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: Wine (page 1 of 2)

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

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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

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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?

 

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,

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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
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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.

 

Books Do Furnish a Room

. . . and minds, too—but in declining numbers these days. Anecdotal evidence comes from the housing market. Real-estate agents and ‘stagers’—the people who dress up empty houses so they look lived-in and buyable—think books are dowdy and old-fashioned. Bookshelves are always small; they display mostly arty knickknacks and tchotchkes, with maybe a few books on the side. ¶ Bookcases are not tolerated. clip_image002
Design layouts and home-décor shows are filled with of houses [always called ‘homes’] that are empty of books. ¶ Contrary as ever, I’m back again to argue for books as gifts this Christmas,* for La Dickinson was right; there is no frigate like a book, etc. . .  for vineyards near and far; for sweet private pleasures and armchair reveries of wine and spirits; for the people who make them and love them. There’s much to settle into in this year’s harvest, and I’m going to throw in some titles from past years as well. Why the oldies? Because writers can use a little support, you know. Anne Lamotte has written that she once thought being published would be ‘an affirming and romantic experience, a Hallmark commercial where one runs and leaps in slow motion across a meadow filled with wildflowers into the arms of acclaim and self-esteem. This did not happen for me.’ So drink deep, Thirsty Reader. ¶ This year’s magnum opus is Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, by Jancis  Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz. Huge, heavy, scholarly but not at clip_image001
all turgid; it is filled with vintage prints. As a book per se it’s not so hot because its low-contrast type and text crammed into the gutter can be tough to read; likewise, to get the straight skinny on Malbec, say, you needs must see under Côt, a name that is known to few and used by fewer. You get all this for $175 or your first-born child, but despair not, amici mie. My new nextdoor neighbor is Bernie Médoc, a négociant who surfs the net from his cell at Club Fed; he’s seen it on Amazon for a piddling $110 plus shipping, and other retailers online and off will surely go along. ¶ Durable, useful and affordable, Wine for Dummies, by Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing Mulligan, is back with its fifth Edition. Their book has sold more a million+ copies in 37 languages since 1995, so if the your question is ‘Who has really been spreading the word on wine?’ the answer is EMc and MEM. 
clip_image004They have expanded their reporting on of Southern Italy; emerging Spanish regions; Argentina; the Sonoma Coast’s wineries; Schramsberg; and blogs; they’ve also updated their vintage chart. And more, but I’m out of semi-colons. Why a new edition now? Mary says that ‘Evolving online sales, blogs, cellar-management sites, online "communities” and apps mean the wine world is not the same place it was even just six years ago.’ You got a problem with that? ¶ A handy companion will be Alan Young’s Making Sense of Wine Tasting: Your Essential Guide to Enjoying Wine. ¶ Italy: it’s so small it could be the seventh-largest American state, and globally it’s not really very far ahead of Burkina Faso. Thus it has been thoroughly raked-over lo these many years, so can can conclude that Italy been done, right? OK, but then Tom clip_image006Hyland turns up to discover grapes and producers that most people have never even heard of. Tintore, say, or Bianchello and Torbato; and Didier Gerbelle, Emilio Bulfon, and I Cacciagalli. This lot and many more can be found in Hyland’s Beyond Barolo and Brunello. ¶ UCal Press’ Finest Wines series stakes out terroirs in Champagne, Rioja, Tuscany, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Germany,  and California. Then there are The Complete Bordeaux: The Wines The Châteaux The People and Saint-Émilion, a large-format text-and-photo love letter from the besotted Philippe Dufrenoy and Jean-Marie Laugery. For Malbec Nation, latch onto Sgra. Laura Catena’s Vino Argentino, which to wine by the long ton adds useful touring information and recipes, too. How’d she find the time? Gaucho Marx tells me she’s a wife, a mother, an M.D., a producer in her own right [Luca is her label] and strong right arm of her distinguished dad, Nicolás, of Catena
Zapata. Even father afield is The Top 100 South African Wines & Wine Lists, while closer to home are Washington Wines and Wineries: The Essential Guide, by Paul Gregutt and The New Connoisseurs’ Guidebook to California Wine and Wineries, by Charles E. Olken and Joseph Furstenthal. ¶ Daniel Okrent’s Last Call, a superb tale of Prohibition days, is often hilarious, and it’s also important: the prohibitionist urge yet lives amongst us; it’s a snake that won’t die. Okrent is excellent on the con jobs, lies, hypocrisy, political chicanery and relentless bullying that led to the Ignoble Experiment. Read clip_image008and learn, Thirsty Reader, read and learn. It will go down well with Andrew Barr’s Drink: A Social History of America and Richard Mendelson’s From Demon to Darling. Thomas Pinney covers The Makers of American Wine while Patrick E. McGovern’s Ancient Wine goes back, way back: to the Stone Age, actually, and so does Tom Standage’s History of the World in 6 Glasses. Charles L. Sullivan has a tighter focus in Zinfandel: A History of a Grape and Its Wine. The lighter side, a.k.a. Bar Bet Trivia, is found in The Curious World of Wine: Facts, Legends, and Lore, by Richard Vine. Really. ¶ For more books that have actual writing in them see Coquilles, Calva, and Crème: Exploring France’s Culinary Heritage by G.Y. Dryansky and Joanne Dryansky, who took a slow boat to France in the ‘60s and stayed there. Gerry was once a bigshot fashion reporter, so he serves much delicious but not malicious gossip from that world-let [e.g., Régine misses a fancy party when her elephant gets lost in the Bois de Boulonge; the Duchess of Windsor takes the floor, so to speak, at a resto superbe where the facilities, well, ain’t] and there’s a leisurely voyage into la france profonde and the small restaurants, small fêtes and small villages that are struggling with changing times, spendthrift ego-feeders and the EU’s swollen tribe of power-crazed officials and
clip_image010 bureaucrats. Harriet Welty Rochefort later followed in the Dryanskys’ wake, marrying a Frenchman, his family and France, too. Now she spills les haricots in her Joie de Vivre: Secrets of Wining, Dining, and Romancing Like the French.¶ James Conaway’s earlier and excellent non-fiction books on Napa Valley’s heroes and villains [read those, too] inspired his fiction: Nose, a mystery that’s funny, witty and murder-free. The plot’s maguffin is a wine: a mysterious Cabernet that tantalizes Napa no end and provides targets for Conaway’s sharp elbows: cult wineries, ridiculous geekspeak, self-important bigshots, land abusers, chemical polluters, and the overall cheapening of Napa’s heritage [although I guess they call it a ‘brand’ these days]. Also lifestyle pomposity and hard-eyed lawyers, courtesy [da-dum!] of a blogger who knows too much. A blogger hero? Who knew? ¶ Gourmet magazine sank ingloriously under a misguided quest for hipness, but longtime columnist Gerald Asher didn’t go down with the ship. A Carafe of Red, his latest collection of essays, recalls how good it was and he still is, and so does his earlier A Vineyard in My Glass. ¶ The newest of American heroes is the Self-Reinventor, who, say in midlife, leaves a desk job in Chicago and hauls his family west to make wine, despite knowing nothing about it, and who yet manages to create what Mr. Parker called ‘one of the world’s greatest wineries’. Sounds like John Shafer of Shafer Vineyards, and it is: A Vineyard in Napa is written by John’s son Bill and 
Andy Demsky. ¶ Doers, dreamers
clip_image012and DIYers will enjoy Sheridan Warrick on The Way to Make Wine; Deborah M. Gray on How to Import Wine, and Christina Perozzi and Hallie Beaune’s The Naked Brewer. Tempted? Then turn to Bill Owens’ How to Build a Small Brewery. Darek Bell’s Alt Whiskeys aids and abets the would-be craft distiller, as do The Craft of Whiskey Distilling, Modern Moonshine Techniques, 99 Pot Stills and The Art of Distilling Whiskey and Other Spirits, all by the busy Bill Owens. Armchair  enthusiasts are more likely to sink into Whiskey and Philosophy, Fritz Allhoff and Marcus P. Adams’ fireside book, and two global tours, Whiskey Opus and World Whiskey, a pair of typical Dorling Kinderseley products: they are well-made books, profusely illustrated, highly legible and thorough—right down to the two single malts that are currently made in Pakistan. What?
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¶ Perhaps that calls for a drink. A vintage cocktail, say. Richard Bennett is eager to guide your choice in The Book of Gin, which takes its place beside Gary ‘Gaz’ Regan’s The Bartenders Gin Compendium. Both books help to keep gin, a truly sophisticated spirit, from being drowned by tsunamis of vodka, a spirit that is, by contrast, merely refined. Chicago’s Hearty Boys, Steve McDonagh and Dan Smith, offer an array of ‘old standards’ cocktails imagein The New Old Bar: Classic Cocktails and Salty Snacks, and Philip Greene, who just happens to be one of the founders of the Museum of the American Cocktail in New Orleans, mines the literary past in To Have and Have Another: A Hemingway Cocktail Companion. ¶ Now what more can I say except . . . READ RESPONSIBLY!

 

*Also Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Festivus.

© 2012 Bill Marsano

 

The Littlest Taster: A Sequoia Grove Dad’s Day Special

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Never mind him. The star’s the one on the right.

The last time I saw Mike Trujillo, top kick of Sequoia Grove, we were having a very splendid lunch [his card, naturally] at Gramercy Tavern. GT is among my favorite Your Card spots because of the Danny Meyer style. That means the food’s terrific, the tone’s peaceful, the service professional. Waiters take your order, bring your food, leave you alone. They don’t pester or comment. As, for example, at Allison, which recently opened just west of Fifth Ave. There the waiter greeted my wine order with ‘Nice juice!’ But I got off lightly compared to my former nextdoor neighbor Bernie Médoc, the crooked negociant and Club Fed jailbird, who once asked what the soupe du jour was and was told ‘It’s the soup of the day.’

Criminy! Does no one train waiters these days? Heavens to Betsy, Thirsty Reader, where is Craig Claiborne when we need him? Speaking of whom, Thomas McNamnee’s just-out bioThe Man Who Changed the Way We Eat: Craig Claiborne and the American Food Renaissance—is an acquired taste at best. And it isn’t a patch on G.Y. Dryansky’s Coquilles, Calva & Crème. But of this more anon; it’s time to get on with my Father’s Day Special.

So there we were at the GT, Mike talking and I [believe it] listening. Mike has that most admirable of virtues, quiet self-confidence, and so had no need to boast of his quite terrific Cabernets. Drinking them told that story. And so with all claptrap about degrees Brix, pH levels and oak regimes ruled out by common and tacit consent, Mike rhapsodized about his daughter, Sophia, who bids fair to be America’s youngest wine-taster. The story never hit print in Hemispheres because United Airlines’ stiffnecks got the blue creevies when they learnt that Sophia was four and a half years old.

Born in La Jara, Colorado, Mike was an engineering student who one spring break dropped in on Jim Allen, a family friend and owner of Sequoia Grove. Jim put him up for a few days; Mike helped around the winery; Allen offered a job. ‘I was 21’ Mike says ‘an age when you have no clue what you really want to do, but the money was good and the weather was great, so I said yes.’ He began with planting vineyards and soon was on his way to making Chardonnay, Syrah and his nifty Cabernet blends, which range from the $34 Rebellious Red to the new Cambium, which will cost you $140 when you can get it, which isn’t often. ‘Wine found me’, he says.

The peerless Sophia entered the picture as well as the winery a few years later. ‘My Uncle Joe always devoted some time to each of his three children individually, and I followed his lead. I began taking Sophia to the winery once a week when she was so young that her mother, Elizabeth, had to pack her into a bassinet along with her bottles and my lunch.’ Mike’s weekly Take Your Daughter to Work Day expanded as soon as Sophia zzzzzzzzzzzzzsophie3found her feet. To her, the winery was the best and biggest set of monkey bars a kid ever had. It wasn’t long before she got into the wine, Mike recalled. ‘I was barrel-tasting one day and of course she wanted to do everything Daddy did, so I gave her a sip. It went right down the hatch, and I thought that’s not going to work. So I spent some time standing over a drain with her, teaching her how to spit. Now she spits like a Frenchman. She spits better than I do!’

Sophia next began taking part in bank errands, vineyard tours and even lunches with growers. ‘She’s very well restaurant-trained,’ Mike said, although she will occasionally visit other tables to find out what people are drinking. Then she’ll say brightly, "My Daddy makes Cabernet!" She opens the tasting room door with a cheery ‘Welcome to Sequoia Grove’ [there actually is a Sequoia grove, and visitors seem to love it] and she’s a star of Mike’s cellar tours for the trade. ‘She’ll climb up on top of a barrel, pull the bung out and stick her fingers in for a taste’ Mike says. ‘Then she’ll sing out That’s good wine, Daddy! and when I ask her what it is, she comes right back with Cabernet, Daddy! Then Mike will send her off to the Merlot; Sophia will pull another bung; taste eagerly; proclaim it good. ‘When I ask again what wine it is, she’ll say Merlot, Daddy! At that point, as if on cue, almost all the guests ask the same thing:  She can tell the difference? And I’ll say Sure–can’t you?

That was back in ’09; now Sophia has begun learning about blending, as Mike told me last week. She’s become a dab hand with pipette and graduated cylinder, and she has Rutherford Dust on the soles of her shoes.

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Sophia today, with ‘a little age [3 years] on her’

Books for Father’s Day

Excuse please, while I indulge again in my quixotic attempt to keep reading alive and on life support. Books do furnish a room, as Anthony Powell said, and minds, too. So for Father’s Day consider these . . .

One way to go is the monster reference book. A Dad or anyone else can lose himself in it for hours at a time because reference books are not just for referring to. They’re for opening in your lap in an easy chair with a bottle of wine handy and all electronic devices turned off, off, off. Maybe even stepped on and ground into the carpet. So with that in mind, I’ll say that the leader of the pack just now is Opus Vino, edited by Jim Johnson. It’s a Dorling Kindersley production, which means

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All graphics all the time: DK’s Opus Vino.

it’s well-organized [by country, by region, by winery] and heavy on the graphics: bottle shots, maps, mavens, labels and sprawling spreads of vineyards to lighten the many hectares of text. It’s also heavy, period; at just over seven pounds, it might require two laps. And there are contenders in the lightweight [under seven pounds] division. Jancis Robinson’s The Oxford Companion to Wine, long-established and now in its third edition, has gravitas to outweigh its ho-hum graphics: like OV, it has an impressive list of contributors; unlike OV, its individual entries are signed. It’s organized as a dictionary, with far less attention paid to individual wineries. So you’d better buy both? Yes, and toss in a brace from John Wiley: Wine Appreciation, by the aptly named Richard P. Vine, and Exploring Wine: Completely Revised 3rd Edition, by the CIA troika of Steven Kolpan, Brian H. Smith and Michael A. Weiss. The former gets no cosmetics points for its plain-jane black-and-white approach but the latter is a handsome full-color production, nearly as heavy as OV.

Another route is the contemplative narrative. It’s especially attractive to those who’d like to give Dad the trip to France he deserves but who have been scared white by airfares of oh, $1500 per person. A feasible, feastly alternative is provided by the Dryanskys, G.Y. [Gerry] and Joanne. They’ve been in France longer than most Frenchmen have, just shy of half a zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzdryFC9781605983295 century, bien sûr, and their Coquilles, Calva, and Crème is a rewarding memoir in two parts. One covers Gerry’s career as a fashion correspondent and general reporter for some A-List U.S. publications; it’s full of good gossip, cool-eyed but never malicious. It’s a treat for example to know that Régine missed attending the party of the year [or decade or century] because her elephant got lost in the Bois de Boulonge; that the Duchess of Windsor wasn’t really out of line when she wet the floor of a restaurant bathroom; that Coco Chanel said of a critic she loathed ‘mouth like a sewer, talks like a sewing machine.’ The second part follows a series of locavore voyages into la france profonde, the deeply rural countryside that remains, to most Frenchmen, the heart and soul of their nation. The object? To seek out the products, places and producers of France’s traditional cuisine: lampreys and smoked eels; calva distilled the old-fashioned way [unfiltered]; some of the celebrated 246 kinds of cheese; the beouf gras of Bazas; and Billom garlic, cassoulet and Baeckeoffe. The places? Pays d’Auge, Alsace, Normandy, the Auverne and elsewhere. The people range from cheesemakers who persist despite the crushing zealotry of EU sanitation laws and cooks who’d rather work 16 hours a day almost alone than submit to the bullying big-time rat race with its ‘shrill refrain of new, new, new’. The result is a book that is truly vaut le voyage.

Now then: Having dismissed McNamee’s Claiborne book at the outset, I owe some explanation, and so: the writing is what I’d wincingly call workmanlike at best and it’s too often not best at all. It’s repetitious and hagiographic; it’s unfair to Mimi Sheraton, Clementine Paddleford, John Hess and the early Gourmet; and it makes way too large a claim. Changed the way WE eat? Who the hell’s we? A vexed question. Oh, we means that ridiculously small tribe of people called foodies. Never mind about the 300 million+ Americans who put agribusiness on its throne and fast food in their bellies; who make the author’s we about the smallest since Mark Twain’s  ‘kings, editors and people with tapeworms’. OK, Claiborne essentially invented restaurant criticism [in the U.S. anyway] and got food writing a much larger and more serious audience. And he was notably, even unusually generous in helping to launch the likes of Julia Child [whose influence was, I think, far greater], Marcella Hazan, Diana Kennedy and others. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz His personal life? It’s nightmarish for readers, so how must it have been for him? Born in the Deep South in a family for which the term shabby genteel could easily have been invented. Mom ran a boarding house but she never surrendered her airs and graces, even to her end as a Frat Row house mother. She rejected him and boys in general as filthy creatures but haunted Claiborne like a curse: he finally cut her out of his life, not even going to her funeral. Dad may/may not have molested him [Claiborne was coy here]. He was an uncloseted homosexual in an era when that took real guts, but all his affairs seem to have been uniformly doomed and unfulfilling. That he drank himself to death can be no surprise. That he managed to make of himself an important figure with a positive contribution; to drag at least some of New York’s restaurants out of the Canned String Bean Era; to explore foreign cuisines before anyone’d ever heard the word ethnic; and to compile best-selling cookbooks that are still popular today? If you took that script to MGM you’d be back on the street so fast you’d think the building collapsed.

By the bye, all the books can be ordered from Amazon or, of course, anywhere else. Amazon’s advantage is in used books, whose prices and availability are noted right alongside the new-book prices. Often the books are not used but overstocks or remainders, and the sellers are reliable.

© 2012 Bill Marsano

Booked for the New Year

Shakespeare is always an inspiration to me, and a passage from one of his history plays seems apropos just now:

For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings;

How some have been deposed; some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed;
Some poison’d by their wives: some sleeping kill’d
–Richard II

To which I iambically add:

And ‘mongst those Princes number now by dint
Of sword-like pow’r and grandeur lordly Print!
Undone, laid low by electronic strife,
Like Python’s parrot, ‘tis bereft of life!
Look you! See in ev’ry Nook and Kindle
Fell triumph of ‘Please don’t fold or spindle.’
Punchcards were once meant for bills and wages,
Now they’re bytes that gobble up our pages!
I needs must warn sans buts or ands or ifs:
Beware thee alway of Geeks bearing gifts.
–found in Old Saint Paul’s Church, Baltimore

So before going placidly amid the noise and haste to my New Year’s list of recent drinks books, I’ll add mine own lament for print. It’s a little sad, I know, so I’ll just sit here and rant for a bit and then shut up.

I grew up in print. I have set type by hand using only a California job case and a brass ‘stick,’ things that are now found mostly in flea markets. Each stick represented a paragraph or so*.It was then ‘proofed’ on ‘wheatstraw paper’. Letterpress printing, voila! I’d do it for hours at a time for the pure pleasure of it.

zbriarpressorgcase  The California Job Case, the most popular among many case designs. The term ‘lay of the case’ refers to the compartments for letters, punctuation marks and other bits of lead. Typesetters learnt the lay of the case as typists their keyboards. Image courtesy of briarpress.org.

My first job was proofreading for three cynical trade rags** whose office was in two parts. One, so dreary that cubicles would have been an upgrade, held me, four editors and a few war-surplus linoleum-topped desks for the seldom-seen ad staff. Beyond was the Dickensian composing room, into whose sweaty depths I delivered page-proofs for correction.

Hot, noisy and intermittently dangerous, this hell-hole enshrined four towering Linotype machines. Ugly, infernally complicated and about 8 feet tall, the Linotype was a high-speed electro-mechanical type-setter. It used the ETAOIN SHRDLU keyboard, which took full advantage of fast fingers. [The QWERTY keyboard dates to the 1870s, when typists had to be as slow as their typewriters.]

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A Linotype in sales-catalogue dress. Multiply this too-clean image several times, add terrific heat, crowding, noise, dirt and the smell of hot lead and printer’s ink to get an idea of an over-worked, under-pressure composing room of 50 years ago.

Invented in the early 1880s by a German immigrant named Ottmar Mergenthaler, the Linotype soon conquered book and newspaper  publishing. Almost as fast as an operator could type it clamped brass letter-molds called matrices in a vise, filled them with molten lead and produced a one-piece ‘slug’—a line o’ type—then spit it out to be composed into paragraphs and pages for proofing. This paragraph, for example, would represent 10 slugs. [See Linotype machines in action in the upcoming film Linotype. There’s a link to the trailer at the bottom of this column.]

It was incredible then [who could imagine its 10,000 parts casting hot lead inches from its nonchalant operator?] and is more so now [who can believe the world’s press once depended entirely on this 19th Century contraption?].

For all its Goldbergian grandeur the Linotype was in the end no more than another T. Rex, an apotheosis, yes, but of a primitive and doomed technology. Like the Clipper ship, the piston-engine Lockheed Super Constellation and the Hudson 4-6-4 steam locomotive, it was the mighty apex of an ingenious age, born on the cusp of a Great Extinction.

Perhaps all is not lost, not yet. Publishers, who as a rule prefer to improve the shining hour by cheating authors with confiscatory contracts and opaque royalty statements, have lately tried making books more physically attractive—more pleasing to hold and behold—according to The New York Times. What a concept. Must have struck ‘em like a thunderbolt. Meanwhile, your conventional booksellers*** say printed books suddenly regained some of their lost ground over the Christmas holidays. Maybe it’s because there’s not much warmth in a gift card reading:

Print, my dear, is old hat, so outmoded!
Hence your Christmas book must be downloaded!

And so at long last to the list.

Mixology, bartendering, bar-cheffery—by any name, it’s pouring books as well as drinks. A.J. Rathbun has a quartet: Luscious Liqueurs, Wine Cocktails, then Champagne Cocktails and finally Ginger Bliss and the Violet Fizz: A Cocktail Lover’s Guide to Mixing Drinks Using New and Classic Liqueurs. All useful, but I fear A. J.’s prose style has declined since his splendid Good Spirits debut. Blind pigs have gone from illegal to, say publicists, exclusive, upscale, even celebrated. Hence Speakeasy: The Employees Only Guide to Classic Cocktails Reimagined, by Jason Kosmas and Dushan Zaric, and The PDT Cocktail Book, by Jim Meehan and Chris Call. Backward glances: Brian Van Flandern and Laziz Hamani’s Vintage Cocktails and a brace by the bracing Dave Wondrich, Imbibe! From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash and Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl. Not to forget, please, James Waller’s revised, updated and often witty Drinkology and, for those who plan ahead, Anthony Giglio and Jim Meehan’s Mr. Boston Summer Cocktails.

Long before wine writing descended into the murk of scores and tasting notes there was the pleasure of Gerald Asher’s monthly essays in Gourmet—until a new editor reduced him to recommending pairings. Was Gourmet otherwise dumbed-down, as in the issue devoted to recipes from TV sitcoms? The mag’s shut-down in 2009 was laid to cable-TV shows and other competition for ads, but maybe the editor was distracted by writing three books, editing two recipe collections, giving lectures and doing a TV series. Fortunately, the man Frank Prial once called a poet hasn’t disappeared for good, as evidenced by his latest book, A Vineyard in My Glass. Buy it.

Crime is the star of Max Watman’s nifty Chasing the White Dog: An Amateur Outlaw’s Adventures in Moonshine and Daniel Okrent’s even niftier Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. Watman blows the whistle on the romance of moonshining and pretty much blows up his kitchen, too. Both are well-written, especially Okrent’s: I think it’s the best book on temperance lunacy since The Life and Times of the Late Demon Rum by J.C. Furnas. [Furnas’s other great accomplishment was to expose Lillian Hellman’s Julia fraud.]

The how-to and self-help stocking is well-stuffed as ever, what with Drink This: Wine Made Simple, by Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl; The Everyday Guide to Wine [2 paperback books and a DVD], by MW Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan; the expansively titled  The Sommelier Prep Course: An Introduction to the Wines, Beers, and Spirits of the World, by Michael Gibson; 100 Perfect Pairings, by Jill Silverman Hough; The Food Lover’s Guide to Wine, by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg;
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Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan, Julia della Croce

Making Sense of Wine Tasting: Your Essential Guide to Enjoying Wine [5th edition], by Alan Young; Secrets of the Sommeliers: How to Think and Drink Like the World’s Top Wine Professionals, by Rajat Parr, Jordan Mackay and Ed Anderson; Authentic Wine: Toward Natural and Sustainable Winemaking, by Jamie Goode and Sam Harrop MW; and for reinvention purposes, How to Import Wine, by Deborah M. Gray.

Liquid-specific entries include The Bartender’s GIN Compendium, by master cocktailian Gary Regan; Grandi Vini: An Opinionated Tour of Italy’s 89 Finest Wines, by Joe Bastianich; Real Men Drink Port—and Ladies Do Too!, by Ben Howkins; The Craft of Stone Brewing Co.: Liquid Lore, Epic Recipes, and Unabashed Arrogance, by Greg Koch, Steve Wagner and Randy Clemens; Madeira, the Island Vineyard [2nd edition], by Noel Cossart and Emanuel Berk; and The Finest Wines of California: A Regional Guide to the Best Producers and Their Wines. It’s part of a series that includes individual volumes on Chianti, the Côte d’Or, Tuscany, Champagne, Rioja and Bordeaux. And it pairs well, as they say, with Paul Strang’s South-West France. MW Benjamin Lewin, knight-challenger of wisdom received and conventional, does so twice, in In Search of Pinot Noir and in Wine Myths and Reality.

While impatiently awaiting the 4th edition of Jancis Robinson’s The Oxford Companion to Wine you can profitably adopt the CIA’s 3rd of Exploring Wine, by Steven Kolpan, Brian H. Smith and Michael A. Weiss; and Opus Vino, by Jim Gordon.

And when you’re ready to dig in, try The Kentucky Bourbon Cookbook, by Albert W.A. Schmid and Dean Fearing, and Italian Home Cooking, by the award-winning Julia della Croce. In my kitchen Italian cooking is home cooking, but that never stopped me from adding more Italian cookbooks to my shelf before and it isn’t about to stop me now. And don’t forget The Winemaker Cooks, by Christine Hanna (see below) , cook, looker and president of Sonoma’s Hanna Winery & Vineyards.

zzzzzzzzChristine HannaAs soon as I can I’ll make something to go with the following recipe, kindly provided by Chef Schmid: It’s called The English Professor’s Kentucky Bourbon Marinade, and it goes like this: Mix equal parts of bourbon, soy sauce and pineapple juice. Add a few [or a few more] Szechuan peppers, if you like. In it marinate chicken [up to 1 hour], pork [2-3 hours] or beef [at least 4 hours]. Pan-fry or grill. You’ll still have 364 days to cook Italian.

Now then, lest I appear to have gone soft-centered on you, I will here cite the two worst books I’ve read in a coon’s age or donkey’s years, whichever is longer. They are, for your edification and dismay Boozehound: On the Trail of the Rare, the Obscure, and the Overrated in Spirits, by Jason Wilson, and The Wild Vine, by Todd Kliman, You have been warned.

If you right-click on any of the above titles you’ll be able to ‘open’ Amazon and order directly.

For lagniappe here are a few of my own reviewer’s tips. For example, if the flap copy says anything like ‘ . . . teaches writing at . . . ‘ and/or mentions an author’s work with NPR, odds are it’s best to am-scray whilst still thou canst. In the Acknowledgments, danger signs include fulsome praise for the editor, who probably did nothing more than praise and grin [editors don’t have jobs—they have lunch] and the copy editor, who has likely missed author errors by the long ton while [if really on the ball]—adding factual errors of her own devising. Also, Amazon’s reader reviews have gained importance as professional reviewers, to quote the poet-pugilist Mike Tyson, ‘fade to Bolivian’. But be sceptical. Many of its 5-star reviews seem to be mere empty raves by enthusiasts and the ignoranti. The few-star reviews more often show knowledge and critical perspective.

And a Happy New Year to All!

©2012 Bill Marsano

Linotype the movie is expected to arrive in theaters some time next month. See the trailer below:

"Linotype: The Film" Official Trailer from Linotype: The Film on Vimeo

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*Hence ‘two sticks on  page 12,’ journalese for a story that is insignificant or being downplayed.
**One of them, U.S. Tobacco Journal, supposedly founded by Oscar Hammerstein I.
***Societal outcasts; pariahs who own actual, you know, like stores, yo?

Christine Hanna photo: Sheri Giblin Photography, S.F.

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:
 image

 ©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.

Pinot on Parade

Oh, to be in McMinnville, now that IPNC’s there’ somehow falls shy somehow of poesy immortal, but if the words themselves could give Browning [and even you, Thirsty Reader] the dry fantods, the sentiment is worthy. For the IPNC is celebrating its 25th anniversary July 29-31. Some may gallivant at the other IPNC [a.k.a. the International Pathogenic Neisseria Conference in Würzburg. Yes, it is nicely surrounded by the umlauted likes of Veitshöchheim, Waldbüttelbrunn, Wöllriederhof and the -dürrbachs Unter and Ober], but the real thing and right stuff, found only in McMinnville, Ore., is the Internation-al Pinot Noir Celebration.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzpinot noir

 What the fuss is all about: Pinot Noir grapes. Photo courtesy of Laurel Ridge Winery.

You could run across some taka mavens, such as Jancis Robinson, say, or Ray Isle of Food & Wine, or famous winemakers like Pete Rosé, the switch-hitting infielder and saignée specialist. You could visit some vineyards and dine very well and drink a goodly quantity of excellent Pinot Noir, the local likes of Eyrie and Erath,Chehalem, Sokol Blosser, Ponzi, the 5 A’s [Adelsheim, Argyle, Amity, Archery Summit and Anne Amie], Domaine Drouhin, Bethel Heights and Brick House, Cristom, Rex Hill and WillaKenzie. And other Willamette Wonders, plus more from hither and yon: California and New Zealand, and French Burgundies. Winery visits? But of course. Most important, the famous Salmon Bake. Of which more anon.

I attended the IPNC [pronounced ipnick] a few years ago owing to the event’s Amy Wesselman, who gently but persistently nagged over several months. I resisted; having been to such fests before I viewed them with a warm rush of loathing. They seemed always to be either ‘laid back’ to the point of chaos or rigid with Teutonic regimentation—and to boot were always grossly overcrowded. In the end, Amy won and I’m glad she did.

Not to say there weren’t some shocks. First, the temperature. Had the previous summer had been a hot one? If so, Oregon was taking no chances. The airport was so cold you could hang meat in it, and while folks elsewhere craved tans, the locals favored a palette of ACB [air-conditioning blue].

Then there was the air itself—almost unbreathably clean stuff, devoid of any taste or texture. Here in Manhattan, which bards in fealty to Apollo hold, we are used to air that’s full-bodied, with a long, diesel-nuanced finish and an abrasive texture. Terroir air, in short, to which Oregon’s was but kids’ stuff. Still, there was compensation in IPNC’s calm and serene organization. La Wesselman had been in command back in the day when Gen. William Booth entered Heaven, apparently, and that event went off with celestial perfection. So here she was equally skilled. No long lines of guests grown mutinous because of missing guides and transport, just seats aplenty and no one clinging to the roof racks.

The tasting tables were swaybacked with Pinot and  eagerly attended but without attracting that taster’s curse, the pesky little knots of two or three oblivious dolts who insistently park or plant themselves and refuse to move. Dinners on the campus meant fine food and wine to match, both in abundance. There were lines, but they didn’t stand still. The carvers hewed with an alacrity worthy of their kin at Katz’s; the commissary staff was likewise up to the mark. Guests were no sooner seated than Pinot was poured restoratively.

image  IPNC commissary staff: ain’t no flies on them. 


The evening’s centerpiece, long and fiery Salmon Bake, deserved a four-color full-bleed magazine spread, assuming that anyone still remembers what magazines are. Or were.

The Salmon Bake is the IPNC’s annual highpoint and signature. It can’t be made too much of; indeed it has achieved sufficient fame that last year Jason Stoller Smith, an IPNC board member and eternal guest chef, was invited by the First Lady to bring the Salmon Bake to D.C. for a picnic for 2000 on the White House lawn. [Smith will stage a salmon bake for you, too, on some special and doubtless expensive occasion: he is now executive chef of Timberline Lodge, a hundred-odd miles east of McMinnville.]

The event is no mere cookout, and its importance lies in being not just a ‘traditional’ Native American affair but a genuine one, devoid of Disney-hokery. It is not what was done once but that still is today: this is the way wild salmon is cooked by the Indian tribes of the Pacific Northwest.

image 
For the first couple of hours, preparations for the Salmon Bake resemble lawn vandalism. 

A rectangle of Linfield’s lawn is marked off and denuded of sod by Smith’s team of 12; then down the center of it they neatly cut a long narrow trench. This they fill with a little newspaper kindling and a deal of hardwood, whole logs and splits.

image
The ground is clear and the fire is laid. Short lengths of pipe [background] serve as sockets for the salmon-bearing alder saplings.

The whole is set alight in the afternoon, and while waiting for the flames to subside, the team lashes  split salmon to the green alder saplings that will suspend them above the pulsing heat of the embers.

image 
Mid-afternoon: the flames are banking down and several dozen salmon go to glory.
 
It is, Thirsty Reader, not the sort of thing you see every day, which is why the photos here give pride of place to the Salmon Bake. Pictures of wine bottles surrounded by schmoozers and schnorrers are two-a- penny on a good day.

image 
A last look before these salmon are served.

I must say a word too about the breakfasts—what I think of as the Semi-Sportive Breakfasts because of their non-competitive athleticism. As for the food, remember that 1950s anecdote about Mr. and Mrs. DiMaggio entertaning our troops in Korea, with Marilyn returning to their hotel after one of her deafeningly successful appearances and naively saying  ‘Joe, you never heard such cheering!’ And he evenly replies ’Yes I have’? Well do but substitute seen/bacon for heard/cheering and you’ll get the picture. Then repeat, with waffles.

image
Starting the day with a volleyball breakfast. 

The athleticism centered on wading pools ringed by blissed-out munchers dunking their dogs and kicking, heading or batting beach balls about with no particular end in view. No scores were kept, so it was no-net-tennis, so to speak, and Robert Frost wouldn’t’ve approved. What mattered was nothing less than players’ proper etiquette, which held that anyone could return any ball that came his way to any other pool in any way but without leaving his seat or significantly interrupting his meal.

Somehow I managed not to catch up with David Lett, whom I’d had several good phone interviews with but had never met. And I regret it, for he died too young two years later. He was Pinot’s pioneer in the Willamette Valley; naturally some [t]wit dubbed him Papa Pinot. He had an earthier sense of humor. Recalling his neighbors’ horror as he ripped up acres of profitable prunes, he called himself the First Fool; called his assistant ‘my caseworker’; scorned the fad aspect of organics. He said to me during one of our phone talks ‘I’ve been organic since I planted my first grapes 35 years ago, but I’m not certified because I won’t have anything to do with another regulatory agency. And I wouldn’t put it on the label in any case. I’m about eco, not ego.’

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David Lett in the 1960s with a double armload of Pinot Noir. Photo courtesy of Diana Lett.

Next year’s IPNC will be held July 27-29, and it will be the part of wisdom to request event and ticket information pronto from [email protected].

Post-IPNC I discovered the town’s Historic District [both blocks!] as well as its farmers’ market, which compensate for the poison of Rt. 99W. McMinnville’s share of 99W is its main drag [in both senses]: a fluorescent glare of strip-mall marts, car dealerships and gimcrack road-front businesses decorated with parking lots, hideous and apparently endless. Did I really see a sign reading ‘Last Strip Mall for 50 Yards’ or was I [please!] hallucinating? The Historic District may be small but it convinced me that just about nothing built in the last half century is worth a second glance.

The surprise or even shock of McMinnville was the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum.

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Airplanes galore: The EASM is large and well-organized, with superb restorations.

With its IMAX theater and dozens of professionally restored airplanes, among them Howard Hughes’ infamous  Spruce Goose, combat airplanes from WWI to the present, and many more, this museum is a must. Its wide array of well-documented, well-organized exhibits would do the Smithsonian proud, let alone a town with a population of 32,000.

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This ex-United Airlines DC-3 is one of several airplanes that crouch comfortably beneath the wings of the enormous Spruce Goose. 

Then it was back to the airport for me. There I realized I’d got used to the air-conditioning as well as the air and was told that I look good in blue.

©2011 Bill Marsano

 

 

 

Jess Jackson, Titan

Jess Jackson died of cancer recently at the age of 81, after a life of achievement that made him a titan of American wine. Unlike silver-spoon millionaires who [I borrow here from the great Red Smith] were born naked into the world and had to inherit everything they have, Jackson was in the grand but fading tradition of the self-made man.

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Born during the Depression, Jackson pitched in early to help his family, starting as a paper boy at five and going on to work at many other jobs— cop, teamster, stevedore and ambulance driver, among them—to put himself through law school.

After success as a lawyer he stepped away from the bar and in 1974 proceeded, with his first wife, Jane Kendall, to buy and replant, 80 acres of pear and walnut trees. He was a grower until a late-cancelled order left him lumbered with a crop, so he began making wine himself. Kendall-Jackson’s first Chardonnay was the 1982 vintage [below]. It was successful, attracting many new recruits to wine largely because of its evident sweetness [which was, some say, a happy accident resulting from a slip-up during fermentation].

Jess82VR Chard

Many more successes followed. Although devoted to Thoroughbred racing, as Rachel Alexandra fans well know, Jackson also reinvested in the company that would become Jackson Family Wines. Perhaps heeding the wisdom of Will Rogers [“Buy land. They ain’t making any more of the stuff”] he bought land in California to the extent of needing a helicopter to tour it all: 14,000 acres under vine and just as many not. The company’s portfolio in the U.S. includes K-J [and Kendall-Jackson Extra Virgin Olive Oil], La Crema, Cardinale, Vérité, Murphy-Goode, Robert Pecota Winery, Edmeades, Matanzas Creek, Stonestreet, Arrowood, Lajota, Cardinale, Atalon, Lokoya, Carmel Road, Cambria, Hartford Family Wines, Vérité, Archipel, Chateau Potelle, Freemark Abbey and Byron Winery [which just introduced two new Santa Barbara County wines, the 2009 Chardonnay and 2009 Pinot Noir. Abroad are Château Lassègue in Bordeaux, Tenuta di Arceno in Tuscany, Viña Calina in Chile and Yangarra in Australia’s McLaren Vale

His wine to a large degree established Chardonnay as America’s favorite wine and K-J as its favorite Chardonnay. Snobs never forgave Jackson for that: as Americans have grown what some like to think of as more ‘sophisticated’ about wine a coterie of snobs and geeks has bred and inbred apparently for the sole purpose of scorning success. As so it follows as the night the day that such folk amuse their self-important selves by heaping scorn upon K-J. they are, they think, far too good for a wine produced in such quantities that ‘bottles’ and ‘cases’ have no real meaning and the only graspable unit of measure is probably metric tons. K-J Chardonnay may not be the artisanal or ultra-natural or bio-confragable stuff so beloved of the snooty but showed and still shows showed thousands and even hundreds of thousands of people that there is life moistened only by Coke, Fanta and Mountain Dew.

In 2009 Jackson was inducted into the Vintner’s Hall of Fame in a ‘class’ that included Warren Winiarski of Stag’s Leap; Jack & Jamie Davies, revitalizers of the old Schramsberg estate; the legendary Beringer Brothers, Frederick and Jacob; and wine writer Gerald Asher. At the time Jackson said ‘Wine is a part of our cultural heritage. . . . Wine celebrates friends, family, and love—all of the best things in life. . . . From day one we have been a family-owned and family-run business. It is a distinction that is rapidly becoming a rarity in our industry. Our family culture is built on the time-honored principles of hard work, integrity, and uncompromising desire for quality and the long-term stewardship of the land.’

Jackson is survived by his wife, Barbara Banke, and five children. All are active in Jackson Family Wines, something of which Jess was extremely proud. The Family will welcome anecdotes and recollections sent to [email protected].

Something to Be Thankful For

©Copyright 2010 Bill Marsano

The upcoming royal wedding not enough to take your mind off the economy? Maybe you suspect it was a put-up job by Obama as a distraction? Maybe you just can’t look because she’s wearing Di’s old ring? (Is that some kind of warning? Who thought of that?) Never mind—sale prices work every time.

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And just in time,  too, Clos LaChance Winery of San Mar-tin, Cal. is unloading its Cabernets at fire-sale prices. Quantities are limited, or so they say. In fact, that’s what everybody says about every sale. On the other hand, at these prices the smart money won’t be dragging its feet. The Hummingbird Central Coast cabs are now on offer for $5 a bottle (72% off the $18 retail price), the Estate Cabernet is only $10 (70% off $35 retail) and the Special Select Series Cabernet is but $15 (60% off $40 retail). Such prices call for case purchases, and let’s hope they represent generosity rather than desperation.

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In any event they are guaranteed to delight the glad consumer; “More!” was the encouraging if monosyl-labic response of Thirsty Reader, who notes that free with every bottle you get a lovely printsuitable for framing, if you have especially small fingersof a hummingbird on the label. That turns out to be Not Strictly Accurate, which happens to be our friend Thirsty’s middle name. The Special Select Cabernet has a skimpy little bit of a label with no ornithlogi-cal decoration on it at all. Well, you can’t have eve-rything, can you? For example, state legislators suf-ficiently independent of the mighty and incredibly well financed Three-Tier Lobby to pass laws allow-ing direct-to-consumer sales. Citizens so blessed as to be living in the less backward states of our Re-public can order online (closlachance.com/wines) or by phone (408 686 1050).

Robo-Wine and Can-Can

NEW YORK DITHERS
PENNSYLVANIA STEALS A MARCH

Pennsylvania’s Liquor Control Board has installed experimental vending machines in a Wegmans store in Mechanicsburg and a Giant in Harrisburg, and could approve nearly 100 more this year.

Created at Prohibition’s end, the LCB was intended by then-Gov. Gifford Pinchot to ‘discourage the purchase of alcoholic beverages by making it as inconvenient and expensive as possible.’ Credit Pinchot with a resounding success. The LCB offers legendary inconvenience, and prices? Don’t ask me. Ask the geographically privileged Pennsylvanians
filling trunks at loading docks in Jersey and D.C.

Thus the machines, which the LCB calls kiosks, are a consumer-friendly surprise, even shock.

The machine scans your driver’s license, passport or military ID to confirm legal age; if has a face-recognition feature, too. Then it asks are you blotto? Even a little? If its breathalyzer reads below .02, cheers! Swipe a credit card and pay the same price as in a state store. (The LCB says a ‘convenience surcharge’ may be added some day. Why are you looking so surprised?)

PAKioskFullView  Pennsylvania’s shiny new high-tech Garden of Earthly Delights: a vending machine for wine

International varietals dominate the 52 selections. Brands include Blackstone, Mouton Cadet, Clos Du Bois, Ravenswood, Campo Viejo, Ménage à Trois, Barefoot, Ruffino, J. Lohr, Francis Coppola, Concha y Toro, Kendall-Jackson,  Santa Margherita, Robert Mondavi, Cavit, Nobilo, Gnarly Head, Sutter Home, Woodbridge and Yellowtail.

Unlike the hair-tearing lunacy of LCB stores, whose operating hours seem to be all different all the time, the machines are consistent: 9AM-9PM Mon.-Sat., and some may eventually operate Sundays, too. Saints preserve us.

Problem? A HELP button connects you, live, to sentient carbon-based lifeforms—actual human beings. Say the breathalyzer bounces you: LCB Press Secretary Stacy Witalec says a state employee might then ask whether you’ve just rinsed with Listerine. If so, he’ll suggest trying again in 20 or 30 minutes. Turn-downs can easily occur because of the zero-tolerance .02 standard (PA’s DUI standard is .08). Jeez Louise! You could hit .02 after one beer, glass of wine or shot of whiskey. Or passing within a hundred yards of Lindsay Lohan.

GETTING CANNED

Vending machines could also sell canned wine, were there enough to sell. In 1999 Francis Coppola introduced a sparkler named for his daughter Sofia, first in standard bottles, later in splits (straws attached), for casual sipping. Pommery Pop, Perrier-Jouët, Korbel, Piper-Heidsieck, Nicolas Feuillatte and others offered splits too, but in wee bottles. Sofia’s splits were actually in cans, which added a nice dose of publicity and shock value while expanding sales opportunities to poolside parties and other no-glass zones.

Still, consumers haven’t fallen like lodgepole pines for cans. Which are hardly new: Allan Green, owner-winemaker of Mendocino County’s Greenwood Ridge Vineyards, has collected hundreds of them. Some (e.g. those for the recent Aussie Wines brand) are new. One oldie recalls the Cold Duck Era or Dark Ages of American wine-drinking. Especially notable are the cone-top cans for Mother Goldstein’s ‘sacra-mental [kosher] wine,’ a Prohibition favorite.

WineCans  You doubted my word on canned Cold Duck? On Mother Goldstein’s, too? This photographic proof comes courtesy of Greenwood Ridge’s Al- lan Green, who is a prince. A prince, I tell you. 

The French Army of World War I was an entrenched can fan, so to speak. (As for World War II, I’m not sure. Did the French fight in that war?) Its poilus or G.I. Joes received rations of canned wine, rough-and-ready red (pinard) and white (vin blanc). They’re still with us, in a way: I’m told that British Tommies who were lubricated by generous French pals combined the words, and maybe even the wines, resulting in plonk. (It wouldn’t have been the first time for outre blends: Queen Victoria dosed her claret with malt whiskey.) At least the cans meant that no plonk was ever refused for being corked.

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À votre santé by the liter: A French Army wine can, drab in color with a decidedly dusty robe. Photo from John and Beth, thedonovan.com|

Never mind wine. Mark Kirkland, president of Mark One Foods in Salt Lake City, is pushing his sandwich-in-a-can idea—the Candwich. His main problem is that he can’t catch a break. Does anyone acknowledge that his canned PB&Js offer both traditional grape and far-out strawberry? Give his BBQ Chicken Candwich a respectful nod? Applaud their shelf life, which he calls ‘excellent’? No sir. About the only ink he’s got thus far connects him unfortunately and innocently with an accused scam artist name of Travis L. Wright.

Wright’s wrong was to take $145 million from 175 or so investors and sink it not into real estate for a promised 24% return but in internet wristwatch sales, rose-petal greeting cards and—the Candwich. The deals seemed unduly fragrant, and in July the SEC, awakened from its dream of peace (i.e., decades of Rip Van Winkling past Bernie Madoff), filed a complaint. You can see their thinking, no? “Wright stole $145 million and owns a stuffed wildebeest. Madoff stole $68 billion but is our friend. GET WRIGHT!” Clearly the SEC has priorities.

So get this: Kirkland, entrepreneur and gourmet visionary, is beavering toward his destiny, seeking funding in complete innocence and honesty, when one day he wakes up to find his name connected with the dread phrase ‘film at 11.’

And the investors are branded as low-wattage types. Naïfs. Dolts. Blockheads. Or as one reporter delicately put it, ‘Utah has long endured a reputation as a place where many people are naïve or trusting to the point of losing their shirts.’ Less politely, Fools–fools in the Chief, in the Chevron and in the Quarter Fess. Indeed, Utah’s Division of Securities says scammers who some years ago promised $50 million payouts on $5000 investments recruited Utah investors not with gala dinners or fancy offices full of luxe furniture on one-week rentals but by sticking flyers on car windshields. Most of the money wound up in some Third Worldish country that begins with L and ends with a. (How many can you name?)

Nevertheless, as Kate Hepburn once said, Kirkland perseveres. He told me that he hopes to have the Candwich before an adoring public in a year. I wish him luck and you should too. The Candwich is an ornament of American inventiveness, like cheese-flavored dogfood and salad-in-a-cup. Besides: the beauty part, says my neighbor Basil Coulis, the grand dam builder and pastry chef, ‘is that it’s both sandwich-in-a-can and not sandwich-in-a-can. A paradox. A contradiction in tin.’ Exactly! Each Candwich contains sandwich makings. The PB&J provides individual bags containing a baked, bun-like object plus two squeezer bags, one of PB, one of J. And for lagniappe there’s dessert–the Candy Surprise Inside promised on the label. Spoiler alert: it’s a piece of Nestlé Laffy Taffy like the one pictured, which is made with genuine artificial banana-like flavoring. End spoiler alert.PBJcandwich_2 So here’s
my apocalyptic vision: Kirkland + LCB + saltines + cheese = Canape Candwiches. Yes. One day you’ll go off to an LCB vending 
machine and buy yourself a bottle or two of the Lumberyard Chardonnay, which has so much wood in it you could use it to kill vampires.

Then you’ll press the HELP button and ask the omniscient LCB staffer ’Which canned canape will pair best, do you think, the brie or the camembert?’ and receive the reply ‘Bor-r-r-r-inggggg! Either will do, but who cares? Ordinarily I’d recommend Adelegger from Baden-Württemberg or Swiss Tomme Vaudoise, but you’re such a pussy.’

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