My husband is a wine writer. I'm not sure people understand what that really means. It's an interesting, somewhat odd career that can threaten not only your liver but also your tooth enamel.
Michael tastes more than 9,000 wines a year. You do the math: It means multiple bottles opened every night -- tasted, spat and reviewed. It's lots and lots of bottles, which means we have to sneak the overflow empties into friendly neighbors' recycling bins. A new year brings 9,000 more bottles, because guess what? New vintage. He could not be happier.
When you have people in the wine business over for dinner, they show up with bottles tightly wrapped in paper bags. They place them on the table, still in the bag, because we must play the Guess the Wine.
Never played? Let me explain.
Each guest tries to bring something so obscure and unique that no one at the table can figure out what it is. Whomever can fool everyone else is the big winner. If a bottle is correctly identified, it's the equivalent of a gold medal in the Olympics. You can ask general questions: "Is it old world?" "New world?" "Southern hemisphere?" "French?" "Argentinian?" "Californian?" The pressure begins to build with the first sip and it sometimes continues throughout the meal.
It should be noted that there are some wine people who refuse to play -- so fearful are they of messing up.
Michael's secret weapons for this game are the wines from Greece. They are so rare that only the best make it in America, giving them a much higher "geek factor" (his words). He loves making opinionated wine people taste something they may normally dismiss. The years of retsina, that pine-pitch scented Greek wine from our near past, has tainted many tasters for life.
In an interview with Lynne Rossetto Kasper, Tara Q. Thomas, executive editor of Wine & Spirits Magazine, talked about Greek winemakers having to playing catchup since joining the EU in the 1980s. They've done it with unique grape varieties (Xynomavro and Agiorgitko) and a wide spectrum of growing regions. Have a listen to Tara's interview for more Greek wine insights and her picks for some of the best.
Sally Swift is the managing producer and co-creator of The Splendid Table. Before developing the show, she worked in film, video and television, including stints at Twin Cities Public Television, Paisley Park, and Comic Relief with Billy Crystal. She also survived a stint as segment producer on The Jenny Jones Show.