What Would Shirley Ellis Drink?

July 19, 2010 § Leave a comment

I found myself in the unwelcome position of making a customer feel awkward last week.  The blame rests with a certain cultural laziness when it comes to grape names, likely connected to our discomfort with foreign language. When one’s relationship with wine commences, it’s all formality- Cabernet Sauvignon. After a few dates it’s down to a “Cabernet”  first-name basis. Soon enough you’re co-habitating and using nicknames like “Cab” or “CS.” That’s all fine so long as we all know who we’re talking about….but what about poor Cabernet Franc? Or Sauvignon Blanc? Such was the difficulty I encountered when a customer asked to be shown the Pinots. Pinot Noir I assumed, “Pinot” being the generally accepted nomenclature for such. Alas, this customer, when presented with a row of red wine in Burgundy bottles, frowned and said, “uh….the white Pinot, from Italy.”

Grigio? Really? Who decided it was o.k.to get so chummy with Pinot Grigio? We all know what happens when you whisper the right nickname in the wrong ear- embarrassment and recrimination. And so it was that I, anxious not to reveal that I thought a little faux-pas had been made, abruptly changed course and headed for the Italian section with an “ohhhh THAT Pinot!” and a smile. I now live in fear of the Pinot Meunier fan and the Pinot Blanc lover…will they too assume I’m on the same page? I just hate those awkward moments…

I never thought someone a hipper wine enthusiast for using words like “Cab Sav” or “Pinot;” I don’t consider them terms of art. In fact there is one person in my  past whom I tried to avoid for, among other things, bandying about the term “Savvy Blanc.” Oh, the irony. So I’m calling for a return to formality on some of these grape varieties. Please. It will save us all some embarrassment.


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