THE SOMMELIER • by Joe Christopher

He tried to explain to Rebecca how she needed to see the wine, not merely taste it. A Pinot Noir isn’t only a Red Wine, but an opaque, the color of blood.  She seemed less interested in studying the wine than she did the winery: its crackling fireplace, the smorgasbord of cheese by the bar, even the visitors, who looked about as clueless as she did. They wore khaki shorts and poured glasses of cheap Riesling while they talked about things like baseball and reality television. “You’re supposed to swirl it because it needs to be aerated,” he said, demonstrating to her the proper technique. He could see the sediment collecting below the rim of the wine glass and knew it hadn’t been decanted.

She sank into the leather couch and watched him with feigned interest. “Okay,” she said, “but I don’t really care what it looks like. I just want to drink it.”

Though he knew she couldn’t tell the difference between a Pinot Noir or a Cabernet Sauvignon, he could train her palate, like he did Melissa’s. He was determined to teach this woman culture.

“Look, before you taste it, you have to smell it. Go ahead. Hold it up to your nose and inhale. That’s all you have to do.” He handed over the glass as if it were her rite of passage. She accepted ambivalently, followed his directions as instructed. He’d have thought she’d wafted a cup of ammonia by the way she recoiled.

“Mike, I don’t even know what an earthy aroma is supposed to smell like.”

Mike didn’t press it. He remembered when he was first learning to be a Sommelier, right in this very winery. For his first lesson, his master had taught him to recognize all the types of aromas he was likely to find in a bottle — the tropical and citrus fruits, the cinnamon and olive, the scents of chalk or tobacco. Our palates are just as dependent on our nostrils as they are our taste buds, he always said. He truly was a brilliant man, born with his feet in the soil of the old Mediterranean. If only she could admire a man like that.

But Rebecca was growing uncomfortable, he knew. She sat with her hands crossed in her lap, unfolding them only to straighten the hem of her skirt whenever it rode up too far from all her fidgeting. If Mike concentrated long enough, she almost resembled Melissa. Her hair wasn’t quite the right length, and her breasts were too obviously fake, but if she could learn to love a good Bordeaux, maybe he could see himself with this woman.  Melissa had been a challenge too, but she’d learned. The first night he met her, she came into the winery with a man who ordered her a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, probably because he thought it made him seem sophisticated. Mike thought he was a phony so he returned with a bottle of a local rosé instead. “I realize this isn’t what the gentleman ordered, but I can already tell that dry isn’t right for you. May I recommend something sweeter?” He never thought that two people could fall in love over a bottle of Moscato.

He decided to pour Rebecca a glass of Cabernet Franc next. “Here, try this.”

She took a drink then quickly returned it. “Oh, God, no. Way too bitter.”

Mike pressed his index fingers to his temples, and though he probably looked crazy to her, someone had to help this poor woman. Instead, he said, “Look, try it again. Cabernet Franc was always Melissa’s favorite.” Even before he said it, he knew that she would misconstrue his intention. She collected her purse and offered a sardonic smirk before she stood. Mike took her by the wrist. “Wait, don’t go. Please. Can we start over?”

She clutched the handle of her purse until he could see the whites of her knuckles. If he hadn’t let her go, she probably would have bashed him across the face with it. Not that he didn’t deserve it. But she never did, only said, “Look, Mike, I don’t want to sound cruel, but I’m not your dead wife. I agreed to go on a date with you because my friends said you were sweet. I should have told you before that I really don’t drink wine. I’m sorry. I have to go.”

It was wrong to impose Melissa’s passions on her, and he wished he would have said that instead of letting her barrel out the door, never to hear from her again. Tomorrow his friends would chastise him for it, and he would tell them that it was important he maintained his convictions, he simply couldn’t see himself with a woman who didn’t appreciate wine.

Every couple in the lounge looked so content, drinking their cheap Zinfandel with one another. But their senses were un-attuned. They could never share a primordial connection the way he and Melissa had. Yet despite all that, it was he who had to finish a bottle of Cabernet on his own now. He lifted the chilled glass to his trembling lips and settled on a quick sip before pouring the rest of it into the spittoon. She was right, he realized. Too bitter.

Joe Christopher is an MFA student at Rutgers University in Camden, New Jersey.

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