Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Vinous Taliban? I Think Not.

Oh, my. I think I’m in love. Last week’s blog essay sparked a response from Mr. Lou Amdur, the owner of a wine bar in Los Angeles. I wrote that he carried the “wine lifestyle” to a pretentious extreme when he stated for Saveur magazine, “I only pour wines I enjoy. I might have a customer who would like a buttery chardonnay, but I would feel cynical pouring it for him.”

Mr. Amdur googled his wine bar and ended up on my blog. Before I posted last week, it did occur to me that the owner of a wine bar might feel the need to do vanity searches. He needs to know what people are saying about his bar in the vast network of cyberspace, after all, and googling makes this easy. But let’s face it; my blog has a modest readership (and I adore each and every one of you; you know that, don’t you?). I honestly did not think my post would show up on the first few pages of such a search. It did, and Mr. Amdur read it and commented.

While I’m flattered that he bothered to offer up any sort of reply to my bit of nonsense, I experienced spasms of rhetoric-induced bliss when I read what he wrote. Consider this absolutely delightful passage:

“Am I some sort of vinous Taliban, shoving my odious opinion down your throat, forcing you to come to Lou and drink a crisp, fresh, 12.5 percent alcohol JP Brun chardonnay? Am I protesting outside of BevMo, chanting, ‘Hey ho, oaked chardonnay has got to go’? Am I trying to convince vignerons or anyone else that my taste in wine is superior to theirs? Am I lobbying the California state legislature to ban oaky chardonnay? Do I think you’re a bad person because you like oaky chardonnay, an infidel who deserves derision, ridicule, and perhaps even censure? The answer to all of these rhetorical questions is ‘no.’”

This is WONDERFUL! Read it out loud to yourself. A very satisfying defense, don’t you think? Mr. Amdur could not possibly know I am a sucker for flights of rhetorical exaggeration and extended series of parallel grammatical units. If he did know this about me, I would swear he was flirting.

All I can say is I truly hope he had as much fun writing that passage as I had reading it. My favorite line, after the “vinous Taliban” reference, is “Am I protesting outside of BevMo, chanting ‘Hey ho, oaked chardonnay has got to go’?” I really, really want to see oenophiles carrying their protest of oak that far. It would be highly entertaining. But alas, Mr. Amdur appears to have some sense of perspective.


For the record, I did not accuse Mr. Amdur of any of these things. My essay poked fun at those who take “wine and the lifestyle that goes with it” too seriously. I quoted his comment from Saveur magazine and responded thus:

“As an infidel who adores buttery chardonnay, I would like to tell Mr. Amdur to stuff a corkscrew in his … cynicism. I bet he would have an aneurysm if he saw my friend Linda put ice cubes in her merlot. He may own a trendy wine bar and live the ‘lifestyle’ of wine, but he doesn’t have the right to tell me what sort of wine I should or should not be drinking. That job resides with my taste buds alone.”

I appreciate that Mr. Amdur’s comment on Questioning politely ignores both my method for selecting wine and the reference to Linda’s putting ice cubes in her merlot. The restraint he shows leads me to think he’s generally very tactful as these points should be easy targets for oenophilic scorn.

Though not as rhetorically flourished as the above passage, the following goes a long way toward explaining his Saveur comment:

“If a customer asks for a buttery chardonnay I will use my limited hermeneutic powers to interpret what they’re in the mood for, and I will pour them a taste of an alternative that I hope they will enjoy—and, mostly they do. To me, that’s the fun part of owning a wine bar. It’s gratifying for me when I’m able to turn people on to new wines; I like the spark in their eyes when they try a roter veltliner or fresia for the first time. There are plenty of venues in Los Angeles that offer oaky chardonnay but not too many offering a fumin from the Valle d’Aosta, or a poulsard from France’s Jura region.”

"Spark in their eyes," indeed. Thus speaks a man who loves wine and has made a career of it. As an added bonus, he used “hermeneutic” in a sentence. Correctly. I respect that, as only a literary critic can.

Mr. Amdur ends his comment by asking, “How does marching to a different drummer make me pretentious?” Well, marching to one’s own drum does not make one pretentious. In fact, I generally applaud individuals who are true to themselves rather than lemmings walking off the cliff with the rest of the rodents. This is why I drink oaky chardonnay even if it is so yesterday. People should drink what they enjoy, and Mr. Amdur appears to understand that.

He also has the right to serve whatever he would like in his wine bar, and he isn’t forcing that fumin from the Valle d’Aosta down anyone’s throat. In the statement to Saveur, however, he does imply that oaky chardonnay is undesireable. If it were okay to drink oaky wine, why would he feel “cynical” pouring it? Why not just say, as he does in his comment here, that he serves wine he likes?

No, it was Mr. Amdur’s unfortunate use of the word “cynical” that made him sound pretentious. I may not know much about wine, but as a highly educated literary critic with a fine sense of both the denotation and connotation of words, I stand by my judgment that his use of the word “cynical” makes him sound as though he looks down an extremely long and sophisticated nose at those of us who like a whiff and a sip of buttery chardonnay. His comment on my blog, however, shortens his nose quite a bit, don’t you think?

Besides, everyone is entitled to little pretension about something. The next time I find myself in Los Angeles, I think I’ll stop by Lou’s (if he’ll let me in the door) and try that poulsard from France’s Jura region. It sounds intriguing, and I’ll bet it has a really cool label.


  1. Ah, I see you misunderstood my use of "cynical." I could possibly re-state what I said as a quasi-syllogism:

    I only pour wines I like.

    I don't like buttery chardonnay.

    Ergo, if I were to pour a buttery chardonnay at my wine bar (because that's what I reckon my customers want), I'd feel cynical about myself. Why? Because I'd be offering something that I myself couldn't get behind, even if it is something a customer might like. And that, my friend, makes me a crappy, but happier business person.

  2. Ah, I see you misunderstood my use of "cynical." I will re-state what I said as a pseudo-syllogism:

    I only pour wines I like.

    I don't like buttery chardonnay.

    Ergo, if I were to pour a buttery chardonnay at my wine bar (because that's what I reckon my customers want), I'd feel cynical about myself. Why? Because I'd be offering something that I myself don't get excited about, even if it is something a customer might like. Alas, my friend, this may make me a crappy business person, but also a happy one.

  3. Very interesting read. People gets so upset about the most unimportant things. I guess it diverts their attention from reality.

  4. Wow! These writings are absolutely entertaining and provide a good solid belly laugh at the end of a long day and longer week. I LIKE Lou, and Susan,... you always make me laugh. Have some chocolate and relax.

  5. Entertaining lite banter... LOVE it!

  6. I love the blog and I started drinking wine because of oaky chards. I LOVE Lou and respect his ability, willingness and wit in defending himself. Lovely when the intellectuals with their big word banter. I don't understand a word of it, but it does sound so pretty.

  7. I agree, Lisa. This sort of banter is so much long as no one takes it too seriously. This blog is all about my perspective (which is just shy of bizarre at times, I admit), and when someone as articulate as Lou weighs in, it takes me back to debates over literary theory in graduate school, which were as important as this silliness over wine. But in truth, I'm more Erma Bombeck than Harold Bloom (praise the Maker!) and have a hard time taking such things seriously anymore. I am happy to have made Lou's acquaintance, and hope his idealism does him good service. My own has served me quite well.

  8. Love the smart wordplay, entertaining AND made me get out my dictionary. This is fun!

    Ha ha, the word verification box for me to leave a comment says "bellini", and just when I was craving a chardonnay. Now I want a bellini too!


Thanks so much for taking time to comment!