For the third year in a row, I had the great fun of working at the wine booth during the opening night of Fiesta Oyster Bake. And it’s a tradition I hope to continue far into the future.
Because even though the party atmosphere doesn’t always lend itself to serious wine contemplation, I was part of a team that really worked hard to make sure our customers were having a great time. And what better way to celebrate Fiesta, San Antonio and the joyous spring we’ve been enjoying than with a glass of wine that you really enjoy?
We work hard to ensure that each year, though the scene is slightly different each Fiesta. Last year, for example, we poured the selections of only one winery, and the thousands of guests we served gratefully took what we had to offer.
This year, we got to introduce a few wines to San Antonio as we tried to make sure everyone ended up with something that they would appreciate.
“Good evening. What kind of wine do you like to drink?”
We said that to customer after customer as we proffered an array of wines that ran from sweet to dry.
If you’re among the millions of Americans who think that the word “Chardonnay” is synonymous with “wine,” you were in for a real eye-opener. The unoaked Acacia Chardonnay is crisp, clean and dry with plenty of fruit and citrus acid to make your mouth pucker in delight. It was the perfect accompaniment for a bucket of the grilled oysters that were being prepared just behind our booth.
Sack after 75-pound sack of oysters was dumped over the hot coals, sending out a heady aroma of brine, shellfish and smoke that drew hungry customers to the food booths.
The wine was also perfect for any San Antonio summer afternoon when the thermometer rises into the triple digits. I’d also pair it with the chicken on a stick as well as a steaming hot ear of Oyster Bake corn on the cob.
For those who wanted something a little sweeter, there were several selections sliding from the realm of off-dry to super sweet. The Rose ‘N’ Blum Pinot Grigio had a light touch of sweetness matched with flavors of stone fruit such as nectarine and apricot, while the Sterling Vineyards Aromatic White mixed dry and sweet grapes with a marked emphasis on the later. The Butterfly Kiss Moscato and the Rose ‘N’ Blum Pink Moscato both appealed to lovers of unabashedly sweet wines, drinks that would be perfect with a bag of caramelized kettle corn or even the deep-fried cheesecake from a nearby booth.
I found myself pouring more of the red wines, which had a different audience, though matching the right wine to the patron wasn’t always easy. There’s still some mystery out there among wine drinkers about what the words used to describe wine mean, and Fiesta might not be the best place to learn wine vocabulary. But we pressed on in the hopes of pleasing people.
“Do you want a sweet wine or a dry wine?” we’d ask.
“Oh, a dry wine.”
“What kind do you usually drink? Red or white?”
“Do you know what grape you like?”
That’s where the Rose ‘N’ Blum Pink Moscato came in handy.
For those who wanted a really dry red wine, the choices became harder. We had two new reds on the market, both from the Once Upon a Vine Winery in Sonoma County, Calif. They were a Pinot Noir and The Big Bad Red Blend, which was made up of a fruit combination of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot. We also had a dry red blend, Stark Raving Red, which was made up of Tannat, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
So, trying to get people to figure out if they wanted fruity or dry, light bodied or full bodied became more of a problem, especially since giving out samples really were off the table.
We persisted, in the hopes of finding some descriptor that would clue us in to what they wanted. Sometimes they came up with a word that let us know where to go; other times, we just guessed. (Admittedly, our attentions were occasionally diverted as someone on the line’s cellphone buzzed through with an update on what was happening with the Boston manhunt and the capture of the bombing suspect, but we worked on.)
A few were really interested in what grapes made up each blend, because they, too, wanted to make sure their $3 a glass was being spent well. So, they listened to talk of how, in the Big Bad Red Blend, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot were likely used to give backbone to the Zinfandel used, while the same three grapes were used to smooth out the usually rustic Tannat in the Stark Raving Red.
Something seemed to work. We began getting repeat customers. Then more repeats. A few wanted to try something else, but most wanted to repeat the experience they’d had earlier that evening — and they wanted it on more than just Friday night. They wanted to know the price of the wine — about $11 a bottle for most of what we poured — and they wanted to know where to find it (Twin Liquors or Gabriel’s are your best bets).
There was a reason for that. Most of what we poured really was something you wanted more than just a taste of. The Stark Raving Red and the Acacia Chardonnay are both wines that I’ll be on the lookout for, and not just during Fiesta. If I find the One Upon a Vine wines along the way, I’d seriously consider picking up a bottle or two. I just won’t be matching them with oysters.
Red wine and oysters are an ugly mix, but that’s another topic entirely.
Here’s hoping that your Fiesta wines are all rewarding and that you enjoy them responsibly.