on wine and bullshit
“Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about.”
― Harry G. Frankfurt, On Bullshit
Here’s the deal, servers: At some point, you’ll have to sell a wine you haven’t tasted. Try as you might to keep up with everything on your wine list, there are going to be bottles you haven’t gotten to quite yet – or may never have a chance to open at all. Reading up can help, but as soon as you feel secure with all the current vintages, in rolls the next year’s model. If you’re worried about getting called out at a table for not knowing your wine, here’s a few tips on bullshitting your way through it.
In order to lie, you have to have some sense of the truth of the matter – and that lack of knowledge is exactly what got you into this mess to begin with. If they ask if you’ve tasted the wine, go ahead and be honest. This has a couple of strategic advantages. First, you avoid the issue of being dishonest. Second, you prepare your customer for the bullshit you’re about to spew. Even better, most customers will walk willingly into this particular cow pasture with you now that you’ve established your rhetorical position as a bullshitter.
Talk about the grapes.
Hopefully you know a thing or two about various wine grapes. If not, go ahead and stop reading this and get to googling. When the guest asks you about a new bottle of Merlot, try and generalize from what you know about Merlot. Just to walk all the way through the Merlot example, you’ll be able to bullshit nicely: “If varietally-correct, the wine should show some deep fruit, richness on the palate, and a rounded finish.”
Talk about the region.
You’ll also need to know the difference between California and France to pull this off. California is the flag bearer for ‘New World’ wines while France keeps it 100 with its ‘Old World’ style. The difference is that New World wines, generally speaking, are richer, show more barrel flavors and have higher alcohol levels. Old World wines are more focused, less oaky, and tend towards restraint. Think about the Merlot you’re being asked about, if it’s from California you can say “California wines show rich, unctuous textures and less acidity – as well as notes of vanilla and spicebox.”
(As a side note I often refer to “spiceboxes” when bullshitting about wine. It has that perfect conceptual position of being both familiar and not actually existing – it’s the ultimate bullshit tasting term.)
Talk about the producer.
Now you can lay it on real thick. Wine lends itself to narratives more than most products, plus everybody likes a good story. Get poetic, and even look up and away from your guest as you reverently explain that “the winemaker sees himself as a steward of the land, carefully growing each vine in concert with the terroir. They select each grape at harvest for its ripeness and full expression of everything California can offer Merlot – making it as distinct as anything put into a bottle.”
That might be a little too thick… but you get the idea.
Bullshit is a crutch, your goal is to not need it.
You made it – the guest bought the wine and even agreed it shows a touch of spicebox on the nose. But just because you bullshat once doesn’t mean it should be a regular occurrence. Whenever circumstance puts you in the place where you must talk without knowing what you’re talking about, take it as an opportunity to learn your own weaknesses. If you find yourself bullshitting about French wines, learn more about French wines. If questions about Champagne leads to a spew of bullshit, get to popping bottles and tasting.
In wine, just as in life, the less bullshit the better.