I laughed all day when I got this assignment. They're going to pay me to drink wine? It was too good to be true. But then I told my sister, the wine snob. "Charmie," she chastised me, "you have to spit out the wine. You don't get to drink it."
In a dining area lined with dark wooden bookcases at Paesano's restaurant, a group of about fifteen people sat rather stiffly around a table laden with what I can only call a royal feast. In addition to the five wines (all Italian) to be presented, discussed, and described, we were also fed four of chef Isabella Nicoletti's master creations.
Wine director Chad Thomas, whose attitude and appearance in no way betray his all of thirty-one years, utilized an enormous Wines of Italy chart with a colorfully coded map of Italy's twenty-some regions. We received handouts listing the names and prices of the wines, with room for notes. A small group of coworkers, all women, sat nearest to me. They weren't too friendly, but I figured either they were as scared as I was or they were attempting to look like wine snobs. It was then that I decided not to spit out my wine.
First, we learned that Italian wines are named for their location (hence the map). As Chad served the first wine, a 1999 Pojer e Sandri Traminer (white, yummy), he encouraged us to "give it a while to release the aroma." Watching the others, I swirled, sniffed, and sipped.
I sampled grilled polenta and beef tips with the next wine, a 2000 Conti Contini Sangiovese. Chad began to describe the wine in terms like "earthy," "natural," and "woody." Another sip. Yep, he was right. You see, that's part of it — being able to describe the subtleties.
Between bites of eggplant Parmesan and calzones, another Sangiovese was lifted up to show the bottle and then passed round. We received gems of instruction along the way. "You don't want the wine to overpower the food," Chad said, adding, "There are lots of exceptions. It's also a matter of personal taste." Cool. Free license to apply personal taste? I can do that.
By the end of our time together we all were brave enough to offer descriptions of the wines. The three ladies at my end of the table were loosening up. "My husband thinks I'm at church," one of them chirped. "This is confessional wine."
The next time my sister came over, I left out a bottle of Cte du Rhne. "Oh," she said wide-eyed. "I love Cte du Rhne." "Of course," I answered smugly. "It's perfect with Spaghetti-Os."
Paesano's weekly wine tastings resume on Wednesday, September 18.