Poured with Pleasure

Bill Marsano’s blog on wine and spirits and cocktails: "If it’s good in a glass, I’m pouring it."

Author: Bill Marsano (page 1 of 7)

Books for Christmas, Thirsty Reader—and Xmas Too!

New this year, Thirsty Reader: no lectures! No rants about the decline of reading! Instead, just a short detour to the land of electronic readers—Nooks and Kindles.  I’m recommending them for their splendid convenience ¶ My first Kindle weighed just 8 ounces; my latest [with a lighted screen], 15 ounces: that makes them excellent travel companions. Consider:  my complete Jane Austen—six volumes of deckle-edged letterpress, NY, 1924—was and is a many-splendored thing,  but ah, my foes, and oh, my friends, it weighs 8 lbs. My one-volume The Jewel in the Crown? Three lbs. plus. Meanwhile, e-books are weightless. Yes, I still love the physical presence of printed books, but progress has its place. ¶ And now we hit the books—most of them fresh from the press, some not-so. The default gift for beginners is that king of the Vast Overviews, Wine for Dummies 5th Edition, by the duo known to many as ’Ed and Mary’ for the same reasons foodies refer to Julia Child as Julia. Since 1995 it has sold more than a million copies because it is clearly and crisply written, comprehensive, unintimidating and snobbery-free .What other book launched so many newcomers on confident starts in the daunting world of wine? But not that Judy Beardsall’s Sniffing the Cork and Other Wines Myths Demystified is also instructive. ¶

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Chief among the many not-so-vast overviews is American Wine, by Jancis Robinson and Linda Murphy: the former needs no introduction and the latter not much more, as she created the wine section of the San Francisco Chronicle. They cover all 50 states: yes, Hawaii makes wine. So does Alaska [Mama Bear Red, I should think.] Also from University of California Press this year: Wine Atlas of Germany, and Wines of South America, with sommelier Evan Goldstein going beyond Chile and Argentina to cover the whole continent—almost: Guyana, French Guyana and Suriname have yet, apparently, to get with the program. Shrinking to the regional we come upon Charles L.Sullivan’s Sonoma Wine & the Story of Buena Vista, which deserves better than its drab dust jacket, and Tilar Mazzeo’s double-play, Back Lane Wineries of Napa and the same for Sonoma. Greens will go for the California Wine Institute’s Down to Earth: A Seasonal tour of Sustainable Winegrowing in California. ¶ Italy leads with its king and queen, Barolo and Barbaresco, by Kerin O’Keefe, who covers both staunch traditionalists and fractious innovators. Tom Hyland ranges Beyond Barolo and Brunello: Italy’s Most Distinctive Wines, exploring roads less traveled and wines less known. For decades now Gary Grunner and Bob Lipinski have been eating and drinking all over Italy, with Gary furiously scribbling into his battered, raggle-taggle notebook. At last they have core-dumped its into the 178 pages of Italian Wine Notes.

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Marchese & daughters

Rather less wieldy is Ian d’Agata’s Native Wine Grapes of Italy, whose phone-book heft results from Italy’s staggering abundance of grape varieties. The weight of detail here rather smothers the author’s personality, which to me is a blessing. Of similar heft is Bob and Kathie Lipinki’s International Beverage Dictionary, whose waters are deep enough to drown in, somewhere between A Boire and Zytnia. ¶ Too many years ago I was still a punk in wheelpants when I was bullied into interviewing Marchese Piero Antinori—and on his home turf, too. Too scared to decline and too dumb to lie, I sallied unqualifiedly forth: down to the Arno, across Ponte Santa Trinitá and into Piazza Antinori, where, opposite the Cappella Antinori I turned left and unconfidently entered Palazzo Antinori. Home turf indeed. But let it be said that the Marchese was kindness and courtesy itself, innately gracious [maybe he  heard my knees knocking]. He’s the same on the page as in person in The Hills of Chianti: The Story of a Tuscan Winemaking Family, in Seven Bottles, in which he writes of passing on his six-centuyry-old family business to his daughters Allegra, Alessia and Albiera.

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Gary Grunner’s book in three stages, from jury-rigged, hand-scribbled
editor’s nightmare to its ‘cleans up pretty nice’ published version

Rather less rarefied is A Toast to Bargain Wines, George Taber’s tour of  bargain country [which occasional splurges]. His chapter on [yellow tail] alone will set the snobs screaming. ¶ If you want just one drink, try Talia Baiocchi’s Sherry: A Modern Guide to the Wine World’s Best-Kept Secret; if more than one, the Mille Vini Italian Wine Guide. Eventually you’ll come round to pairing, and so to François Millo’s Provence Food and Wine as well as sommelier John Szabo’s Pairing Food and Wine for Dummies and Food & Booze: Essays and Recipes, a salmagundi from Tin House magazine. There’s not a drop to drink in Carol Hofberg’s Morocco on a Plate, but it’s here I’ve recently found some Moroccan wine, made from international varieties: Ouled Thaleb. You make wine in a Muslim country pretty much as porcupines make love. As John and Erica Platters’s Africa Uncorked explains,  Morocco and some other Muslim countries don’t officially permit wine production, but avert their gaze so long as sinners keep their heads down. ¶ For tech types there are Proof: the Science of Booze, by Adam Rogers, Amy Stewart’s The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks and Marni Wasserman and Amy Jeanroy’s Fermenting for Dummies.

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These go well with an anecdotal mixer like Fred Minnick’s Whiskey Women, which one reviewer hailed as ‘oodles more fun than a women’s’ studies class.’ ¶ The martini [the Fred Astaire of cocktails] and the Manhattan [the Cary Grant] have long been in the limelight; now it’s Clark Gable’s turn, in a double-header: The Old-Fashioned: The Story of The World’s First Classic Cocktail, by Robert Simonson, and Albert W. A. Schmid’s The Old Fashioned: An Essential Guide to the Original Whiskey Cocktail. Rather more down-home is Mark Spivak’s Moonshine Nation: The Art of Creating Cornbread in a Bottle.  Interested in advanced technique, local produce and relentless innovation? See Architecture of the Cocktail: Constructing the Perfect Cocktail from the Bottom Up, by Amy Zavatto; Artisanal Cocktails: Drinks Inspired by the Seasons from the Bar at Cyrus, by Scott Beattie; Craft Cocktails at Home: Offbeat Techniques, Contemporary Crowd-Pleasers, and Classics Hacked with Science, by Kevin K. Liu; and The Curious Bartender: The Artistry and Alchemy of Creating the Perfect Cocktail  by Tristan Stephenson. For a little  [much-needed] frivolity try Jeanne Benedict’s Cocktail Pops and Spiked Frozen Treats. For a shorter title, Modern Cocktails, by Swedish bar-owner Jimmy Dymott. ¶ The literary/celebrity angle brings us Philip Greene’s Hemingway compendium To Have and Have Another; Tim Federle’s pun-laden Hickory Daiquiri Dock and Tequila Mockingbird [e.g., the Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margarita]; and Tom Smith’s Sinatra salute, Drink Up and Be Somebody. ¶ If a freshly made Alamagoozlum haunts your dreams, grab Ted Haigh’s backward glance at the 100 recipes of Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. For the straight skinny try The Art of the Shim: Low-Alcohol Cocktails to Keep You Level. Want to run your own bar?

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Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique, Jenn Fiedler’s [’bout time we got some women in here], The Essential Bar Book, and Ray Foley’s Bartending for Dummies make their bids to join the classics:  Dale DeGroff’s The Craft of the Cocktail and Gaz [ex-Gary] Regan’s The Joy of Mixology. ¶ Now is it just me or, looking back on the titles above, is cocktailery  getting a tad cultish and self-serious, what with its outlandish and extravagant concoctions [one cocktail I saw recently requires 16 ingredients; three of them made from separate recipes] and artisanal ice? Faddishness breeds familiarity, and you know what comes next. Therefore let’s relax—while relax we still can—with beer in all its amber, foam-topped glory, as in Beer for Dummies and by The Foodie’s Beer Book, a pairing guide by the pair of Brooke and Luter Fedora. ¶ And let us not forget that good drink can be read as well as sipped, which is why I recommend Natalie Berkowitz’s The Winemaker’s Hand and Terry Theise’s Reading Between the Wines.

A small sample from the latter: ‘I want to reassure you that none of what follows is a command. It is merely a proposal. It’s all right to think of wine like this, and it’s all right not to.  . . . Wine is a tactful invitation, not a summons. But let us be available, when it asks, to go quietly soaring, because the earthbound life is finally too small. Cheers! ©2014

Stalking the Talk: The Worst Wine Words

Desperation—of writers for stuff to write about and of editors for stuff to publish—is a leading cause of How to Talk About Wine articles. This, Thirsty Reader, is not that article. This is How Not to Talk About Wine. ¶ It derives from the annual-or-not Poured With Pleasure Shivaree, a wingding for inmates of Liberty Hall [southwest corner of Harm’s Way and Nathan Lane] to disport themselves freely, at least until the cops arrive. One fine August day, led by our Grand Marshal, Ben Trovato the Italian fabulist, we wended northward to Bogus Corners, a hamlet about midway between Fisherman’s Bend and the Gadroon border. ¶ Our hoo-hah ws sparked by Michelle Armour, noted West Coast PR babe and meat packer, who‘d been driven round the bend by a producer’s demand that she publicize his bottom-dollar Cabernet under the mantra It’s Great Wine at a Great Price!  ‘Horsefeathers,’ Michele said, or is said to have said. ‘No way you’re getting two greats in one bottle for six clams a pop.’ Besides, Michelle’s J.A.M. PR does not, as they say, do dollar-store wines; in fact, her clients include such notables as Duckhorn, J. Lohr, MacRostie, Patz & Hall, Sea Smoke, Spottswoode and Talbott. Resisting the urge to propose a more realistic slogan [The Cream of the Crap came to her mind but not her lips], she feigned an attack of the vapors and discreetly withdrew to her fainting couch. In her swoon she fell to glooming on the subject of language inflation among wine people, and it was but the work of a moment for her to compile a list of deceptions and what they too-often really mean. Herewith a sampling:

World-class:  Good
Excellent: Pretty good
Great: Lackluster
Good: Not very good at all
Instinctive winemaker: Repeatedly failed chemistry
Approachable: Uninspired
Sophisticated: Totally unapproachable
Lush: Cheap and over-manipulated
Accessible: Cheap
Prestigious: Expensive
Coveted:  Over-priced
Earthy: Tastes like dirt

This she idly sent in a cleft stick to Lindsay Woolsey, the ditsy fashionista and Liberty Hall denizen who is her BFF, WTF that may mean, and she in turn hauled it to our shindig for our edification and dismay. ¶ We had intended to roister on the shore of nearby Veronica Lake until we observed that that body is not, like the human body, 90 percent water. It is a foetid swamp that would have appealed to Poe and for which the term ‘superfund site’ is too good by a long chalk. Luckily an undiscriminating spa called the Bar None Ranch crouches nearby on the lower slopes of Widow’s Peak, and its management, if any, willingly received us ‘mongst its blooming groves of smilax, phlox and thorax. ¶ As the lobster salad and Sauvignon Blanc were passed around, so was La Armour’s list, to vocal support for both. ‘How about tradition,’ threw in Sutton Who, a British archeologist of no repute. ‘Like family owned, it’s something that’s for sale if the price is right. Traditional, on the other hand, often means antiquated winery. ‘You don’t want to leave out artisanal,’ said Cole Junger, the outlaw psychiatrist. ‘Too often it means rustic, rough-hewn or clumsy—but always steeply priced. I’ve even seen ‘artisanal marshmallows’ on offer, each one doubtless carved by hand using century-old chisels. Only $24 a pound, too.’ ‘There’s a lot of crafted and hand-crafted going around,’ said Homer Nods, the classical scholar and dolt. ‘You’d think the wine is made by hooded monks in caverns full of purple smoke instead of plants that look like oil refineries.’ For her part Lindsay would fain have talked about the new anthology she’s compiling for Fulcourt Press—her working title is Meh: Poems Jackie Kennedy Was Never Really All That Crazy About—but the spark had caught the tinder and the tinder the flame, as it were: there was no going back. ¶ ‘Let’s ditch iconic,’ said Harley Quinn, the gay Hell’s Angel. ‘Doesn’t it just mean clichéed? Or let’s restrict it to flat, two-dimensional wines, so we can get rid of balanced.’ Something of a free-for-all was developing, something that would cause thy knotted and combined locks to part and each particular hair to stand on end, like quills upon the fretful porpentine: Passion was skanced as mere livelihood and philosophy as rhetoric concocted by marketing. ‘Right! I’m so sick of people saying—intoning, actually—Great wine is made in the vineyard,’ added Jeane-Jacques Trousseau, the multiply married French philosophe. ‘Look behind the curtain and you’ll see their real Core Values are guys in white lab coats poring over gas chromatographs.’ Luxury was defined as priced for show-offs and curate roused the ire of Bartolo Colon, the flame-throwing right–handed copy editor: ‘Anyone using that word who isn’t a museum director or assistant vicar should be ill-behooved*. Same for anyone using eponymous, somethingcentric and channeling. Established was called code for heartless corporate leviathan and hidden gems drew the scorn of Lady SaGa, runic chanteuse and coach-class goddess of Icelandair: ‘After hidden they should add those three little words with good reason. Without these second-rate wines lots of self-important writers would have to shut up.’ Foodies took stick too. ‘Half of them would be struck dumb if only we could ban the word succulent’ said Basil Coulis, our French herbalist and pastry chef. That struck a chord with Sneaky Peat, the furtive Islay distiller: ‘Aye, laddie, and banning veggies and garlicky will silence the rest.’ And that, for the time being, silences me.

What we ate Cold Lobster Salad for four, adapted from Emeril Lagasse’s recipe. As follows: Emulsify 1 Cup Italian extra-virgin olive oil and the juice of two Florida oranges, then whisk in 2 Tbsp. of minced shallots and 1 Tsp. minced garlic. Drizzle with honey to taste, and salt and pepper. Toss 4 Cups fresh baby arugula with 1/3 of the oil mix and taste for seasoning; pile the arugula on plates. Toss stemmed and blanched green beans [Emeril uses haricots verts] and 1/2 Cup cured Greek olives, pitted and halved, with 1/3 of the dressing and add atop the arugula. Toss 1 pound of cooked lobster with the final 1/3 of the dressing; taste for seasoning. The lobster is Maine lobster, which Mainers pronounce LAHB-sta, not just because August is Maine Lobster Month but because it’s the best. [Hard to credit that in Colonial times lobster was fed to livestock.] Pile meat atop the beans, olives and arugula. Garnish with thin, salt-and-peppered slices of 2 hard boiled eggs and 1 Tbsp. of chopped parsley. Then, in the words of John Anderson’s A Fifteenth Century Cookery Boke. ‘Serve it forth.’

What we drank A splendid variety of Sauvignon Blanc in prices ranging from $9 Meridian to $22 Silverado and Miller Ranch. At $11-$12 we had Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve, Rodney Strong Charlotte’s Home, Dancing Bull,  2 from Dry Creek Vineyard [including the Fumé Blanc] and Matua. At $13-$16: Ch. St Jean Fumé Blanc, Kenwood, Simi, Murphy-Goode The Fumé, Cerruti Cellars’ Honker, De Martino, Souverain, Lake Sonoma, Buena Vista and Picket Fence. At $18-$20: Foppiano, Mt. Beautiful, Matanzas Creek, Hanna, St. Supéry and Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc.


* Ill-behooved: kicked by a mule [The Laconic Lexicon, 2014]



©2014 Bill Marsano


Sauvignon Blanc,Fumé Blanc,Meridian,Silverado,Miller Ranch,Kendall-Jackson,Rodney Strong,Charlotte’s Home,Dancing Bull,Dry Creek Vineyard,Matua,Ch. St Jean,Kenwood,Simi,Murphy-Goode,Cerruti Cellars,De Martino,Souverain,Lake Sonoma,Buena Vista,Picket Fence,Foppiano,Mt. Beautiful,Matanzas Creek,Hanna,St. Supéry,Robert Mondavi

Loathercon 2014: Bad Gifts for the Drinking Class

LoatherCon, our annual festival of cringe-making gifts for the drinking class, convened once again at Parade’s End, corner of Lois Lane and Della Street, for the customary mockery and merriment. And for lagniappe we even came up with some good gifts. ¶ For example, making ice balls no longer requires Williams-Sonoma’s $1100 appliance now that less

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than a sawbuck scores a mold from Tovolo [better and cheaper is Tovolo’s King Cube tray, which turns out Titanic-menacing 2-inch bergs]. Beer-lovers will admire GoVino’s new outdoors-friendly polymer beer glasses: 4 for $15, unbreakable, BPA-free and a big step up from waxed-paper cups. ¶ But now let the fresh hostilities begin! Claire de Loon, the ditzy musician, brought two nice Pinot Noirs [Kenwood’s and Rodney Strong’s] as well as her roommate, Fussy Galore, the relentless primper. Fussy brought her ‘limited edition’ sunglasses, whose frames are made from old Robert Mondavi barrel staves.

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They’re advertised as ‘uniquely awesome,’ so of course they cost $120. Flemish Bond, the Belgian mason and secret agent, brought some Gabbiano Bellezza Chianti Classico [yay!] and a pair of wooden martini glasses [boo!]. Sure to spoil the look of any cocktail, they’re $110. ¶ Irk Bogarde, the cranky matinee idol, brought a bottle of Stag’s Leap Pine Ridge Cabernet and a Buck Rogers weapon to open it with: the $50 Skil iXO Vivo cordless corkscrew. Heavens to Betsy! The iXO Vivo may be fine for caterers, but for home use? Noisy. And beware:

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when it’s on it’s at full power, so it can tear fragile corks in two. Still, it comes boxed with a foil cutter, stopper and screw driver bits. What next, a screwcap remover? ¶ When it comes to storing leftover wine, your best bet is still that old stand-by, the VacuVin, because the alternatives are largely Dumb and Dumber. Notably Metrokane’s Rabbit Electric Wine Preserver, a $40 failure that was lugged in by Bangalore, the lubricious Bollywood chanteuse. We tested it on her Zaca Mesa Syrah and found it [the Rabbit not the wine] wanting. It takes three times as long as a VacuVin to form a vacuum that isn’t nearly as good. Two vacuums, actually: the second is between the Rabbit and the stopper itself, so it’s tricky to remove the Rabbit without breaking the vacuum in the bottle. Baba Ganache, eastern mystic and chocolatier, padded by with her $25 Air Cork. Looking disturbingly like an 1890’s quack medical device, it’s a squeeze bulb with a hose and an air

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bladder: push the bladder into the bottle and pump it up; later deflate and remove as needed. It worked well enough on Baba’s MacRostie Pinot Noir, but online are many beefs: the fragile bladder readily ruptures or leaks or falls off the tube. In any event, the thing is hideous. ¶ My nextdoor neighbor Gary Indiana, a deservedly neglected Pop Art hanger-on, turned up with the oddest gift of all, a $70 pair of Inside-Out champagne flutes from the Museum of Modern Art Design Store. Marginally known for a single derivative sculpture, Gary complains that a] he’s been overtaken by a Facebook icon and that b] the flutes, like so much of modern design, are longer on looks than on function. The I-O flute is merely an insulated glass with a fancy price. Yes, it will keep bubbly cool and yes, it has the snazzy look of a field marshal’s baton. But now the bad news. Its thick lip makes for sloppy slurping rather than sophisticated sipping, and it holds a skimpy three ounces, not the claimed four. Worse, you can’t actually drink all three: a vacuum forms in the skinny stem of the


glass, preventing some from pouring out. Not much mind you, but when it’s miserly three-ounce pour, I want it all, whether it’s Henriot’s Anniversary Brut or Schramsberg Reserve, J Brut Rosé or Happy Bitch Frizzante. After all, hosts who offer their guests stingy three-ounce pours don’t serve seconds. Instead get Riedel’s Celebration flutes, which cost about half as much but hold more than twice as much. ¶ A trio of what marketers call ‘gifts for those who have everything‘ []i.e., gewgaws] was brought forth by Baskin’ Robbins, the Audubon Society tanning champion. First up was a cork presenter from Alessi, the high-style and high-priced Italian design outfit. This $32 objet is a wee sort of tray whose ‘role is fundamental in the courtesy of the contemporary serving style’ of, I imagine, your very

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toniest sommeliers in your very toniest restaurants. Anything for a laugh, I suppose. Next came Le Creuset‘s cork catcher, only $40, and in ‘antique chrome,’ too. It’s for hopeless cases who can’t broach the bubbly without risking ballistic catastrophe. Apparently there are enough such folk that some bottles, notably those from Woodbridge and Barefoot Cellars, now actually bear warning labels, doubtless breaking the hearts of lawyers everywhere. Finally, the Vinamor: it’s the latest entry in the wine-aeration game, surely not the last but probably the most original. Does it work? Opinions on aerators are bitterly divided. The nays may be mere skeptics and the yeas may be guided by the powers of suggestion, faith and imagination. What’s certain is

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that the Vinamor sits a tad precariously in most stems, and that with each use you have to deal with something that’s large, clumsy and dripping. Still, the Vinamor did win support on Shark Tank, the television show that matches cash-poor inventors with arrogant well-heeled suits. As for the rocket-science behind Vinamor, it’s simply this: a wire sink strainer of the type sold in multi-packs at dollar stores and a glass ball to spread the wine a bit. That leaves adequate room for profit in the $25 list price on the Vinamor website, and that seems fair. The thing is properly made of glass, not molded plastic, and so it must be hand-made. And greedy Amazon demands $40 for the same item. Way to go, Jeff Bezos. ¶ And that’s it for LoatherCon 2014. All in all, a charmingly lame collection, and there’s surely much we couldn’t cover, because bad gift-giving, like many other crimes, is notoriously under-reported. Like the chumps who spend fortunes on counterfeit wines, many victims are too ashamed to fess up; others cynically resort to re-gifting. None of either reside at Parade’s End, just as none got, or would use, a Le Whaf. That’s a device which for reasons


mysterious and obscure turns your drink into a cloud or mist which to be inhaled through a straw. Truly. Thanks lots, but I’ll just sip and savor, OK?


What’s It All About, Vodka?

Vodka, the clear and present danger, lives in interesting times, as the ancient Chinese said.* Or are said to have said. Some tony modern barmen dismiss it as lowly industrial knockout juice, and thus beneath their notice. Mixmaster Tony Abou-Ganim isn’t buying it, and he combines facts, lore and recipes in Vodka Distilled to turn the tide.

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That’s a challenge of Canute-like difficulty, for in snooty joints—such as have printed cocktail menus, ‘bar chefs’ and unmarked entrances—vodka orders may be greeted with derision or insult. ‘Those guys are just a bunch of snots’ says my upstairs neighbor Brandi Alexander, ‘who think they’re too good for their customers.’ A sweet-tempered ex-cocktail waitress, Brandi remembers ‘back when I was hauling trayloads of libations at the old Café des Trois Outfieldres, we used to say the customer is always right, if not always bright, so we gave ‘em latitude, not attitude.’ ‘Vodka has earned its place in any bar,’ Tony says. ‘It’s one of the oldest spirits there is’—much older that scotch, bourbon or gin’—and, he adds, uniquely self-effacing. While some vodkas do have traces of taste and character,** most are simply neutral, the base of alcohol on which creative barmen can erect new cocktails. But never you mind: vodka isn’t going anywhere, despite the pomposity, despite the Wall Street Journal’s ‘Vodka is passé’ declaration: it’s what the public wants. Americans, voting by cash register, buy 65 million cases of it every year. ‘Nuff said. The big names and exotics include Absolut, Grey Goose, Tanqueray, Ultimat, Double Cross, Skyy, vintaged Kauffman, Effen, Mongolia’s new Soyombo, and more. The
imagerange runs from Tito’s Handmade, whose price-quality balance makes it a Texas David amongst Goliaths, and Sweden’s Purity, created by Thomas Kuuttanen, who claims a distinct character for it from his own 34-distillations process. [His own martini is three parts Purity to one of water, surely melted down from his own glacier.] Most top names are pricy and beyond, especially when labeled ‘luxury’ or ‘ultra-premium,’ so value brands eagerly elbow in, claiming, like Tito’s, to shrink the gap between top drawer and bottom dollar. Value titans Smirnoff and Seagram’s now rub along with Sobieski [a bargain in liters and 1.75-liter ‘handles’]; Stön and Reval, also in liters [increasingly popular for vodka], Rökk, Svedka, Denaka, Exclusiv, and jolly, irrepressible Wodka, which promises ‘Hamptons Quality, Newark imagePricing’ and is packaged accordingly. Wodka’s plain-jane jug can’t even touch Wyborowa’s bottle [designed by Frank Gehry], Absolut’s rich limited editions, Crystal Head’s skull, American Harvest’s frosty column, Finlandia’s and Iced’s faux glaciers, Stoli elit’s artillery round and the sculptures of Kauffman, U’Luvka, Purus, Mamont and Black Elk. Wodka’s paper labels, which might be run off by night on a wonky printer at a southern penal farm, pale before the etched and enameled flourishes of Van Gogh, Voda, Chopin, Belvedere, Frozen Ghost and Snow Queen, let alone Medea’s programmable LED display [mine says ‘Not tonight, dear. I have a headache’]. Of course, you pay for that—and what else? Lately, it’s filtration fetishism. Activated charcoal has been replaced or supplemented by diamond dust, diamond crystal, quartz sand, rare earths, silver, gold, platinum, lava or powdered marble, alone or in combinations. And imageso, naturally, you can now choose Belvedere UNfiltered vodka as well as Russian Standard regular and Russian Standard Platinum. You also pay for poetry, such as it is. Ketel One has claimed that its every drop came from an ancient pot still, distileerketel #1. Reverentially enshrined in KO’s promotional video, the thing seemed ridiculously small, so I asked how much it actually produced. The p.r. babe cocked a snook, as it were, and replied in wounded tones ‘Please! Ketel One is about quality, not numbers.’ Suitably ashamed, I asked U.S. Customs, which had logged 953,000 cases of KO the year before. That’s about 2.3 million gallons, so maybe KO is going Double Dutch with double shifts. Ya think? Or maybe Bob Emmons, author of The Book of Gins and Vodkas: A Complete Guide, was right: KO is bulk alcohol shipped from France and Germany. Are you paying more for kosher? Don’t. All Domestic non-flavored grain or potato vodkas are OK, ‘certified’ or not, say kashrut experts. Are you paying more for gluten-free? Don’t. Distillation, q violent process, destroys all but the verytiniest traces of gluten, so any distilled spirit is safe, per celiac.nih.gov/. Extremely sensitive folk play safe with gluten-proof vodka, i.e. not grain-based. No problem. There are potato vodkas by the long ton: Chopin Potato and Blue Ice; Boyd & Blair, Luksusowa, Monopolowa, Glacier and of course Idaho’s Grand Teton [but not, oddly, Ireland’s Boru]. Grapes make Cîroc and DiVine. Tito’s and Smirnoff are corn, and Cayman Blue [Vodcaña in Canada] is from sugar cane. Potato vodka is considered a Polish joke by Russian, who vaunt their wheat and rye, but Polish distillers are ecumenical. Belvedere bottles separate vodkas from each of the major bases, for example, and Ultimat, looming majestic in its elegant decanter bottle, is a blend of all three. Suntory makes Ao vodka from rice, and your thrifty Russian housewife may practice home economics by home-cooking table sugar into a simulacrum called samogon, which she sells out her kitchen window for about a buck a liter. Its popularity may suggest that a Russian woman’s place is in the kitchen. Corn works, as do sugar cane and soy beans [Inox and “3’’, respectively]. Ingenious Mongolians have used yak and camel milk. Tuthilltown makes a fine vodka from apples, which are superabnundant  [and cheap!] in T’town’s Hudson Valley homeland. Truly, were some hardy visionary so inclined, lawn clippings might well make a Long Island grass vodka called Subur. imageGreen Jacket [‘The Vodka of Champions—Now Bogey-Free!’] might be made artisanally from the mowings of Augusta National. Russia is joined inseparably to many many consumers, which is why Putin’s bullying anti-gay law sparked a U.S. boycott of Stoli, which is Latvian. Just as naturally, many brands pirate Russian names: Red Square and KGB are British; Military Special and MiG Pilot are American. Molotov, presumably just the thing for cocktails to be thrown at enemy tanks, is from Trinidad. Keglevich is Italian and Gorbatshow German. [Legitimately Russian in source and name are Red Army and Kalashnikov. [I imagine the latter’s ads use peppy slogans that run something like ‘Vodka Kalashnikov: It Will Blow You Away.’] There’s a lot of such foolery in origin of this species. Galileo is Polish, not Italian [why isn’t it called Copernicus?]Alaskan Rock is made in Australia and was inspired by Italian restaurateurs. Kosher vodka is made in Jamaica. And so it goes. As vodka wins consumers by its very simplicity, so is it beloved of distillers for low production costs. No deep limestone cellars or towering rick houses here; no long years of ‘aging gracefully’ in new-oak barrels that are used but once and then either sold cheap to Scotland or cut up and sold even cheaper as planters. Vodka’s tao of profit is a speedy one: out of the still, into the bottle, onto the shelves and down the hatch. Some craft distillers have adopted vodka because it’s relatively easy to make and sells like crazy, supporting their bottom line. [The only beverage with a higher return on investment is bottled water.] Not that it’s always easy. Chris Weld, founder of Berkshire Mountain Distillers, says ‘although vodka still dominates the spirit world, I struggle to sell my craft vodka beyond my local environs—most distributors actually don’t even want to bring it in. They have plenty of vodkas from the big guys.’ And they’re much cheaper [his Ice Glen is $30] and available at big discounts. The low prices are low indeed. Some of the 1.75-liter plastic jugs return change from a $10 bill. You may be wary of any brand in plastic bottles, especially in pints, half-pints and $1 shots designed à la Manet for le déjeuner sur l’curb. Devotees of such stuff
image  power-free-toilet-cleaner-lg.png2
warn against drinking it straight and suggest drowning the taste with juice [cranberry, orange and grapefruit preferred], running it through a Brita filter a few times, or steeping it with Gummy Bears. In the end, you may wish to take a tip from Kirstie Alley: she uses to clean toilets, at home and in flight. What the hell: it’s cheaper than Lysol. ¶ Cheers!


*Or are said to have said. Wikipedia says ‘no Chinese source has ever been found.’ Phrases.org.uk calls it ‘neither Chinese nor ancient, being recent and western,’ noting its faux-Oriental ‘Confucius say’ style. It is cited in the 1930s by
French-sounding Frederic René Coudert, Jr. [actually a native-born New Yorker] and a contemporary British Ambassador to China who bore the magnificent handle Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen. 

**Taste-test for such nuances with neat vodka in wee glasses and at room temperature.

©Bill Marsano 2014










A Holiday Garland

To one and all although time be fleeting,
To you each bring I this Christmas greeting:
Of drinkers books I proffer a bevy,
Some light as air are, yet others heavy.
These holiday burdens that freight my shelves
Lie heaped by eager squads of vinous elves.
Come, ease you my bookcase’s weary groan
By transferring some of them to your own.

Ahoy, mateys! As you have guessed already I’m back with another pro-reading rant, but I promise this will be a bit different. I will toss in a couple of non-book gift ideas for lagniappe [including, mirabile dictu, Metrokane’s wine-imagechilling-carafe, at left, which actually works] and something to drink, too. And the rant will be brief. I want merely to recall the headline of an ad campaign about hiring that ran in the 1960s: Send Me a Man Who Reads. The idea was that people who read will make better employees. Smarter, more adaptable, more productive employees. No ‘studies’ were quoted to support the idea, it was simply set forth as common sense, and it’s valid now as then. If you’re dealing with the Department of Motor Vehicles, Thirsty Reader, or an 800-number help line, a store clerk or whatever, would you rather talk to with someone who reads or someone who’s the cat’s pajamas at playing Grand Theft Auto V on his Xbox 360 or spends weekends binge-watching Monster Truck Rally on a 70-inch flat-screen TV? And frankly I am doubtful that we’ll ever see ads headed Snd me a dude who txts. ¶ Two stocking-stuffer reprints appear in the form of The Hour, by Bernard DeVoto, and Shake Em Up!, by

TheHour ShakeEmUp_dustjacket-final-correx.indd

Virginia Elliott and Phil D. Stong. DeVoto was a writer, critic, historian and champion of civil liberties and conservationism. He was a drinking enthusiast withal, committed if a tad rigid: he admitted to the canon the slug of whiskey and the martini, and no more; he celebrated America’s achievements in advancing alcoholic civilization.  America’s Indians had the ingenuity to develop corn, he grumps, but regarded it as ‘a mere food. [This recalls the Swiss, whose principal achievement with malted barley was to turn it into Ovaltine.] He took a firm stand in support of good drink and was relentless foe of fads and frippery [he was perhaps fortunate to die before the age that produced Almond Moo-Moo]. In all his stiff-necked prickliness, he’s a grumpy pleasure to read. He chose his ground and he took his stand. That itself is a pleasure and perhaps a lesson to our wussy, wimpy age, in which
We needs must choices make not mere excuses,
Which open all to numberless abuses:
Suffer we then because we lack the guts
To take a stand: no ands, nor ifs nor buts.
–Fr. Gassalasca Jape, S.J.
Likewise but in a softer, lighter vein good Elliott and Stong, who ‘twixt them had the temerity to publish their ‘practical handbook of polite drinking’ in 1930, which was early in the Depression and late in Prohibition. Self-protectively referring to ‘non-alcoholic’ liquors, they offer sound and sly advice to People Who Fling Parties, People Who Go to Parties, People Who Just Have a Table of Bridge, People Who Don’t Really Drink But Feel That a Cocktail or Two Enlivens Conversation—in short, for the American People in the Twelfth Year of Volstead, 1930.’ The cocktail and snack recipes conjure up a simpler time but also a harder time, when it was a struggle to get any drink at all and parties featured nothing delivered by Fresh Direct. These books are small, so buy both. ¶ A Scent of Champagne: 8,000 Champagnes Tasted and Rated is by Richard Juhlin, who accounts himself the ‘world’s No. 1 Champagne expert.’ zzzchampagne

In this large-format coffee-table book or lap-top Juhlin ranges from vine to flute, and strict he is in his selections. Most books on bubbly cover at least a few sparkling wines from wherever and whomever; not Juhlin, who recognizes nothing, rien, grown outside the region’s 357 approved villages, and won’t unless the authorities add more villages. As they’ve been known to do. ¶ No exclusivists we: countering Juhlin, pause we here to drink. And we select little-known Crémant de Bourgogne Marie Ambal, a surprising ‘mere’ sparkler that recently finished first over four Champagnes blind-tasted by journalists, sommeliers and others in the trade. Not finishing first were, in order, Nicolas Feuillatte NV Brut, Perrier-Jouet Brut, Taittinger Brut La Francaise and Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut. The kicker: the non-winners cost about twice Marie Ambal’s $25 price. A good choice for festive
drinking, proving that bubbles never fail but they needn’t cost the earth. If in a Buy American mood you won’t lose by choosing J Brut, Domaine Ste. Michelle, Gruet, Argyle, Schramsberg or Korbel, all having at least some bottles comfortingly priced. Nor can we neglect the French Foreign Legion: Mumm Napa, Roederer Estate, Domaine Chandon and Carneros Estate. Cheers! ¶ And now back to books. 21 Wines is a well illustrated personal tour of great Italian wines by Vic Rallo, a lawyer and cooking-show host whose flour-dusted youth was spent in his family’s restaurant kitchens, and Anthony Verdoni, his pal and consigliere del vino. If you’ve never heard of Cos Pithos Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG and the buried amphorae it’s aged in, see Vic and Tony. Tom Hyland’s Beyond Barolo and Brunello is a discovery tour of peninsular wines, always in search of the arcane, so if you’ve never heard of Cantine Federiciane Lettere, San Felice Pugnitello or La Viarte Tazzelenghe, see Tom. And now let the wild rumpus start with The New California Wine: A Guide to the Producers and Wines Behind a Revolution in Taste, by Jon Bonné. An Easterner who took over the San Francisco Chronicle’s wine section a few years back, he put many a nose out of joint with his refusal to genuflect to the local wine gods. So here’s ‘the real skinny on cutting-edge California wine by someone who’s on the ground, knows his stuff and could[n’t] care Bonn_New CA Wineless about offending the establishment.’ Matt Kramer says that. I do not argue with Matt Kramer. Nor do I with Clive Coates; instead I settle for envying him his four decades in the earthly paradise, a.k.a. Burgundy. His My Favorite Burgundies profiles vineyards and domains, assesses vintages and includes his sage general observations, resulting in  a well-deep reference book. ¶ Labels and Bottles of the Craft Spirits Industry is by Bill Owens, father and godfather of that very industry. Here he has pulled together a fine collection of labels that address the need for distinct identity as new brands proliferate. The Patrón Way: The Untold Story of the World’ Most Successful Tequila, is a nicely dishy dish by Ilana Edelstein. The ‘life partner’ [up to a point, Lord Copper] of Martin Crowley, she tells how he built a billion-buck business on a tequila everyone else had missed, with her fair self supporting him all the way. And then they both lived happily every after? What do you think this is, a fairy tale? ¶ The blessed Veuve Clicquot and the other heroines of Champagne have the fame they deserve, and now Fred Minnick, ex-combat photographer champion elbow-bender, confers the halo on a bevy of whiskey women. They’d be lost to history without the chivalrous aid of Gentleman Fred inMinnick

Whiskey Women. After all, did you know that Bessie Williamson, who took over Laphroaig in 1938, had started there as a secretary in 1934—as a temp? Let’s all drink to those heroines, and Fred, too. ¶ A puzzlement is The Way We Ate: 100 Chefs Celebrate a Century at the American Table, by Noah Fecks and Paul Wagtouicz. It poses as a socio-culinary stew of recipes, chefs and history [the Titanic sank in 1912 and the TV dinner was invented in 1953, etc.], but do the recipes, one per chef, truly reflect the food of the time? OK, folks did eat mac and cheese in the 1970s, but so what? It was already a hit in the 1870s. Does Pad Thai really say 1939? Some pairings rely on that weakest of reeds, ‘inspired by.’ Like this: Batman originated in 1937, and he is from Gotham, which is really New York, which is the Big Apple, and so the 1937 recipe is Gotham Buckwheat Apple Tart. Of course. And isn’t Sweden-reared Marcus Samuelsson taking the easy way out with gravlax? Uff da! You can get salmon at Ikea. My neighbor Warren Buffet, the Midwestern salad-bar impresario, ‘this is not a book to buy online; better go to a bookstore [some still exist] to see whether you think the pretension outweighs the recipes and cocktails of Daniel Boulud, Gael Greene, Jacques Pepin, Michael Lomonaco and such.’ Not to forget Gerry and Joanne Dryansky’s Coquilles, Calva and Crème: Exploring France’s Culinary Heritage. If it’s cold where you are, their rich fund of fashion-world gossip, love of regional specialties and tart wit will warm your winter. Many of the current cohort of  bartenders say they’ll have no truck with vodka, which they skance as a tasteless industrial product. Now Tony Abou-Ganim and Mary Elizabeth Faulkner mount a muscular defense in Vodka Distilled: The Modern Mixologist on Vodka and Vodka Cocktails.  ¶ Now what are Twitter Queen Sarah-Jayne Gratton and her hyphen doing in here? Sounding a warning, essentially. S-JG’s book Follow Me! Creating a Personal Brand with Twitter is instructive and corrective at a time when social media seem to conquer all that lie before. Certainly many drinks producers rely on them to the extent of dumping their professional PR people, and bloggers find them useful too. S-JG is telling us it’s a DIY world. ¶ Natalie Berkowitz’s The Winemaker’s Hand ranges widely, with interviews of winemakers from the artisanal to the corporate in some half-dozen countries on [Alliteration Warning!] Talent, Technique, and Terroir. For lagniappe she throws in an aroma wheel and some recipes. ¶ Now for some non-print gifts. Metrokane’s wine-cooling carafe, the Houdini or Rabbit [both names are common], really does provide the Big Chill with its glass carafe, which holds one bottle of wine, and its large ice chamber. It beats competing products three ways: the chamber is of sturdy, quick-chilling stainless, not glass; it doesn’t have to be removed for pouring; and it can chill wine from room temp, not merely maintain an icebox chill. So deep-six your Corkcicles, if you haven’t already. For icebox chilling, Vacu Vin has the nifty Snap Wine Thermometer. It resembles a bracelet: let it embrace the bottle, put the bottle to chill, and check progress occasionally. ¶ Picnic time is coming, so be prepared. Magellan’s, the travelers’ catalogue, sells padded bottle armor but my neighbor Val De Rhee, the insufferable singing mountaineer, touts Magellan’s PlatyPreserve wine sack. It’s made by Platypus, a company that once focused exclusively on ‘portable hydration’ [water!] for hikers and such, until someone realized tyhat wine, too, is a liquid, and then the penny dropped. A leak-proof plastic sack, screw-capped, convenient and easy to pack, it lets you take your wine but ditch the bottle, so that’s about a pound and a half less to lug. PlatyPreserve was, as the illustration below left proves, a favorite of the 12th Century quatrain-scribbling Persian poet known as Omar Khayyám, of Rubáiyát fame.


Any wine left over? Squeeze out the excess air to prevent oxidation. And what to drink from? I don’t risk my Riedels at picnics but rely instead on Joe Perrulli’s GoVino shatterproof polycarbonate wineglasses. They’re light, stemless, easily packed, reusable and they have thumb indentations to aid swirling enow. [Choose your own book of verse and your own Thou.] GoVino has stemless flutes, too, and a decanter that is suitable, mainly,  for half-bottles, also shatterproof.. And, not to lecture, be sure to choose your
The annual round-up of horrible Christmas gifts for wine-lovers will be coming up in due course, and nominations are welcome. Send them to me: [email protected].
retailer or etailer with due care if you want to get the best deal. For example, Vacu Vin’s Snap costs a mere $10, with free shipping, at lots of sites, but it also goes for $14 at deandeluca.com. Plus shipping. Which is not quite a steal at $12! ¶ Now then, Repeat the sounding joy, Thirsty Reader. Repeat the sounding joy! ¶ © Bill Marsano 2014. Montage courtesy of the peerless Darren Tuozzoli.


They Can’t Drink, They Won’t Drink: The Holiday Quandary

Come we now to festive times, amici: Thanksgiving is behind us and Hanukkah too, but Kwanzaa and Christmas lie in wait, as do office parties, New Year’s Eve and various ad hoc jollifications. Waiting with them is the old problem of what to do for non-drinkers. Their tribe increases, what with the too-young, the too-old,designated drivers,  the allergic, the recovering and the I’d-just-rather-nots. They’re usually palmed off with Coke or San Pellegrino, which is zero-tolerance hospitality, but the more thoughtful hosts [and surely you are among them] imageoffer mocktails, such as that longtime favorite the Shirley Temple [named for the popular and perky 1930s child star] as well as faux whiskeys and low- or no-alcohol wines and beers. And surely you are among them? ¶ ‘Mocktails’ says my Huckleberry friend  Bruce Ramsay, ‘are required although rarely called for, but you do need to be able to whip up something that tastes good and looks cocktail-y, so people don’t feel out of place. At Huck we’ll shake a half-ounce of fresh ginger juice, three- quarters of an ounce each of lemon juice and simple syrup with a few mint leaves or a sprig of thyme, then strain over fresh ice in a tall glass and top with Q Tonic. We’ll garnish with more mint leaves and a lemon wheel inside the glass. It’s very tasty.’ N.B.: using Q, one of today’s top-rated tonics [up there with Fever Tree and Fentiman’s], shows that Huckleberry takes craft seriously, alcohol or no. Bruce adds this grace note:‘I read recently in Cook’s Illustrated that lemon juice actually improves after moderate oxidation, so you might squeeze a few hours ahead.’ ¶ For recipes, see Google and, as that old scribbler Irvin S. Cobb put it, ‘stand back, stand well back to avoid being splashed.’ Make them as directed or add ArKay Beverages’ no-alcohol liquor substitutes. They range from premixed mocktails to obscurities like Blue Curacao. With no alcohol, no calories and no carbs, can they match the real thing? Conduct blind tastings at your home bar and vote yea or nay. Yet zzjag2 of another kind of mocktail is the Altar line of five ready-mixed ‘herbal martinis’: Chi, Bliss, Restore, Chill and—heavens to Betsy!—Aphrodisiac. The martini part is purely fanciful, the Altars contain only proprietary blends of fruits, herbs, teas and vitamins. They’re tasty enough I suppose if you like this sort of thing [I admit to goosing them a bit with Grey Goose] but what’s really delicious is the B.S. on the back label. There Altar’s founder, guru-ish, turban-topped, one-named Jagatjoti, holds forth, explaining that Altar  ‘embraces the concept of Considered Curation by hand-selecting, nurturing and looking after each ingredient, cultivating each flavor, engaging each tea’ and yada yada yada. More Grey Goose, please. ¶ There are also plenty of no-or-low wines as well. My upstairs neighbor Manny Petty, the immaculately groomed Jewish NASCAR champion, points to Fre, a new line from Sutter Home: Chardonnay, Merlot, Moscato, Red Blend,

image image

White Zin [of course] and a brut sparkler made from unidentified grapes. All are below .5% ABV [the Red Blend sinks to .2%]. Sutter says Fre is wine stripped of alcohol by the spinning-cones process, and it’s clearly labeled as ‘alcohol-removed wine’ and ‘a grape beverage with other natural flavors.’ More dubious are the offerings of Chateau Diana and Vineyard Creek, whose dusty bottles decorate sunlit windows of bodegas, delis and supermarkets all over New York. They are always varietally labeled and often referred to as wine, and only when you peer at the label with Sherlockian closeness do you perceive wee print saying wine product. What’s that? It’s a blend [artisanal, I’m sure] of ‘wine, water, sugar, concentrated juice, natural fruit flavors, citric acid and carbon dioxide,’ according to
Vineyard Creek’s back label. [Ch. Diana’s Krystle Lindberg ignored requests for information.] So, as my across-the-hall smart shoppers Harriet Emptor and Penny Lane say, ‘Read the label!’ ¶ All of these wines have their limits. Some are meant mainly for desserts and picnics, others for those wary of excess in a season devoted to same. Even so, you don’t want to pay $7 to $12 for ‘product.’ Then there your low-alcohol wine, which is now readily available thanks to the Great Prosecco Eruption of recent years, which has had Californians growing Muscat hand over fist. The idea here is ‘buzz without blitz’. ¶ But beware: low-alcohol is a term loosely used. With so many wines now at 15% ABV and more, some use low for wines of 12% or 12.5%, which was standard when 13% was considered high. A more realistic low is 10%. At that level and below [5% Moscato has image

been seen] areMoscato and Prosecco, old-style halb-trocken Riesling, Portugal’s Vinho Verde and others. Gallo’s Turning Leaf label is introducing a new light quartet called Refresh. Its Moscato, Pink Moscato, Red Moscato and Crisp White are 9% every one; they’ll go down with ease and fatigue no one’s palate. ¶ My downstairs neighbor Baz Loehmann, king of plus-size musicals for well-upholstered gals, laments that he can’t find anything that even tries to be a real red. True enough, there’s no low-country Shiraz, Baz: the closest you’ll come to low here is the old-fashioned 12.5%, still common in Europe but considered tap water in Napa. A new example is Già Langhe Rosso, a ready-now blend of famous fruit—Nebbiolo, Dolcetto and Barbera grapes—made in Piedmont by Fontanafredda. And it comes in liters! ¶ Beer? Legally, beer can be labeled as alcohol-free if it has no more than 0.05% alcohol, and there are plenty of brands available. The old war horses are O’Doul’s and Kaliber; Beck’s, Kirin, Clausthaler and Erdinger are can also be found. ¶ Family fests mean youth must be served. The soda-pop crowd can easily do with store-bought stuff but a Sodastream unit can be very useful in keeping them not only hydrated but busy and [more or less] out of the way. A carbonating device, the Sodastream makes home-grown soft drinks as well as seltzer and tonic for the table and home bar. Its vast array of flavored syrups come in regular, sugar-, caffeine-free and energy-drink versions. Using Amoretti syrups, formerly available only to the trade but now available at retail, may result in less mess: the Amoretti bottles have no-spill pumps. ¶ Teenagers should be given mocktails, as in what I vaguely recall as my youth [I did have one, I think]. The girls got Shirley Temples then, and many a boy learnt that having a Horse’s Neck didn’t make him a horse’s ass. ¶ As for over-indulgence, it’s inevitable for some folks, and there are two new treatments that promise some sort of relief to the wicked. Resqwater is a vitaminized supplement that calls itself ‘what to drink when you drink,’ and says it will ‘help you return to center.’ Interpret that as you wish. It could keep you sober if used as suggested: one 8-oz. bottle for every 2 or 3 drinks doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for alcohol. Finally, ForgiveN, said to be clinically proved as an alcohol metabolizer, may [repeat: may] take away some of the pain of ghastly hangovers—no promises, though. Frankly, your best bet is to avoid needing either. Drink responsibly and have a Happy Merry.
©2013 Bill Marsano

And many thanks to Darren Tuozzoli for creating the bottle montage above—and at short notice, too.


Farewell, Summer!

The summer’s gone, and Heaven’s to Betsy, all the roses falling. That’s the way of it here in Gotham, where burning Sappho loved and sung. Oft before the gloaming comes on I’ll retreat to the Locanda del Pavimento, a.k.a. sidewalk, there to sit in the open air and sip thoughtfully at some life-sustaining beverage [just now it’s Kenwood’s Sonoma County Zin]. As I gaze toward the lordly Hudson and the

Evening at the Locanda, where
I am choosing my wine with aplomb as the venerable sommelier Garçon McCullers takes my  order with scruples

Snooki Monument beyond, far off toward where the River Phoenix flows gently through Rudy Vallee toward the limpid waters of Turhan Bay, I compose my mind in peace for a backward glance at recent news of note. ¶ For example, Tom Wark, indefatigable warrior for the consumer’s right to buy wine unhampered by politicos, has opened a new front in his long war: he’s now executive director of the American Wine Consumer Coalition [which I like to call the CAB, for Campaign Against Backwardness]. What gets Wark’s goat and mine too is that 11 states absolutely forbid out-of-state shipments to consumers;  36 ban shipments from out-of-state retailers; 17 nix wine sales in grocery stores; 4 forbid Sunday sales; and 15 don’t allow BYO in restaurants. And Pennsylvania and Utah still tyrannize consumers via their state monopolies. [See Wineconsumers.org for more on how and how often politicians abuse the public to protect their campaign contributions.] ¶ Speaking of backwardness, Doug and Linda Pendleton deal with it daily as owners of Indiana’s well-regarded Grapevine Cottage. They have two outlets in Zionsville, which holds the gorgeous east in fee, or would if it could, but it can’t. The Pendletons are forbidden to ship out of state–and even in state. Can’t ship, period. But that’s beside the point. Recently, Doug and Linda did

zzzzDoug & Linda The legal drinking age in Indiana is 21, but in a fine example of Hoosier Daddy backwardness, the Doug and Linda must card customers up to age 26! That’s what Indiana’s Excise Police say. I kid you, as Queeg said, not.

what a lot of people have thought of doing but never got round to: staging a wine-saving face-off between Vacu Vin and Private Preserve. They poured two glasses each out of two bottles and set them aside for re-tasting after 48 hours. They did the same with a third bottle, which they gave the traditional re-cork-and-refrigerate therapy. The wine was Columbia Crest’s Grand Estate Merlot, which Doug and Linda chose for its ‘remarkable consistency’. The results? The re-corked bottle had to be poured right down the drain. Private Preserve’s blanket of inert gas got a ‘preservation score’ of 65-70%: after a little swirling, the wine was ‘still very enjoyable.’ Vacu Vin’s wine won hands-down [75-80%]: the tannins were still firm, Doug reports, and the nose almost indistinguishable from that of the fresh bottle. ¶ My own experience validates the Vacu Vin, and I’ll say that claims of its ‘sucking the life out of wine’ aremere wine-snob voodoo. Just pump until you feel resistance and you and your wine will be fine. [Over-pumping will damage wine: if you see bubbles as you pump, the wine is actually boiling.]


Cheap, effective and durable: the Vacu Vin. Seldom is so much available for so little. Shown at left is the bottom-dollar basic model; slightly fancier models don’t cost much more. Shop around and you’re talking single-digit price tags.

I’ve never cared for Private Preserve. Irrationally because my first can was thrown out by the char lady, who thought it was empty. I could hardly blame her: full or empty, the can weighs the same to any scale short of a nanomechanical mass sensor. Rationally because, as my locapour neighbor Art Vindepays says, ‘It gives me no feedback, no way to be certain that I’ve used it properly. You get a hiss when you spray, but nothing you can see. And what if I move the bottle—will that disturb the gas?’ ¶  If, Thirsty Reader, you are inclined to experiment for yourself, you’ll find that scientific inquiry has never been cheaper. Online, the spray goes for a low of $8.42 and the basic Vacu Vin bottoms out at $5.94. Similar pumps by Jokari and Fox Run are even cheaper. ¶ Dr. Jekyll and Nauga Hyde, bipolar specialists in rec-room decor, dropped by to crow that New York judges had again told Nanny/Mayor Michael Bloomberg to piss off and take his soda ban with him. Hizzonor, you may recall, was upset by the king-size drinks sold in movie houses and restaurants. In March, judges shot his imperious ban down as unconstitutional, arbitrary and capricious, so he appealed. Now he’s lost again. He noted, a little huffily, that more than 2000 New Yorkers have died of diabetes in the interim but didn’t say how many of them had actually been to the movies. ¶ Stop press! The Comité Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne mounted its high horse in response to rumors of new Champagne-colored iPhones. And hinted at legal action! Risible as it may seem, the CIVC has ‘protected’ Champagne in Europe, quashing an Yves St. Laurent perfume and a Swedish yogurt, but in the U.S. they’ll have to put a cork in their complaint: the name is not so rigorously restricted here, as witness among other things Korbel California Champagne and Lawrence Welk’s Champagne Music Makers, to say nothing of Alice Lon. ‘We can’t say that a Champagne color exists,’ the CIVC’s legal explained. The CIVC, I imagine,will be to start legal


Champagne Lady Alice Lon,  sole soupçon of sex appeal on Welk’s drearily wholesome TV songfest. Her prom-style getups left everything to the imagination: a hem a smidgen too high, got her sacked. “Cheesecake’s not for us,’ said Welk, adding explaining that ‘Alice liked to show a little too much knee.’ He was rich but stingy, paying union scale, and out of touch: He okayed ‘One Toke Over the Line,’ thinking it was a real gospel song.

action against Toyota for its Champagne-colored Camrys, Home Depot for its house paint and various makers of makeup and hair colorings. Not to mention Pantone, global color arbiter to artists, designers, manufacturers and retailers, which confidently lists Champagne Beige and Pink Champagne on its palette: Nos. 14-1012 and 12-1107. [You could look ‘em up.] And then, egg on face to the CIVC, the color turned out to be gold. ¶ Our Laconic Lexicon defines BOYCOTT as a ‘fashionable means of expressing moral indignation, appearing virtuous and accomplishing nothing, all at one go.’ It’s relevant here because of the simple-minded boycott of Stoli vodka to protest Russia’s anti-gay law, which Putin put in.  Save your dudgeon and stow your dander; you might as well boycott all Russian dressings, Russian River Pinot Noir and the Russian Tea Room, because they, too, like Stoli, are not Russian. Stoli is distilled in Latvia and the company has sponsored gay-themed events here. Moreover, even a boycott of all real Russian vodkas, such as Kauffman, Russian Standard and [cleverness alert!] Fukoff, would cost the Russian economy a paltry $59 million. So lose the halos, kids. ¶ OK, so it’s no ‘Inverted Jenny’ but it’s a bungle nonetheless: a flea-market sortie unearthed a not-rare example of  the ‘Prohibition Enforced’ commemorative stamp issued by the post office in 1998. The image shows three men dumping a barrel of wine into a sewer in aid of National Sobriety. Never mind that home-made wine was legal during Prohibition, as was the ‘altar wine’ made for Catholics and ‘sacramental wine’ for Jews. Georges de Latour and Louis Martini made such tsunamic quantities of the stuff a fellow might have thought image

the Noble Experiment signified America’s vast spiritual reawakening. But Eliot Ness and his boys ignored wine, as did Al Capone and his:  the big bucks were in beer and whiskey. Yet mayhap, Thirsty Reader, you are too young to know of all that, even as I, sad to say, am not. Cheers!
©2013 Bill Marsano

Summer Books: A Drink-and-Read Selection

Thirsty Reader responded to my Christmas book post with a line from Auntie Mame: ‘Books are awfully decorative, don’t you think? Mame’s blithe spirit conjured my favorite moment from another film, The Truth About Cats & Dogs, in which Mr. Right gives a book to Ms. Wrong, a gorgeous model he delusionally thinks has a mind. Uma Thurman, who plays the model, plays the moment perfectly, hefting the package, unwrapping it cautiously, eying it speculatively and then, as the light dawns, cooing with manufactured delight ‘Why it’s a . . . it’s a book!‘ ¶ You, 
 imageunlike Ms. Wrong, are a reader, and so, since it’s summer it is also summer-reading time. For the drinking class there are plenty of books for porch, beach and patio, for deck chair and easy chair, for bed and chaise longue. Spanking new or slightly seasoned, the following will pair well with pulled corks, twisted screwcaps and popped tops, so don’t lean in—lean back. ¶ One book that is truly seasonal is Kara Newman’s Cocktails for a Crowd, in which expert testimony  proves that ‘batching’ drinks requires more
than a times-table. Many modern bartenders skance vodka; they consider it mere booze for getting blotto pronto. Bar chef Tony Abou-Ganim is not among them, and he makes vodka’s case in Vodka Distilled: The Modern Mixologist on Vodka and Vodka Cocktails. He’s not quite alone, because Ray Foley’s Vodka 1000: the Ultimate Collection of Vodka Cocktails, Recipes, Facts, and Resources was ahead of him, and now both are joined by Tony Conigliaro’s The Cocktail Lab: Unraveling the Mysteries of Flavor and Aroma in Drink, with Recipes. ¶ East Coast locapours are served a new edition of Summer in a Glass, Evan Dawson’s handy guide to New York State wines, while anypours have Jancis Robinson and Linda Murphy’s American Wine in view. The World of Sicilian Wine, by Bill Nesto and Frances Di Savino is, says Nesto, ‘just the start—there is much more of Sicily to explore.’ Drinking with Men is by Rosie Schaap, who grew up in bars and says that at 15 she was telling passengers’ fortunes
image for beer in the bar car of a Toonerville Trolley-style railroad. You may readily suspect her of having many another cheerful tale to tell. ¶ Francopours, always well-provided for, can entertain themselves with the likes of Ray Walker’s The Road to Burgundy: The Unlikely Story of an American Making Wine and a New Life in France, Remington Norman’s Grand Cru: The Great Wines of Burgundy Through the Perspective of Its Finest Vineyards, Benjamin Lewin’s Claret & Cabs, Oz Clarke’s Bordeaux: The Wines, The Vineyards, The Winemakers, Bill Nanson’s The Finest Wines of Burgundy: A Guide to the Best Producers of the Côte D’Or and Their Wines, and Jane Anson’s Bordeaux Legends: The 1855 First Growth Wines of Haut-Brion, Lafite Rothschild, Latour, Margaux and Mouton Rothschild. ¶ For self-improvement look no further than  Bruce McGechan’s Wine Marketing Online, which is instructive to buyers and sellers alike, and Oz Clarke again with The Sommelier Prep Course: An Introduction to the Wines, Beers, and Spirits of the World. ¶ In The Vineyard at the End of the World: Maverick Winemakers and the Rebirth of Malbec, Ian Mount writes of the maverick Argentines who tamed Malbec, Tim James follows tradition and revolution in Wine of the New South Africa and Paul Lukacs goes back 8,000 years with Inventing Wine: A New History of One of the World’s Most Ancient Pleasures. The New York Times Book of Wine spans a mere 30 years, but who among us doesn’t zzzmiss Frank Prial and R.W. ‘Johnny’ Apple? Thomas McNamee treats of another Times writer in The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat: Craig Claiborne and the American Food Renaissance, and doesn’t shrink from the details of Claiborne’s harsh, even cruel upbringing, as well as his self-destructive later years. ¶ If, like me, you believe in daily bread and daily red, Jim Gordon’s 1000 Great Everyday Wines is just the ticket for Thrifty Drinker and Thirsty Reader. Fans of Michael Jackson, the non-singing one, will be grateful that his decades of devotion to malt whiskey are carried forward in the sixth edition of his Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch, now updated by Dominic Roskrow, Gavin D. Smith and William C. Meyers. ¶ Brewers seem unable to control themselves, at least so far as stopping at beer and ale. They plunge onward to every other kind of fermented drink, as in Emma Christensen’s

True Brews: How to Craft Fermented Cider, Beer, Wine, Sake, Soda, Mead, Kefir, and Kombucha at Home and Andy Hamilton’s Booze for Free: The Definitive Guide to Making Beer, Wines, Cocktail Bases, Ciders, and Other Drinks at Home, which will suffice until Dorling Kindersley releases World Beer in the fall. Equally frothy is James Conaway’s Nose, a sharp and sharp-elbowed satire of Napa pretensions. And this just handed me: Tim James’ Wines of the New South Africa. ¶ Cocktail-lovers’ summer lazes occasionally expose them to hosts or saloons whose idea of bar tools stops at bottle openers. Such dire straits are made for the Bar10der. Leatherman-like but much beefier [14 oz. and 9.5”], it holds and zzbar10HIunfolds a life-saving array: jiggers, muddler, reamer, knife blade, zester, channel knife, strainer, folding stirrer, corkscrew and bottle-opener. That said, it’s really for emergency use only, but if you’re off to the remote and arid wastes, don’t leave home without it. ¶ And if the urge to study or compete should strike like a bolt from the blue, you can just download Marques de Casa Concha’s new Wine Expert, which has been designed for the app-happy among us. The beauty part: it’s free if you visit www.MarquesdeCasaConcha.com. Naturally it includes a feature that tells you where you can buy MdCC wines, which are the spiffy, single-vineyard bottlings of Chile’s Concha y Toro. ¶ Now then: Read responsibly and don’t forget trowel on that sunblock!
©2013 Bill Marsano

image  zzSingleMalt

Vodka, Grappa and the Italian Bloody Mary

image  Back in the 1960s the Nonino clan began making a silk purse out of the sow’s ear called grappa.

It’s Bloody Mary time in Gotham. Here at Wits’ End [corner of Nathan Lane and Wistful Vista] we like to celebrate at Chez Stadium, a.k.a. the roof. Thence we gaze upon the urban ebb and flow. Truth be told it is mostly slack tide on Sunday mornings, which by rule, rune and rubric is sacred to Brunch. ¶ Brunch began in England but was elbowed aside by mighty British breakfasts and the Jane Austenish civilities of ‘tea’. In time, America adopted brunch, then organized what had formerly been without form, and void. First, it was anchored to weekends, Sundays in particular. Second, a late start combined sleeping in with (this is what’s called ‘the beauty part’) soothing pre-noon drinking. Result: Garnished with crossword puzzles, TV sports and your pals, brunches sustain life, like water holes in the Gobi Desert. ¶ Its foundation drink, its cornerstone and keystone, is the Bloody Mary. Here is the way of it as per Hemingway & Bailey’s Bartending Guide to Great American Writers, which pairs 40-odd scribblers with as many drinks, plus anecdotes of the former and recipes for the latter.*The Bloody Mary . . . Into a highball glass hurl ice cubes, 2 oz. vodka; ½ oz. fresh lemon juice; ¼ oz. Worcestershire sauce; 3 dashes Tabasco; ¼ tsp. grated horseradish; pinches of cracked peppercorns, salt and celery salt; and 4 ounces of tomato juice. Stir. Garnish: lime wedge and celery stalk. ¶ Disputes follow as the night the day, so to weigh them all I called upon the high and the mighty, the bold and the beautiful, the bad and the worse. In short, my neighbors. Gino da Tavola, an Italian layabout who never met a drink he didn’t like, rejects the glass and insists on a Boston shaker for proper mixing. And the vodka? Massimo Veloce, retired Formula 1 champ, skances the wimpy 2:1 tomato-vodka ratio, saying only 1:1, as in the original dusk of its being, will suffice. Mal Dente, incompetent pasta chef and periodontal intern, says ‘Suit yourself. The ratio is strictly personal.’ Indeed, Mal recalls that Maxwell’s Plum, the feverish New York singles meat-market bar of the ’60s and ’70s, stooped to 1:0. No booze at all! Exposed, Maxwell’s limply claimed its Bloody Mary wasn’t really a cocktail but a ‘concept’, although that concept already had a name: Virgin Mary. ¶ My own gripe is with the garnish. Celery? Who thought that up?** Does it have a special affinity with the other ingredients? An overwhelming reason to be here instead of the salad bar? I think not. You want something to go with tomatoes, you’re talking basil, Thirsty Reader. And as basil has no better friend than Italy, I have Italianized the whole shebang. Thus: La Maria Sanguinosa . . .  


Behold the Italianized Bloody Mary. Photo ©2013 Francesco Dibartolo. Used by permission.


So: Muddle two or three basil leaves in a Boston Shaker—not one of those dinky little David Niven things—and add ½ oz. fresh lemon juice, pinches of dried oregano and ground

image image
A dinky David Niven-style gadget [left] is no great shakes compared to the brawny Boston Shaker.

dried rosemary, two or three crushed dried pepperoncini, a pugil [big pinch] of salt and 4 ounces Italian tomato juice. Taste, adjust seasoning to taste, add 3 ounces of Italian vodka. Mix, pouring from one half of the shaker to the other a few times; finish in an ice-filled highball glass; garnish with a fragrant basil sprig. That is a Maria Sanguinosa. ¶ Now to make Italian tomato juice, you purée a 28-oz. can of peeled Italian plum tomatoes [better: San Marzano] in your Cuisinart. Be sure they’re really Italian, not Italianish; i.e., only vaguely plum-shaped, and grown elsewhere. I shop BuonItalia, in Chelsea Market, where the owner, Mimmo [brother to SD26’s Tony May], is attentive to such details. His leading brand, organic AgriGenus, makes a thick, almost seedless purée that thins with water to any thickness you like. Mimmo stocks Sicilian sea salt, too. An excellent choice, too, is Academia Barilla’s Pomodorini Pelati, a.k.a. peeled cherry tomatoes. ¶ As for the alcohol content, Italy offers several brands of vodka, among which the reigning campione seems to be one of the newcomers, the highly rated Purus. List-priced at $36, it’s often available for as little as half that. Distilled from certified-organic Piedmont wheat and pure alpine water in an eco-friendly plant,  

imagePurus wears a tree-free label printed in soy-based ink, to the delight of Greens all over. Sadly, it’s distributed all over, but it is well worth seeking out. Despair not: you can find it online. ¶ But then,  why not try   grappa, the splendid spirit that Italians distill from industrial waste, i.e., pomace, the rubbish found at the bottom of the wine press. [Talk about trash into treasure.] The most celebrated of brands, and deservedly so, is Nonino, named for a family of distillers in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, a region that is Italy’s Far East. The 115-year-old Nonino company, which is ruled over by mamma Giannola Nonino and daughters Cristina, Antonella and Elisabetta, has been grappa’s leader in quality and innovation since the 1960s. Other distillers have followed the Noninos’ lead, Sibona, Domenis, Ceretto, Jacopo Poli, Nardini and Villa de Varda among them. Theirs are quality products [they’re Italian, after all], but they are significantly less known because only Nonino has become synonymous with grappa. But one caution is required: grappas run from 70 to 120 proof, so it is well to check the ABV on the label. ¶ So there you have it, La Maria Sanguinosa, ready for you and a summer of Sundays, and any other days as well. ¶ Now it remains only for us to add here a brief note about our much-admired friend and mentor, our rock, our guide, our help in ages past, Hizzonor M. Bloomberg. To wit: In 2009 he declared Oct. 5 Bloody Mary Day. Imagine that! Did he actually drink one on that occasion? That is not recorded, as the report comes from the one-time newspaper-of-record New York Times, but if he did, we may be sure that it was a very small one. ¶ Salute!

*For example, the Guide pairs Raymond Carver with the Bloody Mary and says that Carver once ‘invited friends to a party, but failed to attend as he got drunk in another city’.

**It’s said to have been added at a customer’s request in Chicago, which city is responsible for some of the nation’s worst pizza. But who knows? The drink’s history is truly a shakerful of confusion. The name has been laid to a popular waitress, to Mary Pickford and to a Protestant-pummeling Queen of England. The drink may have been invented in the 1920s or 1930s or whenever by George Jessel and then improved by Fernand Petiot at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris or in New York, at the King Cole bar of the St. Regis Hotel, or by Henry Zbikiewicz,  of ‘21’. It either is or is not precisely the same as a drink called the Red Snapper.

© 2013 Bill Marsano



How to Write About Wine for the Slicks: A Beginner’s Guide

Thirsty Reader often asks ‘How can I become a wine writer for the slick magazines? Or the blogs, websites and e-zines? What certifications, arcane courses, secret passwords and weighty degrees do I need to enter the sacred grove? How many years spend in monk-like poring over holy scrolls?’ Fool, he! To think that I would spill the fagioli, reveal the Rosicrucianesque secrets of our mystery, to such a feckless sticker,375x360

fellow! On the other hand, what the hell. So ‘fasten your seat belts’, as the celebrated coach-class drama queen Bette Davis once said: ‘It’s going to be a bumpy night.’ ¶ Here’s the deal: You don’t need diplomas; don’t need certification, don’t need to know a damned thing. You can just jump right in, scribbling as fast as you can. Standards are so low that many folks do just that. ¶ One fellow I often see at tastings bragged that he merely adds a liter of smarmy praise to press releases and then regurgitates into his keyboard. When I skanced his ethics he helpfully explained, for the benefit of my advanced years, that ‘Journalism is different now.’ Oh. Missed that memo. ¶ Natalie MacLean’s method was to simply help herself to reviews published in Vintages, the online magazine of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario. Vintages gathers reviews from many sources—Robert Parker, Jancis Robinson, Tony Aspler, Harvey Steiman—but always attributes them: writer’s full name plus date and name of publication, and until she was exposed last year by palatepress.com, MacLean simply Hoovered them up and emptied them into her paid-subscription newsletter, and she did so without the authors’ permission. She also reduced the proper attributions to nothing more communicative than the writers’ initials. MacLean has claimed that the writers were fully identified elsewhere, in a special directory, but it was, oddly, a directory that many sought but none could find. And she ignored repeated requests to provide it.

Traditional writers Hoovered, but the modern ones,
who style themselves as ‘aggregators’ or ‘content
persons’, are just as apt to Dyson or even Bissel.

Canadian blogger Michael Pinkus, who was the first to blow the whistle*, provided some convincing evidence of MacLean’s method. Vintages published this:
Tank sample. Very rich and opulent nose. Great polish and just the merest suggestion of raisins. Big, dry and hot on the finish. Expressive of the terrain! Good for those who seek sunshine in a bottle. Drink 2013-2017. Score: 16 (out of 20) (Jancis Robinson, MW, jancisrobinson.com, Dec. 21, 2011)
And then MacLean published this:
Tank sample. Very rich and opulent nose. Great polish and just the merest suggestion of raisins. Big, dry and hot on the finish. Expressive of the terrain! Good for those who seek sunshine in a bottle. Drink 2013-2017. Score: 16 (out of 20) JRO.
As if! As if anyone would know ‘JRO’ is Jancis Robinson or that ‘JRO’ and others were not MacLean’s staff members. ¶ Under pressure, MacLean has had to promise to mend her ways [and her archive], so maybe hers is not the best way to go. After all, she got caught, and the resulting tsunami of angry e-mails contained other allegations: that she defends herself with fake letters from invented friends; that when she solicits book blurbs she helpfully sends along the very blurb she wants written; that she even plants baby-food PALATEPRESSFOUR1 questions in her audiences; that she ‘has proven herself time and again a self-promoting hack’. That was Dec. 15 last year. Two days later palatepress.com was back, writing that she requests wine samples and then requires the wineries to subscribe to her newsletter as a condition of reviewing them (she denies that, too, but many are unconvinced). ¶ Maybe it’s safer to get someone else to carry your water. Ben Mims did that in his article in Saveur, where he at least gave fair warning, saying ‘I generally avoid reds unless I’m eating the occasional steak’. OK, if you take advice from someone like that, you get what you deserve. Anyway, Mims found a beverage director at a Wall Street bull-and-bears expense-account haven who cheerfully provided lots of bull, lightly wrapped in yard-sale grammar. Such as ‘buy wines from smaller, family-run vineyards because they care more about developing a great-tasting wine rather than making money. And as a result, these small-producer wines will generally be cheaper. Major-market wine, by definition,
Not if you really want to be a wine writer.

can’t make good wine cheaply like smaller vineyards can, i.e. California cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, Oregon Pinots, or French Burgundies and Bordeaux.’ And: ‘If you go into a wine store that also sells liquor, get out!’ Take that, Sherry-Lehmann, Zachy’s, Pasanella, Garnet, Astor, Acker Merrall and many more. ‘Don’t’, he adds, ‘get caught up in the hype around certain wine concepts, either—like supposedly "bad" wine years’, because that’s ‘all nonsense: When wine producers make wine one year that’s not on par with their normal selection, then it’s not necessarily bad, just different. That may be the wine that you like because it’s different, but you should generally stick to a wine producer that can make great wine no matter the conditions’. ¶ A colorful story can be helpful, as when Steve Olson explained that sherry improved during long sea voyages because sailors had to roll their cargoes of 54-gallon sherry butts and 130-gallon pipes back and forth in order to steer their ships—because rudders hadn’t been invented! His innocent audience gravely took notes, perhaps unaware that sherry butts weigh in at about 500 lbs. each and pipes 1200 or so. Now imagine the thrills that ensued when el capitan cried ‘Hard a-starboard’.

image  Fancy rolling these bad boys across your deck?

¶ Pomposity also sells, as in Alan Richman’s ‘Sparkling wines that are not champagne structurally lack finesse, enologically they lack bouquet, and sentimentally they lack ostentation’ [that is, they’re too cheap to be good]. Beyond his butchered bon mot lie much foolish pretension and the ludicrous assertion that no sparkling wine—none!—save champagne is worthy. Poor man. Perhaps he hadn’t tried anything from Schramsberg, which routinely makes the top five in blind-tastings with the best of France; and perhaps he didn’t know that Claude Taittinger, who expanded his house by founding Domaine Carneros in 1987, mightn’t agree. On tasting Eileen Crane’s Le Rêve, her top cuvée, he was overheard complimenting her with these words:
 Eileen Crane: Claude Taittinger chose her to be both president and wine-maker of Domaine Carneros, and to oversee its construction and design, too. He chose well: an ex-tour guide and fill-in pastry chef, she’d done the same job at Gloria Ferrer, and made Ferrer’s sparkling wines. Her Carneros Pinot Noir is nifty too.

’Madame, you make an excellent champagne.’ Matt Kramer once had a domestic sparkling wine that moved him to say ‘this stuff is amazingly good’ and once when John Brecher and Dottie Gaiter raved about their host’s sparkler he took them aside, showed the label and crowed, “$9.95!” In both cases the wine was Gruet, from New Mexico. Ostentation-wise it is, I admit, a bust: list-priced at $14.99 and findable at $11.97. ¶ Always remember that you can compensate for your ignorance, whether it’s a] total, b] utter or c] both, by pretending that it just doesn’t matter. So lean heavily on key selling words and phrases. Promise to cut through the jargon; say you’ll empower readers and demystify wine so it will no longer be intimidating. Say anyone can become an instant expert after learning just a few simple rules or connoisseurs’ secrets, and thus be able to choose with confidence any number of great wines at great prices. Promise that you will reveal the secrets that sommeliers won’t tell you! Lean heavily on verbs like let, allow and permit because, if I may use a modish phrase, you are giving permission, as if readers are still

Role models: Legendary blogger John (Steel-Drivin’ Man) Henry, l., sacrificed his life to cutting through jargon. Lt. Ellen Ripley, r., mentors a young girl who dreams of becoming an overnight wine expert. 

in grade school. You’re parlando attraverso il tuo cappello, of course; i.e., your advice is crap [chazerai is the term of art], But so what? In lifestyle media, many of the editors are children. They don’t know anything, so when you say that you do, they’ll fall over like lodgepole pines. Neither do they read much, so although m’zine rticls nly 140 chrctrs lng remain but their distant dream, your piece can easily be as short as their attention spans. ¶ Thus Martha Stewart Living: Chianti ‘is easy to enjoy, with a fresh berry taste and fragrance. Chianti Classico Riserva is . . . a little more expensive’. [Double or triple is not a little; Chianti and Chianti Classico are not the same] And lest you be confused by Barolo, Barbaresco and Dolcetto, here’s the sum total of MSL’s counsel on Piedmont: ‘wines that are made from the Barbera grape are lush and smooth, often with a hint of chocolate’. End of story. Here’s one of Every Day with Rachael Ray Magazine’s ‘Five Ways To Become A Wine Expert Overnight’: ‘Ancient: · Spotting this on the label or old vines means that the grapevines are decades old with fewer grapes produced resulting in a

Everday-with-Rachael-Raystronger flavored wine.’ This author can’t even count: She offers six ways, not five. That and much more got past the staff of child editors, who then put the article on the wrong page, making that issue, l.,  either a cherished keepsake or a valuable collector’s item, I forget which. In the ineptly named Real Simple, Andrea Immer once told readers how  ‘to decipher a restaurant wine list [and] choose a high-quality, well-priced bottle’ by budgeting—‘before you crack open the menu’—up to 50% more than the most expensive entrée’. Next, ‘eliminate half the menu[??] by choosing red or white, then . . . choose by grape variety, picking one that is crowd-pleasing and versatile. A no-fail white grape is Riesling, and the red grape Pinot Noir is superb’. I advise you not to dine with a person who accepts such really simple advice. Better counsel: ‘If you know nothing about wine, a] don’t try to fake it and b] call the sommelier, dammit!’. But that wouldn’t empower the reader, I guess. ¶ Anyway, we’re done. You now know what it takes, so get going. Buy some purple ink, and if you manage to publish a few bylined articles by the end of the year, I might even let you in on the Secret Handshake.


*President of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada and Grape Guy behind ontariowinereview.com, Pinkus first sent his complaints to MacLean and to Circle members whose work she’d used. MacLean resigned her membership in the Circle but was otherwise unresponsive. Pinkus then informed 20-odd other writer/victims, and the news quickly spread until it reached palatepress.com late last year.


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