I go to Mesa Verde, a burrito bar in Greenfield, pretty much every week and order take-out for the Belmonte family: blackened-chicken burrito with chipotle sour cream, Mesa salad, cheese quesadilla, large chips and guac and an unsalted margarita while I wait. A margarita because this is not a wine restaurant. That’s why I found it strange when I noticed back-issues of the fabulous British wine magazine Decanteur stacking up on the bar for patrons to peruse. The magazine’s mailing label said Amy McMahan, the co-owner of Mesa. Was Mesa Amy, as I call her, a wine snob? Turns out, yes.
Mesa Amy is a juggernaut. Extremely intense, but in the best way. She doesn’t do anything half-assed. She does it all with her ass, whole. When she gets interested in spirituality, she goes to pre-divinity school.
“Once a month I fly to Maryland and wear all white and there are almost no white people in the program. They are Yoruban and Christian. It’s the strangest experience. And we listen to gospel.”
When she wants to workout, she does Crossfit: the masochistic, voluntary torture chamber of good health.
“I have to move eight tons of pellets at my house twice a year and I do NOT have a boyfriend or a husband, but I’m trying to get my roommate to get one so they can help.”
And even though her restaurant is not known for fine wines, Mesa Amy is one of the most knowledgeable, non-professional wine snobs I know. When she’s in her wine-mind, her tastes and her budget take her off the well-trodden path.
“I almost brought a Hungarian Furmint” — a type of grape that I’ve never even heard of.
“I was in Budapest for Thanksgiving. The wine was outstanding. Everybody is so basic in their wine knowledge here in the U.S. You can get GREAT deals on stuff no one’s heard of. That’s what I LIVE for!”
Mesa Amy is a font of the useless esoteric knowledge that only people studying for their sommelier exam should ever care about. And even they should probably care less. I invited her over to watch the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game and to talk about wine. I asked her to bring a bottle that is currently tickling her fancy. She texts me and says she’s bringing a Beaujolais that she’s fond of.
I know how smart she is and I want to impress her. What will I counter with? I know, Pinot! Beaujolais is officially part of Burgundy, so I get a Louis Jadot from Burgundy for about $20. Pinot Noir is what people mean when they say they are drinking a red Burgundy. And since Beaujolais is made from the red-grape cousin of Pinot Noir, Gamay, I feel particularly proud of my process in this decision.
But did she bring a bottle of Beaujolais? Yes. But Mesa Amy is intense so she shows up with FOUR(!) other bottles, all wrapped in paper bags and ready to administer a wine quiz.
“One of these bottles is Apothic Red. If we can’t figure out which one. Then … forget it.”
Apothic Red is an Ernest & Julio Gallo, mass-produced, piece of California wine detritus. I’ve had it once. That was enough. If you like it, never fear — the world is one your side. It is one of the best selling wines in America. But to me it tastes like liquified, sugar-free, Werther’s Originals or baby aspirin. And that is not what we wine snobs want to drink. Or at least, we think we don’t. Will we unmask the Apothic amidst her paper bag cloaked bottles?
Bottle number 1. I bring it to my nose and make a conclusion immediately. It smells of strawberry bubblegum, meaning it’s probably the Gamay grape and probably the aforementioned Beaujolais. Amy seems impressed with my snap judgment.
“I think you know your shit!” Well done, me.
The Jaguars just scored a touchdown. This quiz is a nice distraction from my usual agita, worrying about the game.
Number 2 smells a little like Number 2. I mean this in the best way. It could be the 100 percent Cabernet Franc from the Friuli region of Italy. But there is also a Cannonau from Sardinia in the mix. It seems too fruity to be 100 percent Cab Franc. We are in agreement. We lean towards Cannonau.
“Cannonau is the same grape as Grenache.” she says. I did not know this. I am once again in awe of her knowledge. “It’s only because I asked about it when I went to Whole Foods to buy the bottle!”
Mesa Amy leans over my sink and spits. She is a spitter because she is a responsible person and “because of my Chineseness. I just can’t hang.”
And now the Patriots are getting killed by the Jaguar defense and Gronk has left with a concussion.
Wine Number 3. At first whiff, I think it might be the Apothic. Amy seems disappointed in me. But when I taste it, it’s way too reserved to be the Apothic, which we expect to taste like something straight out of a candy factory. Mesa Amy dials it in first. We agree that this it is probably the Cab Franc, despite the fact that it lacks the number 2 scent I usually associate with Cab Franc (but again, in the best way).
Number 4 has that leather, dehydrated fruit taste and what I like to think of as “wild boar feel.” We are both pretty convinced that this is the Chianti.
The Patriots are going to lose this game.
One wine left. This better be the Apothic. If this doesn’t taste like someone murdered Strawberry Shortcake and bottled her sweet, sweet blood, we will have failed. Can we pull out a Brady/Belichick style victory?
Wine Number 5. Mesa Amy declares:
“Caramel candies, meets grape soda, meets Coca-Cola.”
I add “with teriyaki sauce.” Victory. This is the Apothic.
We pull the paper bags off the bottles. We are 100 percent correct in our bid. I say to my wife, who has now joined us for the game, “We KILLED IT! We got them all right!”
“Cool.” She is underwhelmed. Amy retorts, “Our drinking has really paid off!”
I ask Amy what it was that activated her passion for wine.
“My ex-wife was into wine. I wasn’t drinking at the time. I was just tasting and spitting. One day I tried a Priorat from Spain. Something went off in my head. It was inky and deep. I felt like I was drinking the Earth. I can’t always afford to travel but a bottle of wine … one taste and you’re there.”
Mesa Amy is like Tom Brady in so many of the things she does. Focused. Intense. Passionate. I ask her why: “I think there is rot on the oak of my soul that I’m trying to address.”
And she, like Tom Brady, but with no love for Trump, has put her passion to work. Work, in this case, that ultimately doesn’t matter. But we are victorious today in her wine quiz. And the Pats are headed back to the Super Bowl. We raise a glass. The Patriots take a knee, the so-called “genuflect offense.” We run out the clock on our time together. Champions all.
If you are someone who loves wine and especially if it’s a hobby rather than a vocation, I’d love to talk to you. Get in touch with me on Twitter @montebelmonte.