know when to hold ’em

Kate and I spent a couple of weeks in Italy for a business/pleasure trip.  Actually, it was all business, but it’s hard not to have a little pleasure when in Italy.  We happened upon a retail establishment offering a free tasting of several wines from Pio Cesare (CHE-zar-ay in Italian).  Since 1881, the eponymous winemaker and his family have been making beautiful wines from Barolo and Barbaresco.  Those are two winemaking zones in Northern Italy’s Piedmont region known for their production of classic, age-worthy wines from the nebbiolo grape.  Marked by aromas of dried fruit and rose petals, well-made nebbiolo wines offer an incredible pairing with many types of Italian cooking, as well as grilled meats and even smoky BBQ. Pio Cesare wines have a reputation for quality, so I was happy to indulge in the tasting.

A couple of wines deep, and the young lady pouring the wine offered the Barbaresco. I could see its characteristic orange tinge, even though is was a relatively young 2007. I savored its aromas (prunes, fig, tar, licorice), took a sip, and after swirling it around in my mouth I said, “Oh, I love nebbiolo.”

At that point, she told me that the nebbiolo was coming, as she would be pouring the Barolo last.  My first instinct was to ask her why should would say that when I just enjoyed a nice sip of nebbiolo. She was clearly trying to educate me on the finer points of winemaking in Piedmont, but she was wrong! Alas, I stopped short and decided to let it be.  Why do such a thing?  Why indeed…

I find that there is a line between when I should educate and when I should just let well enough alone. In that setting, who am I, a monolingual American, to correct the Italian woman who is actually pouring the wine? I’m not wearing my sommelier lapel pin, and she certainly has not paid to attend my class. By offering a little information, I feared that she would take it as an affront and try to educate me. I knew I could avoid the whole encounter by just smiling and holding out my glass.

I try to read the situation in times like these. I’ve taught an eager restaurant waiter all about decanting – why we do it, how we do it properly, when to do it, and most importantly, when not to do it.  I’ve also smiled politely (and cringed inside) when a know-it-all general manager spun my beautifully-aged, and carefully-transported, bottle of Heitz Martha’s Vineyard around in the air as she told me she’s “had this before.”

We all have our areas of expertise, and we’ve all encountered somebody who presumes to know more than we do. More times than not, I’d rather nod and smile while I grab another free glass of Barbaresco.


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Filed under pairing, sommelier

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