Monday, February 8, 2016

Larry Anosmia MS, Wine Advice Columnist

My wife and I decided to try the newest restaurant in town. When I read the wine list, I didn’t recognize a single wine. There was some category called “Pet Nat,” which I thought was odd. I’d heard they don’t make good pets, though you can train them, I think, and have a Flying Flea Circus. LOL! And there were a whole bunch of orange wines, which, I don’t know, I thought must have been made by Green and Red winery. Green and Red makes orange. Get it? HA! Anyhow, I was frustrated that I couldn’t find a bottle I even recognized, and when I asked for the sommelier’s help, he just looked at me like I was a dolt, and then sold me some bottle of Pecorino, which I only bought because that was my nickname in high school. Why do so many new restaurants carry wines most people don’t know?—Brett in SF

Dear Brett,
This is a complaint I’m pretty much sick to death of. First of all, it’s the sommelier’s job to look at you like you’re a dolt. During the practical exams for becoming a Master Sommelier, one is required to perform an exemplary condescending face. Many wear it almost constantly. Though too many actually look constipated. But, more importantly, Brett, how is it the restaurant’s responsibility that you know something about wine? Maybe your new restaurant should have some kind of remedial wine list for cretins like you who think you’re entitled to understand the wine menu. All you idiots just want Pinot Noir anyway, or maybe some Silver Oak—the missionary position of wines. You know, Bretthole, why can’t you, and all the other restaurant customers, understand that it’s the sommelier’s job to educate you, not make sure you enjoy your evening? And how can the sommelier educate you with a list full of the stupid kinds of wines you think you like and want to drink? It sounds to me like you ran into a very professional sommelier at that new restaurant. And, truthfully, sommeliers create wine lists to impress other sommeliers, which makes sense when you realize how important we are. And then all the customers do is bitch and moan. It’s the worst part of the job.

I ordered a bottle of wine. When the sommelier poured me a taste, I smelled it, and it smelled worse than a Trump polygraph test. I complained to the sommelier, and she told me that it was supposed to smell like that, and she refused to take it back. She claimed it was a “natural wine.” I asked her what the hell a “natural wine” was, and she told me it was a wine that was made with “minimal intervention,” I guess like our strategy in Syria. So utter bullshit. Shouldn’t she have taken the wine back and offered to replace it with a different wine?—Joe in PA

Dear Joe,
What kind of an idiot are you? Actually, I know what kind of idiot you are. You’re the kind who thinks that wines have to smell clean and pretty in order to be palatable. Well, listen, Joe, there’s a whole category of wines that just don’t need to be judged by the likes of you and the establishment. If a sommelier tells you that’s how a wine is supposed to smell, then you may as well drink it and enjoy it, brother, you own it. Sommeliers and wine writers and winemakers don’t answer to you, Joe. Who are you? We answer to a higher cause. We answer to terroir. A wine is supposed to smell of a place, Joe, and, honestly, some places just don’t smell that good. Think a cat lady’s sofa, or the motel after the Wine Bloggers Conference. When you know a lot about wine, which seems like about Super Bowl 86, you’ll understand that. Have you ever been to the place where that natural wine was made? What you smell is the wine’s terroir if the sommelier, or the wine writer, or the winemaker, says it’s the terroir. It wouldn’t kill you to keep an open mind, Joe. Once again, a sommelier’s job is to impress you with her encyclopedic wine knowledge and recommend the wine she’s convinced you haven’t a clue about in order to help you understand your own wine ignorance. Is that so hard to understand? If your doctor prescribes medicine for you, you don’t actually research the side effects, idiot, you just take it and hope you don’t die. Give your sommelier the same respect.

My husband and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary recently at a very nice local restaurant, and we ordered a bottle of Caymus Cabernet with our dinner. It was $200 on the wine list for a current vintage. A few days later, my husband saw it at a local wine merchant for $70. Why are restaurant markups so high on wine? It seems to me that a restaurant would attract more customers, and make more money, if they priced their wine list at more sensible markups. I’m guessing the restaurant only paid about $50 for that bottle. Does $150 profit seem reasonable to you?—Jessica in NY

Dear Jessica,
First of all, congratulations on your 20th wedding anniversary. My condolences to your husband. What a nag. You already kissed that 200 bucks goodbye when you ordered a Caymus Cabernet. Did you think it was even worth the 50 bucks you think it cost the restaurant? So, right there, you’re just talking out your ass. For $200 you could have had two bottles of Kenwood Sauvignon Blanc! But, OK, let’s take your question seriously, as if it were a good question. Though it’s not, it’s more like a “Is it pronounced ‘mare-a-tidge’ or ‘mare-a-taj?’” kind of stupid question. (It’s “mare-a-tidge.” An easy way to remember? It rhymes with “frottage.” Like what your husband does on the subway every morning.) That $150 “profit” goes toward paying the sommelier, who gets paid whether you see him on the floor or not, he could be at a tasting, or recording his weekly podcast that eight people listen to. That $150 “profit” goes to paying for the fancy stemware your wine was served in. You can’t drink Cabernet out of a Zinfandel glass, Jessica, for fuck’s sake, that’s basically a wine drinking cameltoe—just asking for inappropriate cracks. That $150 “profit” goes for proper wine storage. Some day. When we sell enough wine. So when you break it all down, that $150 profit is actually only $125 profit. And don’t forget it cost money to get that Wine Spectator “Almost a Best of Runnerup Award of Excellence,” too. Plus, you want familiar? You want Caymus? Not a Pecorino? You gotta pay the freight. Sommeliers don’t put wines like that on a wine list because we like them, we don’t. We do it because we know you’ll pay to make yourself comfortable, and because we need guest houses when we visit Napa Valley. So it’s a win-win, Jessica. Sheesh, what do you people want?


Quizicat said...

And here I thought frottage went with thin sliced meat on my charcuterie plate.

Charlie Olken said...

I am overjoyed to learn that Larry is not dead. I thought he might have gone the way of Robert Parker--just a distant memory. I am very appreciative of the work that Larry does. He curates many lists, and in his job as social media director for the MS Society, he has trained many of San Francisco's sommeliers.

Their existence, or should I day, the wine lists they curate, make my life easier. That is because here in San Francisco, we are lucky to have so many superb restaurants that choosing one for dinner is always a challenge.

Today, most restaurants will post their wine lists on the Internet along with their menus. The food I can understand. I mean how hard is it do decipher a duck, a steak, a chicken a pork chop and two fish (most often halibut and salmon).

So, the wine list becomes the deciding factor. If I can't recognize anything on it, or if Larry's name is associated with it, I can eliminate that place unless, like Wood Tavern in Berkeley, it has a $15 corkage fee.

But here is something that Larry can help me with.

My dear Mr. Anosmia--If you cannot smell, how do you know know if that Pet-Nat wine you are sampling has an appropriate stink that separates it from, say, from the wines of Williams Selyem or David Ramey?

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Well, you're right, it does, but your dry cleaning bill will be pretty steep.

Oh, Larry's around. And Lo Hai Qu is around here somewhere, too, though she seems to be pouting. I almost had Lo Hai Qu do this piece, but Larry seemed angrier and more fun. Beyond that, I have no idea what this post is all about. Well, aside from being all about a deadline.

Larry doesn't HAVE anosmia, Charlie, the condition was named in his honor because so many people wish that he did have it. Then he'd have to retire as a sommelier and become a consultant at Diageo.

Unknown said...

While I've certainly been the target of a few of your posts of recent --one funny, one mean spirited and dumb-- I have to give you props for the Syria line...

The Hair

Unknown said...

Ron - I am impressed that people are saying that you have been responsible for "mean spirited" posts. That means that you are quite successful. Congrats.

Was Al Franken's title "Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations" mean spirited? I rather think it is called satire.

Nice job! Keep it up (literally and figuratively).


Unknown said...

I just want to thank Larry for creating the wine list at my neighborhood Italian restaurant. I'm so glad that there are no local wines, and the cheapest option is a $12 glass of wine.

Charlie Olken said...

I am shocked, shocked to find that mean-spirited satire is going on here.

Everybody out at once.

Samantha Dugan said...

Oh C'mon Mr. The Hair,

HoseMaster was just foolin, kinda like you were in SOMM Into the Bottle when you said most food and wine pairings were bullshit, as you sat there with a pile of oysters and Muscadet. Right?

Aaron said...

Quite amusing, as always :)

But that restaurant markup does seem to confuse/annoy a lot of people. And while I do know (sorta) where it's coming from, it's still rather annoying to spend $80+ for a reasonably decent bottle that I can pick up at retail for $20-30+.

Darnnit, if I spend $80 on a bottle, I want it to taste like $80! /sarcasm

Eric V. Orange said...

Hose, well done lad! I like that voice. Maybe I can submit a few of the great questions we see now and then for Larry to answer.

Jef said...

@ Charlie Olken:

Your winnings, sir.