The first skill of any successful wine connoisseur necessitates the ability to speak the lingo or at least French. I reason that people are more likely to tell you what you’re suppose to taste if can correctly pronounce the label. This in turn allows the fake connoisseur to easily impress his or her friends while still having little to no idea about which you are talking. Take for instance Saturday’s wine tasting party at one of the local colleges, a lavish affair full of wine merchants and connoisseurs alike, the perfect setting to test my use of the vernacular:
“Yes, this particular white possesses a good finish with an oaky flavor, cultured for years by the French who as you well know, know wine,” the attendant laughed, after I had correctly pronounced Viognier. Vee-oh-nay.
“Oh yes, that is oaky,” I tell Mom and Tiff with a sip. “I can taste the oak.”
“Can you?” Mom asks. “Is that the sharp bitter taste? Is that the oak?”
“Uh . . . sure,” I shrug.
“I don’t know about trees,” Tiff scowls, “but this definitely tastes like unwashed Frenchmen. Next table!”
Tiffany’s aim for the evening – apart from making goo-goo eyes at the chocolate fountain – which I had seen first and thus claim dibs – was to locate a brand of white wine as sweet and drinkable as Linganorre’s Mountain White. In her efforts to locate said brand the countless sampling had induced a fit of intense giggling, which Mom echoed, much like a mother loon cooing over her child’s first manic dive into the water.
Station 5 featured two white wines and a Merlot, which Mom sampled. Tiff chose the cabernet, while I sought the subtlety of the Pinot Grigio.
“And you sir?”
“Yes, can I have a bit of the Grigio, please?” I said this nonchalantly, well-practiced in my wine-merchant slang, certain that the attending seller would immediately sense that cultured air – or at least the reek of wino. Possibly he would proffer a full glass instead of the usual sampling to reward me.
“The Grigio. The Pinot Grigio,” My use of the vernacular was perfect. I ordered my wine with suave charm, a Yankee-born Sean Connery introducing himself as the world’s foremost secret agent. In true Bond style, I tried to straighten my tie but, upon finding none, feigned a neck rash.
“Uh . . . we don’t have any Pinot Grigio here. Only a Pinot Noir . . . Um, sir, do you need some ointment?”
“Oh no, no, I’m.fine. Just a bug bite. You say pinot noir?”
“Yes, would you like a sample?”
“Um, sure,” I fumble. My eyes glazed a little, refocusing on a spot just to the right of the man’s ear. “Musta’ve read the label . . . wrong. That’s red, right?”
“Yes, sir,” the server smiled. “Dry but an excellent wine. This particular winery has been growing grapes for nearly fifty years in Napa Valley.” He poured me a hearty glass – perhaps out of pity – and turned his attention to another taster.
Humbled, my feet shuffle me over to the girls, who naively – and effectively – decided their next selection solely on the color.
“What is that you’re have, Murph?” Mom asked while Tiff finished off her sample, coughing.
“Oh some pinot noir,” I shrugged sipping slowly, rinsing away the unpleasant taste of humble pie. “It’s not bad. Dry though, not a lot of taste.” That guy in the movie Sideways waxed poetry about pinot noir; therefore, until inspired or drunk, I would uncover its secrets.
“Ugh . . .” Tiff moaned. “Like sandpaper in the throat. I think I need a chocolate fountain to wash this down. If only we had one near . . . oh, there she blows!*” [NOTE: This last phrase was in truth not uttered at all but is merely the product of interpreting the speaker’s squeals (Kyaaa!) and the author’s latest literary excursion through the works of Herman Melville.]
My sister-in-law scampered off to cavort among the strawberries and pound cake, piled near the fountain. Pat had joined us again when she returned, her cheeks full with chocolate-dunked fruit, her chin adorned with a chocolate-goatee.
“They turned the fountain off. It’s just a chocolate pool now. I had trouble dipping the pound cake without causing any to crumble,” Tiff said, stabbing a piece of chocolate-coated cake with her skewer. “But if you pierce it lengthwise, directly in the center, all is good . . .”
Pat and I discovered the entrance to the kitchen and positioned ourselves appropriately in front, like roadside bandits lying in ambush. Quickly we relieved our servers of their dainties: barbequed pineapple-chicken, steamed shrimp and peppers, spinach pasties, and warm asparagus wrapped in prosciutto. Using complimentary glass clips, we attached our wine glasses to our plates as we walked around, giving Dad the opportunity to talk to some clients. Mom sampled some cheeses that supposedly enhanced the taste of her merlot.
“Hey hon,” Pat said turning to Tiff. “Do you want some che . . . uh, what are you doing?” My sister-in-law was sucking on her glass clip.
“Awhaaa,” she laughed, re-attaching her clip. “Some chocolate fell on it. I was just cleaning it off. Hey, Ms. Patty, we should try the other room again.”
Mom walked home with nearly twelve-hundred dollars worth of wine, procured with the wine god’s blessing in raffle. The prize proved a double-edged sword though as upon discovering the one-hundred dollar per bottle price tag, she vowed to never open any of it.
Humbled I walked out, my head full of wine and empty of all pretension . . . or my precious jargon.
On the way to the car, lumbering under the weight of six bottles of wine and one faux copper-green fiberglass bowls each, Pat and I pleaded with our claustrophobic mother to take the elevator in lieu of walking down the required four flights of stairs. Under the influence and fearing the safety of her swag she relented, confident that if the machine should fail ample rations – of the liquid variety – would be available until help arrive.
As the doors swung shut, sealing her inside, Mom’s eyes bulged with terror. Wildly scanning our cell, she screamed: “Oh no! Does anyone have a corkscrew?!”
We of course did not, but Tiff eased Mom’s panic with a little MacGuyver-ism. “Don’t worry Ms. Patty, if we need to, we can just break off the neck and drink it that way. You know, like pirates.”
Somehow this seemed to work, though honestly how she intended to break off the neck without breaking the bottle or worse spilling the wine is beyond me. Still Mom calmly stood (or wobbled) while the elevator continued its ride down, choosing to breathe again only when the doors opened. Laughing the girls met the cool night air, and discussed their favorite brands as we walked to the car. Half-way home I managed to glance back at Mom, as she fallen fast asleep her arms gently embracing the two large tubs of wine, cuddled beside her.