Sunday, September 10, 2006

Last night I attended the Windy City Wine Festival at "that pissant park (Mayor Daley's) dad built." With my finding of my old Writer's Guide fresh in my mind, I found a tent staffed by an startup magazine that plans on publishing its first issue early next year. I allowed that I was interested in freelance inquiries, and exchanged information with the publisher. Now it's up to m to follow through on this.

As some of you might know, I've been readying myself to take the introductory sommelier exam, with an ultimate goal to become a master sommelier. I think I'm ready to take it, and one of the reasons I headed downtown last night to the festival was to keep my palate up to speed, as well as to discover some new varietals. Sometimes I wonder why I decided to do this, and then I come across people who are so... well, snotty, about their oenophilia, that I'm reminded.

I stopped at the display tent for a Missouri vineyard and was sampling some of their selections, when this woman comes by and asks to sample one of this vineyard's reds. It just so happened that we were sampling the same wine. After picking up some flavor notes I was unfamiliar with, I asked about the cellaring process for the wine. The vineyard employee explained that this particular wine was aged for eighteen months in a combination of Pennsylvania, Appalachian, and French oaks, then blended together before bottling. The woman, however, felt like she knew better.

"You've let some of this wine age in California oak", she said. The vineyard rep again explained that there was no oak from California involved in the cellaring process. But this woman would not drop the issue. "Oh, no. I distinctly pick up California oak. How long have you been working at your wineyard?" I looked at the vineyard rep, who I later found out was the owner's son, and he simply kept his composure and explained that maybe she had a slightly fatigued palate, or tasting crossover from another booth's samplings. I'm just looking at her thinking, "He works at the vineyard, bitch. He should know about the winemaking process." Her eyes lowered to slits, but before she walked away, she offered another inane suggestion.

The whole exchange got me to thinking - again - if I should really be studying this. I sample new offerings every week at work, attend my fair share of tastings, and write about wine, beer and spirits. One constant in all of this is that I find myself in the company of pretentious idiots like this cunt, all the time. If I had a dollar for every time someone didn't order a wine when I'm behind the bar because they didn't like the label, I'd be a literal millionaire. It happens every time I clock in.

eg. Someone wants a white zinfandel. I offer that the rosé I stock might be a nice alternative for them. Then they ask, "May I see the label?" I pull out the bottle and offer them a sample. They ignore me, study the label, and determine that they don't want it, usually because they never heard of the vineyard, or don't like the label artwork. If I'm feeling feisty that evening and don't want to lost the sale, I'll lightly suggest that the quality of a wine normally is found inside the bottle. Then the person will look at me and snort, "I'll just have a white wine." Thirty minutes later, that person will be back at the bar, saying how they didn't like the wine I poured them. Again, if I'm feeling like I'm down for a fight, I'll remind them that they refused to sample the wine I suggested to them. And it goes downhill form there.

My favorite is the customer who makes me don the Sherlock Holmes hat, and sleuth around trying to figure out what kind of wine they drink. Last week, someone came up to the bar and asked for a glass of wine. I asked, "Do you want red wine? Or white?" The customer asked back, "Why? Is that all you have?" I shot back, "Well, you're the one not being specific, here. That's why I'm forced to play twenty questions with you." Thankfully, it wasn't completely slathered in sarcasm, and I managed to clue her in to our fine rioja selection.

Then there are the buzz wods associated with a wine's character. For an alcoholic beverage made from grapes, the word "grape" is almost never mentioned in a wine's makeup. Vineyards and experts always talk about a wine's legs; the balance between tannins and acidity; esthers; the scents one picks up on the nose; the flavors on the palate and finish; the color; and so on. I can't remember the last time I heard - or said - this wine tastes like a grape.

The point is, they all come across as though they know their wines, if not everything about wine. It's a risible proposition. I think that I've developed a good palate over the years, but I have a long way to go. It's one of the things that I find exciting about studying wine and spirits. The more I learn, the more I realize I don't know. I'm not certain if I'll ever have an encyclopediac knowledge of the subject. I do know that I'd like to write about it in a more layman-like way, because it can be so obsequious, at times. I even find myself guilty of it when I write my wine primers and "beer of the week" posts on Chicagoist. But that's what keeps me coming back, with a notepad and paper. I can't afford a good aroma kit, so the notes help me remember certain scents and flavors.

I do promise, as I move forward, that I'll make my writing on the subject more accessible to casual readers and drinkers. And today is as good as any to start, as the wrinkles from my fingers (from riding 62 miles in the rain) start to fade, I could use some wine to knock the chill from my bones.

As I write this, Karrin Allyson's tribute to John Cotrane's "Ballads" album is playing on the stereo. It's good rainy day music, and she imbues the songs with an infectious personality. She's one of my favorite contemporary jazz singers, along with Cassandra Wilson. I had the opportunity to interview Ms. Allyson a few years back, when her collection of blues songs, "In Blue" was released. I really like that album, as it includes covers of two amazing Oscar Brown, Jr. songs ("Long as You're Living" and "Hum Drum Blues"), but the centerpiece of the record is a smoldering interpretation of Joni Mitchell's "Blue Motel Room."

eMusic has all of Ms. Allyson's. I would recommend both "Ballads" and "In Blue" as an introduction to body of work.

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