Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Fine By Me

“Ahhh, there we go. This wine is so much better don’t ya think? Guess I’m just a California wine gal at heart” I stood there in front of a full class of people, listened to the lilting words of a very satisfied customer, the brown sugary sweetness of whichever domestic Pinot Noir we had just poured aggressively still clinging to my horrified palate, aching for the tart and, to me, fresh tasting wines we had poured just a couple flights before and all I could think was, “You like this huh? Well that’s fine by me. You can have my glass too!”

Laurie, our domestic wine buyer and I had put together a tasting of Pinot Noir. Not a comparison per se but a showcase or perspective of Pinot Noir and how the place they are grown imprints itself on the finished wines. Part of me loves doing these events. I happen to love tasting wines from everywhere, regardless of what I personally buy and drink at home. I am a wine geek of the first order and tasting 10-12 Pinot Noirs, one of my most adored varietals, well shit howdy, count me in, but….well as much as I love doing the events I do find myself cringing when I hear the inevitable chatter of “which is better” even when the crowd happens to fall on the side of my French wines. Contrasting I freaking love, comparing, as in picking which is better, well I happen to think that is immeasurable seeing as there are such dramatic differences in palates and preferences.

I drove home that night with a bit of a hitch in my get along. Far from annoyed but seriously wondering if we should do another class like the one I had just proceeded over. Saturday afternoon tastings are more social, less focused and lighter in spirit then the more studious and focused Friday night events. Maybe Saturday would be a better and more appropriate format for the world perspective of Pinot Noir kind of deal. People could just come in, taste, talk and walk out with whatever wine moved them. Easy and fun where the Friday night I was driving home from felt too heavy and too….definitive, almost as if those in attendance had to pick a side and declare victory. Victory over?

I thought about my honest response to the woman that asked me, “Don’t ya think?” the way her grin was pulled into a tight sphincter when I told her I found the wine she and I were both tasting too sweet and a bit cloying. You’d have thought I pooped right there on the tasting room floor to look at her face. My comment not intended to upset or imply she was wrong. Not to be dismissive of the wine she liked far better than my tangy and light bodied Burgundies. I wasn’t lashing out and I wasn’t saying my wines or my way, my palate were more correct, they were just more correct for me. I was able to slip in a teensy lesson on scores and how Sphincter Face and I would have some dramatically different scores for the wines we were tasting that night and the real trick to truly enjoying your wine is to either find a palate that runs parallel to your own or find a good retailer, (ahem-ahem) that listens and learns, shops for things to please you and not for big scores or ego. I filed the night under more lessons learned, tucked that woman’s face and preferences away in that seemingly unlimited space that absorbs and retains that particular information, (can’t remember where I put my fucking keys half the time but I can remember to pull that odd Jura wine for Marilyn and I do in fact recall the wine I selected for your veggie curry the last time, it’s right this way…ugh) and sailed home with Billie Holiday’s voice all sadness and drug soaked groaning at me, that sweet-to-me wine still on my mind and palate. You’d rather drink that huh? Well Aint nobody’s business and it’s fine by me. 

I’m often told that I am a customer’s favorite because we have the same taste in wine and half the time, over half the time actually, couldn’t be further from the truth. I don’t drink Paso Zinfandel with barbequed ribs, or anything for that matter, I cannot remember the last time I took home a Spanish red for dinner and domestic white Rhone wines drink like gangly aliens to me. I rarely drink California Chardonnay and almost never enjoy Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. I am fully aware that my personal tastes are far from mainstream, fuck I loathe Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift, pancakes, donuts, meatloaf and meatballs in red sauce and I haven’t had a Big Mac or a Burrito Supreme in nearly 20 years. I have never used a Groupon and the only special offer emails I read are from The HoseMaster of Wine and involve his special palate recalibration procedure and discounted lubricants. I embrace my weirdo status just as much as I do yours. You like Cabernet with oysters…well okay, (it’s not, that is never okay) it’s fine by me….

It would be fine by me if…..

You left me all the black Jelly Beans

You kept the Ketchup at your end of the table

You drank all the Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir

Perfume and cologne were outlawed

The sweet potato were to crawl back into obscurity

Three bean salad were to come back into popularity

You ignore Dave Matthews, (Kate and Amy…I am so shaking my head at you two.)  but not to worry I’ll do my best to soothe his hurt feelings....(send help if I am not back in 4 months)

You are curious and studious about learning how I smell and want to spend hours committing my scent to your memory.  

You want to write the same tired articles about soil, sun exposure and geography…I’ll scan and skim, skim and scan and walk away not giving a rat’s ass.

You drank all the Vodka. It makes me mean, venomous and less “charming” than normal if you can even freaking imagine that.

Pushed your beets onto my plate. Especially the pickled ones.

You want to meet me under the moon for a glass of something highly "acidic" and tart. Something that will make our noses wrinkle and tongues water.

You want to swallow the Kool Aid and drink high end wines with shit like Mole or shrimp tacos. It’s a ruse propagated by the hipster or desperate set but you go for it…send me an email with the details on how that went.

You want to trace that area between my neck and shoulders with the tips of your soft fingers….gently.

You only want to drink red wine, with everything.

You want to intently watch my mouth when I talk.

You let me

Pick for you

Please you

Learn from You....

Fine by me….


Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Sweet MB,
I've got loads of special offers for you. And I'd like to take you up on most of these. Though I may just prefer a great Champagne under our moon--though I guess those are nicely acidic white wines, for that matter.

One of the things I'm guessing you don't appreciate is that many of your regular customers will remember you the rest of their lives for how you mentored them about wine, and they'll be wildly grateful. Learning to love wine, which is what you teach, My Love, is also learning to love your senses, and learning the senses of those you love. That's a great gift, and one they won't ever forget.

So as to learning senses, when do we start?

I love you!

Do Bianchi said...

Samantha, such a great post! Yes!

I am so with you (esp. re. Dave Matthews!).

Love this post... :)

gabriel jagle said...

excellent post. you can keep your dave matthews, but you're not getting my pickled beets. i planted and pickled those myself!

funny how you started your post about different styles of pinot noir. my wife and i were recently in mendocino, and after tasting a pinot noir, she instantly exclaimed, "this is NOT an oregon pinot". she's is by no means a wine expert, although her palate is probably more refined than she realizes. anyway, my point is that california pinot is a very tasty beverage, but is a very different beast from cool climate pinot noir. while russian river valley and anderson valley may be cool climates by california standards, the wines tell a different story.

Marcia Macomber said...

I love the side-by-side domestic vs. French (usually) comparison tastings. My preferences vary dramatically depending upon the house's choices to compare.

I was surprised recently to find it didn't like several Burgundies compared to California counterparts. That's the first time that happened in a long time.

Pinot tasting can often be quite a crapshoot since styles in Calif. can be wildly diverse, but those closest to more delicate French ones suit me best.

There are no hard and fast rules. I like Dave Matthews too, but I don't have a lot in my library. Go figure!

I did finally get to the relatively new bubbles bar here in Sonoma to sample some of your beloved grower Champagne. Oh, my! That was a rare treat. So far above the usual bubbly fare...

Samantha Dugan said...

Ron My Love,
"Special offers" is that what you kids are calling it now a days? Either way I am all in! Oh I doubt my customers will remember for that long but if one or two do, even if it's a quick flash over a glass of Champagne, Sancerre or Cotes du Rhone, well then I will be happy, and terribly humbled. So, I have a gift for you but you have to get down here and unwrap it. I love you too!

Yay! Another Dave fan. Love it. Very excited for you with the new baby coming any day now!

Oh don't get me wrong, there are lots of California Pinot Noir I like and I admire but for what I take home to drink....well they are just a touch too fruity and sweet for my personal palate. We don't do a tremendous about of Oregon Pinot Noir at my shop, not for any reason other than the past two domestic buyers bought more from California. I've liked the few I have followed over the years but I need to learn more and the same is true of New Zealand. I do loves me some Pinot! I will keep my Dave dammit and now I am as curious about your beets as your wines.

Always a gamble, and primarily for the French wines, when you do a side by side "comparison" tasting be they Burgundy, Rhone or Bordeaux. The thing is the domestic stuff just has sweeter and more gregarious fruit, (for the most not always but more often than not and almost always when we are talking about the wines in my French department as they are very, very classic) so in that initial tasting setting the domestic wine often out show the others. I used to resist doing those events for that reason but, well I've found that our customers are so diverse, and so used to the wines they like, not to mention they are not in the least bit ashamed to speak their minds, that now the French wines usually outsell the domestic ones, by a large volume. I think it can be a lot of fun and I am going to push to do more of them but during the less formal, (not like my classes are really all that formal at all) Saturday events. Plus we can hit more palates on those days so a bigger cross section can be reached. Now I'm dying to know which of my beloved growers you have had the pleasure of getting to know....

Winey The Elder said...

Recently on vacation, la femme and I spent a day in Walla Walla trying to find some wine that wasn't bombastic and painfully sweet (we succeeded). At dinner that evening, in an older well-established restaurant with a library tome wine list, we sought respite from the high alcohol, toothstaining, mindnumbing wines of the day and discovered - under the category of "rose" - a 2005 Chateau D'Arlay Pinot. Pleasantly shocked, we ordered it toot suite and then were more surprised when every server and manager in the place came to see who was ordering such a "wonder". We offered tastes all around and it was an instant love fest as we all shared our non-judgemental preference for finesse and subtlety.

I live within a short distance of Oregon's finest pinots and yet my money always finds its way to pinots from Alsace, the Loire, the Jura and the Cotes. Fine by me that others like the fruity sweet domestic pinots, but leave me the subtle,the tart, the softer side.

Lovely prose/post as always dear wonder of wonders.

Samantha Dugan said...

Damn Love, thought maybe you'd given up on me. Nice to see and hear you again. I knew the second you wrote your passionate prose about Chablis and oysters that we were kindred palates mister and your story here proves that once again. Fine by me that people want those wines, just leaves more for you and me. Big hugs being sent your way.

Sara Louise said...

You and Gregory are kindred spirits... I made him a three bean salad for his lunch today and vodka turns him into a horrible person, he's banned from touching it. And to top it off, when I buy a bag of jelly beans, he eats all of the black ones :)

Samantha Dugan said...

I always suspected I had an inner Frenchman.

Marcia Macomber said...


I tried to find the list on line of the growers we tried, but alas, they don't keep the list there or have handouts to take home. (I love and keep all handouts for reference such as, ahem, times like these.) I have to stop by there tomorrow, so I'll see if I can get the list of the grower bubbly we tried.

As for those side-by-side comparisons, much can depend upon the skill of the person setting up the tasting. It's just silly to put a domestic fruit bomb against a more elegant and delicate French wine. It ISN'T a comparison at all. However, if the person choosing the wines is trying to show how growing conditions, winemaking styles and other circumstances are remarkably similar -- and yet the wines then show diversity of conditions -- then it's much more interesting.

The tasting I was at tonight was packed -- all rosés. And, organized from kool-aid style sweetness (eeck!) down to the most austere of direct press very dry pale pinks.

All palates are different; some just prefer the big fat flavors.