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Snooth User: John Andrews

The pressure of wine knowledge

Posted by John Andrews, May 5, 2008.

Knowing a little bit of wine is fun but it can be dangerous. Once people know that you are a 'wine connoisseur' they want to defer to you for any decisions. This can be flattering and at the same time … stressful. I admit I do know a little bit about wine. I probably know a more than most people. However, and A BIG HOWEVER, my knowledge is based on two things: the process of wine making and what I like.

The process is something I can tell people about and educate them on. It gives people an idea of what goes into the creation of a wine. It illustrates that it is simple and complex at the same time. It doesn't tell them what the wine is like. What I like, now that is something that cannot be simply transferred. Many studies have gone into categorizing how people taste, to identify what characteristics to wines and, overall, trying to see where people fit. I can't do that.

When I get the inevitable question of, "John, what wine would you recommend?" I can't help but panic a little bit. This week has been a world of panic for me. In my full time job (the one that pays the mortgage) I’ve been attending a conference. Many of the people at this conference know about my affinity of wine. I’ve fielded just as many questions about wine and what some should have as I have about my regular job.

Each time I get asked this question I have to go through a mental checklist of questions for myself to make sure I get it right. It's a creditability thing. I feel like I have to get it right because that is what is expected of me. So I have judge the person, I have remind myself of what I’ve seen them drink in the past, I have remember the things the said and if I have the opportunity find out where they are going to be eating. So many variables, some many questions but I can only give one answer.

What I do? I give it my best effort because ultimately I know that people trust what I have to say and are going to appreciate I took the pressure off them for having to make the 'wine' decision. If I can’t really figure out what to suggest for them, I usually give up and say, if I were you, I’d go with Pinot. It’s my favorite style of wine.

John Andrews is a software product manager during the week and is a professional Tasting Room staffer at Loxton Cellars in Glen Ellen, CA on the weekends.


Reply by Philip James, May 5, 2008.

John - I get this too, unsurprisingly it gets worse. The one thing that catches me out is every evening (or even afternoon) business meeting, everyone I meet with is excited to have the excuse to drink wine on the company dime. There's nothing like going to have a working lunch with your lawyers, saying to the waiter "water's fine" and then hearing the lawyers say "wha? I thought we should at least have a bottle of wine".

I used to try to get out of it, but i've since realized its my job to indulge them. I'm sure your friends and colleagues feel the same way - they like the fact that you present an excuse to drink wine at any time of the day (just like you do in the winery!).

Reply by Mark Angelillo, May 5, 2008.

Hey, they keep asking you so you must be doing a good job.

Honestly the best way to learn more about something is to try to apply that knowledge in a stressful situation -- like teaching, for example. I'd say you have a good problem on your hands.

Reply by oceank8, May 5, 2008.

I am flattered when people ask, but I feel the stress as well. The one thing I try to remind myself is, the power of suggestion can sway a person to like the wine. They probably didn't know much in the first place and figure if you like it, they will too. I tend to have a slightly different problem, people ask me which wineries they should go to. I have to ask myself - do they want the best wine? most fun? best deals? biggest crowd? smallest crowd? I try to figure out their goal and then give suggestions. But I always worry whether of not they will enjoy it!

Reply by Philip James, May 6, 2008.

Ocean - I'd find directing people to a winery harder than choosing a bottle, for exactly the reasons you stated: what kind of experience are they truly looking for. With a bottle, people are generally looking for something tasty at a reasonable price - somehow i find that easier

Reply by Rodolphe Boulanger, May 9, 2008.

How about this? Last month I was in Barbaresco with a producer and her boyfriend (also a winemaker) who were taking me out to dinner. They insisted on handing me the wine list and making me choose the wine. Ok - what to do?
-Ordering their wine would be stupid - especially since we spent the afternoon sampling their various products. Neither party wanted that.
-I felt silly ordering another of the many Barbarescos on the list. They don't really want to drink their neighbors' wine, do they? But wait, I do!
-Ordering one of the "obvious" foreign wines on the list - Latour Burgundy, Phelps from CA. Although they might enjoy it, these bottles struck me as horribly overpriced. Besides, I didn't go to Italy to drink California wine!

In the end, I ordered a bottle of Barbaresco (in the immortal words of Bush "I'm the decider") from another producer in a very good (but underrated) year and, after the bottle was done, got a "oh, I haven't tried so and so's wine in a while. That was pretty good." Then we moved on to a 1996 Malbec-Tannat from Argentina that was fantastic and woefully underpriced, and I think everyone was thrilled. BTW, I'm keeping the restaurant's name secret because, during the cellar visit after dinner (something that more American restaurants need to do), I saw that there were 10 more bottles of the Argentine wine in the bin. I plan on drinking one next time...

John - just thank your lucky stars that these "friends" have yet to pull the blind tasting game on you. Prepare yourself, it's coming, it's silly and, most importantly, it's impossible.

Reply by John Andrews, May 11, 2008.

AWWWWW ... blind tasting ... the bane of anyone who thinks they know something about wine. I agree RBoulanger, I think this will definitely get me into trouble.

I have had this done to me once in the past. I actually reverted to what I tell people in the tasting room:

- Decide if I like or not
- Then try to figure out what I like, dislike about it.

If asked vintage, varietal or producer. I'll pretend like I don't know anything. ;-)

Reply by Philip James, May 13, 2008.

RBoulanger came joint first in the Wine Century Club's annual dinner with some insanely difficult blind tasting challenge. I scored maybe 1 out of 6, but it was ridiculous.

It was multiple choice which helped me, but when the grape varietals include: Mtsvane, its clearly game over for me. RBoulanger might remember the actual wines in the blind tasting.

Reply by Rodolphe Boulanger, May 13, 2008.

Yes, but I have since retired from blind tasting - I'm quitting while I am ahead!

I believe it was Ribolla Gialla and Zierfandler.

I truly hope they don't expect me to get them again next year.

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