Monday, March 28, 2011

If You Can't Laugh at Yourself....

by Dan Mitchell, regional sales manager

Wine is intimidating without a doubt. For years I have hosted people in the tasting room and given them a snapshot of cool climate Finger Lakes wines. I never speak about wines from other regions; I know enough to say "I don't know."  After I've given visitors a tour and extended tasting, they often ask, "How long have you been working here?" My answer is always the same: "Today's my first day, but I drink a lot of wine."  And if I'm feeling corny I'll tell them I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.

Anyway, people seem to have this ingrained notion that's it's imperative to be educated about wine. If someone asks me if I know anything about wine, I say "I know a little." There's a lot to be said for being humble on the subject of wine. One of my favorite times is when Peter acknowledges, after years of winemaking, that he's learned something new this vintage he didn't expect. How exciting. World class winemaker gets thrown a curve ball. That alone is enough to keep me coming back to my job.

When people sample wines at the tasting bar, they're often less inclined to just say whether or not they like the wine, and more inclined to try and describe what they taste. Fair enough, but most people can't always explain what they taste. Take me, for example! My two favorite Finger Lakes wines are Pinot noir and dry Riesling, yet I seem to have less, rather than more, to say about them than other wines. I guess sometimes you just know when you're in love, and have to be content to leave it at that.

For someone whose job entails a lot of tasting room time, the most challenging dialogue is something along the lines of this:
"I get this mwahhh."
"What's mwahhh?"
"It's on my tongue and it's just mwahhh. It's like, you know -- mwahhh."

Casual eavesdroppers on a conversation among wine pros might be forgiven for finding much of their language impenetrable and cipher-like. I never thought I would get the term barnyard until I was given an excellent example of a barnyard-y wine. Yep. Barnyard. Petrol is equally baffling, and I am glad it was explained to me, because it's now my favorite descriptor for an aged Riesling. Something from the petrochemical industry can be positively beautiful once you're inured to it.

People often feel compelled to use too many descriptors. Even worse, those pretending to be enophiles can come off sounding absurd. At Fox Run, one of our self-appointed tasks is to make wine accessible and unintimidating to our customers, and step one is to avoid terms that reek of insiderness. I tell all my tasting room staff to use terms that are easy to understand, and which make sense to beginners and experts alike.

This whole topic put my rabble-rousing brain to work, and I thought, "What if I used completely ridiculous descriptors just to see who would call me out?"

I'll attempt to illustrate this à la Cyrano de Bergerac (or in the modern context, à la Steve Martin in Roxanne):

Automotive - This Syrah has a little too much torque for me. I'm really not sure what I would pair with it.

Hockey - I thought I knew what to expect from this Chardonnay, but then it went all 5 hole on me and caught me off guard.

Cosmological - Don't you think Pinot noir is so Saturnine compared to other reds?

Psychoanalytical - A year ago this Cabernet was nice, but now it's just regressive.

Gridiron - I'm loving the lime in this Riesling, and the honey runs interference on my taste buds.

Judgmental - Sally told me I would love the Malbec but it's just too snide for my taste.

Disney - The Cab franc is the bashful wine of this group.

Baseball - Gewurztraminer is so pesky in the vineyard we don't even want to maintain it.

Mathematical - There's fruit up front and good tannins, but this Lemberger just isn't sequential enough to pair with steak.

Edgy - The 'Rock 'n Roll' line of wines is a good value, but seriously vicious in the glass.

Golf - The tannins here should have driven this wine home, but it seems to have layed up on the finish.

Long story short: if you like it, just say so. Drink what you like. Above all, support the local guys: they do the local good.

Music of the Day:

Support Artists: buy the music you like.

1 comment:

  1. Dan, thanks for the idea. I think wine tasting and its vocabulary border on absurd anyhow, so I think I'll start having tasting vocab theme weeks. It's probably a good thing I work mostly solo, or everyone around my winery would think I'm really, REALLY crazy. We'll see how many of them end up on my labels. :-P