On Wilton Wine Merchants
This is Pete St. John:
He is, as his website so clearly states, the founder of Wilton Wine Merchants. As a matter of fact, he is the Wilton Wine Merchant–unless that honor belongs to Charlie. This weekend, when my way-cool sister and I needed a road trip (and oh, didn’t we need a road trip!), we headed west toward Wilton, to check out Pete’s joint.
I met Pete this summer up at the University of Maine. By way of introduction, he gave a brief talk on wine. I know nothing at all about wine: whenever I go out with friends, I usually let them advise me, because I’m such a relative ignoramus. Susie claims she knows nothing about wine, either…but I do know that she likes a white. Chardonnay is what she told Pete, when we finally found him (lost on Route 2! But that’s another story for another time). I had advised Pete previous to our visit that I wanted to buy my sister a nice bottle for her birthday, so he had some ideas to set forth. Charlie had a few things to say as well.
As I said, I knew Pete St. John was a wine connoisseur. Back in June, I had found his talk on price points to be witty and informative. The bottles he brought to show were from vineyards I’d never heard of, because he stays away from the mass-produced stuff (even most of the so-called small vineyard stuff in the US, he informed us, is really bottled and sold by Gallo and the big corporate boys–they’re just trying to fool us all). In his shop, downstairs from his wife’s law offices, he has two rooms of wines on wooden racks, along with some artisan beers (Monty Python Holy Grail Ale!), and a shelf where he’s cornered the market, in Wilton and perhaps Farmington, too, on Stonewall Kitchen crackers and other tasties. Susie and I got the grand tour. He filled our heads with information on white Bergundy, which chardonnays are, and showed us the differences between the shapes and colors of bottles–so much to learn before one ever got to the part with a bottle opener! Then voila! He popped a cork on a bottle of Meursault he thought Susie might enjoy. Charlie sat on the counter and supervised everything.
First, the color. Pete told us that to properly see it, we should hold it up against something white. Generally, the deeper the color, the more interesting and more tasty the wine. The white he showed us was a warm pale yellow–not the insipid hue of your Gallo chardonnay. He explained that the business of swirling the liquid about in the glass was to coat the inside, the better to disseminate the fragrance of the wine; once again, he suggested the better the fragrance, the better the wine. This one, we learned, had a fruity, almost apple-y scent to it, which did not require sticking the nose down into a glass to experience: a really attractive smell. Then the taste, at last: the longer it lingered on the palate, Pete informed us, the better the wine. And yes, later we found that this was a delicious wine: for the first time I understood what it was I was missing with my uninformed, plebeian tastes. One sip, and the flavor should spread throughout the mouth and stay, the apple changing to something both slightly sweeter and slightly sharper at the same time. I have to say that I was nearly beside myself: for the first time ever, a real wine experience! Where on earth had I been all my life?
Bottle after bottle Pete plucked from his shelves, setting them out on the counter next to Charlie and explaining their labeling, their bottling, their provenances. My head was full to overflowing–or the idea of the wine had gone to my head, which is always distinctly possible, as I am a rank amateur drinker, after all. When I mentioned the apple sensation I had taken away from the marvelous white, Pete asked whether I liked cider. Now, my last experiment with cider was ten years ago in the Cheddar Gore; the cider I’d had there was bitter, and I thought, rather unpleasant. Pete suggested a bottle of Thistly Cross Cider from Scotland. When I tried it–oh, what a difference from what I remembered! This was seriously good stuff. I let Susie have a little bit–but only a little bit–and she agreed: not the bitter unhappy cider of ten years ago (later she would suggest that the company was different, too–she liked Pete more than our drinking companions of that evening way back then), but yummy. I have added the cided to my future shopping list: I personally want a bunch of stuff from the Wilton Wine Merchants, but this day’s visit was about Susie’s present.
In the end, she and Pete pored over a selection of sweet wines in a display basket
under the window. He pried my price point from me, and they conferred. At last they decided, for the amount I’d quoted, Susie could have a bottle each of Moscato d’Asti and Riva di Rocca Prosecco. When you are drinking these with people, Pete told her, drink the sweeter one first. He also said that he enjoyed giving wines as gifts–mainly because the recipient nearly always feels compelled to share with the giver, meaning he gets half his present back again. I hadn’t thought of that. But…if it’s true, then Susie can save the bottles until the next time I visit her house, right?
Charlie, though, finally gave up on us and went to sleep. Go figure.
Pete’s advertising postcard (I had a business card, but I gave it to a friend I ran into at the Homestead Restaurant in Farmington, where Susie and I went to lunch):
It’s not printed crookedly, by the way. I’m the crooked one.
This was a desperately needed road trip. When I returned home, I got to dig up my septic tank. Guess which part of the day I enjoyed more.