Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The "Is It Like?" Question

Like I said in my last post, we really enjoy helping people choose wine, pair wines with their meals and learn about wine, we are big ol’ wine geeks and we have been lucky enough to turn our hobby/passion into a job, where we get like paid and junk, to do what we love to do. Lucky? You bet your bum we are but it’s not all swirling, drinking and geeking out, we are dealing with the general public and I assure you that is no easy task.

I have to say in all my years at The Wine Country there are only 2 people that I will not deal with, one is a guy with a nervous giggle, I tried to ignore it for years but find that standing there while he stares at me giggling incessantly, (and he only does it with me) is akin to having someone run my body up and down a cheese grater…am I supposed to laugh back…at something that is not remotely funny….just wait for it to stop before I move on? The whole thing makes me want to pull my hair put and run screaming in the other direction, but I would never want to hurt his feelings or anything, he is really sweet but this giggle thing, just cannot handle it so the rest of the staff knows when they see him come in that I will “be busy in the back” and they help him.

The other is a guy that has always treated me like he thinks I’m a twit and after one day when I was trying to help him, (he was looking for a wine that does not exist) figure out which wine he was looking for…offering a suggestion as to what I thought he meant and having him not only scream at me but call Randy to complain that I was not being helpful and was more interested in “drinking”, (I interrupted one of my tasting appointments to help him) then helping him…oh and ordering a case of the wine that I told him I thought is what he was looking for by the way, I put him on the, “Cannot Help You” list. Not a chance in hell I am putting up with that shit, I hate him and he hates me, I understand it and while I smile at him while I go get Randy to help him, (something he offered to do) I will not help him anymore, not worth it!

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like we work at the DMV or anything, (argh that would blow) most of the people that walk through our door are in a great mood, really happy to be there and are there to buy something they already like, they appreciate us and us them, it’s all good but even when it is congenial there can still be some issues. One of those issues for us on the import side of the store is the dreaded question, “Is it like a Merlot?”…..I get it on the cheese side as well, “Is it like a Cheddar” or “Is it like a Brie”…..it is kind of an impossible question, although cheese is easier but the Merlot thing…..what does that even mean? Merlot from Bordeaux, Sonoma, Napa, oaked and juicy or lean and tannic….just which Merlot would you like us to compare it to, what does Merlot mean to you? It’s like when people ask, “You feel like Asian food?”….well, which kind….Chinese and Japanese are two very different things.

I understand that American’s are more comfortable having the grape name on the label, that is how our wines are marketed and it’s what we know, and yes that is a generalization but as someone that hears, “So is it like a Chardonnay?” when recommending a Sancerre, I assure you it is a fact….not with everyone but with a good chunk of folks and I understand it, I do but after spending 5 minutes describing a Cotes du Rhone to someone and having them ask, “Is it like a Merlot?” it can be a tad frustrating. Ronnie and I talk about it all the time as he gets the same question in his Italian and Spanish departments, both of us are kind of at a loss as how to answer that question. Add to the equation that we have to be very careful not to come of snarky or snooty as there are people that are already nervous or intimidated just walking into a wine store, and what you have is a wine specialist standing there wracking their brain to come up with an answer. The best answer I have come up with so far is, “Well, it’s a dry red wine if that’s what you mean”, seems to be working right now.

The thing is, with my French wines, even if it is made from Merlot or has some Merlot in the blend, it won’t taste like the Merlots from Napa, Sonoma or the Central Coast, if you open the bottle expecting Blackstone Merlot with all its sweet fruit and creamy vanilla and instead get a mouthful of rustic stony, herby Bordeaux….you’re going to be at the very least, shocked so knowing what it is made from isn’t really going to give you an idea what it tastes like. When you think about it that is one of the coolest parts about wine….shit if you want something that tastes the same no matter where it’s from or who made it, you might as well drink soda or milk. Grapes, much like people are so influenced by where they come from, what they are around and who raises them. so just as no two people are alike, (and that is a very good thing….two Gigglers or two, Mr. Mean Guy….would that suck or what) no two wines are alike, nor should they be.

Diversity be it in people, food or wine is what it’s all about, we learn, we grow and we experience new things, (flavors, cultures) each time we open ourselves up to something new and in the long run we are smarter for it….better, more layered people with adventurous spirits and educated palates….go forth people, get your taste on!

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