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: Rants, Tirades and Jeremiads (page 1 of 2)

A Holiday Garland

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

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

TheHour ShakeEmUp_dustjacket-final-correx.indd

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

image  Fancy rolling these bad boys across your deck?

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

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

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

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

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


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


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?
¶ 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


Banners Yet Rave

What’s the intersection at which wine and spirits meet cupcakes and Kinder Eggs, Buckyball magnets and Mayor Bloomberg’s Tit Squad? Read on.

If You Know What’s Good for You! is a favorite maternal warning, and it just won’t go away. ‘I’m all grown up now,’ says Thirsty Reader, ‘as are you—able to drink, smoke, vote and die for our country—but it’s the ruling dogma of the Busybody Brigade.’

Of which Michael Bloomberg is chief. The imperial and imperious mayor-proconsul is busy making New York the City of Big Brotherly Love. He dotes on telling citizens what to eat and what to drink, what to do and what to think; does so every chance he gets; never lets the law stand in his way*. Food too salty? Behold Hizzoner’s war on salt. Trans-fats bad? Banned, just like that.

New Yorkers for Beverage Choices seeks to rally those who ingest mass quantities with a website opposing Mayor Mike’s latest bid to control the consumption habits of Gotham’s citizens: nycbeveragechoices.com is the place to go. And 24 oz. is, for some, the way to go.


Now? Supersized sodas. Really. Bake sales have managed thus far to escape the mayor’s regulatory gaze, but the Urge to Control is a strong one. Banners have come down hard on cupcake-hustling mothers in such places as New Mexico, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Mississippi, Nevada and Texas. Reigning Food-and-Nutrition VoPo Marla Caplon, who is gauleiter of the S’mores Police in Maryland’s Montgomery County, replies on zealous spies and snitches to stop the snack-pushers: ‘If a bake sale is going on,’ quoth she, ‘it’s reported to Administration and it’s taken care of.’ I love that taken care of, don’t you? Will Caplon call Major Toht [below] out of retirement to round up the nation’s 7.5 million cookie-flogging Girl Scouts? 






It’s easy to make mock here, even an obligation, for bans and banners are part of the Higher Nonsense. [The New Yorker quickly took the mickey out of Mike with a witty cover recalling the lurid 1950s teen movies of the ‘Out for Kicks, In for Trouble’ genre.] But in fact these zealots are dangerous folk, zzzzznycoverrcondenaststore.com
threats to freedom, even or especially when it’s none of their damned business. They thrive in some surprising places. Supposedly liberal New York is actually a Nanny State bastion, so Mayor Mike gets much doltish support. ‘It can’t hurt and it might help’ was a popular, well—it’s hardly an argument, merely a Wistful Sentiment, like Bono’s suggestion that we continue sending aid money to Africa despite most of its’ being stolen by dictators [‘We’ve got to do something, even if it doesn’t work’]. Others say the ban ‘sends a powerful message’. Really? Thirsty says it simply proves the law is a ass. He agrees with Sam Goldwyn: ‘If you want to send a message, call Western Union’. Then there’s ‘If it saves even ONE child . . . .’. Sorry, folks, but your brat is not worth my civil rights.

image  A banner’s wet-dream: Ãœberünterführer Fritz Scheisskopf impounds a contraband-laden Girl Scout van or ‘mule’. Note the large quantity of Double Dutch, the infamous ‘gateway snack’ that can lead to addiction to Thin Mints, Ice Berry Piñatas and Caramel deLites.

Americans’ obsession with bodily health borders on mental illness. Banners know what’s good for you and for your children too, and they will compel obedience by force of law when and if they can and by public shaming and/or abusive taxation when they can’t. Mayor Mike’s naive belief that he can end child obesity is his excuse for treating adults like kids. Bake-sale banners are just as zealous, and now new mothers are being shamed in print for  mammary incorrectness by the self-righteous likes of, for example, Time Magazine scribbler Bonnie Rochman. A breast-feeding zealot, she wrote
‘[my sister-in-law]. . . Rachel knows firsthand how bleep! pushing bleep! can impact an inexperienced mother . . . bleep! offered to give her bleep! a bottle “to make it easier on you.” Exhausted and uncertain, she agreed . . . . “I was a new mom,” she said. “I didn’t know what I was doing”.’

Rachel, Rachel! How could you? Yes, it looks bad—until you change the bleeps: nurses, formula, a nurse and newborn. So Rachel accepted a bottle of formula. She should throw herself off a bridge?

Rochman says Rachel had always intended to breast-feed, implying that the nurse/pusher has made that impossible. For additional humiliation Rochman spills that Rachel even underwent a C-section, thus inviting the scorn of crackpot Mommy Fanatics who say a C-section and/or a hospital birth means ‘you’re not a REAL mother’. Thanks, Sis! [Aside to young marrieds out there: If you’re getting your parenting advice from Time the Weekly News Pamphlet, consider looking elsewhere.]

Exposed by her sister-in-law for accepting infant formula; shamed for giving birth in a hospital and even having a C-section; dreading mention of the word ‘epidural’; Rachel takes the only way out before a crazed mob of howling Mommy Fanatics and the fortuitous documentary gaze of Camille Pissarro.

Now Mayor Mike wants hospitals to be lactically correct: to deny formula unless there’s medical need or specific requests [even then mothers are subjected to mandatory anti-formula lectures]. Formula must be locked up, like medicines and drugs. Staff will have to sign it out, track its distribution and report to the Health Department. Have I got this right? Woman wants an abortion, she gets it any time for any reason or none at all, but she can’t get formula without a browbeating by Mayor Mike’s Tit Squad? ‘Splain me’, as Ricky Ricardo used to say, how this makes any sense. ‘Splain me how it’s fair, or reasonable, or any of the Dear Leader’s bloody business.

High motives do not justify stupidity. Obesity will not be conquered by banning sodas d’une certaine taille. As for formula: yes, Big Baby—the mighty marketer of kiddy products ranging from ‘smart water’ for toddlers to $700 PAVs**—offers the stuff free in hospitals as a greedy industrial marketing ploy. But are mothers stupid? Unable to decide for themselves? Isn’t it possible that formula could ‘empower’ Dads, as in getting them to take the 2 A.M. feeding? Worked for me.

The lunacy escalates, as you knew it would: Another new mother named Rachel—Weisz—dared to say an occasional glass of was wine OK after the first three months. Know-betters immediately denounced the actress as ill-informed and dangerous, despite significant disagreement [in England and Europe, for example]—and no proof at all that ‘any alcohol is dangerous’. Let me spell out the fall-out: Pregnant women are now being refused wine in American restaurants. Waiters, whose job is, I believe, to carry plates, now offer medical advice. And in one case, compulsion: Chicagoan Michelle Lee was ordered to leave a restaurant when all she’d ordered was pizza and water. But she was pregnant, and that, as people have finally stopped saying, tore it, so out she went. As NOW president Terry O’Neill observed ‘[non-pregnant]people feel increasingly empowered to make decisions for pregnant women’. Ya think? Thus we await the publication of a New Age Dr. Spock written by a soon-to-be-nationally-known cocktail waiter. Baba Wawa and Katie Couric will be all over the guy in six minutes flat, and People magazine will then name him the Most Sensitive Man Alive. Now comes word of a breakthrough: actual pregnancy is no longer necessary. In Canada, a land famous for excess caution, the ink-seeking strivers of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists are now proposing abstention for women who might become pregnant.

The urge to ban has naught to do with fetal health or childhood obesity. It is showing off; it is boasting about one’s sensitivity; it seeks control. It is the fastest way of becoming a Recognized Authority and Public Expert who can attract grants, get jobs and appear on talk-shows run by jackasses. It leads to speaking engagements and book contracts, and in general coins money at the expense of science, common sense and personal freedom.

Beware, Thirsty Reader. Urged on by their limitless array of targets—raw-milk cheese, party balloons [Yeah, right, says Ruth Suehle of geekmom.com, they’re ‘doom on a string!’] as well as whistles, foie gras, bake sales, Harry Potter, energy drinks, wee magnets, Kinder Eggs [60,000 seized last year by U.S. Customs], fireworks and more—banners will get around soon enough to what the WCTU called King Alcohol. They may not be so foolish as to try to bring back Prohibition, but with the glad help of the Studies Industry—that unregulated confederacy of ‘experts’ who can be paid to prove anything—they’ll seek more age restrictions, limits on individual consumption and purchase, abusive, even crippling taxation, and, prominent on every bottle, a grisly graphic warning label. After all, they know what’s good for you, and you don’t.

And if it saves even one life . . . .


*Mayor Mike supported New York’s term-limits law, which helped eliminate at least a few of Gotham’s elected crooks, the idea being that two terms of thievery and incompetence should be enough to satisfy anybody. But then he thought again and, deciding that the city needed him more than it did the law, got his house pet, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, to have the law changed.

**PAVs: Pediatric Assault Vehicles, oversized and overpriced transports that have, because of their enhanced Preening Index, replaced ordinary strollers for Yuppies wishing to impress onlookers with how devoted they are to the kids they routinely leave to the care of underpaid immigrant nannies.

Photo montages courtesy of the peerless Darren Tuozzoli

January Clearance and Rant

Having been good-for-goodness’-sake for the whole of the Christmas-Hanukkah-Kwanzaa-Festivus season, I feel entitled to a little bad behavior on the subject of gifts.

Each year truly ridiculous gifts have been pressed upon me by members of the He Likes Wine, So I’ll Get Him a Wine Thingy crowd, who are victimized by evil retail clerks looking for quick sales and dubious if not grossly inaccurate online descriptions. OK, I play the game: I smile and say thanks; I accept them with aplomb while regarding them with qualms [or maybe it’s the other way round; I keep forgetting]. But now the Time of Nice is over and I’ve held a  January Clearance of gadgets that are silly, unworkable, pretentious or all of the above; that are embarrassing to own save by that stunted generation whose role models are event planners, deejays and nightclub doormen. I invited the neighbors and threw a party. And now I’m going public.

zzzcorkcicleinbottleYour correspondent opened the festivities with a gift called the Corkcicle, a plastic ‘icicle’ filled with clear gel coolant that, when frozen solid, is supposed to shoved into a bottle to maintain pre-chilled wine at serving temperature. And it does, sort of, but mostly it annoys you. First you must needs pour a couple of ounces of wine out in order to get the Corkcicle in. Then you needs must remove the thing every time you pour: it’s wet and a foot long, so where do you put it? And as you pour more wine, less and less of the Corkcicle makes  contact with the remaining wine—only a couple of inches when you’ve reached the half-bottle level.  And, of course, three inches of the thing are in the neck of the bottle, where they do nothing at all. 

The Corkcicle, which costs $20-$25, poses vexed questions. For example, why should you have to uncork the wine every time you pour? Could the gel leak into the wine? [The thing is, after all, rather lightly if not flimsily constructed.] And what is so hard about using an ice bucket? Still, an oaf at foodbeast.com was over the moon about it. ‘There’s been plenty of genius ways to keep wine chilled without letting watery residue dilute the taste, but is one of the most epic we’ve seen in quite some time,’ he said subliterately. What is it that suggests he’s never seen one in his life?

zzzzzz2pcchiller316uy2OTjtL__SL500_AA300_Another loser was The Wine Enthusiast’s 2-piece wine-chilling carafe, contributed by Ho’ Chi Minh, a long-time North Vietnamese pole-dancer who was Haiphong’s ‘Slut of the Year’ for most of the 1990s. Now legit [she’s a Girl Scout troop leader, no less!] Ho’ has several beefs, noting that it’s much like the Corkcicle writ large. It too works only with pre-chilled wine [it will not cool room-temp wine to serving temp] and its cooling device, a big glass tube that’s supposed to be filled with ice cubes [you smarties will add water] has to be extracted from the carafe for every pour. The tube is large, heavy and clumsy to handle, which attributes combine uneasily with fragile. The only thing I like about it is the rave review it received from Jill Martin, who reigns as  the resident Shopping Ditz of the Today Show. Artfully blending her primitive vocabulary with her shaky grasp of physics, she said that it ‘will stop your wine-serving case from getting sweaty.’

 Mulligan, Stu was the wrong choice to receive whiskey stones. A punctilious Hibernian librarian and renowned pedant [he once fought a duel over the mis-cataloguing of ‘Lafcadi O’Hearn’], he was enraged that ‘my eejit cousin spent sixty bucks on a bunch of rocks when the same money would have bought three bottles of Clontarf!’ Or two bottles of Black Bush or one of the Redbreast 15-year-old, for that matter. But no. What he got was nine dice-sized rocks and two ineptly designed glasses.


You freeze the stones to chill your whiskey with no melting and no dilution. So far, so good. But sixty bucks for rocks? Even if they are, according to the online poetry of their numerous e-tailers, ‘all-natural soapstones that are proudly handcrafted of soapstone by the great soapstone workers of Perkinsville, Vermont, home to some of the USA’s oldest soapstone workshops.’ And they’re made of soapstone!

I can picture them now, those legendary artisans, strutting about the streets of Perkinsville with their chests all puffed out, or bent artisanally over their ancient and time-stained workbenches, can’t you? You sure? Oh.

These things have been around for a while now. A decade ago someone seeking free ink in Hemispheres sent me the first of their kind, and so I saw them in the original dusk of their being, as it were. Made [proudly, by hand, etc.] of Scotch granite, they cost $80 for two. They came in a wee velveteen drawstring pouch inside a varnished wooden cabinet, which suggested they should be prayed over, like holy relics. Now they are no longer alone. Williams-Sonoma has the same sort of thing in stainless steel and others offer versions in marble and crystal. All are hilariously priced, considering that Jack’s sells aquarium stones for 99¢ a sack.

zzwaring316eGjVXWPL__SS500_Homer Nods, classical scholar and dolt, rarely gets to cock a snook at anyone, but battery-operated corkscrews are a legitimate target for what Brits used to call Queen Anne’s fan. ‘In a word’ says Homer, stu pid. Severe arthritis might be an excuse for the thing, but not for 11 brands offering at least 18 models. There’s even a website that claims to review them, although seldom is heard a discouraging word’ from that quarter, which seems mainly interested in getting you to buy one at prices ranging from $20 to $60. Some have sleek looks and fancy doodads [built-in thermometer, ‘calming blue indicator lights,’ enough might to yank 40, 60 even 80 corks]; others have cheesy looks suggestive of manufacture in Chinese prisons. In all cases, the whine of the electric motor will impart a dental tone to romantic dinners lit by electric candles.

 We went on to deal with wine aerators, but when it comes to decanting and aerating, the sea of ignorance is so vast [and my boat is so small, as the Breton fisherman reminded God] that the light of wisdom must be deferred to another day, when the purple dusk of twilight time is not stealing across the meadows of my heart. As it is just now. 

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.]

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;
zzzzjennifer zzzjuliapurple
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


*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.

Mum’s the Word

Royal wedding? Big deal, were we not able to smuggle in a Gin and Tonic for necessary relief. All in good time, of course, Thirsty Reader. Compose your mind in patience.

Come the 29th the Prince and the Commoner will be wed, and in a mood of unaccustomed generosity I pledge to forgive all related clichés [tying the knot, getting hitched, connubial bliss, etc.]—except the nonsense about leading her down the aisle. Aisles come in pairs and are at a church’s sides, parallel to the nave, which is where, with weddings, the action is. Only inadequate ecclesiastical vocabulary can account for this aisles error, so let’s hear no more of it. Anyway, Bill ‘n’ Kate seem to be decent kids who’ve kept themselves mostly out of the tabloids. Good cess to ‘em, says I, but with none of those Colonial yearnings that make too many Americans go all caramel-centered over Team Windsor. [My favorite example: the Sensitive Soul who reacted to 1997’s tragedy crying ‘Diana? Dead? But if she could die, what hope is there for the rest of us?’] Still, I suffer something of a frisson when I think of Kate wearing that ring: surely it’s cursed?

unnamed The sapphire alone in Kate’s engagement ring would retail for about $300,000; pikers can buy Amazon’s replica for $19.99 + shipping. Similar fauxnies are going like coldcakes for as much as a grand apiece. 

sickbagblueSick to death of what is rapidly becoming a tawdry business? A young English artist of wit and originality has made her protest plain with her line of souvenir airsickness bags in four colors: about $1.65 from lydialeith.com. Royal condoms are also helping the monarchy morph steadily from institution to horselaugh.

The breakthrough for this wedding is that the royal family is no longer obsessed with virginity. Kate is allegedly a maidenhead short of maidenhood but ‘No biggie,’ says Prince Philip, reports Nigel Dumpster, dirt-dishing star reporter-hallucinator of Britain’s gutter press. [Back in the day—Diana’s, specifically —the royals got the blue creevies at the prospect of ‘some bloke going round saying he’s had the Queen of England.’] Kate’s fans, re-styling her deficit, say that makes her a modern bride. Shocked, shocked is my nextdoor neighbor H*Y*M*E*N K*A*P*L*A*N, Jewish virgin and proselytizer for purity. (‘Invest in your future—save it for marriage’ is her mantra). Never mind: the latest nonsense is the rumor that Kate may be in whole or in part Jewish [her mom’s a Goldsmith]. H*Y*M*E*N e-mails me a definitive denial: ‘MOT? IMNSHO, NFW! FO-MCL.’ [I have no idea what that means.] ‘Yeah, sure’ she says, revert-ing to actual words and scoring a rare double positive. ‘Goldsmith’s as Jewish as Fort Smith!’

fort_smith03  Fort Smith, Ark.: Jewish? You make the call

Yet there is or was one royal who won me over: the Queen Mum [1900-2002], whom Helena Bonham Carter played so splendidly in The King’s Speech. Born Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon, she was successively Duchess of York, Queen Consort,
and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mum. Her family was Scottish, mere minor nobility [not even Triple-A], but that didn’t matter: she married the Duke of York, who as second in line to the throne was pretty mere himself. In short [he stood a semi-kingly 5’9”], he didn’t matter either. Until.

Queen_Mother),_192The Duchess of York, by Philip de László, 1925.

Until Wallis Simpson did Britain the great but rarely recognized favor of sweeping the king off his feet and his throne to boot. Edward VIII and Wallis went on to a life of global freeloading as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor; York became King George VI with the Duchess as his Queen Consort, and they became, with Winston Churchill, the great pillars of British wartime morale. That was especially so in 1940 London, during the Blitz: 76 consecutive nights of Luftwaffe air raids that leveled large parts of the city. The city’s East End, whose docks were critical to the shipping of food and arms, took a beating far worse than anything seen in movies.

st pauls  The London Blitz: St. Paul’s survives, Edward R. Murrow broadcasts live from the rooftops [‘This . . . is London. . .’] and the Queen says she is glad that Buckingham Palace took a hit.

When finally Buckingham Palace itself was hit the Queen said she was glad: ‘It makes me feel I can look the East End in the face.’ Would she evacuate her children to safety in the countryside? No: ‘The children won’t leave without me. I won’t leave without the King, and the King won’t leave.’

Queen_Elizabeth_The_Queen_MotherOfficial portrait as Queen
by Sir Gerald Kelly

She was a trooper all her life. Aged 101 she broke her pelvis but still stood for the anthem at her late husband’s memorial service; injured again later she attended Princess Margaret’s funeral. The family fretted over the long trip involved but she did not. She asked only to be spared the press, so as to avoid being photographed in a wheelchair. She had wit. She was keen on horse racing and fishing. In hospital for a fishbone stuck in her throat, she said dryly ‘The salmon have got their own back.’ My relentless colleague J.T.D. Keyes tells me this: Aware that her staff included many elderly gay men, she once rang down from her bedroom to ask ‘How would one of you old queens like to bring this old queen a large gin and tonic?’

Speaking of which . . . It’s time to make one, because the G&T is a British classic, probably created in Injah during the Raj and an American favorite; and it was the go-to drink of the Queen Mum. To be sure of getting it made right, I’m calling in my Huckleberry friend Bruce Ramsay, who serves as
PouredWithPleasure’s miscelatore dei tutti miscelatori, for wisdom and counsel.


Let the gin be Gordon’s London Dry if, like the QM, you prefer traditional taste (no rose petals or lemon-grass here!) and outstanding value. Otherwise, Beefeater is a wonderful, respected alternative. Be sure that your ice cubes are fresh ones, not antiques that have been hanging around since the Ice Age. The tonic must be chilled and must be top drawer, too. Q Tonic and Fever-Tree are the best; stuff that comes in a plastic jug the size of a HEAT round is not. As for limes, those dull in color and hard as golf balls are too old; don’t stir without fresh ones.

Q-Tonic The highly regarded Q poses with a G&T that can be fairly called excessively responsible. Why not Schweppes, the old stand-by? Because it’s fallen, nay plummeted from favor because of high-fructose corn syrup and too many calories. It’s suspected of using synthetic quinine, too.
Now for the assembly. This is a built drink, that is, it’s built in the same glass in which it’s served. Fill a Tom Collins glass (or other 10-12 ounce glass) to the rim with ice. Add 1-1/2 to 2 ounces of Gordon’s gin. Carefully pour your tonic down the side of the glass, not over the ice. (This, says Japanese master mixologist Kazuo Uyeda, ensures that the tonic’s refreshing carbonation will be preserved.)

Gently pull a long spoon upward through the drink to stir. Add a straw for decorous sipping and your choice of lime garnish: wedge on the rim or wheel slid down inside the glass. The wheel is a bit more decorative but the wedge is more practical for those who wants a squeeze of juice to adjust the flavor.

You have heard from the Master, Thirsty Reader. Now, let us stand and toast the Queen Mother’s memory. Cheers! Three cheers, in fact.

©2011 Bill Marsano

Farrago and Foolery


‘There is no problem so difficult that a do-gooder can’t make it worse.’—Col. Pesto

It is but seldom that we have recourse to the pensieri of Italian field-grade military officers, but there it is, to become relevant in due course. For the nonce, just clap eyes on the following e-mail, sent me in my lonely aer-ie above the fruited plain (I preserve its original post-literate style for your edification and dismay):

Dear Bill,

Every Day with Rachael Ray Magazine Tells Us How

Always wanted to be an expert in wine tasting or picking out the best bottle but feel intimidated? The March issue of Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine shows how to in five simple steps. They break down what to look for, ignore, what the shape of the bottle means and more. Enter the next dinner party or prepare a wine paired meal with confidence!

What To Look For To Become An Overnight Wine Expert

Alcohol level:
· The percentage will tip you off to how heavy the wine will feel in your mouth–12% or 13% is ideal for a full bodied feel.
Ancient: · Spotting this on the label or old vines means that the grapevines are decades old with fewer grapes produced resulting in a stronger flavored wine.
Flavor Clues: · The back of the label is full of hints to the wine s taste and a peek into the type of wine. Descriptors like vanilla, smoke and nutmeg indicate a woodier taste. Words like zesty, racy, tangy suggest a fresher, brighter style
Ignore: · Fancy Artwork. Beautiful pictures of vineyards or estates come across as a serious bottle of wine-but the wines might not live up to the imagery.
Phantom Grapes: · If you don t see recognizable terms such as merlot or chardonnay that doesn t mean the wine isn t one. Wines from Europe are often labeled by origin rather than type.
Shape: Shape Matters! Bottle shapes hold specific wine styles. Tall and narrow bottles contain mostly crisp wines such as a sparkling white. Slope shouldered bottles are typical to subtler wines such as pinot noir, chardonnay, or syrah and high shouldered bottles hold heavier reds and lighter whites such as a sauvignon blanc

Look forward to hearing from you . . . .

Rachael Ray cover_mar2011  Delish Pairing of the Month: Rachael Rae serves wine and claptrap in her March issue. Yum-o!

I don’t know about you, Thirsty Reader, but I’m just kicking myself for all the time and money I’ve wasted on actually tasting the stuff.

Fowler (any edition but the hateful 3rd) and Ted Bern-stein’s The Careful Writer might help the pr shop next time. And the five tips are actually six, suggesting a need for Ray’s Arithmetic also. (It dates to 1877 but is still in print and even on CD.) The same goes for the  magazine’s editors. EDWRRM’s masthead lists a copy chief, two senior copy editors and a proofreader, which means it took four people to screw this up (they didn’t even get the page number right), not counting the edi-tors who assigned the story and then accepted it.


Of the article itself, what to say (other than Jesus wept)? It’s longer than the release but not better, maybe even a little worse. It promises clear, con-crete help but gives none. The author, whose spine is appar-ently made of Velvee-ta, dilutes her ‘tips’ with weasel words—may, should, might, tend to, suggest, mostly. Instead of standing behind her advice she hides under her desk. Still, I admire her legerdemain in turning a tradition into a trend in the space of two sentences and I admit that one of her tips is excellent: find out more. To the latter she might have added elsewhere.

Something must be done, as Edward VIII, the feckless twit who almost remained king of England, said about something else. That something had been lodged in my brain pan by another e-mail a few weeks earlier, and it was this: that wine writers be certified or what is also and hideously called credentialed. (That’s what brought Col. Pesto to my fevered mind.) Anyway, here’s the background on this dizzying do-good lurch toward the realm of Higher Nonsense.

In January, a ‘professional wine writer’ [unnamed, and so herein called Accused] skanced mechanical harvest-ing and was quickly skewered by a colleague [Madame Prosecutor], who said Accused showed ‘a lack of respect and knowledge’ in disparaging mechanical harvesting and suggesting that ‘everyone knows hand harvesting produces a better product.’ From there Madame Prose-cutor went straight to the delightfully loopy idea of for-mal certification for wine writers (by the Society of Wine Educators, say, or Court of Master Sommeliers).

Madame Prosecutor identifies two kinds of wine writer: the ‘traditional’ type (of which Accused is apparently one) has a journalism degree and learned about wine on the job, and ‘today’s wine writers,’ who are ‘differ-ent animals’ because ‘wine writer skill sets,* experience and credentials are trending quite differently now.’  
[How does anyone write such a phrase?] ‘They may not be well known,’ she says, or have journalism jobs or degrees, but many have wine certification and they ‘feverishly apply their knowledge by educating readers through blog posts, videos, social media and education-al courses and many assert the need to improve their writing skills.’ Yet ‘traditional’ writers exist and persist, and Madame Prosecutor finds that as hard to swallow as a sandwich of beef jerky on a day-old Kaiser roll.

Grammatically and syntactically unreliable, devoted to clichés, she rattles windily on, dimly acknowledging practical experience without examining its many kinds; failing to distinguish between certified and qualified; ignoring the question of a hierarchy of values. Soon she seems to realize she got in over her head, and her zeal fades. Certification goes from must to should: A ‘nice balance [of] certification and practical experience I think . . . would be ideal. [But] we should not mandate it . . . .’ So what to do about those who are certified but inexperienced? Or the uncertified who write despite all? Oh me, oh my, oh dear! Who the hell’s we, anyway?

And what of those who are certified but only technical-ly able to write? Madame Prosecutor offers a list of ‘fine folks . . . . good (certified) writers that really have their finger on the pulse to educate and entertain us .’ Do they write as badly as she does? Masochist** that  I am, I looked at many of their sites and found that they do. Most are self-involved or self-promoting or self-pitying (certification is so hard!)—anything but self-aware. The writing is boring; the usage repellent; the spelling and punctuation whimsical. I was amazed and awed to read of so many things the Fine Folk deemed amazing and awesome. The worst sites recalled the old review-er’s remark (Dorothy Parker’s?) about prose that if read aloud ‘could be used to wring confessions from crooks.’

U S PRIME_brFinalmente: the author of the Rachael Ray far-rago boasts on her web-site ‘I’ve passed the in-troductory level of the Court of Master Som-meliers. Next up: Som-melier certification.’ Madame Prosecutor, please note. As for me, I can’t wait, so in the meantime I’m award-ing her the top merit badge of the U.S. Wine Scribblers, the organization that fires your judicial imagination and haunts your prosecutorial dreams.

*skill sets: what the hell are these, anyway? Do they come ready-boxed, like socket wrenches?

stanely 2Stanley’s 902-809 Max-Drive is a 60-piece skill set that will please the most discerning wine writer. It has the stand-ard 1/4- and 3/8-inch drives and includes im-perial (SAE) sockets for domestic work and met-ric sockets used for Old World wines, which in-volve irksome hectolit-ers and quintals.

**MASOCHIST: n.: a devotee of self-inflicted wounds; e.g., a New York Mets fan—The Laconic Lexicon

©2011 Bill Marsano


Capsule History

Speaking of useless appendages—we were, weren’t we?—one that I love to hate is the capsule. It’s al-ways in the way, Thirsty Reader. It’s useless. It’s not even a reliable guide because so many producers use white or silver on their red wine as well as white, while others use green or blue for everything. I de-clare war on the capsule. I scorn it and I skance it: I pronounce anathema upon it. Fie!

What did it ever do to me? Cop a gander at the array of medieval implements required to remove it. Then what about the waste? Plastic capsules are not recy-clable. The metal ones are (although the likelihood is nil) but they are nevertheless worse: environmen-tally hostile and socially nightmarish. Most of them

P1120470A selection of Conan the Barbarian’s personal medieval slashing weapons. Photo courtesy of the Museum of Enological Cruelty.


originate in countries whose mining practices and worker protections are even worse than ours. Places where, to use an old-fashioned phrase, ‘life is cheap,’ and where human rights are things you often have to negotiate with the police. Places like Bolivia, Brazil, China, Guinea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Russia, Vietnam. ‘Nuff said?

Take aluminum. Please! It begins with bauxite ore, which is strip-mined and sent great distances by ship. Elaborate processing requires astronomical quantities of electricity and chemicals and produces poisonous waste you wouldn’t believe. Tin? Pretty much the same—strip mining is common but so are dredging (strip-mining the seabed) and hydraulics (blasting with high-pressure water cannons. It’s pro-cessed in coal furnaces, of course, but I’m sure piggybank only clean coal is used. Aren’t you?  Then there’s lead. Accord-ing to PWP in-house expert Yitzhak New-ton, the Israeli phys-icist and snack-time cookie king, lead is so poisonous it con-stitutes a vertical hazard—one that can cripple and kill at every step from miner to consumer. The latest toxic novelty item from the People’s Lead-

Flavored Republic of China. In this country we have had lead-free housepaint and no-lead gas for several decades now, but don’t depair. To be sure we get our Recommended Daily Allowance, China (natch) has stepped up, exporting lead to us in toothpaste, toys, dinnerware, shopping bags, cosmetics, jewelry, baby formula, drywall (!!) and now even piggy banks. So I’m thinking of having a bumbersticker made up:




Buy Nothing Chinese Except Take-Out.

And then there’s the inconvenience: the capsule is just another thing to be fussed with. Jancis Robin-son (.com) agrees with me: ‘Anything that makes wine hard to get at is something I’m dead against.’ So does Joel Aiken, longtime VP of winemaking for Napa’s Beaulieu (and now top kick of his own outfit, aikenwineconsulting.com): ‘What other drink do you need a tool to open? Consumers shouldn’t be chained to 18th Century technology.’ Both were talking to me specifically about corks v. screwcaps at the time, but I’m sure they don’t cut the capsule any slack.

It’s not as if the capsule is actually useful. Supposedly it protects the cork from mold and suchlike, but surely it does so only when bottles are stored for many years. On the other hand, it will conceal seepage, which is something you’d like to know about sooner rather than later. The dab of wax used by some producers surely provides all the protection needed.

 I’ll own up here, admitting that my animus comes in part from personal clumsiness. I’ve perforated my-self more than a few times with the nasty fang that comes standard with almost every Waiter’s Friend. The fang is being replaced these days by a safe sub-stitute—blunt and serrated—but the necessary saw-ing motion produces a ragged Texas Chainsaw Mas-sacre­ look that offends my finer sensibilities. I have P1120478 also tried a couple of those black plastic affairs, called foil cutters [left], that look so much like tiny pliers: just squeeze and twist and you’re done, or so I’ve heard. Both of mine failed catastro- phically on the first try. The dainty wee steel blades were ripped from their inadequate sockets with consummate ease.

So there’s an end on’t; as they used to say in Shakes-peare’s time. I’ve found my own solution, which is to lay hold of a small knife and swipe away, much as if
Decapitating a bottle of Markham’s lovely The Altruist Cabernet: Sometimes it’s just this neat.

I were sabering a bottle of champagne. My case worker doesn’t like me to play with sharp things, of course, so when she intervenes (in my own best  in- terests, of course) I resort to the thumbnail  tactic, which works most of the time. Still, that helps only me and perhaps you. Wine-lovers at large would be better served (along with the environment, solid- waste disposal sites and innumerable Third World worker’s comp cases, if there were no capsules at all.
While at other times I resort to a crude, medie-
val approach. The wine, an Amapola Creek Zin-fandel, deserves better, so perhaps I should call this the artisanal method.

Now I will surely get from  some offended sommelier a strident note claiming that I am dumbing down wine and insisting that the capsule, like the sacred cork and the traditional popping thereof, is an integ-ral, nay indispensable component of the ‘romance’ and the ‘magic’ of wine, to say nothing of his tip.

To which I reply Screwcap you, buddy.

©2011 Bill Marsano







Super Bowl Wine

Lucky you, Thirsty Reader: this is the last day for an entire year that you’ll be threatened with an-other What Wine for the Super Bowl? article.

There have been dozens already published this sea-son alone, and I encourage you to ignore all of them. Some are clearly written out of desperation (those will be the ones taking their inspiration from teams colors or geographic origins or similar nonsense that is, as Henry Ford used to say, irrevelant); others are written in deadly earnest and are invariably deadly. This intends not to be among them.

So mere moments from now I’ll be in the rec room of the Bar None Ranch, an open-enrollment spa and dude spread of no repute, and I’ll be joined by some lit’ry pals, including Garçon McCullers, the strug-gling novelist and waitron; Captain Rehab, arche-type of the hard-drinking American novelist; and—visiting from Old Blighty—H. Rider Laggard, the pussy-footing explorer and author of timid adven-ture books for shy boys. We will be drinking beer.

image Football is a violent game in which mobs of enormous over-weight men in body armor beat the bejeezus out of each other in vast arenas, accompanied by the savage cries and hortatory howls of even larger mobs, a.k.a. spectators. If there’s any-thing in there that strikes you as being consonant with wine, I’d be interested to know what it is. Until then, I’m laying it down without hope of appeal that until further notice you should forget any thoughts about wine and proceed to pop yourselves a bevy of longnecks as the only allowable choice. Indeed, most contact sports seem to demand beer. Wine seems utterly out of place save when it’s time to spray a few flagons of bubbly round the winning team’s crazed and testosterone-fueled locker room.

It’s not as if the craft-beer movement hasn’t brought us a plenitude of top-drawer suds, the producers of which deserve our encouragement and custom.

Blue Point Toasted, Saranac’s Adirondack Lager, Sam Adams, Brooklyn,  Sierra Nevada, Magic Hat,
Boulevard Brewing, Harpoon, Full Sail, Anchor Steam, Shipyard—these all are a far cry from the days of Rheingold Extra Dry, of which the best part was the annual Miss Rheingold contest.


You want a wine sport? Try yachting. Or polo. And now . . . it’s fill ‘er time!

© 2011 Bill Marsano

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