Early in my career, I worked for a small, family-owned cheese shop in the suburbs of Boston. In my time there, the Wasik family imparted a great deal of their wisdom. I learned about gourmet food, cooking, and, of course, cheese. I learned the importance of excellent customer service, and actually knowing the names of regulars. But perhaps one of the most influential concept I learned from them was that of “table.”
As proprietor of a highly respected and locally famous specialty foods store, Steve Wasik attended many luxurious dinners featuring course after luxurious course of foods like foie gras, caviar and lobster, and had some of the greatest wines ever made. 1962 DRC La Tache. 1982 Ch. Latour. 1974 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard. As a young man, I would hound him for details about these dinners and fantasize about a time when I would have the opportunity to go to similar events myself. Without fail, although he would confirm that the meal and drinks were great, he always went back to the concept of table.
“Eric,” he would say, “the food and wine were excellent, but that’s not what this whole thing is about.” It’s not just what’s on the table that makes a great meal, he would explain. It’s who’s around the table, and where the table is, and what’s going on at the time, that are even more important. He would much rather be drinking his favorite inexpensive 88-point Pouilly-Fuissé with his wife, Carol, than drinking 100-point Bordeaux with a bunch of showoffs.
It took me years really to appreciate this concept, and as manager of a prestigious Los Angeles wine shop, I found myself recounting the same story to my young staff. They would beg to hear the details of a Krug Champagne dinner, for example. And, yes, of course the wines were fabulous, but the experience could be trying. Stuffy wine collectors harping on every little nitty detail of vintage, bottle variation, provenance, premature oxidation, and on, each trying to one up the other; I don’t think any of these guys actually took pleasure from drinking these wines. And, frankly, the experience of profound wine is deeply moving and even intimate. Who can feel such emotion with these types around? It is a far greater “wine experience” to share my favorite bottle of inexpensive Prosecco with my wife than to drink the greatest of wines with people with whom I share no connection.
Ultimately, in order fully to appreciate wine, it is for each of us to experience and understand this concept of table and how an 88-point wine can be so much more enjoyable than a 100-point wine.