Grape Expectations

All it takes is one bad run-in with snobbery for a person to get the wrong impression about wine -- as if drinking mankind's oldest beverage is somehow a solemn, elitist experience.

Well, in some circles, it certainly is. But before you trade in your corkscrew for the familiar comfort of a six-pack, listen to the sassy slogans of The Wine Brats, who are "changing the face of wine" and "knocking wine off its pedestal."

The local chapter of this national nonprofit organization debuted earlier this year. At a recent tasting, Robert Mondavi's "Meet Your Match" at Barcelona in Scottsdale, a good-looking crowd of wine enthusiasts, most in their 20s and 30s, packs the party for wine, cheese, and socializing.

Wine snobs are nowhere to be found.

"Wine's an intimidating thing," says Rachel Petchel, one of the event's organizers. "But this is a comfortable venue where people can hang out, have fun, and learn about different wines."

Petschel joined The Wine Brats in Minnesota, where there's a really active chapter. Now she's excited to see the Phoenix group take off. "This event sold out, with 75 to 80 people," she says.

As guests arrive, they're asked to grab a souvenir glass and choose a tag to hang on its stem. "Pick one for the mood you're in tonight," says Petschel. The tags correspond to themes of the tasting stations -- "Cool & Smooth," "Hot & Spicy," "Bold & Beautiful" and "Luscious & Lively" -- where Mondavi reps answer questions and offer a selection of varietals. Different cheeses accompany the wines at each station.

While many of the people here are new to the group, David Suttmiller has been a Brat for several years. "I'm a big wine guy," he says, explaining that he used to work in the wine and spirits industry. Before moving to the Valley, he was the public relations director for California's East Bay chapter. "This organization is very informational about wine -- they try to make it a good learning experience," Suttmiller says.

That unpretentious, educational vibe is exactly what attracted new member Amanda Wigel to The Wine Brats. "I have absolutely no experience in wine," she says. "I'm a blank slate." What Wigel lacks in expertise, though, she makes up in earnest enthusiasm. In fact, she's already volunteering on the events committee.

Wigel also reveals a fringe benefit of joining The Wine Brats. "This is a great place for young people to come and meet each other," she says.

Throughout the evening, Wigel's remarks prove true, as several strangers introduce themselves to us. Nobody proposes a toast, but here's one for next time: To new friends.