An Embarrassment of Riches

(Originally published June 2001)

If you're like Hanes you often embarrass yourself around wine. The forms are just about endless. But a few choice examples immediately spring to mind...

Polyglot that he is, Hanes inevitably butchers the pronunciation of any and all words and names associated with wine. While winery names like "Rabbit Ridge" come out OK, and his tongue has "Château" and "Domaine" down pat, that's about the limit. French names such as Desmirail or Doisy-Daëne will receive tender loving care, each letter pronounced absolutely fully, just as Hanes was taught in his third grade English lessons. The names of grapes such as Mondeuse, Alvarinho, Schioppettino or Verdicchio when pronounced by Hanes leave fellow wine lovers stupefied as to what Hanes has just poured for them, a wine or a medieval poison. In wine stores, Hanes can fall back on picking up, say, a bottle of Burgundy from Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé, showing it to the salesperson and saying "You got any more like this?" But in a restaurant, he is reduced to shoving the wine list under the waiter's nose and pointing at the small print of the wine he desires. Unless he is trying to be all fancy -- then he looks the waiter in the eye, speaks crisply and authoritatively and then hopes that the Italian Montepulciano he ordered arrives rather than a Rioja from Bodegas Montecillo. Next, Hanes is considering developing a sexy lisp to mask his verbal ineptitude.

Even before requesting the wine while sounding like he is hacking a lung, Hanes commits another cardinal sin that visibly embarrasses some fellow diners (and many more whom just smile and try to make believe this is just not happening). It takes him like three hours to decide on which wine to order in a restaurant. Even before developing an inkling of what food will be ordered for dinner, Hanes must scour the wine list, checking for unique items, rare older vintages and hidden value gems. He'll loudly comment on how much this wine costs in a store versus a restaurant or how many bottles of that particular wine he has in his personal wine cellar. After flaunting what little knowledge he has, he finally figures out what he is going to eat and then, after listening to his fellow diners' orders, reassesses the entire wine list from scratch to ensure an appropriate wine and food pairing. At this point, anyone with Hanes definitely needs a drink.

Finally, the bottle arrives. The waiter presents the bottle, showing the label to Hanes for verification that it is indeed the proper bottle ordered. Thankfully, he does not request Hanes to once again pronounce the name on the label. But he does pour some in Hanes's glass to determine if the wine is either sound or tainted. Here, one is supposed to check for two main flaws. First, is the wine cooked? That is, has it been exposed to high temperatures thus throwing the wine's balance off and giving its fruit flavors a stewed quality? The rub here is that one is expected to know what the wine tastes like without flaws. Sometimes this is easy, sometimes not. Hanes usually gives such wines the benefit of the doubt, lavishing praise on the "mature nature" of the rich fruit and its curious secondary flavors. Second, is the wine corked? A "corked" wine means that the cork in the bottle has been infected by a fungus called trichloranisole (or 2, 4, 6-TCA). This ruins the wine in the bottle, giving it a nasty smell and flavor of wet newspaper or cardboard. Wines can be corked in varying degrees, suffering from a little TCA to a lot. Many winos are hyper-sensitive to TCA and feel that the smallest micro-particle will send them into shock and paralysis. Count not Hanes among these fools. Many times, he thinks he is still smelling the newsprint on his fingers from reading the day's New York Post and the TCA taint does not register at all. So, while others at the table swoon from the malodorous effects of the TCA, Hanes blithely scribbles out his tasting notes, praising the wine's unique form of mushroomy earthiness.

If the wine is actually free of taint, one is supposed to then begin drawing it in through one's senses. The first way is through the nose by sniffing the wine. Hanes has a big nose which helps him here. What does not help, however, are all the herky-jerky movements one must enact to provide the fullest bouquet. That is, all that gosh darn swirling of the glass. You grip the stem firmly and move the glass in a circular motion, swishing the wine around to aerate it and create a bounty of aromas. But don't swirl too quickly or vehemently or the liquid will exceed the rim of the glass, splashing red wine all over your lap, the table and/or the white Donna Karan original of your comely companion. One trick developed by previous generations of inept wine experts is to hold the free hand's palm over the mouth of the glass as one swirls. Purportedly, this helps to capture the aromas in the glass right before shoving one's nose down into the glass to sniff the wine as if it was premium Bolivian Marching Powder. But what Hanes has learned is that it is a convenient ruse -- it serves mainly to keep the wine in the glass and not all over the table as one swirls one's glass. The key here is to take one's hand fresh with wet red wine and heartily slap the backs of all the fellow diners you despise the most.

Exacerbating this problem is that Hanes is lazy. So, he likes to cut corners. One way he cuts corners is by pouring as much of the damn wine into the assembled glasses as possible. This saves him some wear and tear on his pouring elbow and helps ensure that no one steals his chair while he is up and pouring. But it pisses some wine lovers off. They do not have the room to freely swirl the wine without spilling and/or capturing the scents. Thus, their swirling motion more so resembles that lava lamp in your old college dorm room, slowly shifting from one side to the other, lulling you into another bong hit. Hanes is often chastised about pouring the glasses too full. He says, next time they get nothing! See how they like them apples! He finds solace in the fact that the bottle is in his clammy paw and he knows the other drunken slobs he consorts with won't be spilling the prized bottle Hanes paid for as they attempt to pour the wine. Whatever flak Hanes may catch here, he remains confident in the knowledge that anyone can get the proper pour size in the glass by gulping the excess wine down post haste.

OK, so now the wine is in Hanes's mouth. Let the fun begin! In order to taste as if you are a jaded wine pro, you have to agitate the wine in your mouth and then record all the nuances this unseemly action creates. In doing so, most of the time Hanes appears to be enjoying some Château Listerine. There seems to be no established maximal nor minimal amount of agitation allowed by Federal law. It is no surprise that Hanes usually takes a bigger swig of wine than most, so when he begins the agitation process he has to take care not to agitate it out of his mouth and onto his glazed duck and the person across the table. Don't tell jokes while Hanes is agitating! Unfortunately, this procedure truly does enhance the flavors, particularly bringing out any peppery nuances or underlying herbaceousness. It isn't pleasant to watch but it works. Hanes has found this to be a good test on dates: if she puts up with all these ugly contortions and sounds (and his copious note taking during dinner), she is alright.

This covers an "embarrassment of riches" of social faux pas committed by Hanes in the wine tasting ritual. But there are a couple of other blunders that plagues Hanes too. The first is almost inevitable -- in the process of opening the bottle of wine, the cork gets stuck in or pushed into the bottle. You'd think pulling a cork would not require a degree in physics but for Hanes it does. Someone out there must think Hanes orders bottles specifically with half-corks because after huffing and puffing in trying to extricate it, half of the cork always remains in the bottle with the other half impaled on the corkscrew. He then tries to insert the corkscrew into the remaining half and in doing so ends up instead pushing it down into the bottle where it floats on top of the wine, spreading little cork bits near and far. We all like a little crunch in our wine, no? Of course, Hanes is a gentleman and is always willing to stick his finger into his guests' wine glasses to remove the offending cork bits...

The last hurdle to suave wine appreciation for Hanes is the presence of sediment in the wine. Hanes is a cheapskate and he wants to wring every last ounce of wine out of a bottle he has paid for. So, regardless of whether the wine is old or young, he tries to ignore the presence of any sediment while pouring. When one is a world famous wine reviewer, one can sometimes browbeat one's fellow wine drinkers into thinking their wine glasses should look like the bottom of an emptied fish tank after the last goldfish died. But not always. Some of Hanes's cronies are savvy enough to know when he has unnecessarily blessed them with sludge and they feel little remorse in having their revenge. This usually involves distracting him as he takes his last gulp from a glass, causing him to forget the chunks of sediment and thus choke as they bounce off the walls of his throat. Ahh, yes, revenge is a dish best served at 60 degrees and preferably in Riedel Vinum Series Bordeaux stemware...