Wineries have made me nervous ever since an unfortunate incident occurred in Western Australia when I was 20. I was a younger, more immature man, a full on Frat Star doing a semester abroad. We were studying international business and using wine as a template industry. We’d soon fly to China to apply what we’d learn and study the emerging wine market there. ((Wine, a classic indicator of wealth, was exploding in popularity among the newly rich Chinese. Yet, even as so many Chinese now had the money to buy high quality wines, their knowledge of the product was often not up to par. Case in point: it wasn’t unusual for us to an encounter a businessman buying a $100 bottle of Merlot and then promptly mixing into a cocktail glass with coke and ice.))
I found myself in Margaret River, a region in southwestern Australia famous for it’s wine production, at a tasting being conducted at one of Australia’s most well-regarded vineyards. I must admit I was a bit tipsy already – we’d visited a series of vineyards that day, certain members of our group weren’t finishing their allotted wine, and a Kappa Alpha man simply does not leave a good drink unfinished, whether it’s his or not.
And so there we were, sitting around a large table in a beautiful estate, listening to a smug man drone on about how grapes get turned into vino. Blah blah blah. It’s never good enough for wine to simply be “good” is it? Everyone has to pretend to detect these absurdly subtle flavors I’m not sure anyone actually ever tastes. And my fellow students, in pursuit of a good grade no doubt, were doing just that.
“Ahh yes, this one is a bit grassy, a hint of raspberry too!”
“Mmmm, a flowerly start with a dirt finish!”
“Chocolate and rainwater! A real treat!”
What the hell? I’ll not stand for this ridiculousness. This one tasted white, the other one tasted red, and I’ve had too much of both to put up with all this pretentiousness. It was just then that “tasting notes” pages were passed around, so these inane comments could be recorded for posterity.
I was certainly not going to pander to the silliness of this culture. I decided to write something honest, something real, something my Kappa Alpha brothers back in Texas would have agreed with and been proud of. I wrote down a single word.
Let me be clear that this was certainly not meant as an insult. I enjoyed the wine and simply wanted to convey that, if needed, I would easily be able to chug a large amount of it. I’ve encountered a good many wines in my day that I would have no interest in chugging. But this chardonnay? Oh I’d be happy to chug a large glass of that! Honest, with a comedic twinge, classic! I turned in my paper and thought nothing of it.
I assumed these notes would be read only by our chaperons, all of whom weren’t more than a few years older than us students. I knew them well, hell we’d had many a chuggable drink together, and I knew they’d have little issue with my rejection of this ridiculous tasting note exercise.
I had not planned on the notes being turned into our tour guide. Who turned out to be the owner of the whole place. No, I was not aware they’d be read by the very man who’d dedicated his entire life to the production of this very high-end, very expensive vino. I saw him at the head of the table, slowly perusing the pages. I turned to my buddy Houston.
“Well, I’m fucked now.”
I watched the owner’s face as his read, watched him nod happily in agreement at the praise of his efforts. Then I saw him get to a new page, frown, and look up at the table.
“That’d be me sir.”
Fuckity fuck fuck.
I considered telling him that describing a wine as chuggable is the highest praise a fraternity man can give! I considered telling him he really should be flattered. But he wasn’t flattered at all. He was angry.
Yes, my honesty landed me in a heap of trouble that day, even if it came from a place of respect. But I can’t say that I regret it. Wine people – let’s drop the act. You can keep the grape names and the red with meat/white with fish thing. But after that, I’m granting you two adjectives – maximum – and they better not be too abstract.
We toured a number of wineries in Cafayete, many of them very good. I’d say my favorite was Bodega Nanni, a small operation based on the east side of the village. We had a leisurely tasting afterwards and the wine was very chuggable. Some of the most chuggable I’ve ever come across! For a moment, I considered telling our tour guide just how chuggable it all was, but then I remembered Australia and decided against it.