Rob Wecker doesn’t look like a wine aficionado. Instead of decking himself out in finely tailored suits and a look of disdain, Wecker sports a sweatshirt, jeans, and the easy good-ol’-boy look of a guy more likely to knock back a sixpack than critique a Cabernet. But as co-owner of Iron Bridge Wine Co. in Columbia, it is Wecker’s job to do exactly that.
Wecker opened Iron Bridge in 2003 with his brother Steve. With bottles lining the walls, Iron Bridge gives diners the feeling of eating in the middle of a wine store, and those looking for a bottle to take home get the sense of shopping in a fine-dining establishment. And that’s the idea. “We’re both,” Wecker says.
Recently, Wecker took a break from being Iron Bridge’s self-proclaimed wine geek to answer a few questions about wine. The task took impressive patience on Wecker’s part, as our wine knowledge doesn’t go much past knowing it’s made from grapes.
City Paper: How come when you tell a waiter you don’t know anything about wine, he proceeds to ask you a bunch of questions you don’t understand about your wine preferences?
Rob Wecker: I think, generally speaking, folks like to prove to you that they’re more knowledgeable about wine than you are. One of our big things when we started was to make wine not intimidating. It’s just fermented, squashed-up grapes. It doesn’t have to be a massive undertaking.
CP: Is there any way to avoid doing the “taste test” when served a wine recommended by the waiter?
RW: The key is to put the cork in your ear. (laughs) The problem is that many wines are finished with a piece of tree bark which could be tainted. The chemicals that they use to bleach the cork creates this bizarre chemical reaction called trichloroanisole, which can make the wine taste like wet cardboard or wet shaggy dog, so that’s where the whole thing started. Life’s too short to drink bad wine.
CP: What are a few things you need to know to tell a waiter in order get a wine you’ll actually like?
RW: The biggest misused word from consumers is dry, because in most cases people talk dry but drink sweet. The technical definition of dry just means no sugar. If you say for whites, “I like wines that are dry,” usually [that means] Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc. They have good acid and so they’re crisp, they’re light on your palate, they’re clean. Or [people say], “I don’t want it too dry,” so I would point you to something richer, fuller bodied—like Chardonnay, which is fruity but not sweet or something like Riesling, which has some sweetness to it.
Reds, when you talk about dry you’re talking about tannins, that drying cotton-mouth feeling. So when people say, “I like dry,” we go with more muscular Rambo in a glass [wines] like Cabernet, Syrah, Shiraz. If they say, “I like less dry,” we do things like Pinot Noir, Beaujolais, those lighter-style reds.
CP: I prefer white wine. Should I be deeply ashamed?
RW: No, I love all my children equally. I think that maybe people think it’s hipper to drink reds . . . but I love white wines. Truthfully, all grape juice is clear or white; it’s just contact with the skin that makes it red.
CP: What about house wine? Can I order it, or is it punishment wine for the lazy and uninformed?
RW: Generally speaking, house wine is pretty dangerous. It can still come in a keg, in a box. Um, sometimes I’ll drink beer.
CP: Wine with screw tops, not just for hobos anymore?
RW: I like the romance of pulling the cork but I totally understand that shoving a piece of tree bark into a bottle of wine, if it’s going to be ruined, there’s no romance in that. I’ve seen some more traditional regions stay away from it, but I can’t tell you any country I haven’t seen a screw cap from. We’ve got $60 or $80 [wines] finished in screw cap. PlumpJack Reserve Cabernet, they do half their bottling in cork, half in screw cap; that’s like $150 a bottle.
CP: How long does a bottle of wine last after you open it?
RW: Chuck it in the fridge. That will cut down on the oxidation.
CP: Regardless of whether it’s red or white?
RW: Correct. If you’re going to drink the red the next day, bring it back to room temperature. But usually I say if you open a bottle and you don’t finish it, you have a commitment problem.
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