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Dinner With A Wine Geek

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Aug 31, 2006 2:35pm ET

The first time I used the expression “wine geek” to describe a persnickety wine scribe at a winery-hosted luncheon, in 1983, my colleagues laughed.

The words just came out of my mouth (and fit this guy’s personality perfectly).

I’d never used the words before. None of us had ever heard the phrase, so for us it was a first.

What is a wine geek? Well, I’m having dinner with one tonight.

But unlike the writer I referred to earlier, this self-described geek is a friendly one.

She’s 40ish, relatively new to the high-stakes game of trophy wine chasing. But she’s obviously enjoying every minute of it and getting good at buying and drinking great wines as she fine-tunes her palate.

When she called the other day to see if I was in town, she mentioned that she had a full slate of winery visits in Napa and Sonoma over the Labor Day weekend.

She asked me what she should bring for her tour.

“A purse full of cash,” I said.

Today she has visited Spring Mountain and Pride Mountain Vineyard. Friday she’s in Stags Leap, at Shafer for a Hillside Select tasting. Then stops at Kosta Browne, Pax, Adulessa and wherever her whims lead her.

Oh yes, and a couple of specialty wine shops, too, the kinds that carry those small, harder-to-find labels.

Hope she’s got a big van.

She sent me a copy of her inventory of her growing cellar. I noticed Beaux Frères, Carter and Almaviva. More than a dozen cases, with more on the way.

So my friend is off and running, having really started to enjoy the nuances and excitement of great wines earlier this year. Now she’s going full-speed ahead.

Wine geeks. Gotta love ‘em -- most of the time.

The eyes-wide-open passion and enthusiasm for their discoveries about the wine world is invigorating.

But there are times when wine geeks can annoy their friends, swirling their glass of orange juice or water, dropping names, discussing minutiae and engaging in wine one-upsmanship.

How do you define a wine geek? And do you consider yourself one?

Steve Barber
Clayton, CA. —  August 31, 2006 4:47pm ET
If you become the Cliff Claven of wine.....NA, NA, NA...Normy! Ex., "Every time you sip wine you burn 1/18 of a calorie."Sometimes I behave as a wine geek, because it has been so fun learning about terroir and becoming the neighborhood "go to" wine guy.
Mark Mccullough
GA —  August 31, 2006 6:30pm ET
A wine geek cannot be self-assessed. If you really want to know if you are one, ask someone who knows you. However, with acknowledgement to Jeff Foxworthy (you might be a redneck), here are some suggestions that..... you might be a wine geek. 1. If you organize your wine cellar by score...... you might be a wine geek 2. If you regularly spend more than an hour in a wine shop without tasting anything....... 3. If you bring a portable device to dinner to check the scores on the restaurant wine list before ordering..... 4. If you have purchased more than 6 bottles of a varietal that you've never tasted before....... 5. If you spend twice as much time at a new restaurant reading the wine list than reading the menu..... 6. If you subscribe to and read three or more wine publications simultaneously....... 7. If you religiously read all the posts to all the editors blogs on WS online (and bonus points for contributing)...... 8. If you have more than 25 wines and none of them are rated less than 90pts..... 9. If you are subscribed to more than 10 winery wine clubs.... 10. If you have a printed wine list at home for guests......
James Laube
Napa, CA —  August 31, 2006 6:36pm ET
Nice work, Jeff. I think I failed...
William Landreth
Irving, TX —  August 31, 2006 6:48pm ET
I am definitely a wine geek by own admission and the accusations of others. I will plan a vacation, trip or family visit around wineries, restaurants and/or wine shops at a given location. I will even go so far as to make a plan on the rounds I will make when I first get into town. That is what I call a wine geek...not necessarily a wine snob that has to have the most expensive, highest rated, smallest production or so forth.
Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  August 31, 2006 7:30pm ET
It's become self-evident that I am a wine geek as well as a Score Whore. However, I rarely spout off wine minutiae unless asked to do so. Sometimes I just don't know when to stop... :-).P.S. Thanks to you and the other editors for keeping these blogs alive and well for wine geeks like me, along with a hearty thanks to Mr. Shanken for sponsoring this ongoing project. I tried my hand at the forums recently but it's more like "Lord of the Flies" over there --- one false move and you're the enemy/out (the kind of behavior Mr. Shanken alluded to in his blog on May 16th).
Jeffrey Ghi
New York —  August 31, 2006 7:49pm ET
Nice Mark, haah loved it.

James, when you mention "specialty wine shops", can you give me some suggestions, I'm over there next week and very excited to drink up!
Sao Anash
Santa Barbara —  August 31, 2006 7:54pm ET
You know you're a wine geek when:1. You don't know who Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton are, but the mention of Heidi Peterson Barrett's name makes your heart quicken.2. You quote good Bordeaux vintages and high scores the way some remember baseball player stats.3. You swirl your wine glass in the opposite direction whenever visiting Australia.4. If you have money left in your checking account at the end of the month, you promptly spend what's left on wine.5. You consider yourself to be very honest and open with your spouse, but you've hidden credit card receipts from him/her for over-the-top wine purchases.6. Some dream of retirement, an RV and no more 9-5 hours. You dream of some day owning a winery, buying a bottling line and working 18 hours a day during harvest.7. You have to hang winery posters in your home office because the spouse won't allow anymore in the other common areas of the household.8. You've had wine bottles autographed by winemakers before....and you've kept them.9. You receive more winery mailers in the mail than catalogues from Restoration Hardware, Pottery Barn and GAP Kids combined.10. You dream of turning the spare room into a wine cave.
Chris Lavin
Long Beach, CA —  August 31, 2006 7:57pm ET
Completely geeked on wine!!! I spend most of my waking hours around wine, talking about wine, tasting wine, delving into wine, buy lot's of wine, study wine, dream wine, get paid to wine and dine, live for wine, enjoy wine with my friends and family - teach others about wine - write about wine - Did I mention "I LOVE WINE!"?
James Laube
Napa, CA —  August 31, 2006 8:02pm ET
Nice work by you too, Sao...Off the top of your head or is that list memorized?
James Laube
Napa, CA —  August 31, 2006 8:35pm ET
Acme Fine Wines in St. Helena is one...I'll get more information tonight...
Paul Anderson
Longview, TX —  August 31, 2006 8:52pm ET
The definition of a wine geek is relative to those around you and how much they know or enjoy wine. I'd have to confess I'm guilty to some degree of #2,4,6,7,9 on Mark's list.
Eric Hall
Healdsburg, CA —  August 31, 2006 9:49pm ET
I guess there is a sub-specie too, the "Pinot Geek"...where you ignore all wine talk, wine writing, wine advertisments etc etc, that do not have to do with Pinot Noir!
Karl Mark
Geneva, IL. —  August 31, 2006 9:57pm ET
I can't think of any friend or coworker who has more than 20 bottles of wine in their house and most don't the difference between Ducru-Mad Dog and Ducru-Beaucaillou. In their eyes i'm just plain insane to have over 300 bottles. My coworkers who are about 90% women call me metrosexual because I like wine and can cook. One of them said to me, "Stop collecting all that wine and let's get drunk". I must concur...
Steve Lenzo
PHX, AZ —  August 31, 2006 10:34pm ET
Great work by Mark & Sao. Especially the credit card reference. Good thing I pay the bills in my house. Here's a few more:

You know your a wine geek when,...1) You can't walk past a wine shop without going in. 2) You buy the same wine from 6 or more different wine shops around the country becuase the 2 bottle allocation per customer just isn't enough... 3) When wine stores start calling you to tell you what they just got in.. 4) When all your garage space is taken up with boxes filled with Styro-foam wine shippers.

And last but not least.....and Suckling will like this one... You know your a wine geek when... just laid down $10K or more on 2005 Bordeaux Futures. This is starting to feel like a rehab session for wine geeks. Drink Up, the weekends almost here.
Brian Loring
Lompoc, CA —  August 31, 2006 10:36pm ET
You know you're a wine geek when... you start making the stuff... and STILL go to Napa for vacation. It's a sickness. You also know you're beyond hope when innocent posts in wine forums set you off. Sorry Troy - the wine geek in me turned into the wine demon.
Mark Mccullough
GA —  August 31, 2006 11:05pm ET
There are wine geeks and then there are wine nerds. I was at a tasting recently for a Burgundy winemaker on a U.S. tour. One of the wines had described tasting notes that included some hint of blackberry, and a taster asked: do they grow the blackberries themselves and how much of the wine is grape and how much is blackberry?
James Laube
Napa, CA —  September 1, 2006 12:50am ET
Thanx, Brian. Honesty is important...
Dan Jaworek
Chicago —  September 1, 2006 7:53am ET
When you sit down to dinner and the first thing you notice is that the glasses are not Riedel, you're a wine geek.......like me. Dan J
Nick Dunning
Cincinnati —  September 1, 2006 9:23am ET
When callers to your home are told: "He can't be disturbed right now. He's down in the cellar coddling his bottles."
Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  September 1, 2006 11:00am ET
You know you've crossed over into wine geekdom the moment you stop looking for the right wine to pair with your food and start looking for the right food to pair with your wine! You should see my wife roll her eyes....I'm right there with you Dan, but I take it one step further because even if it is Riedel I discreetly try to at least rinse my glass out with fresh water before dinner. You just never know what non-geek in the household washed & dried those glasses! The saddest thing is when someone greets me upon arrival with a glass of fine wine and all I can see is the dust, detergent or fabric softener (from the towel they dried it with) floating on top of the wine. Bleccch!
Alan Vinci
springfield, n.j. —  September 1, 2006 12:17pm ET
When you name your kids Pinot and Bourdeaux, your a wine geek. When you order a small salad at a restaurant because you wanted to have the $400.00 bottle of burgundy instead, your a wine geek. When the idea of moving your bedroom to your wine cellar seems logical, your a wine geek. And finally when you notice the legs in your wine glass look sexier than your wife's, your a "WINE GEEK".
William Newell
Buffalo, NY —  September 1, 2006 12:24pm ET
A wine geek would respond to a question like "What is this wine?", with something like "It's a 1991 Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape"; and then go on to explain that it's from southern Rhone, exactly where the vineyard is located, and to describe in great detail the 13 grape varieties that may be used.
John Miller
Windsor, CA —  September 1, 2006 1:12pm ET
Sao's list was right on!And by the way, I prefer the term "Cork Dork".
Robert Renner
Silver Spring, MD —  September 1, 2006 1:23pm ET
You know you're a wine geek when you find yourself giving reccomendations to less knowlegable shoppers in the wine store where you are, of course, not an employee.
David W Voss
Elkhorn, Wi —  September 1, 2006 1:43pm ET
Some of the posts hit close to home. Look for the right food to pair with the wine you want to drink, always. No wonder I can't break down more cardboard boxes in my cellar with all those styrofoam inserts. Doesn't everyone notice when restaurants charge outrageous prices for wine and then serve them in plain glasses (non Riedel). I carry a Riedel Cab glass cushioned in lint-free towel in a large plastic thermos just in case there is a fine wine to taste. Geekdom lives!!
Scott Boles
San Diego —  September 1, 2006 2:28pm ET
Very funny definitions of a wine geek. I can see myself in a frightening number of them. When does a passion for wine progress into something pathologic? I am afraid that I will be like one of those old ladys that you see on the news with 150 cats in a one bedroom apartment. Just substitute wine cases for cats. At least my wine collection won't scratch up the couch or pee on the carpet.
James Laube
Napa, CA —  September 1, 2006 3:01pm ET
Last night's dinner, with my wine geek friend and her road companion, ended up like a scene from Thelma & Louise, only nobody died…Drank lots of good wines, starting with a 2002 Seasmoke Gratis Chardonnay Santa Rita Hills (rich young and bubble gummy) 2003 Frederic Magnien Bonnes-Mares (amazingly rich fruit flavors), 2002 Stagecoach Syrah Napa Valley (dense and beefy) and 2002 Harlan The Maiden Napa Valley (plush and deep).
Dave Gottschalk
Ponte Vedra  —  September 1, 2006 3:49pm ET
You are a wine geek when you can proudly say "We have the best wine cellar in the trailer park". Or, in our case, buy a whole house standby generator mainly for the cellar, but say it is for the dogs and kids. P.S. doesn't everyone bring their own stems to the restaurant?
Gary Cohn
Cardiff by the Sea, Calif. —  September 1, 2006 4:55pm ET
If you are reading this.....you're a wine geek!
Brent L Pierce
St. Helena, CA —  September 1, 2006 5:22pm ET
You know you're a wine geek when you quit your good-paying job to take a tasting room job in Napa for $9 an hour and end up 6 years later owning a wine company....
Steven Aaron
New Jersey —  September 1, 2006 9:34pm ET
James, Love this Wine Geek Stuff. I am laughing but saddened. My name is Steve, I am a wine geek and I love it (I need a program though). I guess I knew I was a wine geek when I would not only take an hour to select the perfect bottles to go to a BYO, but take them in my large case that holds my own Riedel stems as well. Then, when I order, it's only what will go the best with what I am pouring (I pick out the wine I am in the mood for first, food second!). To add to the awesome Jeff Foxworththy type comments earlier: You know you are a wine geek when, you know the prices of most of the wines in all the stores in the area. When you throw a tantrum when wine you ordered is not held but shipped between May and August, when the waitperson just poured sediment from the bottom of the bottle into your glass and didn't know what that meant, when your wife drinks her pinot grigio (and you cringe) out of your vinum cab stems, when your guests want to try the bottle you have tucked away and ask you to pour some "of that stuff" right into the wine already in their glass. Anyway, love the blog and keep up the good work!Steve
Raymond Archacki Jr
Wethersfield, CT —  September 1, 2006 9:45pm ET
Sao, I was hosting a wine tasting on vacation with family on Kiawah Island SC and when we got to the Aussie Shiraz (2002 Tintara), I told everyone to swirl the glass in the "opposite" direction, just like the drains do. Everyone got a kick out of it. Count me is as a geek.
Jennifer Awbrey
Austin, Tx —  September 2, 2006 3:39am ET
I just got home from work (restaurant wine director) and thought I'd spend some time updating my wine list, but got sucked into this instead -- I'm proud to be a wine geek...
Steve Shelton
Yuba City, Ca. —  September 2, 2006 9:07pm ET
Yes, I'm certifiable. I spend more on wine each month than I do on the mortgage payment. But, I hit the wall this week when I opened my offer to buy from Harlan Estates....the futures price for their cab is now $ 350.00!!! I can buy a couple of CASES of great everyday wines for what my next BOTTLE of Harlan will cost...that I will always hesitate to drink. Fellow wine dorks go easy on me, for I have just sinned.
Tom Blackwood
Sonoma, CA —  September 2, 2006 10:38pm ET
Your a wine geek when you take Friday off, drag your wife and child to Napa, wait in line for 45 minutes, spend $800 on 4 bottles of wine and walk away feeling lucky!!Tom
Michael Tracy
trabuco canyon CA —  September 3, 2006 12:15am ET
You know you're a wine geek when you argue that Bordeaux had a better year in 1961 than did the Yankees.
Sao Anash
Santa Barbara —  September 5, 2006 1:00pm ET
James, that was off the top of my head. What's disturbing is that I could think of about 20 more bullet points for wine geekdom without missing a beat.
Jeffrey Ghi
New York —  September 5, 2006 3:48pm ET
Hello everybody,

Can anybody suggest some after hours things to do around napa valley? (like after dinner stuff when you can't eat anymore but can drink) Like lounges or jazz clubs? thanks!
Barrie Mcconachie
Vancouver, Canada —  September 5, 2006 4:59pm ET
I think there is a big difference between being a wine geek (way to much techical and trivial knowledge) and a wine snob. If you're bringing your own special tasting glasses to someone elses home for a dinner party, you're possibly a wine snob. If you know (and care about) the effect of varying Brix at harvest, you very well may be a wine geek.
Raymond Darbenzio
Princeton, NJ —  September 5, 2006 5:36pm ET
Simply put, you know you're a wine geek when you read blogs about defining what a wine geek is. We're all wine geeks here. Don't be ashamed and please don't cross into that territory where you become a wine bore. No one who is starting out enjoying wine needs to hear about the expense and time geeks spend on "all that is wine". Remember that wine is a food and not everyone will like or value what us geeks do. Go easy on those less enlightened.In addition to the well done lists already presented, you definitely know you're a wine geek when: 1) you have your teeth colored burgundy rationalizing that they'll just be that color some day anyway. 2) you'd rather drink bad beer that drink bad wine. 3) you monitor your wine cellar remotely (guilty!) 4) you know how to pronounce appellations as if you live there. 5) you cram 36 bottles of wine in your suitcase to fly overseas (guilty!) Come on........it was Grand Cru Reisling. Enjoy! Life is about good food, good wine and good friends. Oh yeah..........it's also about good wine publications. Wine Spectator rules. It is more responsible for our geekdom that anyone. Keep it up!
James Laube
Napa, CA —  September 5, 2006 5:43pm ET
Ok, Raymond, thanks for the note and credit...
Jason Thompson
Foster City, CA —  September 5, 2006 9:55pm ET
Any answer to Jeffrey's question about after dinner nightlife in Napa or Sonoma County? Never really found much to do besides rent a movie and head home. One more to add to the list. You know you are a wine geek/cork dork when you use 2-3 pairs of socks that you pack and intend to wear on your trip as added insurance that a prized bottle is well padded within your luggage...
Maryann Worobiec
Napa, CA —  September 6, 2006 3:45pm ET
Jeffrey, not to hijack this blog, but there's a restaurant/lounge called "n.v." located in downtown Napa (First and Main) that's open late--until 2am on the weekends, I think. I'm never out that late, but I can vouch for the quality of the food and service for lunch and dinner.
Robert Boyle
California —  September 7, 2006 12:54am ET
You know you're a wine geek when you have a bottle of Sea Smoke Gratis Chardonnay.
Sp Rey
Fountain Valley, CA —  September 8, 2006 11:12am ET
You know your a wine geek when you seriously consider parking your late model luxury sedan in the driveway to make room for a second Vinotemp in your garage - just to store those darn oversized Pinot bottles.
Steve Caldwell
Florence, KY —  September 12, 2006 4:27pm ET
My wife decided I was an incurable wine geek when I told the bartender at the beach bar we were visiting in Florida that the Columbia Crest wine on the list was NOT from Napa Valley and she might want to get the list changed. Like she said, you have to pick your battles.

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