After leaving all of the bad vibes of Chile behind me and crossing the border to my final country, Argentina, in my South America tour, I headed straight to Mendoza where I planned to stay for the next two weeks. Originally I had planned to try and pack as many of the must-see sights in my final two weeks in South America, but having grown weary from seven months of travel and feeling emotionally drained, I thought it would actually be a good idea to relax and cool my heels for the rest of the time in Mendoza. And what a great destination to choose as my therapeutic background since I happen to be quite fond of anything produced as a result of fermentation, especially that of grapes! My plan was to relax, catch up on some of the administrative tasks of traveling full-time, prepare for my return back to the U.S., and discover Mendoza´s world renowned wine culture. I´ve been here for one week so far and I can say that I´ve had success in all of my intended goals for this destination as well as unlocked a few old hidden thoughts of mine.
The First Taste
Within the first two days of settling in at my hostel, I was off to The Vines of Mendoza for my first wine tasting. I was greeted with a contemporary interior of dark greys and a smiling sommelier named Julian who was waiting to give me a menu whatever language he had yet to determine was my native tongue. I took my seat at the bar in front of five all knowing and ready to be filled wine glasses and chose to do a flight of only Malbecs, the varietal for which the region is famous. This was a mistake I later discovered halfway through the tasting.
Up until this point, I had only done a proper wine tasting on two occasions in my life and to be quite honest, I had a very limited and basic understanding of wine production and all of the unique characteristics that can be colorfully used to describe a wine. I actually think that 99% of the knowledge I do have is courtesy of Paul Giamatti in Sideways. As such, I was coming to the bar for this tasting as a complete novice and eager to learn a thing or two about the magical potion I´ve consumed so much of during my adult life.
I intently read all of the notes and listened to Julian´s speech about the first two wines and went through the motions of tasting each. I thought it was a trick as they both tasted exactly the same to me. Not wanting to let Julian down, I tried again, this time sniffing harder than Charlie Sheen on his average weekend bender, as if this would make a difference. I finally made some progress when I noticed a difference in the Malbec fermented in French Oak (I guess that´s kind of a big deal), and after I finished my first round and sat staring at five still somewhat full glasses of Malbec, I came to my first thought of the evening. Non-professional (read people who do not boast ´Sommelier´ as their official job title) people who claim to ¨know wine¨ are most likely full of bovine refuse.
Judging Wine Snobs
In my post-undergrad professional life, I´ve come across many a people who love to talk about wine and I should qualify ¨talk about wine¨ to make the distinction that they love to talk solely about drinking it and how they acquire it as opposed to the thing itself. In other words, I´ve known people who view entry to the ¨wine club¨ as a calling card of their affluent lifestyle and love to make sweeping generalizations about their knowledge of wine to promote their credibility in this elite club. Needless to say, I find this kind of behavior to be lame and obnoxious. In the past when I´ve encountered such people, I was always in a delicate position where my more sophisticated lady representative would smile politely and nod, but my inner sarcastic child would roll her eyes and think, ¨Wow, if you were full of any more shit, you might have a difficult time competing in the Big Swinging Dick contest you´re trying to start.¨
I specifically recalled a conversation I had wherein I asked a gentleman who was going on and on about which countries have the best wine in the world, ¨Well how do you know that French wine is the best?¨ I was more or less asking just to be an asshole and put him on the spot, but a small part of me was holding out hope that he might prove me wrong and educate me with an informative explanation. I ended up smiling and nodding once again as he responded with, ¨Well I´ve drank a lot of wine and it´s just from experience.¨ To me that sounded like a doctor saying, ¨Well I´ve seen a lot of cancer before and I know it from experience.¨ Granted I should have perhaps asked a more direct question such as, ¨Why is French wine the best?¨, but that still doesn´t excuse an obviously loaded response from someone who doesn´t really know what they´re talking about. I imagine if one would be so bold as to declare anything as ¨The Best¨, they would qualify this statement with a list of intrinsic and comparable characteristics of said subject.
Perhaps if my friend had said something about the production of the wine and used fun terms such as ¨tannins¨ and ¨oak¨, I may have been inclined to believe him. As I sat at the bar after going through my first round of Malbec flight, I remembered this conversation and I came the conclusion that very few people actually know what the hell they´re talking about when it comes to wine and they´re called ¨sommeliers¨. The majority of the rest of us, are probably struggling just like I was in trying to distinguish the tastes of wine, or at least I like to tell myself that, but this story fits too.
New Career Path
After convincing myself of my superiority to old rich white men due to having a realistic sense of self-awareness, I continued to challenge my wine nose and began the second round of tasting. Julian explained that it was important for me to go through the wines again to see if I could pick up any new tastes. I think he was just being awesome and hooking a sister up with some extra beverage. This was later confirmed when he offered me a glass of rosé, a glass of organic wine to join the gentlemen next to me, and then another glass of rosé after I showed a dislike for the second glass.
I was decidedly joyful and free thinking by this point and my eyes haphazardly wandered down to my description sheet of the wines. Reading the descriptions, I couldn´t help but think I could make a career out of writing wine descriptions. Everything is bold and full-bodied and dances off your tongue into a very sweet and deep long finish. They all basically sound like a chapter from erotica novels with a slightly more eloquent vocabulary selection. Even the people that write these eerily personified descriptions don´t actually know what they´re talking about either, but at least they have a very colorful way with words that at the very least, lets you enjoy their presence. I mean really, how do you honestly judge the personality of a wine and decide whether one is bold or really shy around boys?
Since it´s all just a fun little word game, I thought I could always give this a shot if my other writing endeavors don´t work out. My true goal with all of this though, would be to create hilarious characterizations that would hopefully be picked up and repeated by all of the faux wine snobs. Until then, I´ll at least continue my wine education for the purpose of learning something new as well as to be able to drop the occasional random fact to put a faux wine snob in his place.
P.S. I wrote this entire post with the assistance of a liter and a half of beer because I like irony.