Poured with Pleasure

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

Category: Value wines

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

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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
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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.

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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
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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].
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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.

 

Lunch with the Posse and John Concannon

The ineffable Pat Schneider was on the ameche the other day and saying all the right things, especially in the Three Little Words Department. From Let’s Have Lunch [always a strong lead], she doubled-down or whatever with Meet John Concannon and trumped my ace with the ever-reliable On His Card. Then she threw in Bring the Posse, just for lagniappe. Done and done, Patsy!

The Posse is my shifting and largely shiftless band of ne’er-do-wells, lowlifes and public nuisances, i.e., wine scribblers. For Pat and John’s edification and dismay a pod of us gathered at Ben & Jack’s Steak House. Zagat calls B&J ‘contenders in the Peter Luger clone wars,’ but surely means only the beef and bacon, for B&J, owned by two ex-Luger waiters, outdoes Luger’s décor and service by a country mile and a London stone.

Maître d’ Nick Velic saw us as a ravening mob, but was too suave to say so [he’d likely have preferred troupe des gloutons sauvages]. He chummed us with in-your-life bacon and a vast platter of shrimps and split lobsters while platters of sliced Porterhouse  image were done to glory, as was a plate of grilled salmon. With these we poured Concannon’s 
new Conservancy line of varietals: Petite Sirah, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. To all of the above our little troupe did full justice or even a little more, the wines in particular, while our host whistled the patter.

John Concannon, known as John,* likewise said all the right things. He recognizes consumers’ value-driven values [i.e., bargain-lust] and courts the thrifty with the Conservancy line, for which his mantra is ’50-30-15,’ by which me means that from packaging to palate they look like $50 wines and taste like $30 wines but cost a mere $15. zzzzzzzCONservancy[His other lines are the Reserve and Heritage, which run from $25 to $60, and the bottom-dollar Glen Ellen. It sounds as if it should be a Speyside single malt but is actually named for his great-grandmother.

Concannon Vineyard, which was founded by John’s great-grandfather James Concannon in 1883, is east but not far enough east of San Francisco and Oakland. Although the Livermore Valley had once been known for its fine wines, John says it has been plagued down the years by surpluses, Prohibition and that great evil, phylloxera. And so from its 50 wineries and 5000 acres of vines of the early 1900s it had shrunk to six and 1500 by the late 1960s. Then, having missed the California wine renaissance, it was left ripe for unrestricted urban expansion, a.k.a. development a.k.a. blight.

On the other hand, not so fast: far-sighted Valley residents forestalled the threat by banding together to protect the land with what is now called the Tri-Valley Conservancy, a conservation easement that fosters agriculture and walls out strip malls, big-box stores, high-rise condos, tract housing and other offenses. The Concannons are proud that theirs was the first winery to join it, and so have named the Conservancy line in its honor. [Napa’s vineyards are similarly protected, but it took some 20 years of bitter and divisive wrangling—and for some there the acrimony still lingers. See two excellent books by James Conaway: The Far Side of Eden: New Money, Old Land, and the Battle for Napa Valley and Napa: The Story of an American Eden. Both books are splendidly written, as well as occasionally and grimly funny.]

John says his ancestors were a resourceful lot. In 1865, James left Ireland at 18 and ricocheted off Maine and Oregon before putting down roots and rootstock in the Livermore Valley. His son, ‘Captain Joe,’ served under Pershing and Patton, and pulled the winery through Prohibition by making altar wine for church use. [Beaulieu’s Georges de Latour did likewise. The National Piety Index was never so high as under Prohibition.] Jim, or ‘Mr. C,’ John’s father, took over in the 1960s.ZZZZConcannonlabel In 1964 Mr. C made history by releasing the first varietally labeled Petite Sirah [left]. John grew up at the winery but wasn’t pushed to follow his  dad. ‘He said ‘Make your own name, follow your own dreams . . . and if you think it’s right for you, come back”.’ After some 22 years in medical sales, he did.

We heard more—about developing the Concannon Clones [Cabernet 7, 8 and 11, now widely planted], the winery’s new solar array, and the renovation of the old tasting room­—before talk shifted to the Deal of the Hour: Wappo Hill may be sold for a fire-sale price. The 56-acre estate of Robert and Margrit Mondavi was put on the market in May and priced at a rarefied $25 million. Finding no takers, it will be auctioned in November for rather less. Indeed, the minimum bid is $13.9 million, or 44 percent below the asking price. The house was designed by Cliff May, who designed the Mondavi winery, which it resembles with its low-sloped roof and viewing tower. It runs to more than 11,000 square feet on three levels, sits in an oak grove atop a hill south of Yountville, and has 360-degree views, two bedrooms and a large indoor pool whose roof opens to the sky.

That set off a skein of rich reminiscences by Posse member Hoop de Jour, the oft-disappointed New York Knicks devotee.

‘The first time I visited the place,’ Hoop said, ‘I was impressed but mystified. The place is enormous, so I asked Bob why it has only two bedrooms. He said “So the kids and grandchildren can’t stay over”.’ Hoop also recalled a failed luncheon invitation: ‘During another visit he invited me to lunch, and I had to say I had only a half hour before my next appointment. As I was leaving one of the staff came up to hand me a package. It contained a sandwich, a half-bottle of Opus One and a note that said Robert Mondavi doesn’t do half-hour lunches.

Then there was a tasting at the winery, a legendary tasting that Hoop stopped before it was fairly begun. Mondavi was about to pour when Hoop sniffed his glass and said ‘Excuse me, but I smell soap in my glass.’ Sniffing the glass for himself, Mondavi agreed. ‘Yes, there is,’ he said. ‘But which brand?’

Legend has it that Hoop, always quick on his feet despite the cane he leans on [and which he recently used to break the nose of a would-be mugger], shot back ‘I can’t name the brand, but it’s definitely a Procter & Gamble product.’

As for the house, the hammer goes down Nov. 16, so if you want to live like a god in Napa, hurry your bid off to the auctioneers, Sheldon Good & Co.

Love What You’ve Done with Your Hair

Joy Sterling is what Dr. Johnson would have called a woman of parts, for she writes books, runs rapids, scales mountains, imagecelebrates Earth Day and, ever since 2006, has been both CEO and queen regnant of Sonoma County’s Iron Horse**. She is naturally smitten with your tottering correspondent and has flirtatiously sent this Halloween billet-doux. I now share it with you, Thirsty Reader, from largeness of soul and a desire to show off.  So pop a few corks with me, why don’t you?

Wait—that isn’t Joy. This is:
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 ©2011 Bill Marsano
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*I just threw this in as an excuse to pass along H.L. Mencken’s nifty barb: ‘A Rotarian was the first man to call John the Baptist Jack.’

**Moreover, she walks in beauty like the night and is never, ever sick at sea.