Friday, April 23, 2010

Do you want to tell the story?

How many times does it have to happen? I’m the speaker at a wine dinner. A guy walks up and says, “Are you the guy hawking the wine at tonight’s dinner?”

Yeah, that would be me. I just drove from San Antonio to Austin to Dallas to sell you a bottle of wine. Because I live to sell wine. Screw the stories, the wine trail adventures, I just want to get all the money that you have in your pocket and suck it out of your wallet. That’s my m.o.

I've done hundreds of wine dinners and I often say I’ll never do another one. And then, just when I think I am out, they pull me back in. Actually it’s a good way to do a nice service for a restaurant, to meet people and to promote the wines, the blog, and the Italian culture. You know, keeping the world safe for Italian wine? And then you get that guy, and it’s usually a guy. Usually middle aged or older, upper income, white guys. You know the type? The kind that come out to stump the expert.

Usually there will be the question of aging or barrel or vintages. “I love the 1997 vintage, they made such opulent wines in Tuscany.” If I had a nickel for each time I heard that line I could make more money collecting from those jokers than the money I never make on this blog.

Or, “I don’t really think Italian wines are as good as French wines.” Or “I have a friend in Napa Valley who made a killing in the (submit _________ here) business. He makes a killer wine that only sells out of the winery for $150. He makes the wine by letting the grapes drip.” I kid you not. I am not making this stuff up.

So there we are tasting the red, a Valpolicella Classico Superiore, a ripasso method, and this fellow, the same one who thinks I schlep wine for a living, comes up to me and says "I don’t like this wine - it needs to breathe for a day before it will be any good.” A day? You think?

I let it go. It’s a wine dinner. He could be a distant in-law; I need to let it go. And so I do.

And then he makes another pass. “Hey not bad, you had 3 out of 4 wines that were pretty darn good.” I tell him, “Great, that’s a .750 batting average – all star stuff. Or better.” Trying to keep it light.

But he just can’t help himself. He’s from a privileged economic and social class and he thinks his opinions have that certain gravitas. So he lobs another ball over the strike zone. “But that red wine, do you think it will ever be drinkable?”

Actually everyone at the table was enjoying the wine until he so inhospitably served up a platter of doubt. The chef paired the wine with lamb and a fruity sauce and it was a brilliant pairing. And I'm not even into that kind of thing. But the wine and the food were singing. Big time.

I wanted him to go away now. But I took a swing. “Look, the whole thing about breathing is a myth. And a day for a wine to breathe will, in most cases, just result in a dead wine.”

“Bullshit,” he snorts.

“Excuse me? Do you want to tell the story?” At this point I am thoroughly fed up with this guy trying to act like an expert. It is clear that he drinks unwieldy wines too young and that has led him to believe that he needs to let a wine breathe for a day. I'm curious if he makes those same calculations with the women he tries to shag. I wonder how that's working out for him.

What can you do with someone who thinks they are the expert? Have they just spent three weeks tasting any number of wines from France and Italy, tasting with the great winemakers of Bordeaux and Italy? Who is more qualified?

I’m not saying I want to be known as the expert. But in this instance I am the pro in the room and it is my story and I’m the one the folks came to hear. I even feel bad having these thoughts, because they sound like nails on the chalkboard when I read them. But after thirty years, I have stories to tell. And the last thing I am in the mood for is to drive all day and have some knucklehead get up on the stage and spew foolish drivel. It cheapens the whole experience of the wine dinner. Like I said, it is an inhospitable act. It is rude. And it is inaccurate.

And this has been the dark side of the Italian wine business for as long as I can remember. So when I talk all rosy and poetic about the vineyards and the winemakers, and I do, and I mean it, just remember that I have to come back to the native land and deal with the infidels.

Pass the ripasso please.


Tom said...

Interesting people are interested in wine, I've found, but the little knowledge is a dangerous thing brigade are a pain. They hold onto concepts like aging and breathing like a mantra and they are often wrong. The wine people I've met who really know a lot I've found to be generous, modest and a lot of fun, which adds to a lovely wine drinking experience. Its to be shared and enjoyed, an important dimension of drinking as aging.

EdChampagne said...

You have to confront these assholes, who are just trying to show off in front of their friends. Since you know so much more than they do, it's easy to do. Just do it with a smile on your face, and don't lose your temper.


Alfonso Cevola said...

Gentle, but firm, right Ed?

Thanks gents!

Marco Neri said...

Pazienza! Yeah, like I would have had your patience. It is said that it comes more with age, speaking of aging. But you know sometimes I am more intolerant of willful ignorance and arrogance now more than ever. If I did wine dinners, I would have a Lenny Montana in the back of the room for guys just like this to discretely escort them out.

Alfonso Cevola said...

The menu was so great, too. The chef really worked hard to match the dishes and he really, really knocked it out of the park. It was really a wonderful evening, other than the odd man out.

Samantha Dugan said...

Um try being a woman. I did a Champagne dinner once. We had worked for weeks on the menu and the pairings, when we nailed it I was so freaking proud. I was walking around talking to the tables during the dinner and one guy....yes, the same kind of guy, that was rinsing between flights,made a comments that all the Champagnes were not "Bubbly enough". Now I tried to explain about base wine, how the bubbles were not or should not be the focus and mentioned that rinsing with water was not helping and I got, "Samantha that is a pretty lipstick you're wearing. You always have nice lipstick. Why don't you just stick to that"...dude. In front of a table of eight people. I didn't know if I should cry or sock him in his dismissive face. That was like 10 years ago but I still remember...

Jeff Siegel said...

My friend, I feel your pain.

Alfonso Cevola said...


Tracie P. said...

hhhhaaaaaaah. there's always one. what is it about wine that brings this unfortunate behavior out in people? the one-upmanship...know-it-all...trying to make oneself shine by challenging the experts with a singular, rehearsed and worn-out argument?

or there's that couple who spent a 'week in tuscany' drinking cabernet and are suddenly self-proclaimed experts on all things italian.

i had a similar experience at my tequila tasting (officially NOT an expert on that, btw--or anything, for that matter). some guy said that he had spent a week in jalisco and all the mexicans thought the brand i was showing was crap. thanks dude. i even let all 18 of them taste a really special one of said brand from my own personal stash. anyway, at least it was just one.

shake it off man! shake it off.

Tracie P. said...

samantha--that makes me gag. awful!

Alfonso Cevola said...

Thanks, Tra - I'm gonna do better than shake it off - I'm gonna chicken fried steak it off later today

Unknown said...

I posted a sign behind the counter in our wine shop which is aimed at this sort of knucklehead which reads:

Miss jane said...

I get this type all the time! I just look at them, smile and say, "Yeah, this is the perfect chance to demonstrate that a little bit of knowledge can help you enjoy wine even more. Draw your attention to the.....and notice the balance of the......." That shuts 'em up, and the best part is, you can do it with a smile!

Watson said...

I thought it was very, very funny!

Thomas said...

Oh, boy. Does this post bring back memories. I won't bore you with my "can I top this" stories.

Suffice to say, I used to do it with New York wine. Can you imagine the crap I had to deal with--and knowing a little about my way of communicating, can you imagine the many ways in which I dealt with it?

Like you, I found the worst to be the high-earning, white guys; a lot of doctors for some reason, and lawyers too.

I believe it was that experience that planted my general intolerance for many activities which are geek-like.

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