I arrived in Prague after a 12-hour train ride from Lugo, Spain to Barcelona. It was surprisingly pleasant, if you’d imagine such a thing, and it was made just so much better because I actually planned with some semblance of self-decency. I was not going to spend another night in an airport, as I have done for literally every trip since coming to Europe, but instead, getting a proper bed in a proper room in a proper hotel.
I don’t regret it for one moment.
Upon arrival, I was greeted by one of my Czech friends, and was treated to some ridiculously good Vietnamese food. Well, I actually was the one who paid, but that’s a moot point to being picked up from the airport and being able to have good Vietnamese for the first time in a very long time.
Flashing forward a hair, after the first few days of being back on the cobbled streets, I got a message from this same friend, inviting me to go to a wine tasting with his girlfriend at some small-scale wine import shop, run by a rather interesting German fellow. The first thing to notice about the shop is the wooden sign nailed above the door. It’s nothing particularly odd, aside from the 30cm, lime green wooden cockroach off to one side. The sign itself in Czech (small wonder), and I don’t currently recall its title, but I was told it roughly translates to “The Green Roach,” which isn’t exactly what I’d typically expect for a wine import shop, if you imagine. But so I’ve been told, the owner’s village in Germany has a name almost exactly like the Czech word for “cockroach,” so an oh-so-clever-connection was established.
Now, I have some appreciation for wine. I’m no oenophile; I can’t give the names of specific châteaux, strains of grape, variances in one cask to the next, and so on and so forth, yet I feel I have some ability to enjoy a diversity of wines. With this in mind, I had zero idea what to expect from this place. None. I wasn’t sure how much pretentious wine-snobbery I was supposed to emulate in order to make the evening progress without too many rolled eyes. So I make a gaff within the first minute.
“What will you have?” the sommelier asked in his precise German accent. My friends asked for some characteristics of wine (so they later said) in Czech, and upon asking me, I meekly asked “if he had any red wines he’d suggest.” He, if you would imagine, wasn’t terribly pleased at this. He walked off to find wines, muttering discontentedly to himself. I was then told that my friend had slightly bullshitted this man, saying that we were all wine enthusiasts, which was one of the sole reasons he had opened his doors for this private tasting session. Oops.
The sommelier was not a man easily put off, however, and quickly began explaining ad nauseum about the minutiae of the wines currently in front of us. A terse, 20-so-odd minute conversation about the virtues of this wine’s château, the quality of the soil, weather conditions, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. I asked questions when I could find a break in his polite pontifications, trying to regain some shreds of my purported credibility (why, I guess I can’t say- something akin to slight vanity or preserving of a self-image that I never even began to claim as my own?).
He was rather interesting in his own way. Very, very animated sort of fellow, and just enraptured by the nuances of these wines. Definitely with a lot to say. A lot. It was an inundation, a saturation, a fine drenching of wine-based information.
The wines were, in all honesty, quite good. Most of which were special varieties of German Riesling, in all variations of drier, sweeter, “fuller,” fruitier, and whatever wine-based adjective you can possibly imagine. Though in the sense of full disclosure, I can’t pretend I remember all of the intricacies of the eight or so wines we were given. Their châteaux are a mystery, their soil conditions a blur, though I do remember the correlation between sugar count and perceived acidity. So the sommelier told us, people who typically claim to have sensitive stomachs to white wines will normally be totally fine if they have the same styles, but with a more obvious sugar note. The acidity levels are exactly the same, but their stomachs, or minds, don’t see it as such. An interesting bit of semi-subterfuge, I think.
I may also mention that at the seventh or eighth half- or thirds-glass of wine, there enters a small degree of… fuzziness… to your observations. Where you wish to comment eloquently upon the buttery notes and mouth-feel of that particular wine, and there’s just that tiny voice in the back of your head just saying, “thphtphpphth.”
Of course, I did no such thing.
But we finished our wines, the bill was paid, and we all sauntered forth into the evening. Among the first words spoken by my friend were, “My God, I need KFC.” You see, he’s not a kind of fellow that goes much for the fancy things in life. Seemingly pretentious wine tastings would inarguably count towards something vapid, exhausting, and just plain silly. He needed to balance out the high brow with the low brow. Start with niche Rieslings, end with greased-soaked fried chicken.
And with that, we parted ways, they to enjoy their fried bounty, and I to my hostel, sans fried chicken.
I think I may like it here.