The Path to Wine: Sometimes Bumpy, Part II

My last article on the Bumpy Wine Road demands a reprise. People asked, "What else have you got?" Well, quite a lot. It's been a long journey, sometimes charming, sometimes frustrating, but always fodder for wine articles. That's the good news.

So, there I was about 10 years back at a famous (now defunct) New York City restaurant, Bouley. I saw one of the movers and shakers, a Master of the Universe. You know the type of place and person—it often attracts those with more money than sense and people more interested in being seen than eating, regardless whether the food is up to snuff or not. (It was!) The table next to me featured a gent around 55 going on 60. His companion looked like a super model, 20 going on 25. I didn't want to know what they were doing. I just wanted to participate. They ordered some really pricey stuff, in particular a 1985 La Tâche. Hmmm. Well, we weren't too envious as our table was doing ok, too. Still, the '85 La Tâche drew some attention. Finally, they got up and left. I wished she had stayed, but admittedly my bank account would not have impressed her. More importantly, they left a third of a bottle of '85 La Tâche on the table. I looked once. Twice. I returned to reality. One of my cohorts was not so realistic. I suddenly got an elbow in the ribs. "Grab it," she said. Visions of angry waiters attacking me flashed in front of my eyes. These were quickly followed by visions of other diners attacking me. "Not me," I said. "Do your own dirty work."  She had a simple answer. "Grab it." I looked at her. She looked at me. I looked at her. No way was I going to take the fall. A waiter came and removed the bottle and the dilemma. Desolation. Despair. Then...triumph. I wouldn't have grabbed it, but it was nice to pretend I might have.

The best of us sometimes commit faux pas. I was in a particularly strange town on business. I had a day and evening free, and figured I'd look for some BYOB and relieve a little stress. I asked a local what he'd recommend for a good BYOB restaurant, and he gave me a name—licensed, but wine friendly and open to corkage. I bought a modest bottle at the local liquor store and headed out. Arriving at the restaurant, I sat down, presented my bottle and had them open it. It was a nice, but basic Chateauneuf. Then, just for fun, I started perusing the wine list—1961 Latour—things like that. I looked at my lovely little $18 bottle, an utterly inappropriate wine to BYO with at a place like this. I looked at the manager. If there was someplace to hide, I would have. Unfortunately, I could only tell the truth. "I'm an idiot and was misled." I'm sure he agreed on at least one of the two counts, but the service was excellent. Kudos to Olives for tolerating me. 

The wine road sometimes leads to France. No surprise there, right? I was in Tanh Dinh. I was coming from Nancy and arrived around 9 p.m. in Paris without any reservations and quite hungry. I figured I'd stop in Tanh Dinh and take my chances. Alas, the place was booked and then some. I arrived in prime time. I whined. I pleaded. To no avail. No reservation for me. No ethereal raviolis that I'd been dreaming of all during the train ride from Nancy. The person in front of me turned around and said, "Join us." Yee-haw, as the saying goes! It was the wine critic from my city and her date, coincidentally at the same place and time. I joined them and ate. It was good. In the middle of the meal, a waiter fell down the stairs, which did not faze my companions—other than that, things went well. (The waiter avoided sudden death, too.) There is a lesson to be learned here, however. You are not safe anywhere. Do not think you can streak (you know who I mean) down the Champs-Élysées with only the decadent French but no one you know looking on. You are always being observed, and the tinfoil hat won't help protect you.

There are also hazards in visiting wineries. You may think this is safe and fun, but it isn't always. At one winery, I showed up with a date for an event. It was winter—dark and cold, and it had recently snowed. She put one foot forward near the final steps into the winery, and promptly fell flat on her face. If you've ever seen those cartoons where someone's feet just go out from under them, you know what I mean. What did I do? Well, I began mentally calculating what hospital to take her to. She fell hard and inelegantly. While I froze (in useful contemplation, I might note), the winemaker helped her up, advised her to turn her panty hose backwards to hide the new tears, and all was well. I always knew wine appreciation was a hazardous hobby and occupation, but I never knew until then that my dates were at risk for anything but inebriation. Full disclosure: I have never gotten anyone killed on a visit to a winery,'re on your own.

That, however, doesn't mean that I never wanted to kill anyone. Tasting in the Santa Barbara area at Babcock, I was given a glass and got ready to drink. They poured a Sauvignon Blanc. Then, they wanted to pour a Pinot Noir into it. I said, "Could I have a clean glass?" He reacted as if I had just asked to marry his 19-year-old daughter. Let's be real here. After Sauvignon Blanc, with its pungent and grassy aromas, no Pinot Noir will survive. Something has to be done. We were the first visitors there. There were zillions of clean, available glasses. And by the way—why would you want to ruin the Pinot Noir this way when you're trying to sell it? Nonetheless, getting a clean glass was a harder than getting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to act like he is living in 21st Century—or even the 18th. Things surprisingly went downhill from there, which I didn't think was possible. Defective wines were poured, with no new bottles opened. I asked, "Do you really think this is representative of this bottle?" He said "No." And then moved onto the next selection anyway without a new pour from a fresh bottle. Welcome to wine and tourism. Caveat Emptor.

I have no problem with being called a wine snob. A wine snob is someone who cares about what he drinks. The person hurling the epithet is usually someone who doesn't. There are exceptional circumstances, of course, and I try to avoid them. Then again, sometimes you just have to let it all hang out. I was in line at our local liquor store having just come from the opening of a new Macy's store. The woman in front of me was complaining that it didn't look any different than what was there before, and I agreed. She then decided to "one up" on department stores—like I care. She would prefer to shop at Bloomies. Or Barney's. And preferably in New York. Because nothing here was really good enough for her. On and on and on and... Yawn. Yada Yada Yada. Boring. Shoot me. Or save me. But MAKE ...IT...STOP. How did I get into this conversation? Oh, yeah. She was cute. With the din of meaningless department store snob chatter ringing in my ears, I couldn't quite resist when I looked down and saw what she was buying in the liquor store. I did think about it for a second, but only a second. "You know," I said, "I didn't think Bloomingdale's or Barney's would actually let in anyone who drinks Yellow Tail."

The wail of "But I love Yellow Tail," rang in my ears for several minutes. The good news is that she didn't really get the jibe. The bad news is that she didn't really get the jibe.

So, there you have it, more adventures on the Wine Road. To be sure, there are many more, but these are just a few more of mine that are printable and not for restricted audiences.

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