Tag Archives: Wine

I could be bigger than Jesus

Lately, whenever I think about Jesus Christ, I can’t help but take note of the fact that I’m about the same age that he was when he started getting really big. Do I think I’m going to overthrow an empire and start a chain of events that will shape world affairs two thousand years from now? Probably not. But it’s possible. And just knowing that it’s within the realm of possibility makes me feel like my life can’t be that bad, that it’s not too late to really make something out of myself.


And besides, I have so much more going on for me than Jesus did. Like, Jesus didn’t have the Internet. I’m sure turning water into wine was really impressive at the time, but if I found myself in his situation today, first, I’d go up to the host of that wedding, I’d be like, “Come on dude, who throws a wedding and doesn’t buy enough booze?”

And then I’d take out my phone and say, “SIRI, tell me where the nearest liquor store is.” Right? In fact, if I were at that wedding two thousand years ago, not only would I not have been impressed at Christ’s little miracle there, but I’d be worried. “Hey Jesus,” I’d say, “you know we’re living in an age where potable water isn’t exactly a luxury. Maybe two thousand years from now some of the world’s luckier inhabitants will be able to easily draw drinking water from metal pipes conveniently located throughout their houses, but that’s not the case here.”

In fact, I’d venture to guess that most of the people that attended that wedding died. They got blackout drunk on miracle wine and they all woke up the next day totally dehydrated, I’m talking roaring hangovers. Which wouldn’t have been a problem if twenty-something instant gratification JC maybe thought out his actions further than just the present moment.

“It’s fine, it’s fine,” he probably tried to reassure everybody, “just get me some of that leftover wine and I’ll turn it back into water.” And everybody was like, “Are you serious? It’s all gone. You drank most of it. Don’t you remember tying those two wineskins to your hands, insisting that nobody cut them loose until you drank both of them?”

All I’m saying is, history is written by the winners. Or, in this case, by the survivors. Notice that not once during the rest of the entire New Testament does Jesus dare turn anything else into wine. In fact, I think that there’s enough evidence later on that this early miracle actually held him back.

Because what about that time that he multiplied the fishes and loaves to feed all of those people? Again, what was wrong with people back then? You’re going to travel far away from home to the middle of nowhere to see an ultra-popular rabbi on his tour of the Holy Land, and you’re not going to bring food? You’re just going to stand around and wait to starve to death?

My point is, Jesus gave them food, great, bread, fish, delicious. But what about something to drink? “My Lord,” they probably begged him, “everyone’s complaining that, while the food is delicious, they can’t seem to find any water or wine to wash it all down.” And Jesus was probably like, “I … I can’t. I can’t perform miracles on water and wine. I made a promise. Never again!”

I’m just saying, Jesus was a big deal. But until he showed up when he was something like thirty years old, he was a relative unknown. And then he showed up and it was like, “Who is this guy?” just like Barack Obama did, “Yes we can!” Just like me, just like I can, maybe. I’ve got to come up with something, but the important thing is, there’s still time. I still have a chance to change history forever. Who’s with me?

Advanced wine service: wine lists, decanters, tasting notes

In the year and a half or so that I’ve been working at this current restaurant, I’ve learned a fair amount about wine. About our wine list at least. Definitely the popular wines that we sell, the stuff that we serve by the glass. Everything else, well, it’s probably from California, or near California, and if you ask me about the year, I’m pretty confident that it’s from sometime between 2009 and 2012.


Around six months ago, when I really started becoming familiar with at least the basics of our wine list, I had this mistaken idea that I actually knew something about wine, like in a more general sense. I got tricked. By working day in and day out at my restaurant, I just sort of started to absorb these random wine facts. It was totally unintentional, almost like osmosis.

And so I’d be out at a restaurant and I’d hear a familiar phrase or word used to describe a wine that I kind of thought we maybe had at our restaurant, and I’d be like, wow, I’ve got this. But that false sense of knowing what I was talking about would unravel as soon as I’d look at the wine list, bottle after bottle of something that I’d never heard about, and then whoever I’d be with would see me studying the menu intently, maybe they’d throw me a wine question. I’d just have to pull something out of my ass, “Hmm, yeah, this is definitely very … oaky. Uh … dry. Yeah, classic … uh, that’s definitely a classic California … you know what? I think I’m just going to have a beer.”

I’m at the point now where I’m at least somewhat self-aware of what’s going on, that even though I don’t know much about wines, like I said, at work I can deftly maneuver our list to the point where, when mixed with my natural ability to bullshit about pretty much everything, I can at times give the impression that I actually know what I’m talking about when it comes to wine.

Which isn’t to say that I’m immune to occasionally showing my true colors. Like the other night, I had this party of four, and one of the guys went straight for the wine list. I saw him looking way past the typical cheap stuff, and so I got a little nervous, prepared all of my nonsense qualifiers in case I was questioned, “high acidity, very tannic, old-world style,” but he didn’t ask me about anything, he just pointed to a bottle and said, “This one.”

When I got to the computer to ring it in, I noticed the price, it was like over a hundred and fifty dollars. So I started freaking out a little, I mean, I serve wine on a nightly basis. I rarely if ever make a mistake handling the bottles, but just knowing how much this stuff cost, just imagining me having to go to my manager and be like, “OK, try not to get mad …” it was enough to put just the right amount of added pressure into the mix to make me overthink the situation, to do something unnecessary.

For some reason, I thought, OK, this is an expensive bottle of wine, I should decant it. Decanting a wine is when you pour a whole bottle into a decanter, a large wide-bottomed glass jar with a thin spout for pouring. I think that the idea is to allow the wine to react with oxygen faster, or something, I don’t really know, and I couldn’t tell you if it actually did anything besides showing off to the rest of the restaurant that you ordered a bottle of wine worth decanting.

Anyway I got to the table with this heavy glass piece in addition to the bottle and four glasses. The uncorking went smoothly enough, which, if I were going to make a huge mistake, I would have expected it to be here, the cork not coming out right, or me splashing a little as I popped it out. But it was fine.

Then I started dumping the contents into the decanter. And as soon as I did, I realized, there are four people here, that’s basically the entire bottle of wine in four glasses. Why am I decanting this? I’m pouring it into a receptacle that’s then going to be immediately emptied.

I looked at the host and said, “So, should I pour now or do you want me to let it breathe for a little while?” And he was polite, he didn’t try to make me feel bad or anything, but it was obvious that he realized just like I did that this whole process was a little awkward. “No, you can just pour.” And so I poured, four glasses, grabbed the empty bottle and the decanter and disappeared into the kitchen.

Halfway through the meal, the guy ordered a second bottle, and I knew I’d just pour straight from the bottle this time. But he didn’t leave it to chance, telling me, “and don’t worry about the decanting.”

And so yeah, like I said, he was nice. I’m probably making a bigger deal out of the whole situation than it actually was. But it was a humbling experience, a reminder that, just because I might get away with pretending to know what I’m doing ninety-five percent of the time, I need to always be prepared to confront that other five percent, those times when it’s obvious that, just because I can name three glasses of Cabernet, I really don’t know anything about wine.

If you could come in tomorrow, that’d be great

I was at work the other day, my last day of the week, looking forward to two consecutive days off, just as soon as I finished this one shift. And then I heard one of my managers going around to all of my coworkers asking them if they could work tomorrow.

Shit. It’s not that I feel too much pressure to work when I don’t want to. I don’t have to say yes. But it’s like sometimes I’ll say no, and then the manager will go around and ask everybody else, and everybody else will also say no, and then the manager will come back to me, he or she will be like, “Can you please work tomorrow?” and they’ll have that begging look in their eye, and in that one moment of desperation all barriers are broken down, the invisible and, I would say, artificial authority that separates me as a human being from them as another human being.

And even though I don’t want to, I’ll sometimes start to feel bad. I’ll look the manager in the eye and curse my empathy as I agree, albeit begrudgingly, very obviously begrudgingly, like a way over-exaggerated, “Ughh … fine. I guess. Fine.”

But not this day. I had just finished a long week. I had been looking forward to these days off. “Hey Rob, could you work tomorrow?” “Sorry boss, I can’t help you out.” And he walked away, started making the rounds to the rest of the staff.

A lot of the time when the managers get really desperate to cover a hole in the schedule they’ll start cutting these deals. If I have my own scheduling problem sometimes I can use their desperation to my advantage, like depending on how badly he needed tomorrow covered, I could be like, “Well, let me off two days from now and you’ve got a deal.”

But again, I really, really didn’t want to go to work, so I didn’t even try it. I overheard him asking a coworker, “Come on, work tomorrow. I’ll buy you a free lunch.” Free lunch. That used to be tempting for me. Normally all restaurant employees get fifty percent off anything on the menu, and I feel bad going to work and then giving them some of their money back. So the offer for a free meal is cool in theory, but I’ve never really feel comfortable taking advantage of this particular perk.

First of all, I have to sit in the restaurant, like at a table, like some other waiter or waitress is going to have to serve me my food. This is always slightly weird, for me anyway, to be on the receiving end of what are my normal day-to-day tasks. I know it’s probably all in my head, but I can feel everybody in the restaurant watching me, judging my order, looking at me strangely if I’m sitting by myself.

And what am I going to order anyway? If the manager gives me a free lunch and I order something expensive, something really good, isn’t that going to be seen as me taking too much advantage of what should have been a simple gesture of gratitude? I’d feel kind of bad being like, “Fuck it. Give me the fifty-dollar New York strip. Ha!”

So yeah, the free lunch trick doesn’t really work on me anymore. Honestly, I’d rather spend my lunch break going to Chipotle anyway. Jesus Christ I’m so addicted to Chipotle. Sometimes if it’s really slow I’ll sneak out even when it’s not my lunch break and have a quick burrito.

But all of that’s entirely beside the point. My boss must have received a bunch of flat rejections from everybody else, because I saw him coming my way. Come on Rob, I told myself, stay resolute, don’t make eye contact.

“Rob,” he started. I already had my mouth halfway open, I was about to say something like, “Listen, there’s no way I’m working tomorrow. I’m really sorry, but absolutely no way.” I was about to say that. But he continued, “work tomorrow and I’ll give you a bottle of wine.”

And before I even had time to make sense of the offer, I blurted out, “All right. Deal.”

What the hell? I felt like Kramer in that episode of Seinfeld where he forgoes his lawsuit against the coffee shop because they offer him free coffee for life. Deal? I don’t know what got into me. I was just blindsided by the uniqueness of the offer. I’d never heard of anybody getting a free bottle of wine.

So yeah, I had to work the next day. It wasn’t that bad. I haven’t tried the wine yet. I think I’m scared to open it up and taste it. The whole thing seems so illicit, like what’s wrong with me that I can be instantly convinced to turn on my own convictions for a bottle of wine? It better be a good wine. I know that it’s going to be a mind game, like that first sip, regardless of what my tongue experiences, my brain’s going to override, saying, “Yes. This is good. Yup. This is great. This was totally worth it.” Although, I also know that, after it’s done, that same brain is going to second-guess itself, “I guess. Was it good? I don’t know. It was OK. It was, you know, it was winey,” and I’ll be left confused, unfulfilled. So yeah, I’m just staring at it, maybe I’ll never drink it. Maybe next time I’ll hold out until they offer me a bottle of bourbon.

Intermediate to Intermediate-Advanced Wines: An Introductory Course to Bottle Service

I’ve been working at the same restaurant for maybe six months or so. I’ve written about wine before, how I didn’t know anything about wine, and then about how I had to pretend like I knew a lot about wine to get my current gig. But I’m experienced now. Everything’s different. I’ve soaked up so much wine knowledge.

Well, that’s not really true. I’ve soaked up some knowledge. A little bit. And it hasn’t really been a soaking, like a sponge. It’s more like if you imagine me to be a piece of wood, and if you kept that piece of wood submerged in a barrel of wine for six months, you’d take it out, and it definitely wouldn’t be soaked with wine, but there’d be a stain, at least the wine made some impact on the wood.

And that’s what I’m like. I’m stained with wine knowledge. But only slightly. I’ve said this before, but most people who want a glass of wine don’t really care about what wine they’re drinking. “Give me a glass of red,” or “I’ll have some Pinot,” whatever that means. But every once in a while I’ll have some customers that sit down and really start mulling over our wine list. When this happens it’s my cue to stand up a little straighter and do my best to pretend like I know what I’m talking about.

At this point, you should know that if you’re sitting at one of my tables and looking past the wines that we sell by the glass, you already know more about wine than I do. In fact, asking me a question is only going to prompt me to make something up, to sound convincing, and so I’ll be doing you a disservice, doing the wine a disservice, because I’ll say whatever garbage I concoct with the utmost confidence.

Worst-case scenario, I’ll get called out on my mistake, which is easy enough to correct. I just start using my really contrite voice, contrite but equally confident, “I’m so sorry sir/ma’am. I don’t know why I said that. I apologize for my mistake.” Best-case scenario, look, I like wine and everything, but seriously, who is going to go to a restaurant, order a bottle of wine, and then call out the waiter for not knowing what he’s talking about?

One time I had this couple ordering by the bottle. I always get nervous because somebody might order the wine based on the location, like “We’ll take a bottle of the Russian River Valley,” and I’ll try to lean down and squint to where the customer is looking, without appearing too obvious, and I’ll say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear what you said. Can you repeat that?” and then after they repeat it I’ll say, “Excellent choice,” before running to the kitchen with my own menu, hoping that I can piece together what they were trying to get at.

Anyway, at this table ordering the bottles, the guy kept asking me way too many questions. “What vintage is this Cabernet?” and I seriously had no clue. But I didn’t want to be like, “Let me check that out for you sir,” because then he would have lost all confidence in my knowledge of wines. Which, to be fair, if he had any confidence in my wine knowledge, it was totally unwarranted, and as a paying customer, he should have access to whatever information he wants to know.

“2008,” I told him, totally pulling a random number out of my ass. Come on. The guy’s sitting there with a menu of our wines. Don’t you have an iPhone? Just do a quick two-minute Google search and you can probably find volumes written about whatever bottles we have. It’s like when a tourist asks me for directions to some landmark in the city, I just want to be like, “Don’t you have a phone? Just look it up. What do you think I’m out visiting the Statue of Liberty every weekend?”

I have a firm policy against writing the phrase, “But I digress,” but that’s exactly how I would have started this paragraph if that firm policy weren’t in place. The guy wound up ordering that 2008 bottle of wine. Shit. I hoped he didn’t order that bottle specifically because of the year. I went to the wine closet, found the bottle he was looking for. 2009. Huh. That’s pretty close actually, not bad for just making up a random number. I brought the bottle to the table, showed it off. Should I have said something? About that whole 2008/2009 thing? Maybe. But I didn’t. Not right away anyway. I opened it for him, he didn’t object. About halfway through the meal I went over to see how everything was going and I said, “Huh, I thought that was a 2008. We must have received a new vintage.” The guy nodded. He probably knew I was full of shit.

I’ll conclude with another random wine anecdote. If I’m doing bottle service, I always pour only the first glass, and then I leave my customers alone. A lot of the other waiters and waitresses will be constantly refilling their guests’ glasses, almost after every sip. If I’m ever called out on this I just say, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t want you to feel rushed.” But really I just hate pouring the wine, because there’s always that little drip down the side of the bottle, and a lot of the time I forget to carry around an extra linen, and so, what, I’m going to just let it get on the table? Maybe stain their clothes? No, just have at it, because I’m not coming back. Cheers.

Unimaginable wealth, indescribable power, exquisite tastes in the rarest wines and finest watches

One of my friends works in a really fancy restaurant, like much fancier than any restaurant I’ve ever stepped foot in. He told me that they have this vintage wine list, and that one of these vintage wines costs a thousand dollars a bottle. The restaurant only had two bottles, because I’m assuming that its exclusivity has more than a little something to do with such a steep price tag. Anyway, over the summer, apparently some guy came in with his family and they bought both of them.

What is it like to drink a thousand dollars? How is such a price even tabulated? Why not two thousand dollars? Why not ten? Once you’re getting to a level that’s beyond absurd, beyond the numerics of everyday reality, why do you even bother putting a price tag on it at all? To me, to a complete outsider to the world of thousand dollar wines, all I see is an insanely rich person going to another insanely rich person and exchanging an insane amount of money for a bottle or two of wine.

One time I was working for a caterer, providing food and drinks for a private party at this jewelry store in the city. The private party wasn’t really a party; the jeweler had invited all of these mega rich people to come and look at their exclusive collection of watches. There were maybe half a dozen guests. I’m pretty sure the wait staff outnumbered the clients by a factor of two to one.

And I remember standing there in my ridiculous catering tuxedo, trailing behind these ultra wealthy shoppers, making sure they had a little snack or a drink whenever they wanted. Super, super rich people have a way of carrying about their super, super rich lives in front of all of the people clinging to them, serving them, making sure that they’re constantly happy, as if they’re totally alone, as if everyone else is some sort of a decoration.

I saw one guy buy a watch that night for something like seventy thousand dollars. And he was putting on this ridiculous show to the salesperson, like, “Oh, I know I shouldn’t. I shouldn’t! But I just love watches. I just can’t stop buying watches!” and then his wife chimed in, “It’s true! He has so many watches. He can’t stop collecting watches!”

I thought to myself right there how absurd, how disgusting this whole situation was. Here we are, organic finite beings on this cooling rock of molten lava orbiting around the sun, itself orbiting around the center of the galaxy, all of us completely insignificant specks in the cosmos, all of us getting older ever day, going about our lives hoping that it all might mean something, that it all might make sense in some sort of a cosmic plan. And here I was, myself orbiting this guy with my tray of champagne glasses, him orbiting these glass cases displaying finely crafted metal instruments, metal instruments used to tick-tock, to count away the one thing that binds us all together. This metal, it’s going to outlast all of us. And how much money gets spent protecting this metal, these watches, hiring security firms to guard the watches, professionals to maintain the watches, keep them spotless?

On my way out of that building a bunch of security guys went through my backpack, I don’t know why, making sure I didn’t steal anything I guess. As if I could have. Do they really think I’m that clever? Or that stupid? That whole place was locked down like a fortress. I imagined the final pat-down just a friendly little reminder of my role in this world.

The gig lasted an hour, tops. But the same guys who pay thousands of dollars for a bottle of wine, who pay tens of thousands of dollars for a watch, they’re not going to hire some cheap-o catering company. And so all of us hardworking caterers get paid a five-hour minimum for every shift. It’s some of the easiest money I could ever hope to make for doing pretty close to no actual work at all. So I look at it from this perspective and I’m reminded that my existence is unimaginably more comfortable than the majority of humans who have ever lived and suffered and died on this planet. Am I any better than any of these rich people I’m deriding? We’re all chasing the same dollar, inching, orbiting as close as we can toward wealth, toward riches, toward happiness.

I’m not really getting at anything, not really. I’m just wondering, when you take a sip of thousand dollar wine, does any part of you really believe that it’s worth it? Because while I’m sure you poured it into a decanter and let it breathe for exactly the amount of time the sommelier instructed, and while you took a big whiff before you tilted that glass back, tried to imagine all of those vanilla and oak and other subtle, almost hidden aromas, I guarantee you that when that first drop hit your tongue, there had to have been a little part of you that was disappointed, that refused to stay silent, that piped up in the back of your head, that’s it? It’s good, but really? That’s it? But I just paid a thousand dollars. It’s just a glass of wine. It’s just a watch. You’re just some dude with way too much money to even begin to know what to do with any of it.