Tuesday, December 7, 2021

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Joe's Neighborhood

The wine lady


“I don’t think I’m all that interesting,” she tells me at the start. A little embarrassed, it seems. Put on the spot. A bit uncomfortable.

Really? Can you take your own measure if someone else doesn’t hold the mirror? And isn’t our personal yardstick always a foot or so short? Of course, there’s always the chance she may be right — she may just not be that interesting. But shouldn’t we uncork the bottle and have a taste first?

The class begins.

“Just pick up the glass and smell the wine.”

She smiles at us. Encouraging. Non-scary. Fun.

I dutifully raise my glass to take a whiff.

Of course, I’m a total sham. I wasn’t brought up with wine at the table. It just wasn’t part of the repertoire. Don’t get me wrong, we were as dysfunctional as other families, but we gravitated toward pastries and pies. Listen, I’d shine if this was a cinnamon roll we were tasting.

But I’m game. “Isn’t there a hint of oakiness?” I say to my sophisticated wife, who pretends I haven’t spoken. See? Game, but not smart.

The woman continues.

“The first thing you see people do is pick up a glass and swirl the glass. I always tell people to not do that. The reason being that there’s so many different layers in wine as far as the aromas and the flavors, I need you to experience it on every layer.”joes1 3.3

Abbe Hendricks runs the wine department at Gateway Market & Cafe. But her real forte is talking to you about wine. Wine from anywhere and everywhere in the world. A little bit different from her beginnings.

“I was born and raised in Cedar Rapids. That’s where I grew up. And ended up in Des Moines by default. I started off going off to college as a journalism major. I attended the University of Missouri in Columbia. I loved it. But since I’ve been 15 years old, I’ve worked in restaurants. That’s what I did. That’s how I paid my way for things. I never wanted to be dependent on anyone. My mom was a single mom. I wanted to take as much pressure off her that I could.”

At college, Hendricks realized that she missed the restaurant business. So, back to Cedar Rapids she came, finished the restaurant management program at Kirkwood, and was off and running.

“Gateway was going to be opening up. So I went in and applied. I was an assistant in the wine department to start with. When that manager left, I took over the department. I originally applied for the wine department specifically because that was my passion, that’s what I was interested in. It was 2007, and I was 23.”

I don’t even remember 23. Will this glass of wine help?

“Just pick up the glass and smell it. The juice has been sitting there, so you don’t have a lot of evaporation yet, and you don’t have the molecules starting to break up against each other. So you’re going to get really, really primary root and floral and earth aromas, all that stuff. That’s a really good indicator whether or not you’re going to like the wine.”

Hendricks is almost breathless in the telling. She’s a 5-year-old running out to her new bike with streamers on the handlebars. Her eyes sparkle, strands of long hair wisp out from behind her ears, her lanky body twists and bends with joy.

“I am really passionate about wine. I like to educate people, and share knowledge with them, and get them excited. Because what’s most appealing to me about the retail side of it is that you get to sometimes do that ‘aha’ moment with customers. That’s what I live for.”

No kidding. How does Hendricks spend her spare time? Besides family, she reads wine books, travels the world visiting vineyard after vineyard, and, of course, drinks wine.

“After you’ve smelled it, now it’s time to swirl. You’re now going to introduce oxygen into the wine. You’re going to start the evaporation process. This is where you’re going to see the wine blossom and you get the secondary flavors and aromas coming up. Oh, there’s more going on than it smells like lemon. There’s more happening here. Twirl it and smell it again.”

I dutifully swirl and smell. My goodness.

“I usually have people taste it twice. A lot of time when people taste wine, they don’t think about it. You’re just having a glass of wine. When you do that, you just kick it back like you would a glass of water. That is the general way that most people drink wine. There’s nothing wrong with that. But you are not getting everything out of that wine that you possibly could to enjoy it. So let’s first just kick it back.”

Oddly enough, I’m good at just kicking it back.

“It might just be very linear. Not a lot of depth or breadth to it. So go back and put it in your mouth almost like you would mouthwash. Up against your gums, under your tongue. Touching all those places that we taste salt, we taste sugar, we taste things that are bitter. And it also allows aeration in your mouth that pushes those flavors out through your nose where you’re actually picking up raspberry or peaches or bay leaves.”

And I taste raspberry and peaches and bay leaves. I wonder if I would have tasted old horseshoes if that would have been suggested.

But, listen, who can really afford this luxury?

“Gateway is not expensive. I always find it interesting when people come in and I say to them, ‘I’ve got this really great wine; it’s $12.’ And people are blown away. You don’t have to spend $60-$70 a bottle.”

joes3 3.3Enough. What do they call you here?

“My title? The wine lady.”

So there you have it. The wine lady. Not that interesting, she said. But did you smell the raspberry, peaches and bay leaves? CV

Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, he writes about the frequently overlooked people, places and events in Des Moines on his blog: www.joesneighborhood.com.

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