“Find the Common Denominator”

Sal Russo (inexact likeness, writer's depiction)

Sal Russo (inexact likeness, writer’s depiction)

“Find the common denominator,” Sal Russo advised me in his raspy voice. It was the mid 90’s. I was in Sal’s showroom in the New York garment district. I won’t lie. The man intimidated me. It wasn’t his stature. He was a small man, but with a feisty, menacing energy that was both blatantly aggressive and cooly calculating. That day, however, he’d softened his tone. He’d taken on a fatherly manner, taking me under his wing. I was new to buying, working for a company large enough to buy a cutting ticket, that is I could buy all 300 dresses, the entire production, for our stores. That gave me a certain desirability that had absolutely nothing to do with me, personally. The end result was that the vendors of the garment district liked me, or at least, felt compelled to be kind to me in order to grow their business. So, at this particular moment in the showroom, it wasn’t Sal who intimidated me. It was his friend, Jerry, who stood nearby, quietly, but with a bouncer-sized presence that spoke silently of Sal’s obvious ‘connections.’

It is human nature to sort information. Pattern recognition and feature extraction are innate abilities, and organizing bits of information is how we make sense of the world. Finding the common denominator is one way of sorting information in many different fields. Wine is one of those fields where this comes in handy. Wine is sorted by old world and new world, noting the differences of more acidic and less fruit forward for the former and higher alcohol and bigger flavor for the latter. It is one of the easiest steps in identifying a wine. Once it is sorted into old world or new world, the wine can then be analyzed further to determine its region.

Grapes can be sorted by type such as Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Merlot. They can be sorted by acidity, tannins and other structural characteristics. They can also be sorted by flavors. What is the common denominator of Pinot Noir, Grenache and Cabernet Franc? They all have red fruit aromas; cherry, strawberry, cranberry. What is the common denominator of Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Muscat? They are all aromatic grapes. What is the common denominator of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Nebbiolo? They are all heavy-bodied, tannic wines. What is the common denominator of Barbera, Chenin Blanc, and Riesling? They are all acidic wines.

As scary as he was, Sal Russo gave me the best advice for figuring out what sells. Every Monday I took my selling report to the stores and pulled out my best selling dresses and looked at them. Just as Sal had advised me, I found a common denominator, whether is was wool crepe, a scalloped collar, ruching, or batik print. There was always some factor, some small detail that they all had in common. I practiced the same routine with my worst sellers. That was equally enlightening.

Studying wine can, also, be enhanced by finding the common denominator. It is much easier to master information when it is sorted. And finding those small details in character, flavor, region or structure that define the grape and make the wine memorable, greatly enhances the learning process.

9 comments on ““Find the Common Denominator”

  1. A great analogy about how to look at wines. All I can add is that I have a picture of me next to that desk, from when I visited the winery at Napa.

  2. So very interesting… one thing I never was good at, in my early life, was finding the patterns, the common denominators. It seems you and I are often thinking along the same themes.

    I’m curious–does this intersection have to do with our similar age our our similar (social-work) sensibility? Or, perhaps with the fact that, given our age, we’re both still fairly young and gorgeous looking?

  3. I’ve been trying to figure out all ways, why I’m not getting notifications of your post in my reader. It says I’m following you, but when I go to look at my list and edit it, you’re not there. Stupid. I’m signing up to follow you via email, hoping that will fix it?

  4. foxress says:

    Thank you, Tracy!

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