The Diva Grapevine; with Style and Charm, 10 Savvy Friends from Boston Are Changing the World of Women and Wine, One Glass at Time

Article excerpt

Byline: Mark Starr

The dishes are sublime, from the salmon and caramelized onion dip that whets appetites to the classic caramel flan that caps the meal. So, too, is the dish, a veritable tour of sex and their city, from the surprise Vegas elopement by kids of famous parents to the senior-citizen couple spied smooching in the car. Still, the centerpiece of the recent festivities at a suburban Boston home is the drink. Stephanie Browne, the host of this month's wine-club gathering, has chosen five different Spanish vinos, served along with a four-page primer she produced on Spain's bodegas. The wine chat is both serious ("with a lot of Spanish wines, you can taste the cement") and silly ("friends don't let friends drink white zinfandel") and the evening is a raucous success. Browne, the club founder, notes that when they began wining together five years ago, their second tasting was Spanish wines. "I'd like to look at the notes handed out that night," she says, "just to see how far we've come."

They are 10 women of a certain age who call themselves Divas Uncorked, and in 1999, what they knew about wine was that it came in different colors--red, white and that other one--and that they enjoyed drinking it. So the Divas, all African-American professional women from the Boston area, decided to use wine as a social lubricant for their friendship, hosting monthly tastings at their homes. "We even thought we might build a wine cellar by putting away one bottle from each tasting," says Browne, an information-technology executive, "but we always wound up drinking it."

While they can talk fluently of "ripe currant and blackberry" flavors in the Rioja and hints of "peach blossoms, honeysuckle, green apples and tangerines" in the Albarino, they are decidedly and deliberately unpretentious. Browne describes the group as "wine savvy, not wine snobs." The priciest bottle at her Spanish supper retailed for an affordable $18. And the women don't go in for nuanced Robert Parker-style ratings. After sampling a wine, they simply hold up fingers--one to five--in judgment and move on. From their very first gathering, the highest praise a wine can garner remains "yummy."

They've educated themselves by country, grape, vintage and vintner, building up to bigger adventures like a group jaunt to the Napa Valley. Sending back a bottle of zinfandel at the legendary Chez Panisse in Berkeley marked a milestone. (The restaurant was charming about it.) As the club has aged, it has--just like fine wine-- opened up, resulting in even bigger taste sensations. Although the original group still meets for private celebrations, Divas Uncorked now has a public face, too. It stages wine dinners in Boston restaurants, helps sponsor and mentor a minority culinary student and maintains a Web site (divasuncorked.com) that provides both tips and terminology. And just last month, the Divas organized a daylong conference at a luxury hotel near the Boston waterfront. "Wine, Women and..." included nine seminars ranging from "Yin and Yang Repast" (wine and food pairings) to "Dazzling, Dramatic, Delicious!" (tabletop design) and ended with a sold-out dinner for 165 wanna-be divas of both sexes. "We've had so much fun with this," says Callie Crossley, a producer of the award-winning documentary "Eyes on the Prize," "that we decided it was time to expand the circle. …