“I’m sure you’ve heard of Merry Edwards,” he said proudly. “They’re mostly known for their reds, but this Sauvignon Blanc is one of the best I’ve tried from the Russian River Valley.”
Of course I knew that. Where is the Russian River Valley again? California? Ah, I knew that. No I didn’t. But as any knowledgeable wino would deftly do, I swirled my glass, sniffed a mite, and sipped. “Brilliant!” I exclaimed. “It’s very crisp but not overly dry. Like a turnip.” Mr. Sommelier smiled, continuing to pour us two generous glasses of Merry Edwards’ finest SB.
I turned to my date and winced. “Too dramatic? Tone it down a bit next time? Leave out the turnip?” It’s possible my enthusiasm was contrived.
It’s not that I dislike wine—quite the opposite. But the breadth (and depth) of wine knowledge out there is staggering. Scary, in fact. In my line of work, I ought to know a fair amount about what wines come from where, what their flavor profiles are, etc. The truth is, I know the basics (barely) and get by on tidbits the rest of the time. My oenological education in culinary school amounted to a handful of days in Beverage Lab when we sipped and spat, sipped and spat, sipped and spat, memorized, and took a test. That was it. And I hardly remember a lick of it.
I have to say: I am a bit self-conscious about my ignorance when I go out to a nicer restaurant with friends and co-workers. The expectation from most is that I will be able to offer food pairing suggestions. The truth is, I know little more than your average Joe: white goes with lighter fare, red goes with heavier. Even that is being thrown out the window these days; I have heard from several sommeliers that the classic approach is fading away and wine directors are guided almost entirely by the wallets and palates of their guests. If that’s true, I’ll stick to the sweet $10 whites and fruity $15 reds, if you please.
It’s no wonder people are intimidated by the variety and complexity of wine. What is one supposed to do with a 400-bottle, 10-pound wine list anyway? The selection is impressive, I’m sure, but it means next to nothing to a neophyte. In fact, it’s kind of a turn off.
So I hear, “What sort of wine should we order?” on a recent night at Morton’s. The faces of friends and family turn in my direction, questioning. The sommelier looks at me expectantly as I turn the gold-leafed, leather-bound wine list over in my sweaty hands.
“You know,” I muster, completely devoid of confidence, “I’ll just have a Cosmo. Make that two.”
The rest of you are on your own.