The Vino Vendetta
I had never attended a wine tasting before. Thankfully, my wife knows of these things, and readily agreed when our neighbor, Teresa, invited us to the annual gala at her golf club. She promised it would be quite an experience. Her enthusiasm meant little to me as I had no frame of reference, although I relished the opportunity to taste some potentially excellent wine.
Dozens of circular tables filled the ballroom, and the seating was unreserved. We had just settled down when Teresa let out a groan.
“Oh, no. It’s ‘the Don.’ Salvo Lombardi. Our resident godfather of wine snobbery. Watch out, he may offer you a wine you cannot refuse.”
I turned to see a suave, silver-haired gentleman making his way through the crowd. He dispensed nods and waves like a benevolent king bestowing favors on his adoring subjects as he meandered toward our table.
He sat down and sized up our group; the corners of his mouth curled up with a slight sneer. He acknowledged fellow club members, Teresa and Bill, and then we introduced ourselves all around.
“I hope you brought your checkbooks,” the Don said. “It’s essential to keep your cellar well-stocked. I can make a few suggestions if you like.”
To kick off the evening’s activities, Chef Philippe came out from the kitchen and briefly described each course he had prepared for us. Before departing, Chef commented on Mr. Salvo Lombardi’s extensive knowledge of wines, and thanked him for his excellent suggestions on tonight’s selection. The Don accepted these accolades with a regal wave of his hand. Soon thereafter the servers began circulating among the tables.
Our first course comprised smoked salmon on toast points with a sparkling Chardonnay. Salvo instructed us on how to appreciate the fruity yet refreshing taste. We learned that, when aged in oak barrels, the wine developed a creamy, buttery taste with hints of vanilla and spice.
That was the magic of wine, like a wizard that could transform itself into many forms. I was thoroughly impressed. It was a tremendous responsibility for the humble grape to carry around.
The Don swiveled in this chair and conferred a friendly smile upon me. “You must be new to the club. I don’t recall seeing you before.”
“I’m not a member,” I said. “We’re here with the Bronsons.”
“Oh, then you must belong to another club. Which one? I belong to several myself.”
“I don’t play golf, so I don’t belong to any club. We’re just visiting.”
The Don immediately turned to speak to the person on his left. Suddenly, there was a distinct chill in the air. As it transpired, and although we sat shoulder to shoulder, we never exchanged another word the entire evening.
The message was obvious: one should never venture above one’s station in life.
Next up, a creamy asparagus soup served with a chilled Sercial Madeira. Of course, Salvo let us know how difficult it was to pair asparagus with the proper wine, but never fear. He sallied forth to the chef’s rescue toute de suite.
The main course was a mouth-watering prime rib paired with a dark Cabernet Sauvignon. The Don demonstrated he had a nose for good wine. We all looked expectantly at Salvo as he swirled the wine and sniffed the aroma, then held it aloft allowing light to filter through to assess its consistency. Finally, he tipped the glass to savor that first sip.
We let out a collective sigh of admiration as the Don pronounced it “full bodied with a medium level of acidity, and just about acceptable.”
I poked my wife sitting next to me. “What the hell does ‘full body’ mean?”
She leaned over and whispered, “Think of body as the difference between skim milk, whole milk, and cream. Body is how the wine delights the palate.”
“Ah-ha!” I was starting to understand. I, too, could learn to be a wine snob.
Dinner progressed, and the cuisine was surprisingly filling despite the miniscule portions. To my untutored taste, I found the wine selection perfectly suited to the particular dish, but what did I know?
With each course, the Don pontificated at length on the wine of choice. He was quite the connoisseur, having returned from a recent buying trip in Europe where, he informed us, he’d acquired over three dozen cases of various wines. He expounded on each serving in minute detail, such as the region where it originated, and why that particular climate and soil were uniquely suited to that particular wine and no other.
My knowledge of wine increased tenfold in one evening. I almost enjoyed listening to the Don drone on and on. . .and on.
As an after-dinner digestive, we savored a Cockburn 20-year-old Tawny port served with squares of dark chocolate. Of course, Salvo had to deconstruct the rich, complex taste for us with its layers of caramel, walnuts, butterscotch, and honey. Alas, where would we be without the Don?
Later, as we prepared to leave, good old, friendly Salvo bid everyone good night. Everyone, except for yours truly. But I’m not one to stand on ceremony and ignored the snub.
The warm spring air was refreshing, and together, our little group strolled around the clubhouse before we departed.
With a hint of mockery, Teresa inquired whether I’d consider coming back next year.
“But of course! Who could resist? Besides, the Don and I have so much not to talk about.”
Terry Adcock © 2022
Author Notes: I'd welcome any comments or observations. Perhaps you, too, have encountered offbeat people in public settings. One learns to deal with things and move on. Enjoy!