Blowing His Cork
A rookie sommelier’s predicament
By David Claude Bailey
When a fancy new barbecue place, BoHog, opened up in Greensboro some years ago offering both eastern- and western-style N.C. barbecue, plus Texas beef brisket, I was delighted. Although the barbecue was cooked over natural gas, BoHog, which has since closed, served wine and beer — the latter of which has always seemed to me a perfect complement to cue. I realize there are wines that are supposed to pair well with cue. And, yes, every year Childress Vineyards comes out with a Fine Swine Wine vinted and blended to complement Lexington-style barbecue. But give me a bottle of William Sydney (counterintuitively) Porter’s favorite beer, Pilsner, or some good old iced tea.
So when a friend from New York came to town and wanted to try some of our fabled Piedmont barbecue, but with real wine rather than Cheerwine, I told him he could choose between some really good Stamey’s or Country Barbecue without wine or OK cue with it. He chose the latter. There is, in fact, no accounting for taste.
As I was trying to explain the difference between creamy and vinegary slaw, minced and sliced pork (no crunchy outside meat at BoHog), an energetic and eager-to-please waiter arrived at our table to take our drink orders. Ed asked for the wine list. I don’t know who looked more horrified, the waiter or myself, but the waiter found a card on a table offering four wines by the half-bottle: a red, a pink and two whites. Ed ordered merlot and our waiter looked like a deer in the headlights until Ed said “No. 3.” After No. 3 had been pulled from BoHog’s wine cellar, our server, who had obviously been newly schooled in wine stewardship, presented Ed with the bottle of merlot he was carrying in a towel as if he were showing a newborn babe to the father. Ed nodded approvingly.
Then began the longest three minutes I’ve ever spent in a restaurant. While we were attempting conversation, the waiter looked for some sort of pull tab to remove the lead wrapper from the neck of the bottle. Not finding one, he went at it with a shiny tool he removed from his apron. Ed tried to avert his eyes and twisted his napkin in his hands beneath the table as the ordeal progressed. Then came the screwing in of the corkscrew. On the third try and at a 45-degree angle, the sound of cork squeaking against metal and then metal against glass came from somewhere within the towel. The corkscrew was the type that required using one part of the tool on the lip of the bottle as a fulcrum and then leavering out the cork with a handle. For a while, it looked as if our lad was wrestling with a small alligator wrapped in a towel, but soon a satisfying pop came from deep within the towel, and after a proferred sip, Ed nodded again and two glasses of BoHog’s best were poured. The cheap and fruit-forward merlot, in fact, complemented the mildly sauced pulled pork.
A collective sigh came from the table as the waiter retreated and conversation resumed — until we noticed that our waiter had returned to our table holding something abjectly in his hand as if it were a dead mouse. Ed turned sympathetically to him and asked him if we could somehow help him. The waiter held out the mangled remains of the cork, blushing, but, ever optimistic, and said: “I forgot to give you your cork. I know I messed it up real bad, but if you want me to go get another one, I will.” OH
O.Henry’s editor at large (and getting larger), David Claude Bailey, once attended Greasehouse University in Kansas City so that he could judge the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue competition.