The two men approached the bar and sat down. One rubbed his hands together vigorously as if warming them.
“Do you have any Pappy Van Winkle?” he asked.
“No I am sorry we don’t.”
“How about Hirsch 16? Do you have that?”
Both are incredibly hard-to-find whiskies, and both are ridiculously expensive.
“I thought you said this place was good,” he said over his shoulder to his friend.
He then ordered the least-expensive bourbon. I didn’t know exactly what was going on between these guys, but I suspected where it was going. Nothing was going to be good enough for this guy. Not the table, not the food and certainly not the drinks. He had made up his mind long before he walked through that door. So his questions weren’t really questions, they were traps.
“What do you think of wines on tap?” he asked, turning his attention back to me.
“I think they are pretty good,” I said. Or at least I partially said that, because he followed it up with another question before I had fully answered.
“What do you think of the system itself?”
“I think it’s one of the best systems for wine there is.”
“You are wrong.”
I am pretty sure that one cannot be wrong about a subjective question. His friend must have been sure, too, because he rolled his eyes.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “But, I was under the impression that oxygen was the arch enemy of wine and that a wine on tap system kept the wine in an oxygen-free environment, ensuring that each and every glass was exactly the same.”
“But it’s not like a bottle.”
“No sir, you are absolutely right. A bottle can be subject to bottle variation, depending on how the bottles were filled and when. Not to mention how they were stored, which means that wines from exactly the same vintage can sometimes be very different. But that’s what I thought.”
“That’s right,” he said. “Wait. What?”
“And bottles with corks can be subject to cork taint,” I added noting his friend’s amused look. “At least 5 percent of all wines bottled with a cork suffer from some degree of corkiness,” I said. “But maybe I’m wrong. However, I do know that wine exposed to 2,4,6-trichloroanisole tastes like wet cardboard. And if we err on the higher side of statistics that say so-called ‘corked’ wines are as common as 10 percent, then about one bottle in every case of wine is so afflicted. But then, what do I know?”
“What about screw-top wines?” he asked, with a gesture that suggested it wasn’t really a question, but rather a statement.
“Sure screw tops are good,” I said. “If you can get around customer perception and can make sure that the wine doesn’t suffer from sulfur contamination, which occurs admittedly less frequently than cork taint. Luckily the smell of rotten eggs or sewage associated with this can be mitigated by swirling and decanting by the consumer. If they get over the initial shock.”
I looked at him and he looked back. He must have blinked, because I continued.
Just then the hostess arrived to collect them for their dining room table.
“So, I apologize for being wrong,” I said. “I will try and educate myself better about what I do.”
“Uh, OK,” he said before heading off into the dining room, leaving his friend behind to pay the bar bill.
“Welcome to the rest of my night,” said his friend, leaving me a $20 tip on $35 worth of drinks. “But, he’s paying for dinner.”
Two sent-back bottles of wine later, I had these thoughts:
• Sometimes being wrong can feel so right.
• “The fewer the facts, the stronger the opinion,” humorist Arnold H. Glasow wrote.
• A free dinner can sometimes turn out to be the most expensive.
• “Science is the father of knowledge, but opinion breeds ignorance,” Hippocrates said.
• Questions are only helpful when you actually listen to the answers.