Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Ill Advised?

“Can I help you?”

“Um, yeah, hold on. I just texted my friend, her brother used to work at a fancy winery down in Temecula, seeing if she can ask him what I should buy”


“Good afternoon The Wine Country”

“Hi. Yeah, hi, do you have a minute?” and of course I didn’t but who tells a customer that they don’t have time? “My cousin is a sommelier and he says I can no longer buy my wine at the grocery store. So I’m calling to see if you can recommend a few things, pull them and I will come in later to pick them up?” I explain that it would be my pleasure to do that but I was going to need a little more information as to what kind of wines she likes. “I’m not an oaky Chard girl, I like steel barrel wines, so things like La Crema Chard. I also hate citrus in my wines, not sure why, just don’t like it at all, so maybe a couple Sauvignon Blancs”


These two conversations popped into my head last night as I was watching a stupid ass show called Miss Advised. I loves me some crap television but even I couldn’t stomach this inane brain cell killing pile of stupid. For those of you smart enough to not know what this particular program is, let me enlighten you. They take three, pretty attractive, (I mean come on, they have to be right?) relationship experts…and there should be these “   “ there, from three different cities that are desperately seeking love of their own, you know, in between their busy schedules of writing columns and doing radio shows telling other people how to find love. Sigh. No lie, true story. Oh and it’s not a sitcom, reality television. 

So after a wonderfully long afternoon getting my sweet son settled into his old room, taking him by The Wine Country to pick up some beers where he was quickly offered and accepted a job, having a beer tasting and lesson from one of the area’s most informed and passionate beer lover, (an adorable member of my adopted family, Evan Shegina…and yes, we all give him shit about his last name, but it is actually pronounced Shag-a-nah) who walked us through Sours, how they’re made, the various styles and whatnot, I settle into my evening by watching this horrid program. I’m sitting there, my mouth agape as these chicks, these “relationship experts” traverse their love lives, or attempt at love lives, by getting sloppy drunk and begging for kisses and affection, hook up with a married bisexual swinger and grill a dude, on the second date, about why he waited three days to text her….and how it made her feel. Fucking brilliant. These chicks are single?! Get the fuck outta here! Assholes, complete assholes but then it struck me, the bigger assholes? The ones that take advice from these emotionally stunted and relationship retarded halfwits. Who the hell would listen to these idiots? Why would they? Oh, that’s right….they’re experts “     “…

Advice is tricky. For me there needs to be some level of respect or maybe even admiration for someone before I’m willing to take advice from them. I am constantly being offered dinning and, at times, wine advice or recommendations…even got me a letter in the email for this blog full of advice as to why it isn’t successful and all the “tweaks” I should make to turn that around. The thing is, I’m not so much willing to take those suggestions about where to eat by people that measure quality by how big the plate of food, (almost always the way that goes. “You get a plate like this big for $7.00! Always with arms outstretched and face lit up like they are getting away with something) is, not taking wine advice from someone that doesn’t know anything about my palate or worse, thinks a 16% red from the Languedoc is “Killer juice” and there isn’t a chance in hell I’d take blogging advice from someone that doesn’t have one but, “Reads a lot” of them. Have the same problem with sommeliers, and maybe I’ve just had crappy luck, but I’ve never had one, not one, ask me what I like to drink….ever. Nope, they just drip their wine knowledge all over me and suggest what they think will go with my meal without ever bothering to take my taste into consideration. They may be experts in their list, and there is real value in that…I guess, but to not take into account the preferences of the person to whom you are making a suggestion? Well that’s “expert” in my book and much like I’d never consult that, “Whhhhyyy didn’t you text me?” chick to fix my love life, I simply will not walk blindly into a bottle of wine without having some level of respect for the person that suggested it.

Now before anyone hops on my neck and thinks I’m calling out critics, let me just stop you right now. Wine critics taste, write up and often, (and no I’m not a fan) score wines. They aren’t telling you as an individual what to buy. If you read those notes, or are even driven by score, (and yeah, if you are a member of the “I only drink 90 points and above” wines, well you might just be a douchebag) then that is you making that call, not a critic and if you find one, or a couple even, that speak to your palate and keep you drinking happily then I think that is freaking awesome. Have no problem with critics. I do however have an issue with the term, or idea of expert….or “expert”. I mean, is that cat that worked in that “fancy Temecula winery” going to be able to consult that feverishly texting customer as to what to buy? Well maybe but, is it going to be what she likes? As I stood there, handed over cell phone in hand, scrolling through a list of dreadful Temeculain offerings with a side note of, “If they don’t have any of those grab a bottle of Sterling Merlot” I took a big chest-filling breath and asked, “What do you like to drink?” to which I heard, “I’m not sure really, but I like white wines and maybe a little sweet”….”expert” fail. 

I hear it all the time, “This is my friend Sam, she’s a wine expert” and I find myself cringing each and every time. I’m not a wine expert, sure I now a lot about wine, drink a fuck-load of it and have made it not only my job but my passion, but I’m no wine expert. The only thing that I can say is that I’ve become somewhat skilled in knowing my consumer, figuring out my customer’s likes and dislikes. Doesn’t matter that I think Sherry and the wines of Jura are sexy as fuck and way, way under-appreciated, if I slip a bottle of either under the arm of a person that thinks 16% red from the Languedoc is killer juice, then I’m a megalomaniac impressed with my own level of geekdom, nothing more. 

As retailers we are often faced with the inner strife of knowing what might be a good pairing and what the customer really likes to drink. Hell, even amongst ourselves we battle a little, I don’t care how many times my beloved Randy tells me that Spatlese is perfect for whatever it is I’m eating, I don’t like sweetness in my glass, find it off putting and no matter how harmonious the pairing I won’t be happy, therefore the pairing, not so much perfect right? The same is true for the Stella Rosa drinker that wants to know if their favorite, (and only in some cases) wine will “go” with their plate of pasta, or the Darioush Cabernet lover that is looking for “Something like this but for fish”. We teach, make suggestions, share our years of tried and true successful pairings, even suggest that they try two wines, one their favorite and the other something we think more in the scope of food pairing harmony. Sometimes they get it, sometimes they don’t, even saw my own in-laws suck back a bottle of light Italian red with ravioli and when I popped a bottle of their adored Menage a Trois, a much sweeter and candied red, oh and ah over the supple sweet fruit, even though it didn’t at all go with the acidic and porky red sauce. They did however stop drinking wine until the food was cleared from their plate, a reaction to the bitter oak and sweet fruit that they didn’t catch but their full glasses, where the lighter red had been drained, telling a story, to me, but one they didn’t give a rat’s ass about. No gushing for the light red, even though they drank the hell out of it….so in my “expert” opinion, what would I suggest to them when they come in looking for a bottle of wine? Yup, stupid Menage a Trois, or something like it. 

It is my job, and the job of any good retainer, to teach, maybe try and inspire but at the end of the day, I just want people to be happy drinking whatever wine floats their boat. If they want to learn, explore, try new things and are open to it, that’s freaking fantastic but imposing my will or “expertise” at the detriment of what gets them off? Just can’t imagine that would gain me much respect or admiration and in turn, can’t imagine how many folks are or would be, willing to listen or trust me and my recommendations. 

Wine expert? No, but a great retailer will become a You expert and in the end, that’s all that matters.


Veronica said...

Samantha, another great post.
I always cringe when someone asks me, "So, are you the wine expert?" Ahh! Nails on chalkboard.

I'm happy to show them the Apothic Red they asked for, and if they are open to suggestion, I'll give them choices to put on their radar for next time.

Back to the "Wine Expert" thing. There are people in our biz that forget that we are in a Service industry. I could have an encyclopedic knowledge of wine, but if I don't listen to my customer, my customer's gonna think I'm a dick!

But I digress, big time. Sorry! Love your writing!!

Patricia said...

"...then I’m a megalomaniac impressed with my own level of geekdom, nothing more."

As a newer retailer/buyer, this post and especially this quote, really spoke to me. It reminds me that I can like certain wines all I want, but if a customer isn't coming back to buy more--I'm not doing my job.

So despite the fact that my customers tend to like glorified alcoholic Koolaid, if that Moscato keeps them drinking wine, then I'm doing well. Thanks for the reminder.

Thomas said...

Oh yeah, am I am on the same page when it comes to the "expert" thing.

For 25 years now, I have been forced to cringe every time a new-to-me editor hires me to write something and demands that I include a few experts in the story, presumably to give the writer and the story credibility.

We have become a culture of celebrity and experts. That's why few people seem able to grow and mature or to explore on their own and think for themselves.

Samantha Dugan said...

Somehow I had a feeling you would feel me on this one. Thanks!

Well welcome to my little looney bin and thanks for commenting. As retailers we have several jobs and angles with which to sell wine, and yes, those sweet wine lovers, (be thy Muscat or Rombauer drinkers) need to be respected and considered wine lovers just as much as the folks that do drink the stuff we dig. Trying to change them or force our palate down their throats will result in them either not coming back or thinking they just don't like wine. Not always easy to swallow our....tastes and opinions but that's part of our job too.

Yeah that whole "expert" thing just bugs the living shit out of me. Can't tell you how many times I've had some so called expert in the shop, either writing a wine story for a local magazine or paper, that don't know a damn thing about wine! Drives me batshit. And don't even get me started on the CSW student that came in to get a bottle of Bordeaux and Muscadet because she had never had either. How the fuck does that even happen?! This person was to be given a certification as a wine specialist?! Reading about it and passing written tests doe NOT make you an expert. Period.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Gorgeous Wise Samantha,

For people newly in love with wine it can function like religion. Born-again winos. They feel the need to proselytize, to convert people to their beliefs about wine. It's so damned tiresome. Young sommeliers do this all the time. Believe their wine list is about teaching and converting people, like Scientologists or Hare Krishnas, rather than about pleasing customers. It takes some maturation and experience to get to where you are, if they ever do. I'd buy wine on your say-so any day, and I'm picky. Well, maybe not Pinot Noir rose.

As for blog advice, how does one measure success? Ads? Hits? Tweets? Wine Blog Awards? I'd venture to say that among wine blogs you connect with your readers in ways unimaginable and out of reach for virtually every other blogger. Plus, you're sexy. It cracks me up that someone would take the time to write you and try to fix you. You have the admiration of the best in the business. If that isn't success, who cares what success is?

However, I am always grateful for anyone or anything that sets you off. Makes for fun reading.

I love you, Baby!

Samantha Dugan said...

Ron My Love,
That offer still stands, you know the one where I tie you down and make you appreciate Pinot Noir Rose. You never took me up on that one...

Wine people man, they can be some of the most giving, passionate and adventurous but, they can also be some of the most pompous, tight-assed, self congratulatory and arrogant. Lucky enough to have found myself around that first group, most of the time.

The letter trying to "Help" or "Advise" was just kind of strange. He seemed to like what I do here but wanted me to become more like Alder or or STEVE! or someone like that, (so it cracked my ass up today when I saw that STEVE! posted about foie gras) catering to wineries and keeping nearly all my posts to those about wine. He did say that he thought I should write more wine porn and that "has become your niche" dude, really? Ugh. Some of the worst kind of advice is the unsolicited variety. But whatever, like I said here, I'm not taking advice from someone I don't know and therefore have little or no respect/admiration for. Just not how it works for me. Now you on the other hand, you can tell me what to do any day. I love you!

Thomas said...


Pompous, tight-assed, self congratulatory and arrogant wine people are probably always like that and not just when they deal with wine.

BTW: please don't ever make me type "congratulatory" again. My typing stinks and six syllables takes me three tries...

Do Bianchi said...

more often than not, when I speak at a wine dinner or a tasting in a shop, I find that people really just want to tell me their story... about how they went to Chianti or Piedmont... about how they met the winemaker... they're not really interested in hearing what I have to say (not that I'm an expert in anything -- I feel exactly the way you do... I drink a butt load of wine!). They're more interested in telling the so-called expert what they know about wine... I'm cool with that... as long as I still get to drink a butt load of wine! great post, lady!

Samantha Dugan said...

I have the same thing happen to me, at least daily, and I have to say I dig it more often than not. I like when people share with me their love and excitement about wine. Pretty cool thing to have in common no?

Anonymous said...

Hey Ms. Sans Dosage!!

On or off topic, but did you see the latest post at BrooklynGuy?

Ahhh, the drivel almost exploded from the interwebs ports - that's the pc, ipad, nexus, flexus, whatever......, and then I gave you some props, so that you can lead us out of the valley of ????

I don't know. Go see for yourself.

Ciao !

Samantha Dugan said...

Caught this comment just as I got to work this morning so I didn't have time to do anything other than scan the post over at Brooklynguy's. Got home and found myself skimming again. I was interested until the notes started....guh. Cannot read that crap anymore. Let me step up and say that I do in fact have to write tasting notes for the store, so I know how hard it is and I too am always feeling a little foolish and wondering if what I say there is going to really help anyone, the answer is, not really. My notes have changed so vastly over the years and now they are much more about texture and emotion, maybe even a story about the estate or vineyard but rarely do I write that kind of note....not sure I ever did and that's because they don't speak to me. Like at all. I find myself pulling my hair out by the end of August, after three months of writing page after page of notes on bloody rose. Rose! Come on people, it's rose...argh! And yet, they have to be done. The thing is, I find that the more concise and personal the tasting note I write the more people want to try the wines and that right there, that gives me hope.

I am sending you a big hug for thinking of me and I confess to blushing, (and walking just a tad taller today) because of your comments, both here and there. Not sure I can save anyone but I will keep up the fight to encourage people to drink more wine, not fear it, swim around in the sultry and buzzy end of the pool in this crazy world of wine. I than you for making my morning. Cheers to you!

Vinogirl said...

Does your friend also get a hard time for the beginning of his name being with Shag? He would if he was in England :)

Vinogirl said...

Does your friend also get a hard time for the beginning of his name being with Shag? He would if he was in England :)

Sara Louise said...

That show Miss Advised is horrible! I tried to watch it while catching up on ironing because I had seen every Real Housewives (that show is like crack to me). I somehow managed to watch two whole episodes but there is no way I can watch another. Those girls are morons.

Samantha Dugan said...

We have never gotten past the "She-Gina" part but now, now you have enlightened us all to a whole new level of fucking with Evan. Thank you!

One of the worst things I've ever seen, honestly, and this is from someone that as you know, loves the Jersey Housewives! That's pretty damn bad....

Do Bianchi said...

so awesome to see Vinogirl here! Two of my fav west-coast bloggers! :)