Thursday, July 29, 2010
My Mentor Vin Dispenses Wine Wisdom
No matter what your line of work, almost everyone has had a mentor, a person who freely and generously gave you advice and guidance on your career path, perhaps even in your every day life. I thought I would introduce you to the man who has guided me on my wine journey, a man who has taught me as much about life as he has about wine. Perhaps in reading about him you too will benefit from his wisdom for he has much to teach everyone who loves wine. His name is Vin.
I met Vin at one of the first wine tastings I ever attended as a member of the trade. If memory serves, it was a tasting of wines made by apes. It was Vin who directed me to the table where a gibbon had made a particularly lovely Brachiation d'Acqui, and we struck up a conversation. It turned out that Vin wasn't really in the wine business, but he was so passionate about wine he frequently crashed industry tastings, and was very adept at it. He had a series of fake business cards that seemed to be successful at gaining him entrance to even the most exclusive tastings. One card, I remember, proclaimed he was the wine columnist for the "Wall Street Journal," which, given the fact that in real life his face was actually pixelated (stemming from a childhood accident with acne cream), was entirely credible. And it was even more credible when you talked to him and realized he was simply bluffing all of his wine knowledge, a tradition at WSJ that lives on today. But it was something that Vin said to me that very first meeting that has stayed with me, and that also made me realize I had a lot to learn from him.
"You don't have to know anything about wine to be a wine expert," Vin said, "because everyone is stupid." It's advice that has served me well my entire wine career, and has become even more meaningful in this wonderful age of wine blogs.
(I should also add that at that wine tasting I was also impressed by a very delicate orang muscat from Borneo, a Lodi chimpanZin, and the wines of Helen Turley.)
After that, I would always look for Vin at wine tastings. I was new to wine, but passionate about it, and Vin could sense that in me. Perhaps he identified with my thirst for wine knowledge and my drive to be a great sommelier. At another wine tasting early in our friendship, I think it was a tasting of wines made by albinos, Vin remarked in his characteristic aphoristic style, "What makes a great sommelier isn't letters after his name, or that doohickey that hangs around his neck. What makes a great sommelier is a shitty goddam attitude." To this day I remember his words when I meet a newly minted M.S., and am struck by its wisdom whenever I'm around a member of that brotherhood of imaginary experts. It helps to remember they're just doing their job when they're talking down to you.
Oh, I have a million bits of wisdom from the great Vin, more than I can share in one post. Eventually, I invited Vin to wine tastings at my apartment where we would taste wines from all over the world and he would teach me about them, about how to understand them, how to rate them, how to analyze their components and make sense of them. But Vin doesn't like to taste wines blind. "Never believe anyone who says they taste wines blind," he told me, "that's like believin' your Boy Scout troop leader is required to give you a prostate exam. They're both just giving you the finger for fun." Together, Vin and I tasted through hundreds of wines, and much of what I know today about the great wines of the world I learned from Vin. I don't think anything he told me turned out to be wrong, even if, at the time, I didn't understand what he was saying. Which may have been because he always spoke through a kazoo.
Here are just a few examples of Vin's wine wisdom:
"Any moron can make great Cabernet, and most of them do, but it takes a genius to make you believe it's worth more than thirty bucks. Unless you're a butthole."
"Chardonnay is the McDonald's french fries of wine--it's better with ketchup."
"You couldn't puke and make it smell as bad as Retsina."
"Terroir is French for 'April Fool!'"
I don't get to speak to Vin as often as I'd like lately. I've moved to Sonoma, and Vin is busy pursuing his lifelong dream of eating every issue of Robert Parker's Wine Advocate just to pass him through his lower intestine. But he and I have talked at length about wine blogging, about its impact on wineries and the wine business in general. Vin has some amazing insight and wisdom regarding the proliferation of wine blogs. "The combined wisdom in all of them wouldn't fill Jancis Robinson's left nut." It's funnier through a kazoo. We talked about wine reviews on wine blogs and Vin's take was, "They're as worthless as shelf talkers for sex toys." Our most recent conversation was about the Wine Blog Awards, and after I complained about the nominees and the winners, Vin remarked, "Giving awards to wine bloggers is like handing out condoms to castratos."
Eventually, I'll understand what he means.