Friday, March 12, 2010

Lost in Pronunciation: Greek Wine Review

Just fifteen dollars and four hours was all it cost to transport me to Boston. I highly recommend the Chinatown bus to anyone in need of a quick getaway from the city. The only downside was the bus stopping at a McDonald’s halfway through the trip and all the passengers bringing their grease-stained paper bags full of McGoodies back onto the bus. The stench in the air, fueled by packets of ketchup sludge and science-lab cheese, made me want to call for some smelling salts.

As an unexpected relief to the long bus commute, I stumbled upon a wine-tasting that featured ten Greek wineries. At the door I received a booklet containing a map of Greece and a list of indigenous grape varieties complete with their proper pronunciations. Even after much practice these terms were strange and awkward to pronounce. But after a few sips of wine my tongue was loosened and I was pronouncing terms like Agiorgitiko and Moschofilero with ease.

The wines poured also contained a smattering of familiar international grape varieties like Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. But the highlights of the tasting were the wines that consisted of the quaint indigenous varietals.

The most impressive wines came from GAI’A Wines which produces on the island of Santorini and in Upper Nemea. I respect that they choose to avoid international varieties and only focus on Greece’s indigenous grapes. GAI’A’s white wines are made from the Assyrtiko grape, a native of Santorini, which allows for high-quality, age-worthy wines with good acidity. The Thalassitis 2008 and the Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2009 were especially peculiar and full of character. The flavors and aromas leaned towards an oxidized style, evoking caramel or dulce de leche. These are white wines to be savored.

A notable sparkling white wine was presented by Domaine Spiropoulos, a certified organic winery in the Peloponnese. The Ode Panos NV, a distinctively dry and chalky sparkler, is made from the aromatic Moschofilero grape. I predict this wine will become the new darling of cutting-edge wine establishments throughout New York City.

As for reds, Domaine Harlaftis poured a consistently good portfolio that featured the Agiorgitiko grape variety. These grapes are grown organically though the winery is too small to invest in becoming certified organic. The Harlaftis Nemea 2008, which has spent time in old French oak barrels, provided a nose of forward and enticing fruit, much like the musky aromas found in a fruit preserve.

Most of the wines I tasted have every reason to win the palates of wine consumers and I hope they do. They’re surprisingly affordable, food-friendly, and introduce a whole new vocabulary to the table. I recommend foregoing international varieties and Retsina when shopping for Greek wines and boldly choosing the bottles labeled with names you can’t pronounce.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

To Beard or not to Beard

I recently interviewed for an assistant sommelier position at a major hotel in midtown Manhattan. After filling out the necessary paperwork, I met with an HR representative who quickly led me to his office deep down in the neon-lit, unglamorous basement of the hotel. Before I even had the chance to hang my coat and take a seat he began his long list of probing questions.

The questions, which were shot at me like the lightning round of a TV game show, were pointed and uncomfortable. I expected to be asked about my knowledge of Bordeaux and Burgundy, not my personal ethics. At one point in the interview he asked me to describe myself in a single word or phrase. Stunned, I wished I could opt to phone a friend to answer this one for me. How on earth can I create a tagline for myself on the fly?

Surprisingly, not one question was asked about food or wine. Instead he asked me to describe things like my most serious regrets and how I react to failure. It felt more like a confessional than a job interview and I was completely blindsided by his hard-hitting questions.

At the end of the interview he said he had one more question that may be uncomfortable for me to answer. My mind began to race, thinking of a question that could be any more uncomfortable than the last few. Would he ask about my sexuality, a death in the family, or how I once shoplifted at the grocery store when I was six? His eyebrows furrowed, he was about to ask something seriously personal.

“Mr. Bean, how attached are you to your facial hair?”

Apparently, this particular corporation bans beards. Well-groomed moustaches are okay but anything more than that is not allowed, unless, he specified, your beard is part of your religious practice.

Regardless of my answer to his question, I felt like the job opportunity was lost for me. My beard conveyed a certain attitude and marked me as some sort of anti-corporate rebel. I left the interview feeling like maybe I should sport a different look. Perhaps a clean-shaven face would open more doors and make me more appealing in certain job interviews. Job hunting is a lot like auditioning for a character role, but the challenge is that you are given no information on the specific qualities you are supposed to portray to win the part.

I never received another call from the hotel and I’m blaming it on the beard.

Since the interview, I’ve had to seriously think about the seemingly small details that may keep me from getting hired. I’m starting to think that it’s the subtle, non-verbal characteristics that set you apart and impress a potential employer. Rather than spending time revising my resume, maybe I should be spending more time with my razor.