A restaurant sent a wine navigator to my table. Should I have yelled at him?
Andrew Morrell Photography via Flickr
If it's old and dusty, it's probably out of our price range.

There is a guy whose job it is, and I'm not joking about this, to help you pick out a bottle of wine at dinner. He is a wine navigator. His name is Curt.

I talked with Curt this weekend when my wife and I tried to live above our means for a few days by heading up to a ritzy mountain village for our first wedding anniversary. We had what we believed to be the finest meal we've ever had, which consisted of mahi mahi and a ribeye and fingerling potatoes and a flower that we didn't think we could eat, but at the insistence of our waitress, we did. It tasted like a flower.

But oh, what should we drink? What would be the perfect pairing of wine with this meal? Our waitress deferred to Curt, who came over wearing a suit and few little pins that signified his wine navigating street cred, like a general in the Fodor's army. The last time we had eaten at this restaurant, about a year and a half ago, my wife and I felt as if we did not use Curt to his full potential. We came to a consensus rather quickly that time, taking the first option he gave us that did not cost more than $100, and that was that. Soon after that, the couple at the next table over began to haggle with Curt. He would give them an option, and they would shoot him down. And Curt would counter with some other bottle, a 2008 something and something with a leathery nose and a bouquet of blah blah blah, and they would say something like, "Oh, that's intriguing," and then tell him no. I was beginning to think they didn't even want the wine, or maybe that was a negotiating strategy that you'd use on, say, a car salesman who wasn't giving you the options you wanted at the price you thought you ought to pay. Any moment, it seemed, the couple was JUST about to say "You know what, we'll go across the street and drink Franzia right from the box," and that, ONLY that, would send Curt running to the back to produce the bottle of red that everybody really wanted.

But after some back and forth, Curt and the couple found the perfect bottle, and he brought it out and poured it . And they swirled it in their glasses and sniffed it like you're supposed to do, and they took an oh-so-tiny sip and declared that this, THIS, was the perfect vintage of whatever-it-was, and Curt delicately filled their glasses and smiled. We felt a little amateurish, as if it is expected that you are supposed to make overtly first world demands of wine navigators. There is some condensation on the lower left side of this bottle of chardonnay, Curt. DESTROY IT IMMEDIATELY.

So this time, we vowed to make him work. He came to the table and my wife explained what sorts of wine we liked: pinot noirs from Oregon and whites from Marlborough. And then we threw in the wrinkle. I'm having fish, she said, and my husband is having steak. Good luck with THAT.

He thought for a second, staring up at the ceiling briefly before thumbing through the wine list and pointing at a bottle of wine, saying THIS is what you want. It sounded good, and when he poured a little bit for Kelsey, she swirled it and tasted it and nodded, and that was that. So much for the angst. So much for back-and-forth. Curt found the perfect bottle and poured it, which, I guess is exactly the point of having a wine navigator, silly as that sounds. 

The next morning, we walked downstairs to the lobby of our hotel across the street. The waiter poured us coffee and my wife took a sip and pushed it away. Wine navigators are great and all, but in the real world, if you don't like what what's in your cup, you drink water instead.

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