When the invitation for my WSET graduation dinner arrived earlier this Fall, it included this daunting message: Please bring a wine to share, if you wish. At the time, I shuddered and promptly pushed it to the back of my mind as too much to deal with in the moment.
Fast forward to Tuesday. As I stood in front of my wine fridge considering a wine to share with my 16 fellow graduates, my many and much-decorated instructors, alumni who had gone on to import wine, make wine, write articles and books about wine, MWs (Masters of Wine) MS’s (Master Sommeliers) – all people who breathe wine 24/7/365, I broke out into a cold sweat.
What to choose? How to choose? What if I pick wrong? What if they roll their eyes or worse yet, what if my wine offends? Too pricey = trying too hard, too obscure = trying too hard, too common = boring. How to walk that fine line because just like the outfit you wear, the wine you bring makes an impression.
As you can see, I was transported back to junior high and I didn’t like it one bit.
Wine insecurity can happen to anyone. Faced with a long restaurant wine list or heaven forbid, the restaurant’s sommelier, we may feel uncertain and lacking in confidence. While I may read a wine list with ease and teach a wine class with confidence, I am clearly not immune to that insecurity. There is always someone who knows more and it is our human nature to doubt ourselves and assume others do not.
I grabbed a bottle and left for the train. Fast forward to my arrival at the graduation dinner where I was assigned a dinner table, dropped my bottle still clothed in a wine bag and joined the large group for champagne. The conversation was joyful and exuberant. We had been through the fire of three years of study together replete with multiple exams filled with difficult theory questions and that great humbler of all wine geeks, blind tastings. Now we celebrated our achievements and our gratitude to be done with that phase. Clearly our new degrees made us feel confident. Or did they?
When we sat for dinner, out came the bottles from their bags along with the truth.
Not surprisingly, there were the really obscure bottles made with grapes few people know from wine regions almost nobody has heard of. Then, there were the really old vintages from classic regions that were barely hanging onto their fruit. There was grower champagne, vintage port, orange wines, pet nats and older German Rieslings. From pockets and bags came the ubiquitous wine keys then swirl, swirl, swirl (spill), sniff, taste.
I instantly realized that everyone was in the same boat. We all felt the pressure to impress and the desire to avoid being judged. It was as if the bottle was a surrogate for us. At the end of the meal, there were lots of empty bottles and some new friendships as well. We had survived the exams and we would live to share another bottle of wine.
In case you are wondering what I brought, it was a bottle of 2012 Clos Haut-Peyraguey Sauterne, a dessert wine that I purchased in Bordeaux several years ago at the Pape Clement estate in Pessac-Leognan.The smallest estate of the Sauterne premier crus classes from the 1855 classification, Clos Haut-Peyraguey sits on a parcel adjacent to the famous Château d’ Yquem and is now owned by Bernard Magrez with Michel Rolland as consulting enologist. Comprised of 95% Semillon and 5% Sauvignon Blanc, the grapes are picked in successive passes as the botrytis spreads. Botrytis or Nobel Rot is a type of fungus that shrivels the grapes to raisins concentrating the sweetness and adding new flavors of honey, beeswax and ginger. This gorgeous wine offers a lovely golden color with notes of candied orange, apricot, honey and vanilla along with floral notes and beeswax. We enjoyed its balance and lush texture with our dessert but it would also be amazing with blue cheese or foie gras.
Oh, and nobody rolled an eye.