You need only scroll down a few posts to read how I feel about big tasting events, and long time readers have more than once been subjected to my tight-jawed rants about the subject. The crowds, the wannabes, the schmooze, the greasy buffet grazers, the “Listen to what I know” turds that block the table while barfing up their knowledge all over the poor bastard that’s pouring, the heavily perfumed and walking…um, stumbling around on six inch heels. Not to mention the tight pours and distraction of it all. I pretty much hate them and have always lamented that there could not be a worse setting for truly evaluating wine. I get why they have to happen and outside a handful of importers, (my hands are smallish so that means about three) I have simply accepted that these events are akin to having to go to a coworker’s baby shower or your third cousin’s open house. Something you do as to show support, which really means you don’t want to be the dick that didn’t show. I get it, will do it and find humor, maybe a little sympathy, in the folks that stand their feverishly scribbling tasting notes on the photocopied brochures or balancing their i-devices in their palms while they peck away. Okay yeah, those guys are just funny, maybe I should just go and watch them. Anyway I understand that they are a necessary evil in our business, (and do be thankful that I spared you all the recantation of my recent nightmare, Southern Wine & Spirits “Best of the Best” tasting. Fuck me, what a joke that was. Never seen more spray tans and tweezed brows in my life, but hey least the cast of Jersey Shore has a home should they ever tire of their celebrity status. Ugh. SWS Best of the Best is about as special as a BevMo Best of the Best, a packed and sparkling show of medium. Lame) and as a member of this crazy business I have to swallow my ire, buck-up and go. So that is trade tasting, so what about the others?
Another long standing rant, well much more a conversation than a rant really, is that I don’t think that tastings, be they blind or not, can really tell you accurately what the wines are about. Sitting there taking notes, sniffing, sipping, spitting and moving on to the next can merely give one a hint or idea hat that wine is really like and does almost nothing as far as telling the consumer what it will be when they get it home, share it with friends, have it with food or what it might be after the second or third glass. Part of the reason points and scoring have never made sense to me. Sure that swish of wine may have tasted like 92 points after the last five and before the next ten, doesn’t say shit about how it will be on its own, let alone with food. The whole idea is silly to me although I blame the score chasing consumer and lazy retailers/salesmen more than critics for the popularity of the point system. Thankfully I deal very little with that, our customers aren’t score chasers, they buy wines to drink, often that evening or week and are confident that whatever it is we have, or suggest for them, will be to their liking…no numbers needed. That being said, the ugly tasting truth can still rear its ugly head from time to time.
“She needs to return this” and then in a slight whisper, “It’s gone bad” a pleasant looking woman in her late forties speaking for her much younger friend that was standing there, looking somewhat embarrassed, eyes locked on her buddy that was taking the lead in this attempted return of product. “Gone bad, really?” I said reaching across the counter for the vacuum sealed baggie and its circular wood encased contents. The bag had been turned upside down and I could see through the sealed plastic that the expiration date read April 29th. “Oh I saw that too but I assure you, there is something wrong with this cheese. Again with the whispering from the one and silence from the other, “She brought it in to work today, she was pretty sure something had gone wrong, that it had turned, so she put it in the work refrigerator to show me and Oh My God, it stunk the whole fridge up!” I flipped the bag to see exactly what I expected, Epoisses, one of the world’s most notoriously stinky cheeses.
“Do you mind?” I asked making a gesture that I wanted to crack the seal on the bag. “Oh no, go ahead, we only sealed it because it smelled so awful.” She replied. I grasped two fistfuls of plastic on either side of the cheese and gave a good pull, the women now staring at me with their eyes wide in anticipation, waiting for my “Oh My God!” face. The second the plastic tore my nose was met with an unmistakable aroma, meaty, gamey, mushroom and sweaty socks…..Epoisses. I did my best to keep my game face on as I pulled the round box from the plastic and removed the lid, brought the disk to my face and took long, probably extra long, deep sniffs of what is to me one of the most mouthwatering smells in the world, a perfectly ripe piece of what I think is one of the best cheeses on the planet. “See! Isn’t that awful?” this time the younger woman interjecting, “Well I can see why you would think that but” I began to say, “Really? You don’t smell that?” she interrupted. “Oh yeah, I smell that but that is what it is supposed to smell like” I explained. I went on to tell both somewhat astonished faces that Epoisses is known for its pungent and rather funky aroma, a reason my husband throws a super-model sized bitch fit every time a bring a piece home. “I will take it back but I highly recommend you stay away from washed rind cheeses, especially this one” I said with a grin, both because I did understand that not everyone finds pleasure in the funkiness of Epoisses, and because it meant I had this whole glorious piece of gooey deliciousness that I could not resell…which means we eat it, literally. “That’s so weird because I loved it at your tasting”….
A few weeks ago I did my annual Cheese & Wine Fest at the store. An event where I pair 10 cheeses with 10 wines that is always a huge draw and in fact this year we had 121 people crammed in our too-tiny-for-that-event tasting room. One of the hardest events I do all year, from the labor involved in slicing and plating cheeses for that many people to the picking appropriate wines to the hardest part, picking the order. A massive undertaking actually that has me stressing for weeks before and has me icing my back for days afterword. The stress comes from first getting all the cheeses in, there is almost always some shortage or something I wanted to showcase out of stock, then the picking of the wines which is not as easy as people tend to think, there are all kinds of chemical reasons that certain things don’t work and I am in the kitchen days before my event cramming pieces of cheese down my coworkers throats and popping corks. Then the putting of things in order, where both the progression of wines and cheeses makes sense, dude….wicked difficult. Do I need for it to be “perfect” no, but I put my name on this event and I am going to make damn sure that I have given it my all, period. I have one coworker that laughs at me every year, “You know Sam, it really doesn’t matter” he says with a rather dismissive tone, might not to him but it does to me so I refuse to call that shit in or look to books or the internet for someone else’s pairings. My gig and I’m going to make sure everything is presented in a way, and order, that makes each thing taste its best. So turns out, I did too good a job with the Epoisses….
Epoisses was my fourth pairing on the table that day, which is fairly early on for such an aggressive cheese but I had paired it with a beautifully delicate domestic Pinot Noir, the 2010 Grochau Cellars Commuter Cuvee, a wine that had I placed it further back in the lineup would have likely been squashed by the bigger more assertive to tannic wines on the table. Had to go early this “Yin and Yang” couple, and if I do say so myself it was a fantastic pairing. Light pretty fruit buffering some of the funky and aggressive flavors in the cheese. The thick, palate coating, oily flesh of the cheese being lifted and balanced by the wines perky acidity. I loved the pairing, as did the rest of the crowd, including the woman that was now standing before me wearing a “I smell poo” face. The thing was, that in that setting, with all those people, the residue of the wine and cheese pairing before the Epoisses pairing still on her palate, this woman was so smitten with the cheese that she plunked down the $25 dollars to buy one, but once at home, on its own the true nature of Epoisses was reveled….not what she remembered tasting, or smelling as it turns out and honestly, not all that surprising, least to this “Tastings are kind of bullshit” chick.
As I said, tastings are necessary evil on the wine business side and they can be a bit of a minefield for the consumer as well, albeit one that can be a lot of fun when taken for what they are, a great way to spend an afternoon or evening, getting an idea what those wines are about and taking in one of the best and most important parts about wine, the community of it all. Dig that about what I do….