My hand gets a little heavy with the newbies’ first glass or two, just a splash for that extra ounce or so. They’re often nervous, trying not to stick out, which makes them stick out even more, and I take it as part of my job to calm them down a bit. The ones hiding among a group of experienced tasters are even cuter, nodding along with the notes, trying to keep up with the different names and phrases.
I’m Head Vino Guide at Leonadi Vineyards, here just below Tulalip Bay. All that means is I’m the dude pouring your wine, and I’ve been here longer than the other dudes pouring wine.
Here, Cab Sav is king. But lucky for the red-shy newbies I adore so much, Riesling is prince, so there are still a few flavor notes with which I can wade them in.
For the sweet second-wife out with her new husband and adult step-kids, I point out the cool minerality left on the back of the tongue. She likes this word, and rolls it around in her mouth before swallowing. I wink at her coyly so she knows this is a good move. When we later discuss the Syrah, the step-daughter happily agrees with her that this is distinctly not “mineral-y”, and I feel like I’ve helped.
When the young man enters toting a very excited girlfriend, I point out the lime he’ll inhale before he even sips. He gets excited when his flared nostrils do indeed, and makes a note every time he finds another fruit throughout the tasting. Girlfriend appears very pleased, even mildly impressed. She pecks him on the cheek and I feel a whisper of it on mine.
The Bridge club comes in, and this time there’s a new member among us. After a happy wave and a swift update on everyone’s medical issues and grandchildren accomplishments, I am told this is Luanne. Her husband retired recently and Annette noticed at church that sweet Luanne needed some time out of the house, thus the Bridge club. They have come here almost every Saturday for the past two years, and I still have no idea if they actually play Bridge. Luanne, though charmed by the pear essence in her Sauvignon, is equally so with the spiced butter notes in the Chardonnay. I tell her she has quite the refined palette and accuse her of knowing more than she lets on. She blushes and the other silver birds laugh, pleased to have another in the flock.
I’ve been here a long time. Like I said, the longest of any of us. It wasn’t on purpose. I kinda landed here. Several years ago, I was gunning for top spot at a suave bar in the middle of the city, the kinda place where A-list celebrities hide in dark glasses and rich old women go to tell their stories to poor novelists. But I was knocked out of the running by some up-and-comer with “more the attitude we’re looking for.” While I was soaking my sorrows in a 2012 Keuka Pinot Grigio, that up-and-comer slid a napkin with a number on it over to me.
“I know you don’t want to work under me. And it’d be a shame to waste that pallet. My sister knows a guy up north looking for someone like you if you want some fresh air.”
And here I am.
Fresh air turned out for the best, I think. I belong with the wine people more than I ever did the cocktail crowd. I can read these fellas now as well as the legs of a merlot down the sides of a glass.
You can see it in the swirl, the carry tells you everything if you look properly: the depth, the age, the blush, where it came from, where it’s going. Some are bright and joyfully effervescent. And I do love a bold, deep body that has aged into its place. But others are dark with too much density. There’s no need to carry such weight if you have the flavor to back it up, ya know? Or those that think their lack of complexity makes them cute and quirky, when really we all know they’ll just be put on the shelf until next summer.
Yes I know, there’s a certain joy and sophistication in simplicity. But there has to be a class to it as well. Take this young gentleman breaking away from his table. A few hours ago, he showed up with what looks like his date and the date’s family. It’s a fairly new romance, as he’s still trying to make impressions, but all parties already appear pretty comfortable. During the tasting he stuck close to said date, yet made sure to make several comments affirming the mother’s favoritism towards the peppery Petit Sirah. He’ll buy one for the table later as a thoughtful gesture. But oh how his face lit up when we hit the Barbera. I’d had a feeling since the beginning he’d want all those dark blackberries, so this is where I let my hand linger for just another moment over his glass. An extra drop for courage. After they all giggle and gush over their charcuterie board for a bit, here he is back at the bar as predicted. Hazel eyes and a genuine smile. When he asks for a bottle of the Petit Sirah, I know I’ve gotten another one right. A good man. Pairs well with the more emblazoned, does well to balance others. Uncomplicated, yet classy.
Nothing like the heady cougar who has brought her third boyfriend of the summer and put it all on her husband’s tab. She’ll push the glass back and forth across the bar, barely ever taking a real sip, while her companion smiles coyly at her. She’s light, but astringent. He doesn’t know how long the flavor will last, and since he isn’t listening to my tasting notes, I can’t give him any warning.
That’s the only time I suppose I get frustrated. I’ve been here a long time, longer than anyone else. I know these vintages, and can read the new ones fairly well. Take my word for it, if a sommelier like me makes a suggestion, you ought to take it.
Savor (verb) 1. Taste (good food or drink) and enjoy it completely. 2. Have a suggestion or trace of (something, especially something bad). (Adj) A characteristic taste, flavor, or smell, especially a pleasant one.
I have to admit to the pleasure of knowing I’m the wine snob among my group of friends. One of my friends recently pointed out that it’s the time of the year when I start the official campaign for us all to switch back to red wine, and she’s not wrong (although THIS year, time has meant very little, so stick with whatever colors suit you).
This character and I fought for a while. I couldn’t decide whether he needed to be playful or creepy with his ability to read people. You can decide for yourself which way he went. And he might pop back up again, get reworked, lean the other way. People do change, ya know…
Personally, I love people watching, but I think there’s a huge difference in doing so and actually being able to pick up on someone’s entire story. Are you able to pick up on people’s stories as they go by? Or do you ever wonder if people can sense a chapter of yours as you go by them?
I can’t wait for the day when sitting peacefully at a winery is a common occurrence again. It’s one of my happy places, not just for the wine, but because of the people there as well. Whether it’s Fall or Spring, it always seems to have an air of anticipation, and I’m always on the edge of my seat, and yet somehow relaxed.
I hope whatever you’re up to, you can find a nice place to people watch, or read, or just sit for a moment and sip, dear reader. Cheers!