Wine on Starchefs
Ken Collura
De La Tierra
Anaconda Bar
El Monte Sagrado™

317 Kit Carson Road
Taos, New Mexico 87571
505.737.2985 (fax)

Joys and Pet Peeves
By Ken Collura
Wine Director/Sommelier
El Monte Sagrado Living Resort and Spa
Taos, New Mexico

I was thinking the other day about how many things there are to like about working in the wine business. This is a pretty nice way to earn a living. Sure beats the old 9-to-5. But like any vocation it has plusses and minuses. So I jotted down some of my joys and pet peeves, if you will. I suppose every wine professional has their own, and here are mine:

A few of the things I really like about wine are:

The aromas of a wine cellar. This goes back my childhood and the cellar at my grandfather’s house. He made his own wine, from Zinfandel grapes delivered each September from California. Even though that cellar was off-limits to the kids, I would still sneak a peek every chance I got. That old press was formidable. Today, whenever I step into the cellar at a winery, I always find that distinctive aroma soothing.

The perfect food/wine pairing. For me, wine is all about food. Without food, a wine is like a single person who has never fallen in love. It may be interesting, and show loads of potential, but it won’t release its inner promise until coupled with the right dish. And when a good bottle meets up with the appropriate food, both are elevated to a higher level.

Discovering small wines. I derive tremendous pleasure from finding “small” wines of quality. When I come across something made from an unheralded grape, or from a little known region, and it tastes like it should be $50 but only costs $15, all my electrodes switch on. A three-toed sloth can order a bottle of Mouton, but when you truly comprehend the little wines and enjoy them on an equal footing with the big boys, you’ve moved from wine connoisseur to wine lover.

Great Customers. I always get charged up when interacting with interested, adventurous customers, regardless of their level of knowledge. I think of myself as a dispenser of hedonism, and when diners open the door to let me do my thing and excite them, I feel as if I’ve accomplished my mandate as a sommelier.

A few of the things that drive me crazy about wine are:

Bad corks. I am now firmly in the screwcap camp, especially for young, forward-drinking wines. The thought of having even one fine bottle ruined by a tainted cork is sad and, in today’s environment, unnecessary. I nearly cried the other day when I opened a bottle 1985 Tignanello that I had nurtured since 1988, only to find it hopelessly corked. The best plastic enclosures are odorless and simple to extract and I have yet to encounter a bad bottle sealed with a screwcap. Romantic they ain’t, but so what? The practicality of the situation is tough to deny.

Petentious windbags. What is it about wine that makes people puff up and strut like peacocks, crowing about their cellar full of Screaming Eagle, or their ’61 this and ’82 that? Wine, for some inexplicable reason, seems to bring out the ego in some folks. Whenever I hear someone thumping their chest about that fabulous collection they own, I exit quickly because, in reality, I don’t care if they have a whole flock of screaming eagles in their cellar. They’re shooting warm air at the wrong guy.

The “so many wines, so little time” theory. I once met a fellow who handed me a business card that said he was an “International Wine Expert.” I found this quite comical. Anyone in the business who would refer to himself in such a manner is a fool. This business is like software; it’s constantly changing. Yesterday’s knowledge might not be applicable today, yet alone tomorrow. There are so many new wines coming on the market, it’s impossible to keep up with all of them. If there were 36 hours in each day, I still wouldn’t have the time to know everything there is to know about wine.

Lack of “real knowledge.” The things a customer really needs to understand before buying a wine is 1) What does it taste like? 2) What do I eat with it? 3) What does it cost? Arm the wine buyer with these three pieces of information, and they can proceed with confidence. There’s just too much fluff in publications today. Just give ‘em the basics, and they’ll be fine.

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 Published: September 2004