Aglianico and Awkward Moments

Building a wine list often involves pitfalls like running out of a product because it’s no longer available from the producer, importer, or distributor. That inevitable hole on the shelf means one thing: time for tastings.

“Tasting wine is the worst part of my job,” said nobody ever.

Let’s talk about a tasting that was entirely botched up by awkwardness. It was then saved, of course, by wine.

First, I’ll introduce you to Dom.

Dom is an importer who once gave me a bottle of fancy olive oil for free, so naturally he’s one of my favorites. Dom is organized. He has famous friends. He imports wines with his family, and he carries a laminated map of Italy with him to every client. The first sip of wine he ever consumed was a beautiful, bold red made by his father and consumed at a large Italian family feast.

We agreed on a Tuesday appointment which also happened to be my sixth ten-hour shift in a row. I was recovering from a horrible cold and I had issues pronouncing “Aglianico” for the same senseless reason I have issues pronouncing “Worcestershire.” So I practiced while driving to work: “ally-yawn-nico, ally-yawn-nico.” Onlookers at red lights fully enjoyed the show.

I had marked our meeting on my calendar and prepared to greet him as he ascended the stairs.

“Good ho,” said my dumb mouth.

I don’t know what happened. I think I wanted to say “good day” and “hello” at the same time and “good ho,” is what tumbled out. Of course my pasty, freckled skin can never

hide the inevitable blush of shame. So I giggled off the awkwardness then arranged some wine glasses on the marble bar top, plus some water and a container for spitting wine. Awkward moment over. Moving on.

Dom introduced me to a robust red blend before busting out the Aglianico. I swirled my glass and enjoyed the peppery nose. As I took my first sip, I felt myself suddenly about to sneeze. I tried to suck the sneeze back into my face in a panic to avoid spraying Dom with a red mixture of saliva and snot. I succeeded, but sucked back too hard, choking on my wine. Lovely.

After recovering from a choking and coughing fit that produced actual tears, I apologized and emptied my half-full glass into the spit receptacles. As tragic as it was to waste the wine, I was ready to move on from yet another embarrassment. I didn’t realize until using the restroom later that I had smeared mascara all around my eyes, so I spent the remainder of the tasting looking like a raccoon. (And did I mention that every time I cough I pee just a little?)

Dom, being a kind soul, asked if I was ok. I took down my entire glass of water, wiped the remaining tears away and apologized again before we moved on to the main event: the Aglianico.

First, he brought out a bottle of the Siir San Martino Aglianico del Vulture, 2017. Aglianico itself generally has an ageing potential for 5-10 years, and the longer it ages the more thick and meaty the flavors become. At its two-year mark, it expressed flavors of fig, rich dark cherry, a bit of pepper and the all-too-familiar Italian staple of graphite or dark earth. Dom mentioned floral undertones in the tasting notes, but my palette didn’t pick them up. The bottle itself had bright red, soft green and yellow birds on the label so the graphics would have popped for table presentations. But, dear Siir, it was not meant to be…

…because Dom busted out the queen of Aglianico: Elena Fucci, ‘Titolo’ 2015.

This impressive bottle came in its own little wooden crate with a brochure that identified every detail of its origin, the land, the process, and tasting and pairing notes. I examined every detail of the booklet like I was cramming for a pop-quiz. But the wine needed little introduction: it spoke volumes through the rich ruby color, the intensity of the cherry, currant, tobacco, spice and what I savored as a hint of bacon fat. The ‘Titolo’ was everything I would ever want to pair with hand-cured meats and cheeses. Although I considered that the Siir may have increased our profit margins, I believe that every wine enthusiast is craving a “wow.”

 ‘Titolo’ is a wine I wish I would have tasted in chichi attire with friends and a charcuterie board rather than sitting in slightly damp pee pants with mascara all over my face at work. I shook Dom’s hand as he left and apologized again for all choking, crying, and calling him a ho.

Most wine experts, beverage managers and sommeliers make beautiful notes about their luxurious wine experiences. Mine, it seems, will always tell a story that is exponentially more sloppy than chic.