Being a wine ‘expert’


Joe Giallombardo, Contributing Writer


Become the master you're not. –Photo courtesy of Silver Fox Limos
Become the master you’re not.
–Photo courtesy of Silver Fox Limos

Whether you want to impress your co-workers or your boss at the office, keep up with the waiter in front of your date or put your snobby friend in his place at a party, you may all soon be confronted with a situation in which you want to sound like you know wine. Wine-knowledge is an important life skill; it can make you sound wise and cultured. But why stop at passable when you, too, could be a master sommelier (wine steward)? The trick is to make it sound like you know what you’re talking about, when, in reality, you have no idea what you are talking about.

The best strategy when it comes to this is intimidation. As soon as your friend/date/co-worker is afraid to look silly in front of you, they have already accepted you as “the expert” and will drop the topic immediately. Once this happens, you’ve made it, and you can rest assured that your actual ignorance will not be discovered. If you happen to run across someone who really does know his Cabernet from his Chianti, once again, intimidation is the key. Go on the offensive quickly.

The best way to impress is to bandy about a few wisely chosen terms and phrases, which I will now present:

“It’s good, but ….” – This is a base-level comment that will instantly make you sound experienced. When someone shows you a wine bottle, look at the year and let your eyes light up with nostalgia. When it says Villa Antinori Riserva, 2011, say, “the 2011 is good, but their 2007 vintage is superb!” As far as he knows, there is always a better version out there of which you can pretend to possess secret knowledge.

Everybody has heard about terroir – it’s French for “climate, soil and agriculture” – even if they can’t define it, but minerality is a little less mainstream. Use it to signify that the wine tastes like the dirt from which it comes. In matters of vinification, nothing is more important than tasty dirt. Your companions will look starry-eyed at the wine, and soon, they’ll taste it too.

There are many ways to describe the bouquet, or smell, of the wine, but garrigue is the best. Garrigue refers to the fragrance of wild rosemary, juniper, thyme and lavender that is unique to the countryside of southern France. Sniff the wine and gasp, “ah! The garrigue is unmistakable!” When your friends are mystified by your explanation of garrigue, reply, “you can’t understand unless you’ve been to Provence.” If they ask you if you’ve ever been to Provence, just look up and sigh wistfully, “third long weekend.” Nobody remembers the third long weekend anyway.

Sip the wine slowly, slurping it gently and rolling the elixir around in the cavity of your mouth. Then nod your head thoughtfully and say it has notes of tar and roses (if you have a beard, stroke it when you say this). Tar and roses is traditionally used to describe Barolo but you can use it for any red wine. I don’t know how anyone knows what tar actually tastes like (I guess it tastes like Barolo), but any snobby friend or co-worker will already have sounded the retreat, and they won’t question the idea of tar-on-the-pallet in the heat of the moment.

If you are bringing wine to a party, get something obscure that no one has heard of before. The wine industry is astronomically hipster these days, so wines from exotic locations are significantly sexier than revered entries from Italy and France. They’re easier to find than you’d think. It could be a four-dollar bargain-bottle and people will still assume the wine is as sexy as a samba.

In the worst-case scenario, a genuine expert will sniff you out with his well-trained nose and intend to expose you to the crowd. You’ll need to fend him off quickly. You could go mano-a-mano with increasingly esoteric terminology, but I find it best to resort to poetry. Lean over the table and let fall from your ruby-stained lips some ringing phrase like, “This wine glows with the monstrous joy of living!” Then pour your would-be-critic a few more glasses. He will regard you a mystic.


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