If Sommeliers Talked Like Politicians

June 28, 2011

Sommelier: Good evening. I’d be happy to answer any questions you have about the wine list. I believe the last sommelier you spoke with failed you, and if you take my advice I’ll get you back on the right track.

Me: Uhm. Wow. Okay. Well, I’m having steak and she’s having the pork. Can you recommend a good Californian wine?

Sommelier: No. American wines have gone to pot. We need to get back to making wines like our forefathers.

Me: That sounds serious. Okay, what about an Italian wine? Could you recommend an Italian wine for us?

Sommelier: If you keep drinking Italian wine, in two years America will have a deficit of nine point two bazillion bottles and three out of every four bottles we produce will go to just paying off the Italian producers. That’s why I’m implementing my three point plan to bring America back to American wine.

Me: But I thought you said American wines have gone to pot.

Sommelier: You took that out of context.

Me: But you just said it.

Sommelier: It depends of the meaning of the word “have”.

Me: Okaaaay, will it be American or not? What do you recommend?

Sommelier: I don’t think the American people want to hear about my views on wine.

Me: Why can’t you just answer the question? Why can’t you recommend something?

Sommelier: Because if I’m going to be your sommelier my number one priority will be to repeal the corkage fee. Did you know the corkage fee costs patrons two hundred million dollars a day?

Me: But what do you recommend? I’m asking for a recommendation!

Sommelier: If you take a look at my record, you’ll see I’ve already recommended something.

Me: That’s it. I’m going to alert the management.

Sommelier: It was a sommelier who alerted the British.

Me: What?

Sommelier: That they weren’t gonna be takin’ away our wine, uh, by ringin’ those bells.

Me: I give up.

Sommelier: Mission accomplished.

No skirting the issue or dancing around the subject with this week’s recommendation.

Talbott Kali Hart 2008, Pinot Noir ($16.99): Let me just speak plainly: This Pinot Noir is one of the best I’ve tasted. Talbott takes every flavor profile known to wine and stuffs it into the light body of a Pinot Noir the way creationists are crammed into the front row at a Palin rally. This quality is often not even found in a bottle twice this price.

Pinot Noir: The Randy Moss of Wines

July 26, 2010

Drinking Pinot Noir is like watching Randy Moss play football. Play after play I’d sit and watch, waiting to see what Moss was capable of on the field. Play after play I was disappointed. When he became frustrated he used to check out of games, not even trying for long stretches. He got into trouble with unsportsmanlike behavior during end zone celebrations. Once, during a loss, Moss left the field before the end of the game abandoning the team as he wandered off toward the showers like a cow heading to the trough at feeding time. Injuries seemed to hang on him for entire seasons. Off the field, he got busted for, and admitted to marijuana use. Once when trying to make an illegal turn in traffic, a control officer tried to stop him. Rather than complying with annoying little things like following the law, Randy found it easier to simply push the officer aside with his car, knocking her to the ground. Yes, he did so many things wrong.

Then, just when I thought watching Randy Moss became tedious, he would perform something unbelievably, amazingly beautiful. Fans would leap to their feet, buckets of popcorn were kicked across the room and leather sofas got covered in spilled beer. With a seventy-yard, one-handed acrobatic reception against the big division rival, Moss showed us just why we kept watching. When he did it right, it was truly amazing.

Pinot Noir is exactly the same. Its grapes are difficult to grow and consequently is usually expensive. Pinot Noir is also hard to work with and requires a very competent winemaker. Furthermore, Pinot’s thin skin makes it susceptible to disease. If it’s grown in unsuitable areas it produces the most heinous of swill. Again and again Pinot disappoints. So why do we keep buying it? Because when it’s done right, it’s so good you just want to pour the bottle over your head. When it’s done right, it has all the power and complexity of the bigger, darker wines but keeps those qualities tucked within its lighter body. It has power without weight like a flyweight boxer packing a Mike Tyson punch. It shows traits ranging from light red fruits to the darker mochas and coffee-like flavors, often within the same sip.

This week’s recommendation is a great example of what this problem ridden but talented grape can do.

Sebastiani 2007, Pinot Noir ($17.99): Sebastiani is like a Pinot Noir highlight reel showing the grape’s best plays while making no mention of its Prima Donna-like problems.

Blue Chip Wines for the Special Occasion

March 17, 2010

You’re ready to pull out your wallet and shatter the lid on what you typically spend for a bottle of wine. You’ve picked the special occasion worthy of breaking the bank and you love the idea of finally experiencing a world-class bottle. But for all the promise, for all the hype, and for all the anticipation, you just can’t pull the trigger on the purchase because you fear the Greasy Grosshauser Effect. The Greasy Grosshauser Effect happens when something falls way short of its huge expectations. (For one example of the GGE, Google “Herschel Walker trade”). The name stems from a kid in my elementary school: Greasy wore his dad’s clothes by the age of eleven and could remove lug nuts from cars with his bare hands. His older brothers and sisters each held a state record or two in various sports.

The problem with Greasy was that for all his athletic potential, he had the coordination of a giraffe in a potato sack race and the killer instinct of a sponge on Quaaludes. In addition, after half a lap around the track, Greasy was easily distracted by pretty butterflies. Coaches and teammates could only shake their heads.

Expensive wines can burn you with the GGE too. Nothing is more frustrating than dropping a huge bundle of cash on a bottle of wine only to have it leave you shaking your head like you just watched it miss a layup. Although some brands have a stellar reputation and history, none are immune to making a bad bottle on occasion. For that reason I have compiled a short list of high-end, special occasion wines that leave me feeling like a winner and are worthy of their high-end price.

Rombauer 2007, Chardonnay ($32.99): The creaminess in this wine creates a perfect pairing with Brie cheese. Just try to calculate the points you would earn by having them waiting for your husband/wife after work.         

Domaine Serene 2005, Evenstad Pinot Noir ($59.99): Sour cherries, wet earth and cigar box linger throughout a long finish. Wet earth? Yes, in this wine it’s delicious.        

Continuum 2005, Cabernet Sauvignon ($125.99): After the Robert Mondavi brand was bought out by a huge conglomerate, the family now runs the Continuum Winery. Balance is the key word here. Cherries, red fruit, cola, and oak are delivered on a silk plate. A big investment, yes, but still not as much as popcorn and candy for the kids at the theater.

Fear and Loathing in the Liquor Store

February 9, 2010

“Can you pick up a bottle of wine? I’m making chicken.”

Hearing those words is all it takes for the facial tics to begin. Pick the right one and I’m the hero. Pick the wrong one and it’s like I’m the guy wearing white socks with the tuxedo. Too much pressure! I step into my local liquor store, gazing at the labyrinth of wine racks, feeling the same dread as when I look at the mountain of snow that the plow makes at the bottom of the driveway. I take a few more steps past the Argentinean wines and my brain begins to make that noise the car makes when you try to start it after it’s already turned on. My heart beats faster. I walk further, past the Malbec and I see that scary clown from Stephen King’s movie It standing by the Chianti. Through brown and crooked teeth he spits out the phrase, “Red with beef! White with fish and chicken!” Does that old rule still apply? I begin to lose my nerve. With sweat pouring down my face I panic. I bolt past the Merlot, past the Chardonnay, and past the clown. In a few short seconds I’m safe once again in the beer section. Looks like it’s beer with chicken again tonight.

It shouldn’t be this hard. Choosing a wine for dinner shouldn’t feel like a meeting with the IRS guy. Below is a quick guide that will get you through many common dinners.

Steak/Cabernet Sauvignon: Many times Cabernet goes with food like cats go with vacuum cleaners but steak and Cabernet is a classic. Try Sebastiani 2008, Cabernet Sauvignon ($17.99).

Salmon/Pinot Noir: Yes, a red with fish. Pinot goes with most anything so if you’re on the spot in a restaurant in front of the in-laws, Pinot is a safe bet. Try Castle Rock 2008, Pinot Noir ($10.99).

Italian food/Chianti or Zinfandel: A good rule of thumb is to drink wine from the same region that the food comes from. Chianti works with most tomato sauces. Zinfandel is spicy enough to pair perfectly with spicy sausage. Try DaVinci 2007, Chianti ($13.99) or McManis 2007, Zinfandel ($12.99).

Pork/Chardonnay: Pork just works with Chardonnay. In addition, so many creamy sauces and rich herbs used with pork do, too. It’s like the guy dating the cute girl. If it doesn’t work with her, there’s always her hot sister. Try Chateau St. Jean 2008, Chardonnay ($13.99).

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