Correction to This Article
This article misstated the distributor of the Italian wine Palazzo della Torre. It is distributed by Leonardo LoCascio of Winebow, not by Jorge Ordoñez Selections.

Uncorked: Telling the difference between fine wine and Two Buck Chuck

(A. Richard Allen)
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By Tom Shroder
Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Wegmans grocery in Fairfax, with its steepled clock tower and stone retaining walls, looms like a medieval cathedral above the spiraling suburban sprawl; a cathedral of consumption, with its bakers, butchers, cafes, international buffets, delicatessens and short-order cooks. And that's just the main level.

Down a flight of stairs, where the catacombs should be, there is an entire floor with row upon row of supermarket shelves piled precariously with ... wine. Thousands of bottles of wine, from hundreds of wineries in scores of varieties at prices ranging from $6 to $4,000.

This cornucopia did not inspire awe or desire, but panic. What was I supposed to do with this? What was my move?

I did not like to think of myself as a rube -- I'd seen the world, sampled someof life's finer pleasures -- but now I felt as if Wegmans were mocking me. Here's the wine, pal. Good luck making sense of it.

A few months later, I again descended into the kingdom of wine. This time, I was ready. I felt like Woody Allen in the classic scene in "Annie Hall," when he encounters some arrogant pedant bloviating pompously about the philosopher Marshall McLuhan in a movie ticket line. Allen interrupts him, and then, from behind a movie poster, produces the actual Marshall McLuhan,who indignantly tells the man, "You know nothing of my work!"

"Boy, if life were only like this," Allen mugs into the camera.

But it was! Because as I walked down the stairs into that bottle-bedecked basement, I pulled out, from behind a sign advertising the day's specials ... Kathy Morgan, head sommelier for Michel Richard Citronelle, one of Washington's finest restaurants, and the master of a 6,000-bottle wine cellar.

I was about to kick some serious vino butt.


My first interest in wine tasting concerned the extent to which it could go down fast and easy. Over the years, several things happened to alter my perception. First, my idea of a good time quickly evolved beyond an evening that ended with the room spinning and the contents of my stomach experiencing zero gravity. Second, I spent a semester studying in Paris, where even students seemed to take their wine seriously.

Then, I returned home, started a family on a tight budget, and discovered that restaurants, instead of including affordable and respectable wines with the food, presented intimidating wine lists with prices sure to promote indigestion or insolvency.

In short order, I switched to beer.

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