With Christmas only a few weeks away, I thought I’d better give some of my readers a hint about what to get me. So I’ll just simply say: I’m an oenophile. This confession may look more exotic to you than it really is. An oenophile (pronounced “een-o-file,” although sometimes you’ll hear “ween-o-file” or “weenie for short) is merely a fancy term for a person who loves wine and considers himself to be something of a connoisseur. A good synonym, if you’d like to avoid Latinisms and/or tripping over your own tongue, is “wine snob.”
It’s tough to be an oenophile in a city where the best selection of bottles comes from a place called “The Liquor Barn.” If that conjures up pictures in your mind of people in overalls shopping for a bubbly pinkish beverage, you’re dead wrong. The Liquor Barn, believe it or not, has a pretty decent stock, although I wish it were called “La Grange du Vin.”
Kentucky’s claim to fame is, of course, bourbon, not wine. There are a few wines made in Kentucky, but the ones I’ve sampled are pretty much indistinguishable from Kool-Aid – except that Kool-Aid isn’t as sweet. However, judging from La Grange du Vin’s shelves, there are plenty of oenophiles here, some even willing to spend more than four bucks on a bottle.
The news that I’m an oenophile may come as something of a surprise to old friends who remember me from my early –‘70s dandelion cider days, when I would drink anything as long as it as served by someone wearing a ponytail. But after sampling a homemade concoction known in my social circle as “Gino’s tomato brandy,” I decided that my days of indiscriminate beverage consumption were over. The stuff was a cross between fermented ketchup and lighter fluid. You could get a pretty good buzz if you were able to get enough down, but that was impossible to do if you ever wanted to use your stomach again.
It was around that time that I learned how appealing wine can be for a person who likes to read a lot. There’s so much to study before you can actually feel comfortable sitting back, taking a sip of a Grand Cru Chablis, and saying, “Hey, that’s not Coke, is it?” For one thing, you have to learn how to correctly pronounce the offerings on a restaurant wine list. When faced with the words “Chateauneuf de Pape,” for instance, you should not say, “chat enough duh payp.” Instead, you should carefully mouth the words, “Do you have something less expensive.” If you’re willing to be cute, feel free to add, “S’il vous plait.”
Only a true oenophile can stand beside an exquisitely beautiful woman, exclaim “Oh, my goodness, what gorgeous legs!” and be talking about the dribbles from a 2006 Gewurztraminer. Legs, in wine talk, are those little streamlike trickles on the sides of your glass after you swirl the liquid around. If that’s the kind of thing that turns you on in the presence of a sex kitten, you are a weenie.
Another part of the body that oenophiles like to talk about is the “nose.” This is wine-snob lingo for how the beverage smells. At a fancy tasting, you might well hear a connoisseur intone, “Ah, the nose on this Chateau Parvenu is redolent of leather.” Nobody ever says, “This stuff smells like old shoes.”
If you’ve never been to a wine-tasting, you’ve missed one of the universe’s great silly experiences. A wine-tasting is the only place in the world besides a dentist’s office where it isn’t gauche for an adult to expectorate. After taking a mouthful of wine and slurping it around against your teeth and tongue in a long sensual tease, you’re supposed to hawk it out into a spittoon. At the classiest wine-tastings, you might find yourself spewing out liquid that sells for hundreds of dollars a bottle, which, in my book, is nothing to spit at. But if you happen to sneak a swallow, the other attendees will stare at you as if you’re a Martian. Which you’re clearly not, because Martians don’t go for wine; they prefer tomato brandy or bourbon.
It’s easy to get intimidated at a wine-tasting, but I’m here to help you. There are only six steps you need to know before arriving at that glorious moment when you get to eject the very thing that you came to get sloshed on.
First, watch carefully as the cork is removed from the bottle. This is very important, since an unopened bottle will not pour well. When the cork is passed around, you take a slight whiff of it. Remember, though, that no one will find it funny if you shove it into one of your nostrils. Oenophiles have no sense of humor.
Second, read the label carefully. Avoid tasting the wine if you see the word “anchovy” used as a descriptor.
Third, after the wine is poured, swirl it in your glass. This is a difficult process to master, but it’s not considered good form to use your thumb. Try not to spill anything on yourself, but if you do so, don’t even think about wringing your shirt into a glass.
Fourth, examine the wine with your eyes. What color is it? If it’s grey, don’t drink it. Is it clear or cloudy? Or is it already raining? Does it have a luminosity? Does it glow in the dark? Are there little particles floating in it? Are they alphabet noodles?
Fifth, sniff the wine. Get your beak right down there and take a really noisy breath. However, try to keep the tip of your nose dry. What you’re trying to discern is the subtle combination of aromas contained in the sample. You’ll hear your colleagues come up with some howlers, like: peaches, truffles, cigars. Don’t hesitate to shout anything that comes to mind, although it’s probably best to keep it to yourself if the only thing you can think of is Vicks.
Sixth, while nobody’s looking, chug. If someone notices that you have an empty glass, smile and say smugly, “Oh, I’m interested only in the Chassagne-Montrachet.” If the person then replies, “Well, we just tried the Chassagne-Montrachet,” don’t get thrown. Respond, “No, I meant the 1949 Chassagne-Montrachet.” If the conversation continues with, “Ummm, that was the 1949 Chassagne-Montrachet,” shrug and ask, “Are you sure? Don’t you think we’d better try it again?”