Grace and a $168 Bottle of Wine

On June 22, a few years back, I witnessed something rather peculiar. It was one of those moments I’ll never forget—one that I will look back on as a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience.

I was at my local wine shop for a complementary tasting. As usual, I arrived just after it began, wanting to cozy up at the counter before it got busy so I could maximize my time spent tasting and interacting with the wine experts. Imagine my excitement, too, at learning that I would be tasting three distinct Piedmont reds, beginning at a reasonable $25 price point, climbing up to an out-of-the-question $168 Barolo. I was thrilled at the opportunity to taste something so special! Heaven knows I would not shell over that much for a bottle of something I’d never tasted (and even then . . .), but now I would have a chance to see what it tasted like. What an opportunity!

The tasting began with a dolcetto, which pleasantly surprised me with its approachability; I didn’t need to try to figure it out in order to like it. It immediately impressed me with its easygoing personality.

I continued to swirl my glass and plunge my nose in, closing my eyes as I took whiffs of this lovely wine. Things were going swimmingly. I was easily falling more in love with the Piedmont region of Northern Italy. On to the $60 nebbiolo.

As someone learning to lovingly pay greater attention to the wine in my glass, you may imagine my distaste when a posh-looking, older gentleman walked up to the center of the bar, the rather strong fragrance of his cologne trailing directly behind.

If you are a bit newer to the marvelous journey of wine tasting, it is important to understand the value of the sense of smell. You know how plugging your nose dulls your taste buds? Impeding our sense of smell impedes our sense of taste. Not only does smell contribute to a “full” sense of taste, smell is a glorious stage in the tasting—and enjoyment—of wine in its own right. The aromas of a wine are often quite distinct from the flavors we perceive. Smell is essential, and not merely for its “service” to taste. Therefore, strong, extraneous fragrances get in the way of smelling the main attraction. I began to question whether this man even cared truly much for wine himself.

So, being completely honest, from the beginning I was predisposed to think ill of this man. So far, all I knew was that he wore cologne and that seemed insensitive, as it hindered the quality of my tasting experience. I casually yet decidedly scooted a bit to one side, attempting to appear nonchalant, and plunged my nose back into my glass of nebbiolo for an uninterrupted series of sniffs.

Since I was aiming to pay careful attention to the wine I was tasting, I did not notice much of the rest of what this man did, aside from the fact that he seemed to want to speed taste—another tick mark. His record wasn’t looking very good in my book. Wine is meant to be savored . . .
And then it happened.

You know those moments you seem to view in slow motion? There is a split second when you realize something terrible is about to happen, but you have only enough time to realize it—not to prevent it. This was my experience.

This posh-looking gentleman had taken one sip of his $25 dolcetto and straightaway went to dump the rest out . . .

. . . into the decanter.

Of $168 Barolo.

I know.

Try to imagine my face—simultaneously horrified, and trying not to look too horrified . . . .
“Is this where I dump . . . ?” he asked, after discarding his unwanted dolcetto down the tall, slender neck of decanter, where the costly Barolo was allowed to breathe before bring served. My lovely wine-shop friend who was leading this tasting was taken aback (no surprise), but quickly recovered. She explained that it was not the receptacle for discarding, and what it really was . . . .

To his credit, this man exclaimed his surprise—and my friend, with a shrug of the shoulders, graciously replied, “Life happens.”

This situation was far from ideal. To start, it was a rare thing that this winery even held tastings for its wines. At all. Anywhere. Ever. Add to that the incredible experience to get taste this 2012 Barolo which is unquestionably outside my price range, even for special occasions. All things considered, this was a big deal. My friend was no stranger to this. She probably had more reason than I to be quite shocked and more than a bit frustrated with what had transpired.

And not to say that she wasn’t—I imagine there was a mix of emotions inside for her—but she handled the situation with grace. Inside, I was thinking all manner of things. My internal world tends to be quite harsh, critical, and the opposite of gracious. But when I stop to consider when I’ve done similar things—unintentionally made a mistake that in some way wreaked havoc, whether small or great, whether on things or others—my heart softens as I recognize my own need for grace. My friend did not make this man feel even more terrible for what he had accidentally done by belaboring the point. She chalked it up to “mistakes happen.”

And she’s right.

Even those of us who feel very much “in control” in our lives have times when we feel completely out of control, unaware, or otherwise oblivious to things around us. We screw up. We break something or hurt someone when we don’t intend to. Coming to grips with this reality makes me so thankful for grace.

Some of us have a harder time showing grace to other people; others of us can be even harder on ourselves. Wherever you find yourself today, my prayer is that you would not reject grace. Whether you have an opportunity to show it to another person, or to receive someone else’s for yourself, may you not ignore it. Embrace it.

Though I know I will remember this tasting for a long time, may it be marked not merely by the shock of a mistake, but even more so by the grace I witnessed in the moments that followed.

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