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we all want to win, no matter the cost

by josh perilo

there was a rep for a particular distributor that our wine store bought quite a bit of product from that really got under my skin. she came in monthly to do tastings for the customers. every time she did, we had some kind of exchange that varied anywhere from snippy to downright mean.

near the end of one of her tastings, a young man asked me if we carried any sherry, and if so, what different types we stocked. i showed him two drier and lighter sherries. one was a fino, and the other a manzanilla.

"both of these are very, very dry," i explained, "but the manzanilla is going to be just a touch lighter and crisper."

"actually," an authoritative voice behind me boomed, "the fino will be the lighter of the two. also the drier."

i whipped around. there she stood, hovering.

"hmm," i said, cocking my head to one side, "i think that's the other way around, actually."

"nope," she quipped, patting my arm like a puppy dog. "i know my sherry. and fino's drier than manzanilla."

my face was hot and my hands shook for the rest of the night. i knew she was wrong. later that evening when i closed up shop, i pulled out the oxford companion to wine and karen macneil's wine bible and looked for my evidence? and found it immediately.

i was right! she was wrong! i told the general manager first thing the next day, using the rep's gauche snafu as fodder for a request i had been relishing to submit:

"i don't want her back in this store again. ever."

and with that, i had this woman removed from our store's account.

she didn't lose her job, of course. and she had too much seniority with her company for it to make a real difference in her career, but i felt like i won. for a while anyway.

then other feelings set in. had i stooped to her level to get what i wanted? why did i let something as trivial as "which wine is more delicate" become the lynchpin in a passive-aggressive battle of the wine dorks? i wasn't a mean person. why did i act so childishly?

unfortunately, what i did and how we both acted is de rigueur in the wine industry. the childish one-upmanship of wine professionals, in retail, wholesale and literature, borders on kindergarten-behavior at times, and misplaced egos can have detrimental consequences on people's hard-earned wages and professions.

i bring this up because of a recent article in the september 30, 2010, issue of wine spectator. regular columnist matt kramer wrote a piece entitled "let's make it simple," wherein he condemns the philosophy of "making wine simple." while i personally disagree with his philosophy, there's certainly nothing wrong with voicing one's opinion about your own ideas on what makes good wine good and bad wine bad.

but kramer goes farther. an australian company, grateful palate international pty ltd, which imported many wines that kramer puts in his category of "simple," recently fell into some difficult financial trouble that may effectively end their distribution in the u.s. indefinitely.

to this news, kramer writes: "i, for one, am glad they went belly up." he then describes two of the wines they distributed by saying, "hell, it isn't even wine-not real wine, anyway."

kramer's infantile attitude is the last thing that this industry needs. it's one thing to give a wine you dislike a thumbs down. it's very different to throw a party at a funeral and tap dance on a company's grave.

at the same time, i understand where he's coming from. we all want our team to win. we want the stuff we like to be held in highest regard. but we shouldn't sacrifice our dignity by celebrating when the other team loses. kramer should be thankful that there are wines out there he doesn't like. they're his bread and butter. if it weren't for them, he wouldn't have anything to complain about.

on second thought, i have a feeling he'd probably find something.

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