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Drink More Beer: A Wine Buyer’s Guide.

 Drink More Beer: A Wine Buyer’s Guide.

Aaron Ayscough | Chef's Blade

Earlier that day, we had nearly died together in a highway tunnel on the Ligurian coast.

The car ahead of us began spewing opaque smoke from its exhaust and soon the entire tunnel was black – there was no way to gauge our car’s distance from the one in front, and no way for the car behind us to see if we slowed down. We were traveling 75 miles per hour and listening to the Dire Straits’ Greatest Hits. Two songs passed before the tunnel ended, and we did not die.

This is all to say that by the time we made it to Florence – where my employer at the time, an LA-based industrial food mogul, had inexplicably decided to stop for the night – we were quite rattled and eager to begin drinking. By this point in our journey, which had included stops to factory sites in Friuli and a Slow Food festival in Turin, we had a routine established. My employer would choose the restaurant. Often he did this on a whim, with regrettably little recourse to the Gambero Rosso guide we had purchased at a gas station. Once we were seated, he would hand me the wine list and tell me to go to town. Money was no object; he just wanted to sample the best the region had to offer.

I should have taken more advantage of this than I did. Nothing ruins a meal like scruples. In Florence my employer chose a restaurant situated worrying close to Santa Maria Novella. When we walked in I noticed the lampshade on the hostess stand was papered with Banfi Brunello labels. The conversation surrounding our table was uniformly English; it was October, and Americans like us were discussing Obama. In other circumstances, I would have been overjoyed. I was trying to order some wine, though. Good augurs for November were bad signs for the wine list at a tourist trap in Florence. My fears were soon confirmed: the list was composed mostly of Antinori, Frescobaldi, and Banfi. Chianti, with two Brunelli thrown in, and some graceless super-Tuscans. Nothing was older than 2002. To order one of these placeless supermarket wines while actually in Tuscany would be like eating at a Taco Bell in Baja. Only a lot more expensive. I wasn’t paying, but the thought still rankled. I certainly couldn’t go on record – a wine consultant! – as having ‘selected’ one of these loser reds.

“This might be a beer place,” I said.

After the day we had, it was the wrong thing to say. My employer snatched back the list and at random ordered a super-Tuscan blend called Le Serre Nuove – the widely available second-wine to the more famous, but equally tedious, Ornellaia, by the Frescobaldi-owned estate of the same name. I got a Peroni.