The Know-It-All

Most of the time I enjoy being in the wine business, but sometimes I think it’s a curse. Last week my wife and I were invited to a friend’s birthday lunch.  There were several people present whom we didn’t know and when the host asked me to choose the wine, the inevitable happened.  As soon as one of the other guests, whom I didn’t know, found out I was in the wine business he immediately tried to impress me with his encyclopedic knowledge of the subject.

Wine is an interesting topic (at least I think it is) so I suppose I should be flattered when someone wants to talk about it in a country where wine consumption is at an all time low.  But I usually get upset because the first comments I inevitably hear are:

  • “The best wine in Spain is from my village.”
  • “Most Rioja wine comes from other parts of Spain, especially from La Mancha.”

If the conversation stays on the first topic I consider it a victory, because it leads into a discussion about other great things about village life – long walks down dusty roads, card games after lunch, this year’s crop and the local festival.

But if the person insists on debating the second point, the conversation can take an ugly turn because even though it’s easy to refute the argument, we’ve entered into the realm of Spanish obstinacy.  Arguments (called discusiones in Spanish) are usually two or more people talking at the same time, each expounding their own ideas which they defend vigorously, while at the same time ignoring what the other people are saying. 

The Spanish have an expression to describe it:  diálogo de besugos.  Literally, a conversation between two sea breams (a popular type of fish).  Imagine looking at fish in a tank – they open and close their mouths but no sound comes out. It’s people talking at rather than to each other.

What do I say when people say that most Rioja wine comes from other parts of Spain?  The non-Spanish approach would be to argue the point:

  • it’s almost impossible because the control and inspection procedures in Rioja are so strict, and if you get caught, the fine is likely to bankrupt you (there have been instances of this);
  • given the current oversupply of wine, prices are low and it doesn’t make economic sense.

But when in Spain, you have to take the Spanish approach.  Arguments are a part of daily life here and people consider them a sport.  If you don’t know how to talk (or argue) about football or politics you’ll be bored stiff. You smile (very important) and say, “Bah, qué ridículo.  No tienes ni puta idea.” (“That’s ridiculous.  You don’t have a f***ing clue.”) Then you order another round of drinks. It works every time.





3 thoughts on “The Know-It-All

  1. I’d never heard that, this idea that Rioja wines can come from other areas. It seems SO controlled! And yes, I know what you mean about arguments. I can only participate half the time, the other 50% of the time I just stay out of it, not willing to shout over others. That’s a big cultural difference between the Spanish and English culture and a hard one for me to overcome.

  2. Hi Regina, Thanks for your comment. Rioja CAN’T come from other areas, only from grapes and wines produced within the demarcated region of origin. All the wines must be bottled within the region, too. You are right that controls are very strict.

  3. Gird your loins and lock up your daughters! (And your chickens, too!) I think Barry Brown is in Spain at this moment! Hope you see our old Toronto pal.

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