You probably could have guessed that Robert Parker isn’t at high risk for becoming unemployed anytime soon without me explicitly stating it, but I thought I should clear up that I’m not after his job, in case there develops any rampant speculation on that topic in the future.
This is because I have never been, am not, and will never be a Wine Tasting Maven.
The point was driven home to me quite clearly and forcefully last week at the 2010 Premiere Napa Valley’s Perspective Tasting, held on two floors (Chardonnays on the top floor, Cabs on the bottom floor) in the meticulously kept sensory analysis classrooms at The Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena. To put it mildly, tasting three successive comparative vintages of Napa cabs and Chards, blind, lined up one after another in a mostly white, sterile environment was the equivalent of having a joy vacuum attached to my wine-loving soul and turned on full-blast.
Sterile. Quiet. Introverted. Not a drip of social aspect or drop of true enjoyment in sight.
I briefly contemplated the alternative activity of banging my head against the CIA’s gorgeous walls of earthtoned, irregular stones, until I bled and then passed out. As it turned out, I tasted some wines instead (more on the specific wines in a minute. Or two.). But I didn’t truly taste them – not the way I’d define ‘truly tasting’, anyway.
This isn’t the fault of the wines, vintners, CIA, or the other tasting participants – it’s my fault, without a single shred of doubt. I am simply incapable of tasting wine – I mean, really tasting it – that analytically. I’m sure that Parker could rip through that scenario in record time and then, just for shits and giggles, quiz himself on the merits of the 92-96 point scoring wines in the bunch 11 years later. I watched friend and fellow symposium attendee and panelist Alder Yarrow sniff, spit, and scribble his way through every single one of the dozens of numbered carafes on display in the blind Cab tasting, as if he were a pleasant, well-poised, humanoid-shaped and purple-toothed machine.
I will never be that guy.
And I never want to be that guy…
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Alternative title: “What I Learned (So Far) At the 2010 Professional Wine Writers Symposium in Napa”
- Symposium Chairperson and Wines & Vines editor Jim Gordon, may, in fact, be the sweetest and most patient person on the planet (there remains one more day of symposium activities in which to properly test this theory).
- The amount of downtime built into the entire week of Symposium activities is approximately 47 seconds.
- The amount of raw talent and brain power among the symposium attendees is staggering, but is immediately doubled in terms of IQ points the moment that AbleGrape.com founder, Yahoo search pioneer, and twitter search guru Doug Cook walks into the room.
- When you read aloud (over a loudspeaker) a tasting note that you’ve written in which you compare a glass of Syrah to an uncomfortable satin thong, you will piss off famed author, wine educator, and television personality Karen MacNeil [ Editor’s note: this was recently substantiated via personal experience. ]
- Both Eric Asimov and Steve Heimoff are practical, warm and charming in person (meaning that I have lost at least two bets and the week isn’t even over yet).
- Harlan wines will be poured judiciously at Symposium after-hours gatherings, but only when I am not available that evening to attend any of them.
- Journalism jobs, freelance writing gigs, and book deals net you more money than Amazon.com affiliate fees. But not much more.
- If you take the ethical standards of critical writing / wine review writing, combine them in number, double that number, square the result, and divide by 0.0002, you will arrive at roughly the number of ethical violations that I might have inadvertently committed. Before lunch. On day one.
- When Alder Yarrow uses the term “folks at our level” and you realize that he is talking about wine blog writing and is including you, you have to suppress the urge of performing a double-head-fake and then blushing.
- If you are serious about wine writing, then you should get serious about attending the Symposium in 2011.
I am giving up on what has become a totally fruitless quest ending in a miasma of heartbreak and despair; I hereby renounce my Sisyphusian efforts, and will no longer roll this impossibly heavy boulder of writing wisdom up the mountain of populist adversity, only to have it come heaving down to crush the vulnerable bones of my hopes time and time again.
Not that I feel overly dramatic about it or anything.
What is the heart of this painful linguistic matter? The brilliant and terrible rays of sunlight on the wax wings of my personal flight of Icarus?
It’s the rampant misuse of the word varietal.
To quote Inigo Montoya, “Joo keep using daht word. I donah tink it means what joo tink it means…”
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Today I’ll be starting my week-long Napa excursion (the itinerary of which I’d hoped to have posted today, but since all those West Coast hippies are so damn laid back, as of the time of this writing my schedule still isn’t totally finalized… if I’d been dealing with uptight, anally-retentive East Coast types I would have had this all nailed down within 15 minute intervals weeks ago).
This got me thinking about Napa Cabernet, of which I plan to have tasted so much by the time I leave Napa that I will probably need emergency dental work to deal with the teeth stains as soon as I land back in Philly.
And since I’m heading out there for a writers symposium, it got me thinking about the origin of “Napa Cabernet” – not in terms of the wine, but in terms of the words. I’m a sucker for words and I own more than my fair share of dictionaries and etymological resources. I’m geeky that way.
You’d think that this would be pretty easy, right? A bit of Google searching, or a trip to the handy-dandy unabridged dictionary, and we’d be all set, right? Surely there isn’t much to the origin of such words, the kind that are so nearly ubiquitous that they instantly call up various mental and sensory images for wine lovers worldwide, right?
Not so fast, Buck-O. As it turns out, the etymology of both “Napa” and “Cabernet” is far from being etched indelibly in stone…
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