Sunday, January 16, 2022

The Italian Wine Expert

I was in my local Italian store yesterday, picking up a few things for the weekend. On the way, there was a light dusting of snow. The brisk breeze swirled the snowflakes across the windshield, but the biggest danger was the drivers around me who drove with abandon. Something about the cold weather in Texas that makes people even more unpredictable than they already are.

Inside the store, it was bustling. Way too many people. I skirted around them and made a path through the wine aisle. There, in front of the Brunello section. were some well-dressed women looking at their cellphones, wines in front of them. Instinctively, I asked them if they needed any help. Yes, they were looking for a particular wine. I found it for them and moved on.

At the egg and olive oil aisle, I got to thinking. In the past, I’d be right up there, filling their basket with all sorts of goodies. But I’m not really invested in the wine trade anymore. Not like when I was engaged in the livelihood aspect of wine. Yes, I’m still interested in wine. But I don’t go to a restaurant and try and find what’s missing on the wine list now. I look for something that will interest me. I don’t care which company sold it to the account anymore.

That said, when I walked past the group of women, a random thought flashed through my monkey brain. “I bet they don’t know they just got a suggestion from an Italian wine expert.” I dispatched the thought as though it were toxic jetsam. Funny, something similar happens when someone asks me to take a picture for them with their smartphone. “Do these people know their picture is being taken by someone who has studied and made photographs for over half a century?” As if it really mattered to them. Again, vanquished to the dumb-ass ego outbox.

But it does bring up something I think about from time to time. And that is the concept of mastery and expertise. Yes, I have a good working knowledge of Italian wine. And yes, I know my way around the darkroom (and Photoshop, along with a good knowledge of analog and digital photography). But that really isn’t of much interest for the outside world, as I now see it. I’m sitting in the balcony, looking at the pageant below me. I’m a spectator, a witness.

And yet, there still seems to be a wealth of emotion that people get tangled up with when it comes to expertise and mastery. Courses of study have become a big business, churning out Italian wine experts all across the globe. Young people looking to spruce up their CV’s, and distinguish themselves from the herd. Admirable in many ways.

But for those well-dressed women, my expertise wasn’t necessary. It might have been momentarily convenient, yes. But not vital.

And that’s where some of us get caught up in the swirl of things, whether it’s about wine, art, music, sex, food, cars, cameras, watches, etc., ad infinitum. And that’s the possession of some thing.

When I read someone is an Italian (or any other) wine expert in a post, my bullshit antenna goes up.  “Says who?” I ask myself. And even if they have letters after their name, I can be skeptical, still. It doesn’t necessarily mean a person will know, really know, let’s say Barbera, just because they passed a test informing them that they are now considered an expert. There’s still the matter of the heart. And the soul. What is it about Barbera that speaks to your emotions? Don’t tell me about the pH or the acidity, or the oak regimen. I don’t want to hear a recitation of the past 20 harvests in the Langhe and which ones were better or worse. “There are no great vintages, only great bottles,” is an ancient axiom that rings true on a daily basis.

Open the bottle. Drink the wine. Cut the crap. I’m not impressed with my expertise, why would I be with yours? Oh, because you have a certificate proving you are an expert? Or someone on some obscure wine blog referred to you as one?

I know plenty of dead Italian wine experts who would rather be here, alive, and drinking the most miserable bottle of Barbera, rather than having their ashes blowing around with the snowflakes out in West Texas. “Give me life,” they whisper at 3 a.m. in my ear.

All this searching for singularity and uniqueness looks to be nothing more than a dust devil getting in the way of the clear view. Open the bottle. Drink the wine. Cut the crap.

Yeah, I said it again.

Look, to be enthused is a gift. It gives one energy and drive. But don’t let it near the ego. Once you think you’re an expert at anything, there is always someone or something new to knock you down a peg or two. Give it up. Let it go. You want to be an Italian wine expert? Trying not wanting to be one. It’ll get you closer to what it is you are looking for.

Yes, I once was (queuing the b.s. antenna) an Italian wine expert. But, I’m so much lighter now, to have taken off that yoke. I can now enjoy Italian wine, and all that I have learned and experienced about Italy, Italian wine, food and the people. Now it is truly a joyous occasion to open the bottle, drink the wine, and, yes, cut the crap.


wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W


Bob Rossi said...

Your interaction with the women looking at the Brunellos reminded me of a warhousey-like wine, beer and spirits shop down the street. Despite the size of their wine selection, they have only 1 person who is knowledegable about wine, and she's not always there, and even when she's there she isn't always on the floor. But what they do often have is lots of wine salespeople who could easily be mistaken for store employees, since they spend most of their time stocking the shelves with their company's wines. And I'm sure most customers don't know this when they go up to one of these sales people and ask for recommendations. So I'm sure most of the time the recommendations are for wines carried by the sales rep's company, although a couple of times I have heard the rep recommend someone else's wine.
So I wonder who those women in the store thought you were.

Michael Vickery said...

Alfonso, easily one of your better ( and most passionate) post. There is enough food for thought within this post for a dozen lunches.

Experts. What is an expert? Endless opinions no doubt. My take on such as I now have entered the winter of my life is; an expert is useless unless they meet the person where they are at, not where the expert is at. Example. A wine expert meeting a customer at Jimmy’s Food Store and helping a customer with a wine selection. Seems to me the ‘expert’ would ask far more questions than showing off their wine expertise. What wines do you typically enjoy? What do you like about such wine? What do you not like in a wine? What are you planning to eat with todays purchase? Would you like something new and different, or more predictable? Listen and the expert may just learn something!

I said when I left the corporate world to a few friends left behind in the corporate world. Don’t get too caught up in your business that you don’t even know what your business is anymore. Like you said, the only person impressed with the expert is too often the expert themselves… Ugh.


Alfonso Cevola said...

thanks for your comment. I'm there often, and I reckon I look enough like the owners (we're all Italian-Americans with Sicilian/Calabrese roots). I dont have a horse in the race so I can tell them what I think. But it would be interesting to kn ow what they thought. I will say this, though. the little spot is a pretty friendly place, people talk to each other a lot there, very much a community gathering spot.


Yes, I reckon a lunch or two (with a cigar or two) might begin to dig into this subject. It's a short winter, hopefully ( not your personal winter, our Texas winter), and we can weather it at our watering hole...thanks for commenting

Roger Bissell said...

When your green you grow.. when your ripe you rot!! I have always loved this phrase and it rings true here. Well written Al!

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