A few nights ago I was having a simple dinner with my dad and I offered him a glass of Pinot Noir that I had left over from showing it to customers earlier in the day. The bottle was almost empty and the scant glass went down pretty fast. I had a little Chianti left too, so we finished the meal with that. He made the comment that the second wine was fine but he really liked the first wine because it was silky and easier to drink. Good assumption, dad! He did comment that he may have liked the Chianti better if he had tasted it first.
My dad is the classic example of his generation’s Everyman…a hard working Joe with a taste for the good life. He doesn’t really know anything about wine but he knows what he likes and in this case he liked the $50 Pinot Noir rather than the $7 Chianti. To answer the eternal question…yes, you can taste the difference. He may not have known why he liked the higher priced, higher quality wine, but he did. I could have gone into a lengthy monologue about the differences between the two wines, but I just let him enjoy his discovery.
My dad has a friend whose wife loves “pink Chablis” and it’s all she drinks, everyday. Is it my place as a wine professional to correct her, to tell her she is wrong and that Chablis comes only from Burgundy, France, and that what she drinks is a cheap imitation? No, of course not. I just ask her, “What do you like about it?” I give her the respect to enjoy what she is drinking.
Like what you know, and know what you like…is my favorite comment about wine. Yes, it is good to take a risk now and then, try new things, and experience the world of wine, but it is just fine to stick with what you enjoy. I enjoy trying new wines all the time. Not everyone feels that way.
Staring down a 100 bottle wine list in a restaurant can be daunting for anyone. Just what is Albarino or Carmenere, and why should I try it? Will is go with my dinner? Is it just a weird wine that the geeky wine director picked for fun? A well-written list with tasting notes and wine and food pairing hints makes selecting a wine much easier for most of us. Unfortunately, few wine directors take the time to write a list like that. And, most customers pretend they know more than they do about wine because nobody wants to appear stupid in front of their friends, the other guests, or the wait staff. These people often miss out on the pleasures of a really beautiful, be it obscure, bottle of wine.
People should take a moment to remember that they are in great company with the majority of Americans. Few people, wait staff included, know that much about wine. It has simply not been a part of our culture to learn about wine and to consume wine regularly. For the most part, we don’t grow up tasting watered down wine with Sunday dinner with our families. That is changing in many pockets of society, but I doubt that wine in America will ever reach the exalted levels it finds in centuries old cultures like Italy, Spain, or France. I wonder, do people even have Sunday dinner with their families anymore?
There are some elitist type, wine and restaurant industry people who fiercely hold onto the idea that wine is strictly a luxury item, which tends to alienate the very people who support them. These are the people who talk down to their guests or clientele. These are the people who write lofty and irrelevant wine articles and blogs that only other industry people can understand. These are the people that treat wine like it is really something special, reserved only for those individuals willing to pay for the status of claiming to have a cellar full of collectible vintages they will never enjoy because they let them go too long. Wine should never be a platform for demeaning people.
Don’t get me wrong, I think wine is special…so special that I have devoted my life to devouring every word I can read on the subject. I spend my days tasting wines and my nights dreaming about my next wine experience. I plan my life around wine and spend my vacations visiting vineyards and exploring restaurants for their wine and food pairing adventures. Nevertheless, my beloved wine is simply sauce, created to accompany food, to enhance the flavor and pleasurability of the dining experience. It shouldn’t matter if you are eating your favorite Thursday night staple of a quick pasta dish or dining in an elegant restaurant. There is a perfect wine to fit the bill.
Like what you know, and know what you like.