This first bit will probably sound familiar: A pet peeve that I share with most people who consider themselves wine geeks is the smell of cologne or perfume at wine tastings. I like perfume, it's just that its main purpose is to smell like something, and not the wine I'm supposed to be smelling.

   I remember this issue from a Champagne tasting years ago. Somebody was wearing perfume. Nice perfume, sure, but strong. It eclipsed not only the intricate nuances of the wines, but pretty much everything else, too. I remember it because the offender wasn't a fellow taster. She was one of the pourers, a girl in her early twenties who I'd guess was placed at the event through a modeling agency and who didn't really know the expectations.


   The Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri tasting was earlier this week at the Great Hall at Chicago Union Station. What a great collection of some of the best wines from Italy. What can I say? Too many good wines. Rockstars from Barolo, Barbaresco, Amarone, Bolgheri ... even some affordable stuff. Rivetti Spinetta Barbaresco Starderi is awesome (and the Langhe Nebbiolo isn't bad, either). My usual Bolgheri favorites are great, especially the '07s. Tua Rita's 2008 Redigaffi is amazing. Fontodi's Chianti Classico Riserva Sorbo is beautiful. And on and on.

   So I'm at this great tasting in this great location, and I have a great glass of wine in my hand. My friend is standing there as I sniff the glass, and I look at him and I say, "This wine really smells like popcorn."

   And he says, "This whole room smells like popcorn. There's a popcorn place over there."

   Apparently the popcorn place makes a fresh batch as the afternoon commuters roll in, and it just floods the station with the delicious smell of freshly popped, lightly buttered popcorn. Which happens to be one of my favorite smells, ever. And it pairs excellently with wine! Try popcorn and chardonnay some time, or popcorn and Champagne. Though it's a great smell, it's distracting and  inescapable and kind of a problem at a big wine tasting. Kind of a bummer.


   A happy ending: later, on the way to the train, I found myself with a few friends at a local watering hole, nuzzling a Half Acre Gossamer Ale with a hand full of popcorn, fresh from the popper just a few feet away. Smelled great, and it was perfect with my beer.