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Try Tom (He’s Nice)

Monday, 01 June 2020 12:34
Rachael's wine purchases last week from Dekaurenti Rachael's wine purchases last week from Dekaurenti

By Rachael Lucas

One thing that has never been cancelled during the Covid-19 shut down is wine. 

On the contrary, in the state of Washington, liquor stores, breweries, and wine shops (also cannabis shops) are deemed essential.  I surmise wine is having its moment in a lot of other households besides just mine.  As many of us are doing our best to support our favorite small, local businesses, I have taken to buying regular wine selections from Tom Drake, the wine buyer at Delaurenti—Seattle’s iconic specialty food and wine shop at Pike Place Market. 

    Rachael Lucas and Tom Drake Frankfurt Airport PicmonkeyRachael and Tom Drake in chance meeting at Frankfurt Airport. He was on the way home to Washington from a buying trip in Italy. Rachael was rerturning from Romania.

The wine boutique upstairs has treasures that cannot be found anywhere else.  See, Delaurenti has been an integral fixture in the Seattle food and wine realm for many decades, and my guess is they possess deep-seeded relationships with purveyors and far away distributors that nobody else around here has.  It is no wonder they have the best and biggest cheese department, most varied charcuterie selection, an entire wall of olive oil (among walls upon walls of many other curious specialty foods), and a jaw-dropping, head-tilting collection of ambrosia. 

The man coordinating said ambrosial selection is one of the coolest, most laid-back people I know.  Tom began his career at Delaurenti nearly eight years ago, working in the grocery department.  “Grocery” in a specialty food store is not the same as the “grocery” crew at a regular store.  This means Tom handled, processed, stocked, and assisted customers in the myriad of imported, specialty foodstuffs that Delaurenti carries at any given time.  Tom received a profound education working with all that delectation.  It is no surprise that he segued into the wine shop; after all, those of us who love to taste tend to veer into dimensions that enable us to continue palatal development and retro-nasal titillation.  What it means for me is, well, now I have a wine guy.  

The best thing about having Tom as a wine monger is that he doesn’t come across as snobby, elitist, or in any way judgemental.  Rather, he is affable, and he does his best to adhere to individual palatal peculiarities.  By merely communicating via email and pointing out certain wines that he has selected for me that I find exciting or extraordinary, Tom has developed a sense for my preferences.  I expect the same from my cheesemonger (who also happens to work at Delaurenti). 

My level of wine knowledge is just beyond rudimentary, but I am eager to learn.  Having a resource who makes an otherwise overwhelmingly complex subject a little more tangible is invaluable.  Tom is around to answer questions of any kind, and his enthusiasm for the topic is infectious.  He can hold his own with connoisseurs and makes wine dummies feel not so, ahem, uninformed. 

What is more, he has happily been at work during the entire shut-down to ensure that the Seattle community can still access the city’s best wine and specialty foods in the area.  I have taken full advantage of Tom’s availability and can say with confidence that my wine knowledge has expanded during this time.  I ask him to pick out the bottles based on my given price range; I pay for it with a card on the Delaurenti website; and within a few hours my wine is ready for a safe and easy pick-up.  Trusting Tom with his expertise has been one of the most beneficial things I have done for sensory education in a long time.  Sometimes it helps to leave the selections to someone else, so that one can simply open the bottle and experience it without expectations of any sort.

Upon inquiry about ways to obtain and maintain palatal nimbleness, Tom says:

“The most important thing has definitely been tasting a lot. Before the pandemic, I was probably tasting (and spitting, and taking notes) around fifty to sixty wines a week. Between that and what I drink on my own time, I've been very fortunate to try more wines than anyone would really ever need to taste. As far as palatal nimbleness, I guess I'd say it's important to know when you're done or what will do you in, and try to avoid it when you can. I mean no disrespect to the wines or the region, but if I taste twenty Australian Shiraz back to back (to back to back...), my palate is probably shot for a while. I don't put much personal stock in blind tasting. Not that it's not a great skill, but it's not that relevant for my job. I think not having the pressure to absolutely correctly identify a wine makes tasting new things (or revisiting old things) more fun. Honestly, though, it all goes back to just tasting a lot. You learn the most about the characteristics of grapes, regions, winemakers, or styles of wine by tasting a lot and taking the time to process how the wine resonates with you and keeping record of it. Tasting groups are fantastic and easy to form with friends and colleagues. I've taken some seminars and some classes from the Wine Scholars Guild that I've enjoyed a lot.”

For those of us who find the subject of wine to be intimidating or puzzling with all the grape varieties and aromas that we are expected to recognize, my guy takes off the pressure.  It does not have to be a topic reserved for people who possess the most refined palates or who have the biggest grasp on geographical regions or climatic particulars.  We can make wine as serious or as convivial as we want. 

If one is indeed set out to expand her/his intellectual knowledge of the subject, Tom feels “it's best to pick a region and do a deep dive on it. It doesn't really matter where, France or Italy might be better if you want to get into traditional wine more, I guess. You'll start to be able to develop your knowledge tree, or whatever you want to call it, once you have your footing in one subject. Say you start in Bordeaux, you end up learning a lot about Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, then you start seeing how it shows up in Washington and California, then you start seeing how the grapes manifest differently here and there. This leads to discoveries of different grapes and different regions because you can draw a connection to wines you've tried and what you already know. And hopefully it's fun. Don't work with or learn from people that are selfish with their knowledge, make you feel dumb or insecure about your knowledge, or do anything to make wine not fun for you.”

This, readers, is exactly why I like utilizing Tom as my wine specialist.  He makes a seemingly formidable subject accessible, and he has an open mind.  He, moreover, is not put off by a lot of flavors.  Tom claims to be more interested in why certain aromas and flavors come across as disagreeable, rather than merely turning his nose up at them (I do the same thing with cheese:  even bilious fromage makes me think, “ooh, I sense butyric acid!”).  For instance, if you are looking for a wine that is highly sulfuric—even farty—with fermentative fizz and a grippy, tennis ball finish, Tom will be able to pick something out for you.  And your request will be met with enthusiasm and kindness.

It is my hope that we will see more wine specialists with an approach like Tom’s.  With everything that is going wrong with the world, a little empathy and lack of judgement is exactly what we require.  Wine knowledge should not be reserved for those with the most funds or discerning tasting capabilities.  We all deserve to drink good ambrosia affordably, and we need not be snubbed.  If you are in the Seattle area, try Tom at Delaurenti, and, regardless of your wine experience, get ready to lavish in some of the most exquisite nectar around. 

If you are interested in contacting Tom with wine inquiries or specialty food questions, you can reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and/or follow him on Instagram at ted_brake. 

Side note:  Delaurenti is currently open for pick-up or shipment.  Visit their website at Delaurenti.com for more details.

 

Rachael Lucas with cheese wheels MUG

 

Editor’s note:   Rachael Lucas is an American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional (CCP).  She also has the distinction of being one of forty-six people in the country with the ACS C.C.S.E. (Certified Cheese Sensory Evaluator) accreditation.  You can most often find her cheesemongering in the Seattle area.  When she's not working with cheese, she's eating it, talking about it, reading about it, writing about it, and dreaming about it.  She can be reached with inquiries about fromage and food excitement in the Seattle area at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Last modified on Monday, 01 June 2020 22:47

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