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Food, cocktails, wine–and sex appeal


I got my new issue of Chefwear magazine in the mail yesterday (how do I get on these mailing lists, anyway?) and was browsing through it–not that I’m a chef, but it’s always fun to spot trends, and chef wear, I’ll have you know, is very trendy.

There are the pattern pants, for example, on page 5: a pair of brown tighties with pastel-hued cupcakes, and a floral pattern with pink, white and green poseys (called “Camo Blossom”, as if the chef were playing paintball in a garden). Then there are hats (a black skull cap looks like something Khadafy might wear), and chef’s jackets in, yes, traditional white, but also “smoke,” “avocado,” “sweet potato” and “chile” (as in pepper). My favorite is a pair of pants you might see on some über jock at  the gym. It’s called the “Zipper Fly Ultimate.”

What’s next, chef’s underwear? If Chefwear magazine goes any further, it’s basically going to be the Victoria’s Secret catalog.

Chefs are sexy. That’s the new selling point. Ever wonder why Tyler Florence, Bobby Flay and Michael Chiarello got where they are? Not saying they’re not good cooks, but their looks don’t hurt. Was Escoffier hot? Irma S. Rombauer? Julia Child wasn’t. Nor was Jacques Pepin, even in his youth. They were celebrated for pure talent. But that was pre-TMZ and our worship of hot celebrities.

By the way, have you noticed that every mixologist who pops up in magazines looks like Johnny Depp? Those little soul patches, the matted hair, the sculpted bodies. Could a fat mixologist even get a job, no matter how talented? I wonder. And don’t even get me started on waitstaff. Half the population of San Francisco consists of hot waitrons.

I remember when the cult of the “celebrity winemaker” arose in the 1980s. That was the start. Suddenly, instead of the wines themselves being front and center, it was the winemakers. Not that they were all good-looking, but many of them were, and it didn’t hurt magazine sales to put them on the covers. I’m not just talking men. Women, too. There is a certain magazine I could mention but won’t, at the risk of being sued (and it’s not the one I work for now), whose editor told me that whenever I wrote a story that involved a photograph, the publisher wanted well-endowed women, preferably showing cleavage. Sex sold then, and it sells now, even in the wine industry.

What this brings up is something that impacts the sale of all products in America–and let’s not forget, wine is still just a product. Whether it’s soap, jeans or movies, a commercial product needs to appeal to potential buyers on some primeval level–and what could be more primeval than sex appeal? Now, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about cult wines, and why they appeal to people who can afford them. Cult wines don’t use sex, per se, to sell themselves, but they use something akin to it. When we see a gorgeous model in an advertisement or commercial, the subliminal message is: You desire this person, don’t you? Well, you can probably never have him or her, but if you buy this product, you’re at least a little closer to realizing your fantasy. Let us now move onto cult wines. No sane buyer of cult wines, even in China, probably thinks he can physically possess the winemaker (if they even know what the winemaker looks like). But there’s still this appeal to dreamy aspirations, the suggestion that if you buy this wine, you will somehow, magically, partake of something better and more beautiful than anything in your current drab life, and be a happier, more fulfilled person.

When people spend money on things they don’t really need (as opposed to mortages, electricity, gas, etc.), there’s usually something aspirational going on. There were numerous anecdotes, pre-recession, that producers who couldn’t sell their wines suddenly could, after they raised the price! (If something was affordable, people assumed it sucked.) Today’s chefs and mixologists–or the professional P.R. people who handle them–understand this aspirational quality to marketing. What’s less understood, but needs research, are the psychological underpinnings, the deep drives hidden in the id, that drive people to buy cult wine.

Myself, I just try to do my job reviewing the stuff. I have my tastes in winemakers, same as you, but hey, it doesn’t impact my scores. By the way, can wine writers be as sexy as mixologists? Let me know who you think the hottest wine writer is. The winner gets a centerfold here at

  1. Richard says:

    Thanks for that vote of confidence in us sexy wine makers, Steve – I never thought of myself as a sex symbol until I read this, but wow! you’ve made my day…

    And while I would like to return the favor by saying you are the sexiest wine writer, I just can’t make up my mind – I mean, I’ve never seen photos of most wine writers, you, RP, and JL (and his colleagues MK and JS) excepted… But you do seem to have that certain je ne se quois of freshly laid asphalt on a windy Napa road and an initial soupcon of pithiness in your writings. There is also an overtone of hedonistic excellence in your semi-hidden scathing wit with subtle undertones of… pencil shavings…

    What a tough choice… I’ll just have to think on it a bit more…

  2. Anonymous says:

    I think Paula Dean’s pretty sexy in the same way that Julia could be; knows who she is, doesn’t take any BS and is funny, charming, talented.

    Okay, so now to the sexiest wine writers:

    Tattoos are pretty sexy, so I’d put you up there near the top. Also, Laube is traditionally handsome, with his gray hair and blue eyes. He’s a pretty good looking guy.

    Tim Fish has “boy next door” all-American good looks. Genial and relatable.

    Comiskey can be pretty handsome.

    Teague has always had great hair; I think folks find that pretty and even exotic.

    Karen Macneil is very elegant, and traditionally pretty. She has a lot of style in the way she dresses.

    Tanzer has a pretty disarming, nice smile and Asimov is sexy in that erudite way.

    Oldman is pretty good looking, too, in that more mainstream way.

    I’m sure I could come up with some more…..I mean, like the general population, there are plenty of good looking, sexy people out there who happen to write about wine, and then there are those that aren’t all that and a bag of chips, but bring something else to the table.

  3. As you’ve mentioned, the aspirational part of advertising and marketing is an essential part of any product’s campaign that rises above the level of commodity marketing — for us, most wine fits into that category. A big part of the aspirational side of marketing is the aspect of “association,” whereby the magic and mojo of the goods being advertised will become, by association, a part of the consumer’s life — simply by buying the product.

    How many times have we seen the goofy guy in the beer ads suddenly surrounded by hot babes in bikinis, simply by lifting the *correct* bottle of brew?

    Having spend more than a couple of decades in the gun biz, it never ceased to amaze me at the lengths that some manufacturers would go to in placing the scantily clad model in a ridiculous “field pose” with their latest hunting rifle. It had nothing to do with reality (would she really be on a Montana elk hunt in October, dressed in a camo two piece?); and yet, those some manufacturers would tell me later that they had a trackable uptick in sales after such a campaign.

    Of course, they also had that same hot chick in their booth at the industry trade show, signing posters of her “hot photo” and, of course, she was dressed in the signature two-piece camo outfit. Usually, there is a long line of glassy-eyed patrons waiting for their chance to talk with her, and a small part of it is the chance for some of the “mojo” to transfer by association.

    Sex sells, but what helps get the message through is the mojo — kind of like alcohol being able to pass the blood/brain barrier and get through to our synapses on a direct and primal level. I guess that’s why they are related, eh?

  4. I don’t think you said anything that anyone with half a brain didn’t already know about what sells and how marketing campaigns are designed, especially regarding alcohol or anything fun for that matter (casino, guns, cars…etc). The most interesting thing we can take from this post is that it seems that the anonymous person who commented at 9:06am on March 2nd has a thing for ginger haired women. Anonymous poster can you please confirm that you have a thing for red haired women or was this just a coincidence?

  5. We’ve seen your wine blog and would like to invite you to write a post about Argentine Torrontes and participate in our Blogger of the Month contest. You will have the chance to win a free trip to Argentina! Here is a link for more info
    Looking forward to reading your blog post!
    Wines of Argentina team

  6. Tony Boudain is hot, but have you seen his bud Zamir? When they travel together, Zamir, a
    teddy bear of a man, gets all the attention from the girls!

  7. Paul in Boca says:

    Jancis Robinson.

  8. The Bloggers are spamming you, Steve!

  9. Raley, you mean the Argentina thing? I don’t think it’s spam, but it does speak for itself, so I allowed it to be published here.

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