Even though I pride myself on general knowledge, I have mental blocks when it comes to certain things. Where I leave my car, for instance. Or what day of the week it is. Or how many kids I have.
Another one is wine. Although I like a number of wines, I can never keep them straight. I vaguely recall red wine belonging with red meat and white wine with white meat.
But that really doesn't allow one to converse with any savoir-faire about wine, or to convincingly use those erudite phrases one hears mouthed by connoisseurs. "An unpretentious little wine, with a hint of boldness." What is that supposed to mean? One could use the same words to describe Genghis Khan's wife-or my uncle's plaid jacket.
Nonetheless, I've always been impressed with the guy who nods knowingly as a waiter holds a bottle of wine out for his approval. Then he sniffs the cork. This I don't understand. If I'm going to eat a candy bar, I don't sniff the wrapper. I'm not going to eat the wrapper. I couldn't care less what it smells like. I don't see the point in sniffing the cork, either, unless he's planning to eat it as an appetizer.
Our expert next accepts a little wine in his glass and holds it up to the light. What is he doing--checking for bugs? He moves the glass gently back and forth under his nose and sniffs again. Only then does he raise the glass to his lips. He takes a sip, swishes it around in his mouth and stares off into space. I feel as though i'm observing a secret ritual. He nods again to the waiter and smiles. What does the smile mean? Good cork? No bugs? The waiter then pours wine in everybody else' glasses. By this time the rest of the people at the table have nearly died from thirst.
Rather than appear to a winedummy the next time I sat in a fine restaurant, I decided to enrich my meager knowledge of wines and at the same time find out what all the nodding and sniffing was about. At the first opportunity I signed up for a wine-tasting seminar, one of those smart little gatherings where people taste a variety of wines and, under the tutelage of a resident wine expert, learn something about their characteristics.
Seated at the seminar, I looked around the table. There was indeed a lot of nodding and sniffing going on. And looking and twirling and wrinkling of noses and lifted eyebrows. Except for the occasional "hmmmm" and "ahhhh" that floated across the table, it could have been a mime class.
It also occurred to me that these people were not all novices. I tried desperately to dredge from my memory the few wine phrases I had picked up from wine commercials and old Noel Coward movies. Why not use them on my host? I wouldn't sound like an expert, but neither would I appear completely ignorant of the subject at hand.
My turn came. The expert offered me a glass of dark red Lambrusco. I swished a sip around in my mouth and smiled at him. I should have swallowed the wine first.
He handed me a napkin. "Well," he asked haughtily, "what is your impression?"
I leaned back in the chair and stared off into space. "A full-bodied wine with just a hint of sarcasm." I could see by the look on his face that I had said the wrong thing.
"Sarcasm? What are you talking about? A wine is never sarcastic. Impudent. "It's impudent."
"I see what you mean," I replied. "There is a difference."
"Now try this one." He handed me a glass of clear white wine.
I held it up to the light and twirled the glass in my fingers. "No bugs," I said.
"There aren't any bugs in it. You know, when somebody holds a glass up to the light to check for bugs?"
A twitch started on the right side of his face. "Bugs? Are you insane? They're not checking for bugs, you idiot. They're looking for clarity."
"I see. Yes, that would make sense. Well, this wine is very clear. I don't understand, though, how you could see bugs in a dark wine."
Beads of sweat were forming on his brow, and his face had grown red. "Would you please try the wine?" he asked tersely.
I tasted the wine. "A light, fruity vintage," I said knowingly, "with a definite lip-smacking appeal."
"Good God. Lip-smacking appeal? You have just degraded one of the finest Chablis wines in the world." His twitch had become noticeably worse.
"I'm really sorry," I said. "I probably should have insulted the impudent wine instead."
"Who are you?" he demanded in a voice quivering with rage. "Why have you come here?" Suddenly he realized his condition and struggled to regain control of himself. "Is there anything else I can offer you?" The words were polite, but the strain in his voice was evident.
"I might try a little of the other white wine over there."
"You mean the Soave. Of course." He handed me the glass.
I took a sip. "This wine's a little flat," I said. "Have any ginger ale?"
He turned blue and passed out. It was a nice shade of blue. Full-bodied, with just a hint of hysteria.