Monday, April 16, 2012

I'm Not Any More "Right" Than You Are, Just Different

“Really? You don’t want a cinnamon roll or French toast? Eggs and bacon even?” My mother once again perplexed and questioning my sanity at our semi-regular Saturday breakfast with cousins. I still remember the little pang of insecurity, the heat rising up my neck and spreading across my cheeks as the waitress stood there, pad in hand, looking at me then back to my mother again. Big hard swallow, face slightly scrunched, my fingertips tracing the tines on my fork before quietly restating my order, “side salad with blue cheese, an order of French fries and a large tomato juice.” My mother shaking her head, taking a drag from her cigarette and returning to her girlie chat with her favorite cousin. I’ve always had somewhat strange taste….

When I was really little my mother could not get me to eat anything at all in the morning and to be honest this is still pretty much the case. She had some luck for a while with plain yogurt and sunflower seeds but even that was a struggle and I rarely took more than five bites. It’s not that I don’t like breakfast food, (although I loathe pancakes or anything that comes with syrup) I’m actually quite fond of them, the thing is I just can’t seem to desire, let alone eat, those rich and heavy things early in my day. Eggs, of the runny variety, happen to be one of my all-time favorite things but in the morning? Too much. Way too much. I’m that idiot at Sunday brunch standing alone at the salad bar loading up in iceberg lettuce and pickled beets. I crave freshness over richness and as it turns out, always have. I’ll take baked chicken over Coq au Vin, seared slabs of beef over braised, have hated post roast my whole life and the majority of white or creamy sauces kind of make me cringe. My boss Randy and I have had this exchange no fewer than fifty times, “No, I don’t really like it Randy, it’s just too rich” his face now scrunched….as if he had never heard this before, “Too rich?! There’s no such thing as too rich!” and I’m not kidding, fifty times minimum. 

“We want to start drinking what you drink” a very sweet, and really engaging customer named George. I used to think he was a vicious ball breaker but as it turns out he is just extremely inquisitive and funny as hell. He and his wife are giant fans of big, extracted reds and while they don’t seem to drink much white when they do those too need to be plump, oaked and soft in acidity. I learned their taste early on in our dealings at The Wine Country when they told me that they had a second home in Tuscany and while they loved the area, adored the food and the people, they just didn’t care for the wines. Kind of kills that slightly arrogant, “You just haven’t done it right. Had it with the right foods” crap that we in the business toss about, all too often and smugly if you ask me. They have tried, repeatedly, and they don’t care for it. Period. As someone that has made it not only my profession but my passion to have people drink what they like, come back and let me pick more for them, well I have no problem picking out lush and lavishly oaked wines for them to drink with whatever they’re having for dinner. I dig them and want nothing more than for them to be happy with what they buy from us. “We want to drink what you drink”….problem. 

I always end up thinking about the movie Defending Your Life with this “issue” comes up. There is a scene where the super smart, “I use more of my brain than you do” guy, (Rip Torn) is eating his disgusting looking food and the other guy, (Albert Brooks) is curious and wants to take a bite. The smart guy warns him that he won’t like it but allows him to feed his curiosity and indulge, only to have the “not as smart” guy spit the food into his napkin and begin wiping off his tongue in horror. Now I think of this more out of a cringe inducing, “Oh don’t be that” feeling than in any way thinking that I drink what I drink because I know more than most people. Somehow though, when you warn someone that they might not be quite as smitten with the things you enjoy there can be an aura of elitism, either implied or perceived and I absolutely hate that shit. I never “evolved” into waffles, runny eggs before noon or blueberry pancakes and would never expect, assume or even think that anyone needed to “evolve” into Sherry or wines from the Jura. It’s what I dig, what drives my curiosity and it feeds my savory driven palate.

 I don’t think the wines I drink are better, smarter or more sophisticated. When I discourage someone like George from jumping into Menetou-Salon, Muscadet or Fino it’s not because I don’t feel as if he’s ready, I just happen to know he isn’t going to like them. The tricky part is getting them to understand that without coming off like a snoot. These people come to know, respect and admire you (thank gawd) mainly for the fact that you continue to introduce them to things that they go wild for, which is the mark of a good retailer or sommelier, sell them what they want and will like, not what you think they should. They see you as an authority and in that there is an engrained curiosity about what drives us wild too. I get it, am honored that they even give a rat’s ass but I would be doing someone like George a huge disservice, one that could even be damaging in that, “This is what wine professionals drink?!” way if I were to send him on his way with the new Rebula, (Rioblla Gialla) from Slovenia that is rocking my world right now. Now that being said, there are plenty of others, others that like me crave the savory or different over flat out deliciousness…a smaller market without a doubt but one that is in fact growing and one that has been pretty much ignored for years when it comes to the majority of wine lists, publications and far too many retailers. Hell, I fell in love with martinis because there is almost never anything on a restaurant wine list that I want to drink. Could I drink Kenwood Sauvignon Blanc? Sure. Do I want to? Hell no and I’m not one of those wine lovers that will drink whatever wine just to be drinking wine. Especially when you take restaurant markups into account. Martini please….

Sure I’ve bemoaned the lack of interesting French, Italian or Spanish wines on lists for years. I’d no sooner drink Jadot or B&G than I would Kenwood or Blackstone, and on the higher end I don’t swoon for Domaine Drouhin, Rufino, Ferrari Carano or Hugel. There are far more interesting, (to my palate) wines and I’m not about to slug through an overpriced bottle of “blah” just to retain my wine drinker status. So I did as my fellow less-than-mainstream-wine-lovers did, suck it up. I bring my own wine or opt to sip on a martini or some other cocktail with my meal. So imagine my delight the first time I dined at The Slanted Door in San Francisco and opened the wine list to find scads of wines that made my heart thump away in my chest, made my mouth water and made it near impossible for me to settle on just one. I was down-right elated and to this day my meals there are some of the most delightful, on both the food and wine scale, I’ve ever had…and I eat out a fair amount so that’s saying something. A couple of weeks ago I read an article in the San Francisco Gate about shrinking wine lists and a handful of restaurants that were scaling back on Cabernet and Chardonnay in place of lighter or less traditional wines. I for one was thrilled and grateful that this pocket of wine drinkers were finally being heard and serviced. Turns out, not the case with everyone in this business of ours….

Read a number of rants and flinched through a couple blog pieces where people that loved the status quo were called smart wine lovers and people that craved something else were called sycophants. Could not believe my eyes and found myself somewhat shocked by the ire and outrage. What the hell dude?! Name calling and hurling out of “east coast elitism” because an Italian restaurant is buying less Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay and more Friulano? That a Vietnamese restaurant is pouring Beaujolais or Zweigelt, (both lighter and softer reds) with their food instead of Silver Oak Cabernet? Are you shitting me? I will say that one of the quoted wine directors made a really dismissive and equally insulting comment as some of the backlash I read but go after her, not those of us that actually do want to drink those wines. To act as if my, or anyone else’s love of Ribolla is somehow a, “I’m cooler than you because I drink this stuff you’ve never heard of” thing is absolutely insulting and way the fuck out of touch. Period. Maybe if the press paid a little more attention, to the world stage of wine, people might have heard of Ribolla, Zweigelt or Savagnin and I wouldn’t have a winery rep pouring me his Pinot Noir from Sta. Rita Hills telling me that his wine is Burgundian and pointing out the misspelling of Sauvignon Blanc on my shelf talker for Berthet-Bondet….a wine from the Jura made with Savagnin. Those wines have been around a whole hell of a long time, they aren’t new and neither is our appreciation of them. If a handful of restaurants, out of hundreds of thousands, choose to accommodate “The rest of us” well I say, thank you for noticing and furthering our wine appreciation and enjoyment of our meals. 

I would never in a million years think George’s love for Darioush and Caymus Cabernet was anything but a genuine passion for the wines that keep him happily slurping on glass after luscious glass, and it would never even cross my mind that he would be better off drinking, or worse even, wouldn’t understand, the wines that I love. It’s not out of some hoity sense of hipsterism that I discourage him from wanting to drink as I do, it’s out of respect for his palate, his taste and his wallet. Look, I’ve been eating for over forty years now, have tasted those pancakes, cinnamon rolls and waffles and as much as I try, I don’t like them, and the same is true of braised food and a good clip of new world wine. They simply don’t suit my taste, don’t please me or give me that back arching thing that makes me crave more. My palate has always leaned off the beaten path but it’s becoming increasingly clear….I’m not alone.

We have very different taste, no one more right than the other and I think it is high-time that we all made room for that fact. Never ceases to amaze me the uncivil and flat out intolerance thrown about, on both sides of the old word, new world wine conversation. It is wine people, and it is as it has always been, subjective. You like what you like, I like what I like and there are millions in between. The sooner we accept that fact the sooner we look less like poo slinging, bloated with self-importance asshats and maybe, just maybe, in return welcome more people into this world that we love so much we are willing to take potshots at one another for. 

Just a thought….


Randy Kemner said...

Well, Sam, it looks like you've been resting up for the big one, and it's a good thing because you really hit it out of the park this time. This is one of the best, most important and insightful essays you've written, and it ought to tame the puffed up thunder of this country's wine gasbaggery.

Keep 'em coming.

Samantha Dugan said...

Awe, well thanks Randoo. Been quite under the weather the past couple days. like laid out on the couch kind of ill and I just needed to sit up and spout a little. Feel my Rawr as it were. Won't tame much I'm sure but if even one person nods along or stops themselves from saying something disparaging about anyone else's taste, well then I'll be really happy.

Thomas said...

So, when are you going to tell us what you really think?

Incidentally, if you are keeping score, put Thomas on your side.

I have developed a hearing loss when it comes to listening to wine boors who know what to drink.

Thomas said...

Oh, and as I commented on Charlie's blog: these "new" wines that replace the tried and true are often as old or older than the tried and true--the only thing new about them is the attitude of those who are discovering them.

Samantha Dugan said...

Becomes grueling listening to that stuff when I want to do is drink wine, talk wine and hang out with others that do. Has kept me away from blogs for a bit now and I have to say, much happier for it. I fear that Charlie is going to take the biggest offense to this post, and in fact it was the post on his blog, (although I think Stephen wrote most of it) that really prickled me and I kind of point out in this post, (and yes I did notice that Tennat was mentioned as a new-comer, but they did correct that and say what they meant) but it wasn't just Charlie and it is not just coming from the new world side....although they seem to come off the most defensive which blows me away considering they, as in "their wines" hold the lion's share of most wine lists, regardless of what kind of food the restaurant serves. Comes from both ends and much like a flu that does the same....stinks.

Carolyn Blakeslee said...

Nice one! I think I'll save this for ammunition. ;-)

Samantha Dugan said...

Go get 'em girlie

John M. Kelly said...

Sam you are absolutely right - as far as it goes. You have arrived at your love and appereciation of the different through natural inclination, exposure and hard work.

On the other hand I am sick as FUCK of people who think that, because they have just discovered these off-the-beaten-path ancient and noble wines, that anything made with more widely popular grapes is crap. That's narcissistic arrogance born of ingorance.

The wines that I love (and you do too) are niche products, have been niche products throughout history, and will be niche products long after the current crop of "fashionable" pisstard ooh-it's-not-Napa-Cab! weenies are mouldering in their graves.

You give these newbies credence and cover they don't deserve. Every new crop of teens thinks they are the first generation in history to have discovered sex - even the esoteric stuff, like a warm Cheez-Whiz BJ.

Joe said...

Well said; certainly a skill that requires deftness many do not have (myself included, pushing Sancerre and Muscadet and Rias Baixas Albariño on guests at a low-country boil a couple weeks ago). Folks said the wines were good, but I don't know if they really felt that way.

I recall saying many times "if you don't like it, you don't like it... no big deal." But I don't know how it came across.

Ooh, but they were good. You know, to me and stuff.

Samantha Dugan said...

I give no newbies credence and the fact that you think I do falls right into that murky pond of who's into what and why that fuels this asinine argument in the first place. Why is it just newbies that are accused of not being fans of the "tried and true"...I've been in this business for coming on 16 years and having my taste or the wines I like and live to promote, being lumped into some hipster hit list is truly crunder crunching. Thing I have to ask is, why the fuck does anyone care why anyone is into what they are into? We/they like what they like and I don't know why anyone feels like they have the right to question or label that. Are there people that seek out the obscure for the sake of being obscure, sure but for every one of those there are five others that cheer simply hearing things like Bourgueil and Saint Bris. I get why you're tired, do you get why I am?

Welcome to my world. Do what you love, listen to what your customer want and you my dear friend, will be fine.

John M. Kelly said...

Oh yeah - I really DO get it. You, me - simpatico, dear. I don't want to bum anybody's buzz, but I really do hate on the people who bum on others' out of the need to write some shit and build media attention in the name of some "fashion." And you are not that person - ever. Please don't let yourself be seen as one of them!

Anonymous said...

@John Kelley...
Cheez-whiz blowjobs??

The things I learn from reading Sam's blog are never-ending. And never dull!

Thomas said...

John, I would like to challenge this thought of yours:

"The wines that I love (and you do too) are niche products..."

Maybe they are so in this country--and less so these days--but where they originate might be another story.

As I also commented on Charlie's (and Stephen's) blog, what I'd rather complain about are restaurants that serve wines that have little to no relationship to their menus. I don't care whether the wines are the tried and true or not, as long as they are an integral part of the dining hour and not just trophies.

Samantha Dugan said...

And trust me sweetheart, I get just as annoyed when people start in on Chardonnay and Cabernet lovers or say things like, "California wines are too sweet, oaky and high in alcohol" as I said, it is coming from both camps and even if you believe that all California wines are "too" whatever, (which I don't by the way) then don't drink them but lay off those who do. Just don't get it...

John is a remarkable source of information.

Not niche items at my store and there has been a market for those wines for nearly 17 years now. Growth, in terms of sales, for old world wines continue to rise, in fact sales of old world (combined) overtook California for the first time a couple years ago. And one of the growing areas, least for us are the wines from Gascogne, a region as you know full of odd little white grapes that no one has heard of...and yet, can't seem to keep them in stock.

anieb said...

I believe wine can't hurt anyone its a symbol for true choices and selections.

Large Size Ladies Clothing

Thomas said...


I am confused.

Was your point that if you drink enough wine you'll require Large Size Ladies Clothing?

John M. Kelly said...

Large Size Ladies Clothing has nothing to do with this convo, anieb the spammer.

Thomas - I do love a well-curated wine list, especially one where every selection has been paired to something on the menu. I especially love it when I can order something like an asparagus, pancetta and lemon zest risotto with a $25 bottle of Grecanico, while the somm is busy at the next table (that has the same dish) opening a bottle of Silver Oak that he/she has been smart enough to price at $300. Awesome.

But esoterica like orange wines anything but a niche product in the grand scheme of things, even where they are native? I think not. I'd say orange wines are the warm Cheez-Whiz BJ of the vinous world, but that would denigrate the warm Cheez-Whiz BJ.

Samantha Dugan said...

Goddamn it, now that you guys spoke to the spammer I kinda gotta leave it.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,

Hard to chime in at this point with anything the least bit interesting to say--not my strong point to begin with. But what the hell...

I firmly believe that anyone making blanket statements about particular wines or regions is inevitably wrong, and also showing their profound ignorance about wine. It's not New World vs. Old World. Cabernet isn't better than Nebbiolo. Chardonnay isn't crap. Now, Gruner, let's not go there. There's endless wine in the world, yet there are only two kinds. The ones you like, the ones you don't.
It's wise to remember that those two lists inevitably change.

However, if a customer said to me when I was a sommelier, "I hate Merlot," I didn't try to sell him Merlot. I might ask him why, and then sadly shake my head, but I don't care what he drinks. Sommeliers only care that you drink wine, not what you drink. But even sommeliers have a learning curve, and young sommeliers think their job is to educate people, not serve them. That often leads them astray.

As for poo-slinging, well, honestly, most people don't care what gets written in wine columns and on wine blogs. Only folks in the biz and wine geeks care. I used to ask my restaurant customers about Parker and the Spectator, and very very rarely had any of them even heard of them. Our poo-slinging goes unnoticed by 98% of the people, but we have a lot of empty cyberspace to fill and very few things to say.

And, hell, if I can't throw shit, I'll just fold up my HoseMaster tent now.

All of this reminds me of the brouhaha about politics engaging in more civilized discourse. That's silly. Politics is supposed to be messy, noisy and unpleasant. But I agree with your impassioned plea to stop disparaging others when they express their taste in wine. If you're not sharing the bottle with them, who cares what you think?

But, as always, you make for brilliant and compelling reading. I wish I had just a bit of your raw talent, Love.

Thomas said...


Great point about some somms. not understanding that their job is to serve rather than to educate.

As for Gruner--great when paired with asparagus or most simple vegetable dishes. But what the hell would a meat-eater know about that?

I, too, hate it when people generalize, except when it's orange wine--every one that I've tasted reminded has been like something I tried to avoid when I produced commercial wine.

Thomas said...

excise that "reminded" word, which i thought I had done.


Do Bianchi said...

As usual, I'm getting here late to the game but as usual another amazing post from you Samantha...

You touch on so many important issues here...

And in reading your post, I realize that in many ways, our task as wine bloggers is to continuously question why WE like wines that most people don't...

This is really one of your best... and this comes from one of your biggest fans...

Samantha Dugan said...

Ron My Love,
Well it seems like you came with plenty to add and once again I am reminded why I not only love you but love talking wine with you. I find very few people that are as fair and balanced as you are in our business. Hey you're like the Fox News of the wine world....only you're not half cocked or full of shit. I love you!

I'm always so flattered when you show up kid. I know how busy you are and for you to take time out of your schedule to not only read but to reward me with a comment, means the world, really. I found that the more we talk to, rather than at each other, the more civil and welcoming we can be...think it's time for more of that. Give that sweet Georgia a kiss for me!

Anne said...

Really liked your post.
I think "we" and I don't mean me, because I am a consumer not a professional, like other wines because you are so fortunate to try other wines.
I will say that due to the blogs I read, namely yours and DoBianchi, I have tried wines that I didn't even know about. The downside to reading your blogs is that it is hard to find the wines you all write about in my neck of the woods.
Keep writing and I will keep searching.

webb said...

I'm with Anne. You have made me look for wines that are not as available on the East Coast, and which, when found are not always to my liking. But the important part is that I am looking and trying and learning.

Sam, you make wine accessible and interesting. Screw them!

Samantha Dugan said...

Well that is certainly nice to hear. I think most of us, well a lot of us, write about specific wines because we are so wild about them that we would love others to be as well. So glad you have found something here that inspired you enough to look!

I so wish I knew your palate better although from our brief exchanges it seems as if you like wines with nice fruit, maybe a little sweetness? Never be afraid to interject, and please tell me the things that didn't float your boat as well, helps me learn more about you and your taste, that way when I write about something I can give you a heads up if I think it will wow you or not. One of the best and most rewarding parts about my job, (not that blogging is my job) is learning someone's palate and finding things that I just know will please them. Nothing like it...

Sara Louise said...

This is why I think you are perfect for your industry, you can cut through all the pompous, preening, pretentious bullsh*t. Let people like what they want to like. Sure let them try new things and provide a little education, but when it comes down to it, if they like a Jadot or Kenwood, that's what they like and that's fine... it leaves more of the other stuff for us :)

Do Bianchi said...

Hey fine lady, things have been pretty hectic over here at Parzen incorporated lately... sorry I'm not more active/vocal on Sans Dosage... but I'm always following along! :) and remain your devoted fan.. and there can never be too much civility or too many kisses for Georgia! :) abbraccione j

Samantha Dugan said...

Dude, if I can make this wacky wine world of ours easier, and better yet, more fun for anyone...well then I can die happy.

I hope you didn't see my comment as anything but genuine. I know you and Tracie are so busy with that adorable Mini You and I am also very aware of how many pans you have in the fire. The fact that you continue to stop by for visits with me here, well as I said, humbling. You always make me feel great about myself Jeremy and as I'm sure you know, that is a gift unlike any other.

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