"It never gets any easier. You just go faster." ---Greg Lemond
"Don't buy upgrades. Ride up grades." --- Eddy Merckx
"You drive like shit." ---The Car Whisperer


The Whino

When you get the check, look for the drink refills. Were you charged? That's the way to tell if your waiter hates you.

I don't judge you if you don't drink. But who socializes over a Sprite? In a bar on a Thursday night at 9pm? It's your life and no one can make you have a beer. But I don't have to like it either, and if you're going to sit in my section for two hours and order nothing but a cup of soup and keep calling me over for refills and extra crackers, you are going to get the shitty service and get charged for every glass of soda and extra bag of crackers. I won't deny it. You are an adult and this isn't Europe. If you're hungry, order food. I work for tips and tables in a bar are expensive real estate. Be prepared to pay the taxes.

Even worse is the Cherry Coke. A Cherry Coke in a bar is Coke with grenadine...er, sorry, red-colored, cherry-flavored syrup. And there's never just one. Thursday night just brought the weirdness for some reason. First up was a table I never want to take. I've had them twice before. The guy and his wife love to come and order in courses and talk to me about the hand-written, laminated menu and specials like they're Alinea or something, then order Miller Light draft and send back the steak they ordered rare because it's raw in the center. And when it's time for another round of beer? Out comes the "You know what? I think I'll have a Cherry Coke," spoken with haughty tone like he's ordering a Baker's Manhattan with just a dash of bitters.

Cherry Cokes must have been in the air that night. I don't mind making them for cute high-school girls but out with your wife on a dinner date out? You're FORTY for God's sake. And I KNOW you live around the corner, so you walked here. This isn't Gibson's, I know, but it ain't Burger King either. It's a bar, and it's time to act like an adult. Worse still, after I welcomed them by name, timed their soup, salad, and steak perfectly, I got a 10% tip. And they really thought it was decent tip, because they chatted me up and said thanks and goodbye as they left.

I made so many Cherry Cokes that night my right index finger was stained pink by the end of the night from picking cherries out of the jar.

I wasn't all bitter that night, however. I did have a table to two women who ordered But Light bottles, with pint glasses with olive brine in the bottom. Gross, but funny. They also ordered nachos with chicken, yet no cheese. They knew they were pretty odd, enjoyed my commentary and tipped well, but, Bud Light and olive brine? Instead of flavoring your beer, why not just order beer with flavor?

My other favorite is when I bring a bottle of wine to the table. We open a lot on Wednesday nights, half-price bottle night. And we have some really good wines. Our distributer is Distinctive, which carries some much smaller labels than the giant Southern - and our manager Frankie is a wine lover. But her and my love of our wine selection is as far as it usually goes. I always follow the protocol of presenting the wine as though were any five-star restaurant (ironic following my commentary above, I know). It usually only gets the customary sniff (and I HATEHATEHATE the cork sniff), and it's then gulped down after maybe 2 seconds on the tongue. If I could get away with it I would give them a literal primer on tasting the wine: 1)slow down, 2) get your nose way in there and enjoy it as much as you would the taste and finally 3) actually taste the wine before you swallow it. Let it linger on your tongue. Get everything out of it that you can. It doesn't make you a snob, or some despised yuppie. You're drinking good wine. The people who made it put far too much love into it for you not to.

And speaking of wine:

Wherever you are serving the general public, you definitely get the full-serving of what is out there, as the cross section is definitely all inclusive. Yesterday was opening day at the liquor store and everyone was out to check out our new digs. Most people just browsed and enjoyed the selection, not as great or extensive as the Lincoln Park location but far more customer friendly. But as I sat at the wine help desk working on shelf tags I couldn't get far at all with my work as I was constantly asked to help pick out a great Pinot Noir. By the end of the night our Pinot aisle was destroyed and maybe 7 bottles of Merlot had been sold, 4 of them a 2004 from Alexander Vineyards that was being tasted earlier upstairs (and it was AWESOME).

Three years after "Sideways" Merlot is still unjustly maligned. If you've seen the movie, you know what I'm talking about. "I'm not drinking any fucking Merlot," Paul Giamatti's character shouts at Thomas Hayden Church when he pulls the bottle out before going into a BYOB place. The inference is obvious. But not really. What I love about the movie as that you really do have to be a wine connoisseur to really get it, just as with a truly good bottle of wine.

It's not just about the varietal, the blend, or the price, or even the region. It all comes down to how the wine actually tastes. Merlot is not a shitty wine, not a wine his character despises, contrary to the impression the movie gives. Remember the post-climactic scene? With Giamatti at his lowest point, having left his friend behind and heading back to L.A. with his tail between his legs? He's in a hot dog stand, scarfing fries and a dog while drinking the one wine he's been saving, the one he had from his ex-wife, that he was waiting for such a special occasion. Guess what it was?

So, now, we have a bunch of mediocre vineyards producing mass-amounts of shitty wine to satisfy an increased, albeit uninformed demand. The irony is that Merlot is such a friendly, easy-drinking, versatile, easy-to-grow wine. Pinot Noir is a grape that thrives, in fact demands, harsh conditions in order to achieve it's signature subtleness, it's earthy understatedness. The more you mass produce it, the more grapes on the vine you put, the less the vine has to work and the more it's energy is divided among it's grapes, the less of it's signature flavor and character the Pinot Noir will have.

Yet people are still slurping it up, and ignoring a wine that's been great and mass-produced - and tastes great mass-produced - for years and years. The height of the evening came as a gentleman in a scuffed black leather jacket and backwards Iowa cap started looking in the Pinot aisle and then began asking questions of our French expert - a guy who knows so much about wine it's inspirational and explains it in such easy to understand terms you will know what you're getting. And yet after 10 minutes getting several recommendations of some great French selections, the guy still walked out of there with a bottle of Mark West.

No, I'm not being a snob. If all you intend to get is something you were told to get - whether by a movie or your wife - then don't ask questions. If you are asking questions, then you should be receptive to trying something new. The person who is drinking Pinot only because a movie told him to is the one who is being the snob.

There you have it. Not only I have become jaded and cynical in both of my jobs - and only in two months! - they have come together perfectly meshed, and it's happened just in time for me to leave. I've learned a few things, primarily to never to take a full-time job, with benefits, for granted again.


Jeff said...

OK, wine-boy, how about some wine recommendations? I'll take couple Cab, Zin, Syrah (besides Mettler's, the best ever Petite Syrah at a reasonable $29/bottle) and maybe some lesser known Spanish wine recommendations.

Oh, and no Merlot recommendations. I'm drinking any fucking Merlot.

The Car Whisperer said...

Cabs...Root 1 from Chili is a steal at under $10. Herbal, big but not massive. California is tough as there's so many and they're just pricey...but Alexander Vineyards 2004 is out right now, and Avalon from Napa too. Both under $15. They drink like much pricier, with some good tannins, chocolate/coffee/tar (basically good structured and balanced cabs.) They really open up for hours too. Try Over the Shoulder from South Australia too. If money is no object and with Cabs it may not be - try Cakebread or Nickel & Nickel. After that anything over a $100 is just stupid if you're not rich.

Zins...my favorite cheapy is Peachy Canyon's Incredible Red and Sin Zin. Neither are very big but don't have to be. They have great Jammy-ness up front, especially Peachy Canyon. Good for just drinking at the end of the day. Moving up is Four Vines and Howling Wolf...old vine stuff. More complex with bigger body, and a little spice at the finish...best value on any shelf at under $15. Scott Henry too.

Syrah - San Simeon, hands down. Great structure, the fruit at the front and spice overall seem to be in their own little cages...Believe it or not Cycles "Gladiator" is great too. They're suprisingly complex for $8 and their Merlot and Syrah received 88 points not too long ago. Try the Guenoc Petite Syrah, too. And Coastline as well is a steal.

Spanish...Spanish is so awesome right because they have no European Market and are desperate to get into the US, so everything is way underpriced. The Carocal Jumilla is unreal for on $6. Seriously. Smoky, nice acidity and huge fruit, it's like a $30 wine. Everyone in the store is taking it home. Also the Marco Real from Navarra, both their Grenacha and their Temperillo - only $11.

Oh, and Luna's 2004 Merlot is fucking FanTASTIC.

Jeff said...

Sweet, thanks bro. So little time, so much wine...