Wine with Coke? Wine not

By Cristina DC Pastor

Whoever says sweet wine is for beginners hasn’t met Tim Hanni, wine educator from Napa, wine columnist for the HuffingtonPost, and a rebel among wine industry puritans.

Or my hairdresser, Connie Lee.

Let me tell you why I love Tim and Connie. They do not know each other, but they speak the same language when it comes to fine wine: It is to be enjoyed. No rules. No fuss.

I thought about their courage in rebelling against current standards of class. I was at the Four Seasons for dinner with a friend I haven’t seen in ages, determined to relax over a glass of German Riesling. The waiter who was standing ramrod-straight reacted to my drink request by moving his head closer to mine.

“Ma’am, you realize that this is a very sweet wine,” he whispered.

I wasn’t sure whether to be miffed or amused. Miffed, because he apparently thought I may not know what I was ordering, or that Riesling was not a good match for my Seafood Risotto. Amused, because I knew exactly what I was ordering. I’ve been a Riesling drinker for years, and have always preferred it for its slightly-fruity quality. It may be fully ripened grape, but depending on mood, company, and budget, Riesling may be reminiscent of apricot or apple or peach. That’s how mysteriously versatile it is.

Aware that I have a limited repertoire, I was determined to learn more at a recent wine tasting at the Lower East Side. I was with a group of Asian Americans listening to Bottlerocket Events Manager Melissa Hall explain the distinct qualities of French versus Italian versus California wines and how they paired with what food. We were all taking mental notes.

When the lecture ended, glasses were passed around. Before long, everyone was cupping a glass, sipping in between bird bites of cheese and crackers – and chatting. An interesting anecdote was passed on by a financial advisor. He said his mom drinks wine with Coke!

Gasps and snickers erupted.

“A mortal sin,” hissed a health care administrator. She said her mother has the same Coke habit. Soon, everyone was swapping stories about Asian mothers pairing their Merlot with Coke or an aunt’s Pinot Grigio with 7UP.

Then, someone provided what sounded like the voice of wisdom.

“First-time wine drinkers start with the sweet wines, and then they move on to the oak-sy flavors,” she said. The crowd nodded in cult-like submission.

Suddenly, I felt embarrassed. It seemed I will always be the wine toddler who hasn’t grown up beyond Riesling. I would never graduate and become the sassy drinker who could tell an Australian Port from an Argentine Malbec or pronounce Gewurztraminer with conviction.

Until I met Tim. I came across his taste buds test on the Internet. His website called explains the science behind wine preferences. To get a Bud-o-Meter reading, you will be asked some simple taste questions that would classify you as a “tolerant,” “sensitive,” or “hypersensitive” drinker. I sent an email to set up an interview.

It’s not you, he said on the phone, followed by a hearty laugh. It’s those pores and membranes that make the tongue one of the most sensual organs of the body: the taste buds.

The “tolerant drinker” with the fewest fungiform papillae on the tongue has a preference for taste that is strong and intense. If he’s a coffee drinker, it’s dark roast and black — no sugar. He thinks all wine is sweet.

The “sensitive drinker” has slightly more fungiform papillae. This type – representing an equal mix of male and female – likes salt and is receptive to a wider range of taste experiences. He can go with any type of wine.

The “hypersensitive drinker” – usually female – likes her coffee with cream and sugar, and tends to dismiss all alcohol as gasoline. This drinker is partial to sweet wines, such as Riesling, White Zinfandel and Moscato.

Tim’s Bud-o-Meter won kudos from wine bloggers, who hail him the “anti-snob.” While taste experts and scientists caution the concept is not original, they concede Tim has updated a 1990 study and, by applying it to wine, made it very popular.

Making wine sweeter – by adding Coke — is not exclusive to the Asian tongue, Tim told me. “In some French countrysides, they add cube sugar to their wines.”

“That sweet wine is for beginners is a total myth,” he added.

Connie, my Chinese hairdresser, was introduced to wine after the birth of her daughter, who is now 16. She started for health reasons: better blood circulation. She drinks during holidays with family, or sometimes with her husband over dinner. “I take mine with 7UP,” she declared proudly. “It tastes better.”

Tim blames the industry for “all the bad information.”

“Imagine a Louis Vuitton purse worth $3,000,” he said. “Is it a better purse because of the price?”

Wine, as I’ve learned from Tim and Connie, is all about personal preference, style, confidence, and not a lot of drama.


  1. Kathleen Dijamco wrote:

    Some restaurants in italy have this trick: they put a pitcher of 7-up (or is it sprite) and coke on the table for wine novices to add to their white and red wines 🙂 that way, the newbies won’t feel left out (and more wine is imbibed).

  2. Kasumi wrote:

    In Spain, “kalimocho” (wine with coke) is a cheap drink, popular when you are young and don’t have much money (they use the cheapest wine and coke).

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