Monday, January 9, 2012
My mini-retail experience
I overheard a woman ask the clerk, "Do you have any Tempranillos?" That piqued my interest. Who in California asks for Tempranillo -- not Rioja -- and why? The store staff pointed out a couple of Riojas, both Crianzas and affordable, and briefly described them. The woman put both in her basket, but looked vaguely unsatisfied.
I barged in. "Excuse me, I'm sorry to ask you this, but I write about wine for a living, and I want to ask you, why did you ask for Tempranillo?"
Turns out she had recently had a couple she liked in California tasting rooms, one from Lake Berryessa and the other from Clarksburg. She didn't remember the names. And she was going to meet her sister who she hadn't seen in 30 years, who lives in South Dakota now, and she wanted to show her some of the fine wines of California.
So Rioja -- though I love it -- wasn't the answer.
The store may not have had any California Tempranillos. To be honest, I'm not a fan; I'm not sure why the grape doesn't do better here, because logically it should, but I've been to some big California Tempranillo tastings and walked away unimpressed. Without discussing it, I could tell the store staff agreed, as they started talking to her about Barbera.
But Barbera and Tempranillo aren't similar. And the point here was not to buy a wine to go with any particular dish. Instead, it was for representin' the state, and if she wanted a Cab, Chard, Pinot or Zin, she would have said so. She wanted something to show both California's quality and range: exotic and delicious.
I asked how much she wanted to spend; her daughter said $20 while she discussed a couple of Barberas with the staff. My eye lit on Sean Thackrey's Pleiades ($26).
So I said, "I would go with this one." And I started telling the story of Thackrey, which I knew because I had once written a profile on him. I'm not going to run a review of this wine here because she bought it and I didn't; I don't know what this latest batch tastes like. But Thackrey and his medieval methods and open-top fermenters that capture the Bolinas terroir are a good story to tell, and she needed a story as much as a bottle. I even called Pleiades the "butt ends of his other wines," which Thackrey might not like, but which is pretty accurate. She laughed.
She bought the Pleiades (I even upsold her) and thanked me more than once. I hope it was good. My local store is an artisan-focused place that has a lot of "natural" wines that are not fruit-driven, and the buyer herself would probably have been appreciative. Thackrey's wines, while balanced, tend to be plenty ripe, and for an older woman living in South Dakota who I know nothing else about, I'll pick a riper wine over a leaner one every time.
I know I have a lot of readers who are sommeliers and wine shop owners or staffers, and this interaction is commonplace for you. But for me, it was really fun and special. This must be the fun part of your job. I wish I had been there to see her open the bottle and taste it, but sending her out smiling into the night with a story to tell ... it made both of us happy.
Posted by W. Blake Gray at 6:00 AM