Chow Town

May 1, 2013

Grape Geekdom

One wine lover’s interest and knowledge of wine walks the line.

Chow Town

The daily dish on Kansas City's food and drink scene

I’m a wine geek. There, I said it, and I feel better about it.

Let me clarify that being a wine geek does not make you a wine snob, nor does being a wine snob necessarily mean you’re a wine geek. And, yes, you can be both.

Personally, I consider myself a wine geek with some snobbish leanings. I don’t like OK Chardonnay, for example, and you can keep almost all wines with animals on the label. I dearly love a wine bargain, though, and that is not something a wine snob would care about.

What’s the difference between a wine geek and a wine snob?

Well, in my opinion, a wine geek is someone, like me, who will happily tell an unsuspecting co-worker that all Beaujolais is comprised of 100-percent Gamay grapes, that there are 10 Beaujolais “Crus,” and my favorite is either Moulin-au Vent or Morgon because they produce a longer-lived, more muscular wine.

And, by the way, there is a small amount of white Beaujolais produced using Chardonnay, but you’d be better off buying value Chardonnay from the nearby Macon, which is generally more consistent and of higher quality. Whew! Yes, I recently dumped that info on a fellow worker, minus the part about the white Beaujolais, which I’ve saved for you.

So, what’s a wine snob?

Well, first of all, a wine snob would likely never have a conversation about Beaujolais in the first place because the region and the wines are far too pedestrian for his palate.

If the snob did lower himself to discuss the offerings of the lowly Gamay grape, it would be confined to the handful of so-called “garagistes,” a small group of Beaujolais producers who strive for higher quality, and demand higher prices.

The “garagistes“ are responsible for a small drip of the entire Beaujolais production, and while their wines, at least the ones I’ve had the chance to taste, are remarkably good, though often very un-Beaujolais-like, they are almost impossible to find, three times as expensive (at least) if you do find them, and hard to appreciate for any but the most consumed of wine lovers.

Perfect for the wine snob. But, I digress. Back to the point of wine geekdom.

How does that happen to someone? When do you know you've crossed the line from “liking wine” to “obsessing over wine?” And, lastly, should you seek treatment or just let things play out?

For me, wine geekiness came on slowly. I’ve been interested in wine for a long time, really since I took a wine course from a very exuberant instructor in Pittsburgh with my wife in the ‘80’s.

Things quickly accelerated when I got to Kansas City in 1989, and met a group of passionate wine lovers, educators, and salesmen: Doug Frost, George Vesel, Steve Thomson, Ed “Gomer” Moody, Joe DiGiovanni, Steve Molloy, Barry Barnes, and Dale Campbell, just to name a few.

I started buying, cellaring, and collecting wines. I began attending winemaker dinners, started hanging around Gomer’s on my days off and mornings before my afternoon shift started at Channel 9, and lived for the weekend where I would strive to find just the right wine to go with my wife’s fantastic cooking.

I was already hooked when I moved to my hometown of Chicago in 1994, which was right at the beginning of a food and wine explosion. I rode the Chi-town culinary and enological wave right into my own television segment on WGN-TV and then my own television show on PBS-TV. By the time I launched “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” there was no turning back. I was fully prepared to discuss the merits of full versus partial malolactic fermentation, the tannic structure of mountain and valley fruit, and why Pinot Noir is such a finicky grape. Yes, folks, I was a full-on wine geek!

Now, having been afflicted with the condition for the better part of 25 years, I have to consider if it’s done me any harm, and is there anything I can, or should, do about it?

I personally don’t see how being a wine geek has hurt me — other than buying, and drinking, too much wine, of course. Unlike the aforementioned Beaujolais discussion (more of a lecture, really), I generally don’t spew random wine information and opinions unless asked, so I wouldn’t call myself a public menace in that regard. So, I’d have say “no,” I’m not changing a thing. I think I’ll just continue to treat the symptoms with the odd glass of wine or two, hang around with fellow wine geeks, and wine lovers who haven’t progressed to the wine geek stage, and pray that I don’t become a wine snob in my old age.

Now, THAT would be a depressing end to a really tasty, fun, and diverse wine ride.

Dave Eckert produced and hosted “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons. He is an avid wine collector and aficionado.

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