“Hi there, how are you?” I asked the couple as they sat down.
“Two glasses of Riesling,” they said in response.
In the service business you learn not to take things personally. If you don’t learn this, then you find other employment.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “But we don’t have Riesling by the glass.”
The man rolled his eyes and literally snatched the wine list out of my hand.
“I do have a gruner veltliner, which is pretty similar,” I said.
“Gruner is absolutely nothing like Riesling,” said the woman with Mr. Snatchy.
“We are both allergic to sulfites,” said the woman.
“OK,” I said.
“So, we can’t have any wine with sulfites in them,” he added.
“At all?” I said.
The problem is that all wines have sulfites in them, because they are a naturally occurring part of the wine making process. Furthermore, sulfites can be found in beer, pickles, lunch meat, bacon, cookies and even concentrated orange juice. Many wines have additional sulfur dioxide added in order to extend their shelf life. Remember wine is grape juice stored in a container with a permeable seal (cork is not airtight, it quite porous). So, without sulfites, or a preservative, it will go bad. Think of an open container of grape juice on your counter for months or years and you will get the picture.
The other problem is that some people believe they have an allergy to something when they really don’t know. The scientific method requires six basic steps: 1) form a question based on a belief 2) do some research 3) construct a hypothesis 4) test your hypothesis with experiments 5) analyze the data and reach a conclusion, and, perhaps most importantly, 6) have your entire process analyzed and replicated by others.
These days many people only get to step one. They then base everything on that.
“We always have a reaction to American wine,” they both said in unison, as if by both agreeing on something, that somehow makes it more valid.
Now it could be true that they were both, in fact, allergic to sulfites. But it could also be equally true that they were both allergic to alcohol (American wines are typically much higher than their European counterparts), or they were allergic to tannins (tannins are present in wines aged in wood and many European wines are not). It could also be they were allergic to bleach (restaurant glasses must be sanitized, by law, which is often done with bleach), or to the byproducts of malolactic fermentation (highly prevalent in red wines and American chardonnay). Or a dozen other things.
“We can’t even drink red wine because of them,” they again nodded vigorously in unison, perhaps believing that the more thoroughly you believe something, the truer it is.
“Are you sure it’s sulfites?” I said, noting that white wines usually have more sulfites in them than red wines.
“Are you calling us liars?”
“No sir, just double checking.”
They then proceeded to list a whole lot of allergies: gluten, sugar, salt, shellfish, meat.
“What can we have?” they asked.
Twenty minutes later we cobbled together an order. It included (at their insistent request) vegetables fried in a fryer used for shellfish and floured items, soy sauce, bacon and beer.
At every turn they pounced on my pointing out these facts as if I was denying them their situation.
“What’s in that green bottle there,” asked the woman near the end of her meal.
“Which bottle?” I asked following her finger. No small feat considering a back bar has hundreds of bottles and a fingerbreadth is the narrowest of bandwidths.
“The green one.”
“I’m sorry ma’am,” I said. “I’m colorblind. I don’t know which bottle is green.”
“You’re joking,” she said.
“That is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” added the man.
Leaving me with these thoughts:
-Often, the more spurious the claim, the more diligent is the defense
– “You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant,” once wrote Harlan Ellison.
-People who insist on the total acceptance of themselves, are usually the least accepting of others.
-Color blindness is not recognized under the Americans with Disabilities Act even though as much as 8 percent of the population suffers from it.
-The law says “sulfite free” wines can contain up to 10ppm of sulfites. The maximum allowed percentage in the U.S. is 350ppm.
– I still look forward to meeting people each and every day. No matter what.