So I’m slothing at home, feeding my pathetic addiction to Law & Order re-runs on TNT, when the phone rings. My friend John is at dinner with a promising date, freaking out about what wine to order. After I giggle a moment about the thought of “love-’em-and-leave-’em” John on a real date and spending some bucks on a chick, he says he wants to order the wine I was gushing about the week before, an old vintage pinot noir from Burgundy. By the glass, it was a modest $8, but I couldn’t remember the whole name (my mind is a sieve, if I don’t write it down, it doesn’t register). I advised him to the best of my ability, he wrote it down, then presumably ordered the wine without looking at the list. It, unfortunately, wasn’t the right name. I got a rather snippy call from him the next day letting me know my advice cost him $120. And he didn’t get lucky either. Somehow, that’s the last time he asked my wine advice.
Unbelievably late one night, a scratchy phone call came through, laced with the background sound of restaurant chatter. My friend was calling me from France, looking at a list of foreign wines. You see, in France, most restaurants don’t exactly feature California wines on their lists … they’re funny that way. So my friend was lost in a sea of regions with no cabernet, chardonnay or syrah in sight. We assessed the dinner group’s financial limitations — in France, the Burgundies and Bordeaux wines are still offensively priced even though they’re produced right there. We gauged their taste — Rhone wines almost always please a group. Then we settled on a Gigondas from the Rhone Valley. Since we had to shout to hear each other, it took several minutes to find a solution. The call probably cost more than the wine.
Perusing a well-stocked grocery store wine aisle is, to say the least, a pain in the ass for those who don’t drink very often. I’ve received hurried calls about what to bring to a dinner party (cabernet sauvignon is always a good bet), anxious pleas about what to buy for a gift (everyone loves dessert wine), and sheepish requests for the best cheap wine to share on the couch. It’s a little harder to answer this last one, but my rule of thumb: It’s easier to produce good, inexpensive cabernet sauvignon than pinot noir or chardonnay, and Chile produces some extraordinary inexpensive wines.
I love these calls, since imparting knowledge feels right to me. The counsel is always free; the wine and the experimentation, however, are up to you.