Monday, September 22, 2008

confessions of a wine snob

On Sunday night, I was listening to Lynne Rossetto Kasper's Splendid Table on national public radio. (All right. That one sentence is freighted with enough clues that I could stop right here.)

Let me give a little background. Hello. My name is Steve Cotton and I am a recovering wine snob. Not just any wine snob. I am an instant wine snob.

I was raised in a household where alcohol was forbidden for religious reasons. I never even tasted alcohol until I was 24 -- and that was just a sip of banana liqueur in Greece. The experience almost made me a lifelong teetotaler.

But along came the 1980s, and I ran with the worst peer pressure group to appear on the face of the planet: yuppies. Gourmet clubs were all the rage to show that we were better than our franks and beans upbringings. And good food needed good wine.

We all knew that none of us knew anything about wine. But I was a pioneer in instant knowledge. Somehow, I learned about the Penthouse of wine: The Wine Spectator. There were fancy vintage charts that could be sequestered in wallets. A confusing new vocabulary describing tastes of tobacco, tar, and smoke. (I would occasionally check to see if I had accidentally picked up a cigar magazine by mistake.)

But, best of all, the complexity of wine was quantified. Every review, with its baffling vocabulary, would be reduced to a number. We yuppies understood that. We all got As in school; we would buy a wine that was just as clever as we imagined ourselves. We didn't know what it meant; but if it was expensive and had a high rating, it had to be good -- even if it did taste like tar.

Reading Richard Lander's
Gangs of San Miguel de Allende makes me realize that I was simply a member of a subset of the Getting Fully Arted - Watching Art gang. (I know it is not really a gang, but my group certainly was.) We all lived in fear some new member would ask a question like "But why do you like it?," and we would all be forced to look off into the middle distance hoping that someone else would ask a simpler question.

But I finally feel that I have my revenge. It turns out that The Wine Spectator is every bit as shallow as the use I found for it.

On Sunday, Lynne Rossetto Kasper let everyone in on a little secret circulating in the wine world about Robin Goldstein, the author of The Wine Trials. Mr. Goldstein created a restaurant out of whole cloth: a name, Osteria l’Intrepido (Italian is always good for a toff spoof); a menu; a web site; and a wine list. He purposely made the dishes on the menu a bit dodgy. But the wine list was his masterpiece. He included only wines that The Wine Spectator had panned.

For those of you who do not know, The Wine Spectator publishes a list of restaurants every year that deserve its "Award of Excellence." It turns out that all you need to get the award is the $250 application fee and a nice serving of chutzpah.

Mr. Goldstein submitted the application, the fee, and his terrible menu and wine list for an imaginary restaurant. In turn, he was awarded his "Award of Excellence."

Schadenfreude is a dish best served as left overs. In this case, because the mentor was caught, and the pupil was not.


islagringo said...

"But I finally feel that I have my revenge. It turns out that The Wine Spectator is every bit as shallow as the use I found for it."

Okay, what are you not telling us?

Michael Dickson said...

You are soooo San Miguel.

Steve Cotton said...

Wayne -- How could I not be telling all? I just confessed my shallowness. Like Oakland, there is not much there there.

Michael -- And I just keep admitting exhibit after exhibit.

Anonymous said...

Going out of your way to offend the city of Oakland is a display of terrible judgment for a seemingly classy guy. Pick any other city, but Oakland? Bad idea on many levels..

1st Mate said...

If you thought the banana liquer was foul, you should try the retsina. Those Greeks really suffer for their inebriation.

glorv1 said...

I lift my glass of beer to you.

Theresa in Mèrida said...

Steve, I like Oakland. Oh, there are scary parts but it has Japantown,the Oakland zoo and it was on our side of the bay.
I used to live in Sonoma County so I as I tell people I have never bothered to learn about wine. If I ever needed a bottle even the bagger at Safeway could recommend something. Heck, we used to get great wine in a box there,talk about sacrilegious.

Babs said...

Lordy, Michael, he's BEYOND San Miguel..........

Steve Cotton said...

Anonymous -- On this one, I will gladly use Gertrude Stein as my body shield. There are limits to being gallant.

Bliss -- I actually have taken a liking to retsina. Of course, the version tat appears in the States is not as hardy as the stuff you will find in a taverna in Zakynthos.

Gloria -- And I my diet Coke.

Theresa -- Of course, this is what I get for quoting grumpy poets who dislike their home towns.

Steve Cotton said...

Ooooh, Babs! What sharp elbows you have. Now you know why I am isolating myself to Melaque. I need to detox from all of these snooty habits I have developed over the past 59 years.

Calypso said...

I always avoid Silver and Gold Medal winning wines for the same reason as The Wine Spectator is full of it ;-0

Me thinks Melaque will clean you right up ;-)


Steve Cotton said...

John -- Maybe Melaque will bring out that little lost Powers boy.

Anonymous said...

Ah Steve,

The more expensive wine I drink, the more I am truly amazed at the quality of the infamous "Two-buck Chuck," found only at Trader Joe's, probably the only U.S. retailer I'd ever really miss if I moved to Mx.


Kim G
Boston, MA

P.S. You know it won a blind taste-test at the California state fair, don't you?

Steve Cotton said...

Kim -- I can claim innocence on this one. I have never been to a Trader Joe's. The closest one is about 30 miles north of my house. I drive by often, and have only had minimimal twinges to stop. (I suspect I will relent to temptation one of these days.) But I have heard of the famous "Two-buck Chuck."

One of these days I should tell you my tale of getting my come-uppance at a California wine tasting. I do not come out well in the end -- though, I do remember the story quite differently than my friends would relate it.

Babs said...

Some day, when you're in San Miguel, I'll tell you my "real life" connection to Wine Spectator. I EXPECT you to be impressed........

Steve Cotton said...

Babs -- Impressing me is child's play. I am impressed when a doorman calls me "sir."