Some are handwritten in shapely black lettering. Others are typed out on the ancient black Royal that sits near the window. Each is a mini–literary creation unto itself. “Lovely, ethereal, unique, light, lifted, lemon, loam, lenitive, linear, lacrimal, lacy, louche, littoral, lively, laureled, lasting, licit, lilting and long on the finish,” reads an alliterative ode to a bottle of Willamette Valley white. “Lenitive” sent me to my dictionary; it means “lessening pain or distress.” I took the wine home and drank it. The description was spot on.
Similar tasting notes stick out from almost every available surface in Scott Crestodina’s cluttered Edgewater shop, Independent Spirits Inc. (5947 N. Broadway St.), like feathers on a bird. They are lyrical and evocative, succinct and insightful, economical and effusive, and free of the exclusionary tone and vacuous language that plague so much writing about wine (how many times must we read the word “quaffable”?). What’s more, they are—inasmuch as I’ve tasted the shop’s wares, which I have faithfully for five years—never less than truthful. “We’ve had some complaints about this one,” reads Crestodina’s 34-word take on a Caparone Nebbiolo. “We like to think this is what wine was like 500 years ago. A little unpredictable.” I bought that bottle too. Right he was.
Crestodina’s notes are self-contained prose poems. They are intelligent, playful, and, like the best reviews of anything, fun to read even if one has no intention of consuming the product. They are so good, in fact, that I use them in the creative writing courses I teach at DePaul University and the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. We project one on the board, read it aloud, then count the words to emphasize how much precision and entertainment they pack into a tiny space.
For instance, this one for a $15 Trinity County red: “Big, dark wine laden with saucy, ripe blackberry compote, spicy black pepper, dried meat, and cigar box. Pretty full-bodied. Over-delivers. Drinks like a $16 wine. Beefy. Large.”
How deceptively simple and surprisingly complex it is in its invitation for contemplation. The specific adjectives and unexpected comparisons, the subtle note of humor, the final staccato burst of yet more unexpected and lovely descriptors. Even if you don’t drink (and a lot of my students are under 21, so technically they’re not supposed to), there’s a pleasure in reading this.
I once asked Crestodina if he’d studied writing. To my surprise, he said he was a three-time dropout, once out of high school and twice out of college. He describes himself as a “self-taught shelf-talker writer.” He started crafting the descriptions when he opened his shop in 2013, partly to give it a little extra charm, partly to keep customers entertained if he was busy helping someone else. The gambit proved successful. “I ask people all the time if they want help looking for something,” he says. “And often they say, ‘No thank you, I’m reading.’ ”