As Fine Living dives into its second year of programming for lifestyle aficionados, the cabler has started to exploit the expertise of its hosts the way sister net Food Network has done for years with stars such as Emeril Lagasse and Mario Batali. Starting with master sommelier Andrea Immer is a stroke of genius. She cheerfully takes a subject that much of the general public finds daunting, blends education with entertainment and conveys the pleasure of wine drinking without resorting to hedonism.
“Simply Wine” is being shot around the globe but gets its start at a Vail, Colo., food festival, where Immer can broach the basics of wine and underline the importance of wine-food pairings. It’s Wine 101 done properly. Immer explains how to decipher wine labels, encourages the placement of wine into categories of daily, weekly, once a year and once in a lifetime, and offers a few smart buying tips. A petite woman with an engaging, girl-next-door presence, Immer spins a full 180 degrees away from the old-fashioned image of the sommelier — a tuxedo-clad guy trying to get a diner to spend 200 bucks on a bottle in unpronounceable French from an off year.
Immer’s approach is comparable to that of John Brecher and Dorothy J. Gaiter, the wonderful Wall Street Journal scribes who consistently pen approachable columns on wine from the perspective of the average consumer. Both encourage experimentation, though Immer is more likely to hedge her bets; the show and the Journal column are not for buyers whose paramount mission is tracking down bottles that have earned high scores from the Wine Spectator, Robert Parker or Stephen Tanzer.
Turning the table from interviewee to interviewer is the only area where Immer loses her footing. With as much wine knowledge as she totes — she’s one of only 11 female master sommeliers in the world — she hasn’t mastered getting the exact response necessary from her subjects. A polite questioner, she could stand to guide her chef and winemaking guests away from the banal and studied, even if it means making “Simply Wine” a little heady.
Immer has become something of a brand herself: BMG has released eight CDs of genre-specific music matched to cuisine and libations, while she has published two books and started an annual wine-buying guide; oversees a wine program at Target; and designs wine courses for the French Culinary Institute in New York. The concept in all she does, and this extends to “Simply Wine,” is making wine the hub of pleasurable activity and not a cerebral exercise. “Simply Wine,” down the road, could make a handy DVD companion to her growing empire.