath the surface.
Enter Wine Folly, a website she created to connect the everyday wine drinker to the larger world of wine. With educational (and straight up cool) wine content like region maps, pairing guides and easy-to-read articles, Madeline is using Wine Folly to help demystify the world of wine for the whole lot of us. And we can’t get enough of it.
So, would this musician-turned-designer-turned-somm be down to taste (and describe) some Ruedas with us? “I would never say no to a glass of Rueda!” she giddily said. We brought the bottles, she brought the palate, and it was time to “work.”
She pours the 2013 Shaya Arindo first, swishing a heavy pour around in a mason jar. After a good, long sniff, Madeline takes the first sip, swishing the wine back and forth through her mouth. “It almost reminds me of Lemonheads!”she exclaims, brimming with candy nostalgia. “Slightly underripe pineapple. Lemon cucumber. Pretty fruity. Lemon grass. Yellow Mexican melon that’s super juicy and oily…” She smiles. “It’s almost like a sweet, candied Meyer lemon aroma. Candied lemon rind. Crispy.”
Lingering with the glass at hand, we chat a bit more about the strangeness of wine tasting calls in general. “You know, I’ve licked rocks. I love the ‘freshly cut garden hose’ call [from the documentary Somm]. It’s getting at that real petroleum note that almost smells like Mattel Barbie doll,” Madeline says.
Wine tasting is strange, but it doesn’t have to be inaccessible. In her new book, eponymously titled Wine Folly, Madeline is eager to help guide her readers through the strange world of wine taste descriptions. “Meat,” she reasons, is not nearly as helpful as “pastrami.” It’s not “tar,” it’s “wet gravel.”
And what about tannins? “Ah, tannins. I usually say, ‘imagine getting a wet tea bag and putting it on your tongue.’”
Next up is the 2013 Shaya Verdejo, and Madeline’s reaction is almost immediate.
“Ah! If I were pairing this with something right now, I would have a grilled Radicchio salad, with preserved Meyer lemon and a little bit of blue cheese and some kind of nut …” She pauses, takes another long, appreciative sip, and goes on. “Maybe pecans?”
Instead of salads, we nibble on some chocolate chip cookies and she continues.
This wine, to me, has a very slow start, then it attacks. And that bitterness gives it a super long finish. Because it tingles, and its bitter, and its tart, but a really nice bitterness. This is a good, well made wine.
“You know what it is about this wine that makes me like it? The bitterness. It leaves you with bitterness that makes it more complex and interesting. I get a pomelo skin, rindy note… and when you’re eating food, that is a wonderful way to clean your palate. That bitterness? It’s just absolutely awesome.
…There’s always a beginning, middle and end of a wine. This wine, to me, has a very slow start, then it attacks. And that bitterness gives it a super long finish. Because it tingles, and its bitter, and its tart, but a really nice bitterness. This is a good, well made wine.”
As wine transitioned from Madeline’s evening activity to her passion to her career, she explains, dreamily, how nice it is that you can live your life through wine. Travel with wine. Eat with wine. Live all of these great moments with wine.
And what about new wine drinkers? She has this to say:
“There are things you should know. And one of them requires a bit of drinking and the other is more an acceptance thing… (1) Understanding that there are about nine different styles of wine…there’s a scale from light white, bold white, aromatic, rose, light red, to full-bodied reds like tempranillo… and it’s not a bad challenge to drink nine styles of wine! And (2) Accepting the fact that you might be a pinot noir guy or gal now, but tomorrow you might be really into sparkling wine. And it’s something that slowly adjusts through your lifetime.”
Moral of this boozy story? Be open to trying new wines. Don’t be afraid to describe what you taste, even if that means avoiding “tannins” and calling Barbie doll hair instead. And have fun with it.