September 13, 2004
What is it about wine that makes people think they should know about it? I’m not referring to the basics of being able to tell if it’s white or red, or even whether or not one likes it. I’m placing my attention squarely on the prevalent view that one “should” know vast amounts of data on the subject.
This topic has been noodling around in the back of my mind for some time, but was brought to the front this weekend. A woman came into the shop to purchase a bottle of wine for dinner. Based on her manner of dress she was clearly what one would call a “career woman”. She opened the conversation with an abject apology for her complete lack of knowledge of wine – a situation which clearly made her feel inadequate as a human being. The apology showed signs of turning into a several minute soliloquy.
I stopped her and asked what she did for a living. It turned out she was an investment banker. Now, investment banking is a topic on which I could wax poetic for all of two seconds. I told her this. Her response was “but I should know about this!” My response – she spends her entire work day focused on investments. The people who need investment banking done rely on her judgment and expertise to handle it for them. I spend my entire work day focused on wine and food, as do the rest of my colleagues worldwide. She doesn’t need to know the topic, all she needs to do is rely on our judgment and expertise.
I can’t say that my answer completely satisfied her, but she did see the point, relaxed, and we talked about her dinner and picked some wine to go with it. I can’t say the answer will satisfy anyone else, but I really do mean it. You don’t need to know this stuff in some deep hardwired way. It’s why I write about wine and food – it gives you some ideas, some suggestions, and hopefully you’ll try them out. Because it really is what I do all day long.
I taste a lot of wine (and a fair amount of food). That doesn’t mean I open a different bottle of wine each night with dinner. It means I sit down with winery, import, and distribution representatives every work day and taste through numerous samples. On the order of well over one hundred a week. I taste good wine, I taste mediocre wine, I taste blatantly bad wine. It’s part of the job. Then I pick the ones that I not only do I like, but that I think my customers will like, and, that I think are fairly priced.
So when I’m asked about a wine off the shelf, I can actually talk about it. I really did taste it. Yes, at some point, I tasted every one of those hundreds of selections that I make available. I took notes, I reviewed them, sometimes I go back and taste the same one again to make sure. And, in any good wine shop, or good restaurant with a sommelier (or at least someone who is really responsible for the wine selection), they do the same thing.
So the next time you stop in to pick up a bottle for dinner, take a minute to get to know us. You don’t need to apologize for not knowing about wine. We don’t care. We’re going to take care of you anyway.
[Update] My column earlier this month elicited several responses, all positive, but all with the same request… if you’re tasting so many wines, why don’t you share them with us!? So, from now on, I’ll include a couple of favorites from recent samplings at the end of each column. My only caveat, of course, is that not all wines are available everywhere, though any good wine shop ought to be able to track down a source for you – I will try to include information that will help them do so. Prices vary from area to area, not to mention shop to shop, but I’ll try to give you a rough estimate.
Both of this column’s wines were selected out of a tasting from local distributor Martin-Scott Wines.
Torii Mor Winery Pinot Gris, 2003, $15
Famous for it’s high-quality, handcrafted Pinot Noirs, Oregon’s Torii Mor has become a recognized label amongst the wine cognoscenti. This was the first time I’d tasted their Pinot Gris (which is the same grape as Pinot Grigio – just a difference between the French and Italian names for the varietal) and I was totally blown away. This is the best domestic Pinot Gris I’ve tasted in years. Rich and ripe with flavors of pear, melon, and just a hint of sweetness, this is a fantastic match for spicier foods… maybe a nice five-spice crusted salmon filet… Winery website
Pagor Tempranillo, 2002, $15
The classic grape of Rioja and Ribera del Duero in Spain, tempranillo is generally a medium-bodied, spicy, earthy red. It is a great match with lamb dishes and hearty stews. The plantings of this grape are few and far between outside of Spain, with, to the best of my knowledge, only about half a dozen wineries in California growing it. I know little about Pagor Winery itself, but I’ve been impressed with this wine vintage after vintage. The 2002 shows bright cherry and berry fruit with a touch of dark chocolate and spice. (Pagor Winery: 800-484-8100)
I started writing food & wine columns for the Outlet Radio Network, an online radio station in December 2003. They went out of business in June 2005.