An intermediate guide to wine

Maybe like four months ago I wrote about how I don’t know anything about wine. I’ve since switched jobs. My old restaurant didn’t have a liquor license, so I didn’t need any alcoholic knowledge. Every once in a while some stuffy Manhattan couple would come in and, before I even had a chance to say hello, they’d instruct me to go fetch them a couple of glasses of Sauvignon Blanc. And I would just stand there, staring at them, not saying a word, waiting for them to realize that I hadn’t moved, that I was just staring straight at them, and when they would finally give in, finally look up to me to make eye contact and say, “Well?” I’d instantly flash a crazy smile and say, “Sorry! No alcohol! How about a Diet Pepsi?” It’s the little things that get me through the day.

But this new restaurant is, to slam my previous gig and, for lack of a better description, actually a real restaurant. Like I have to wear a tie. It’s ridiculous. And they’re all about wine. They pride themselves on their wine list. They do tastings with the staff whenever a new bottle arrives. When I applied for the job, they made me take this whole wine test. It was written. Pages and pages. I kind of expected it, but as is my pattern of not taking life seriously enough, I spent only about ten seconds online researching wines before I got distracted and started wasting time on Reddit.

Whatever, I told myself, I know enough about wines. Which is only about ten percent true. I drink red wine. I know the names of the popular grapes. I never spend more than ten dollars for a bottle. So I figured, just get in there and charm your way through whatever questions they ask. That is, I had assumed it would just be a manager talking with me about wine for a while. In that scenario, I probably could have done fine. But like I said, they sat me down with a written test.

I immediately knew that I was fucked. There were all of these questions about regions. I know Napa is in California, but that’s about it. And then there was fifty percent of the test dedicated to white wines. I never drink white wine. The last time I took a sip of white wine was at this Chinese restaurant called Silk Road that everybody went to in college. You sat there, ate Chinese food, and for two hours they gave you free white wine. Yeah it was out of a box. Yeah it was disgusting. But it was free booze. The last time that we went there during senior year, I was eating Chinese food, pounding back glasses of white wine, feeling fine, and then at the end of the meal I stood up to leave. It was like all of the alcohol had accumulated in my legs, just waiting for me to get up so it could attack my brain all at the same time. I was instantly like black out drunk. But not even. I wish I had blacked out, because I got so sick, really sick, everywhere. And I remember all of it. I still can’t drink white wine.

And now I’m staring at this white wine test. I wouldn’t know how to bullshit my way out of any of these questions. The worst part about the test was the last few pages were a direct photocopy of the restaurant’s wine list. Did I mention how much pride they take in their wine list? Certain wines were blanked out and I had to fill them in. Like I was supposed to study their wine list. Come on. That should have been the easiest part of the test, because it was just rote memorization. But I didn’t study.

So I’m taking this test at one of the tables in the restaurant. Five minutes go by and I figure, well, I can either get a zero, hand it in with some half-assed joke about not knowing too much about wines, shake somebody’s hand as they say, “Yeah. Thanks a lot. We’ll definitely be in touch.” Or, I could just take out my phone and look all of this stuff up.

I’m not a good cheater. I could never cheat on anything, even in high school, and not for any moral reasons really, because I think testing is just a bunch of nonsense anyway, but I was mainly afraid of getting caught. I’m the worst, constantly looking around, sweating. It’s all a dead giveaway. But nobody came over. I had enough time to take out my phone and look everything up, even on New York’s super overcrowded wireless network.

I filled out the red section one hundred percent correct. And then I thought to myself, shit, that was probably a mistake. What if they get suspicious, think to themselves, wow, this guy really knew every single question? Did he cheat? That’s what I would think if I were giving the test. But I filled it out in pen. What was I going to do, ask for a brand new copy of the test? They’d ask why. I’d say because I made some mistakes and I want to start over. They’d say just cross them out and keep going. What am I supposed to cross out the obviously correct answer and rewrite an incorrect one, to make it look more natural? I told you I’m a bad cheater.

So I figured I’d make up for it by not doing so well on the whites. I made up some incorrect answers. I left some blank. Whatever. And then I handed it in. The manager looked it over and said something like, “Wow. You really nailed the reds. I guess we’ll just have to work on the whites.” And I kind of just let out this internal sigh of relief, like I couldn’t believe I actually got away with it, like I couldn’t believe nobody even gave me one verbal question to make sure I hadn’t cheated through the whole ordeal.

But I’ve been at this job for a few months now and I’m pretty sure that I didn’t really need to know anything about wine. I still barely know anything about wine. When people ask for a recommendation, I literally point to a random wine and start going off, really convincingly, “Oh this one is just delightful. Unlike your typical Chardonnay, this one’s got a lot less of those oaky overtones. And there are so many complex aromas. You can detect vanilla, passion fruit, shnozzberry. It’s wonderful.”

But even that is super rare. I think I’ve been asked for a recommendation maybe twice. Usually people come in and are just like, “Give me a glass of the house Cabernet.” At this point I’m supposed to direct the guest to our wine list, to show them that we have three house Cabernets, that we take our wine very seriously. But whatever, I know what they want, the cheapest, and I want to minimize the number of words that have to come out of my mouth directed at that person.

The best is bottle service. Somebody buys a bottle of wine, even the cheapest bottle, and it’s already doubled the price of the check. Some of the other waiters are really good salespeople, adept at hawking off hundred dollar bottles. My strategy is a little more modest, only because I know I could never pull off those rare vintages with a straight face. If someone asks me for a good bottle, I always point out the second least expensive. The customer will look at it, think to themselves, well, out of all of these wines, this waiter is pointing me in the direction of a moderately priced bottle. I’ll take it. Which for me is a win, because I’m just assuming that the majority of the people I deal with will always default to the cheapest option. That’s what I would do anyway. And so in most scenarios, I’m bumping them up to the second cheapest option, which, done regularly enough, is a huge win for me. But like I said, I’ve only been asked for a recommendation maybe twice.

The one thing I picked up way too fast was the whole opening the bottle at the table. I say too fast because, after a month or two, I felt so confident in my opening skills, that it just escaped the realm of my imagination that anything could go wrong. So one night I had this group of four men, they each had like three glasses of Scotch at the bar and started ordering bottles of wine at the tables. The first bottle went smoothly. The second bottle went even smoother. So smooth in fact that the cork offered basically zero resistance as I pulled it out. And not expecting such an easy job, the hand cradling the bottle automatically jerked down a little bit, expecting somewhat more of a fight. The result was that half of the bottle splashed out directly on top of two of the guys I was serving. Like they were soaked. Like I couldn’t even try to clean anything up, because it was all over the both of them. It looked like they just gotten out of a red wine shower. I had to fetch a new bottle of wine because this one was noticeable depleted. What a disaster. I comped the bottle and told the manager that these guys had a little too much to drink at the bar.

Crisis averted. I think. Maybe one day I’m going to go into work and the boss will just be like, “All right buddy, this has gone on far enough. You’re not fooling anybody. Name me four types of Chardonnay right now or your fired.” And I’ll just have to be like, “Yeah, sure. But, can you hold on one second? My mom’s in the hospital and I just want to text my dad and see if she’s OK.” And then I’ll really hope that the wireless network is moving quick as I’ll open up my phone’s browser and try to load up the restaurant’s wine list.

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