I made my way to the table where Kirk and Judy were sitting, and where Donna was milling. Each place setting held a crescent of six half-filled glasses arrayed on placemats with numbered circles.
“Looks like we’re doing some serious tasting,” I said to Donna as we settled into our chairs.
She glanced around and said, “Well, if we are, I’ll be missing out.”
She was right. Her place setting held only five pours. I looked to the empty place next to me.
“Here, I’ll get one of these glasses for you,” I said.
As I leaned over my place setting, I felt the flap of my leather jacket knock over a glass and suddenly the elegant tabletop had the look of a murder scene. I glanced up to see the shocked expressions of Kirk and Judy.
“Ooops. I guess that wasn’t the best idea.”
“That was why I didn’t want to reach for it,” muttered Donna.
A few minutes later, all attention was mercifully lifted from my faux pas and turned to Henry Walker, who stood tapping a wine glass with a butter knife. The clanging sound turned the room’s steady din into a gentle murmur.
“The aim for tonight’s tasting is to compare our wine with other cabernets.” Walker’s voice boomed with a resonance that befitted the room’s oversized accoutrements. “What I want you to note is each wine’s structure, balance and oak treatment, and in a moment you’ll tell us which ones you liked best, and why. Oh, and extra points for identifying our wine.”
My table mates went to work, swirling wine number one and checking its color against the tablecloths. Some sniffed with one nostril, some with eyes closed. A guy at the next table plugged his ear while nosing, his eyes blinking a Morse Code of recognition. Gulps were taken, air was sucked, and lips were smacked. A few tasters took pen to paper. I did the same, but when it came time to form a sense of what was in my mouth, I finished dry. They all tasted good to me.
Once Walker’s table finished sampling the flight, he was back on his feet, calling on tables like a game show host.
“Table number one, what did you think of our first pour?”
Heads shook, snickers escaped and a swarthy fellow spoke up. “We think the fruit would be more inviting if it wasn’t fermented on a basement floor.”
A wave of laughter rolled across the room and the man high fived his cohorts.
“Table number two?”
A large grey-haired man stood and said, “Well, Henry. We were just wondering if you picked this wine out of Safeway’s bargain basket.”
A roar of scornful glee went up as the employees swooned with superior pride.
“Table number three?” This was my table.
“Henry, this wine not only lacks balance,” offered Kirk, with handsome confidence. “Its flavor profile is tilting more toward manure than fruit.”
When the snickers died down, I realized this was not just a wine tasting; it was an oenological cutting contest. How could I compete? I still didn’t know sweet oak from toasted, or French oak from American. Nor could I always discern what kind of fruit was being imparted. All I could do was latch onto wines with odd flavors and cling to them for sensorial support.
When Walker asked for a show of hands in favor of wine number two, I was the only person to put a hand up. Suddenly I was back in fifth grade giving an answer that I wasn’t sure was right, but giving it anyway to exert myself into the discussion. The crowd around me howled.
The smartass at the next table yelled, “Get a job,” and I vowed to never again volunteer a wine opinion.