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Those darned tricky wine conversations

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I’m back from our big Southern California trip, where we attended Leo’s bar mitzvah. After the formal ceremony, we had dinner at an Italian restaurant, where we had some decent wines—one Sangiovese, one Pinot Grigio, both Italian.

Now, one of the guests, whom I’d never met, is apparently a wine aficienado, and had brought a few bottles of something “special,” one of which made its way to my table. I tasted; didn’t particularly like it. It was an Amarone, and possibly it was just too young. It was a wine I’d call “rude,” although I realize that’s an obsolete term. (The guy sitting next to me, a family member who knows a little about wine, thought it “heavy.”) Somehow, my judgment of the wine came back to the attention of the guest who brought it. He cornered me and said, “I hear you didn’t like my wine.”

Oi. Now, this happens quite often to us wine critics. We’re seen as wizards who know everything about wine. Our opinions are highly sought after. And when someone, like the guest, brings a wine he prizes and the resident critic doesn’t care for, this can be a flashpoint. Suddenly, we had a clash of wills: the guest defending his wine, and me, put on the spot by what seemed like an uncharitable attitude.

This isn’t a situation I’d either sought or relished. My inclination was to smile and excuse myself. I have never liked being the wine expert in these social settings. I mean, a bar mitzvah? I’d rather talk about anything else than be the resident snob. But here I was, challenged. The guy whipped out his cell phone and showed me pictures of his recent visit to Amarone, with the dessicated grapes and all that. He was obviously very proud of the wine and somewhat hurt that “the wine expert” didn’t like it.

Well, I was hurt by his hurt. I felt some responsibility to reassure him that (a) although the wine wasn’t to my liking, (b) that didn’t mean it wasn’t very good. And so I pointed that out to him. And I added that, very possibly, the Amarone was simply too young for be properly enjoyed now. I think it was that statement that finally settled the matter. I hadn’t exactly rejected his wine completely; I’d simply said it was too young. That got him off the hook, and me too, and so we were able to bypass this tricky impasse and get on to other, more enjoyable topics.

Anyhow, we just made it back from L.A. It took an epic eight hours on the 101!!! Mother’s Day and all that. The P.C.H. was jammed with beach traffic on the first warm, sunny day after nearly a week of gloom and rain. Then it was a solid hour to get from Salinas to Gilroy. We were catatonic when we got home. I just had a glass of Manzanilla, a wine I’ve always loved, and the awfulness of our drive is swiftly receding. They say that Manzanllla always has a salty tang of the sea, and this one indeed does have a brininess that brings to mind an Islay Scotch. Too bad more Americans don’t love Sherry, but that helps keep the prices modest for those of us who do.

  1. Bob Henry says:

    “Too bad more Americans don’t love Sherry, but that helps keep the prices modest for those of us who do.”

    Good luck finding a good Sherry at BevMo stores:

    Or K&L Wines:

    Or Wine Club:

    Or Total Wine stores. (No luck finding one of their stores in the Bay Area.)

    Event the great food and wine maven Darryl Corti of Corti Bros. (Sacramento) is challenged to give you much in the way of offerings:

    The San Francisco Chronicle “Food & Wine” section’s Jon Bonné declared its “modest resurrection of fortunes among Americans” . . .

    . . . but the marketplace reacted with a yawn.

    The next Sherryfest will be hosted in New York come June 23-25

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