Poured with Pleasure

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

Month: March 2011

Paddy and Pazzo: Double Cause for Celebration

Well, yes, we are late here at PWP, but we have excus-es, as usual: a] we have two holidays to deal with, b] although they are called days we celebrate them here as months and c] the dog ate our homework.

So here’s the deal: March 17 is St. Patrick’s Day, a.k.a. St. Pat’s and Saint Paddy’s. (What’s this St. Patty’s Day I read of latterly? Is there some girl saint I don’t know about?) March 17 is also Italian Unification Day: the 150th anniversary of the day in 1861 that Italy ceased to be what Prince Metternich called [correctly] a ‘geographical expression’ and became a nation. (So far as was possible for Italians, who seldom speak with one voice unless gli azzuri, the national soccer team, are in the World Cup.)

In any event, a double holiday lasting a month: doesn’t that call for a drink? The question is rhetorical, and in any case, we’ll have a couple, Irish and Italian.

Irish whiskey has returned from the Vale of Desuetude thanks to both cocktail culture and increased interest in whiskies of taste and character. This has done a power of good for the likes of Bushmills, Midleton and both Johns (Jameson and Powers), as well as Kilbeggan, The Tyrconnell, and Tullamore Dew. Newcomers like Con-nemara, Knappogue Castle, Clontarf, Michael Collins, and The Irishman sip awfully well too, as does Irish grain whiskey, which the Irish take far more seriously than the Scots do theirs. Although there’s just the one —Greenore—it’s bottled at 8 and 15 years. Greenore Limted Edition 15years 70cl 700ml The 15-year-old (left) has won top grain hon-ors at the Worlds Whiskies Awards three years running. So make yourself a Shillelagh (pronounced shi-LAY-lee), which is named for a traditional black- thorn walking stick, homemade back in the day (before anyone knew it was artisanal) and used to support the in-firm and to discipline the impertinent. (In extremis, a hurley may be substi-tuted. Combine the concept of rough justice with ‘giving it to ‘em with the bark on’ and the result is shillelagh law, an ancient religious rite. 


Fill your rocks glass with ice and equal parts Irish whiskey and Bailey’s Irish Cream; stir. And there you are. The drink is a simple one, not to be confused with another, called the Irish Shillelagh, which will would you with chasing after overproof white rum, sloe gin, peach schnapps and other stuff. If you tire easily, you can stop at the glass and the whiskey—the stuff is won-derful sipped neat. Adding the Bailey’s honors Irish in-genuity: It was created in the 1970s, when whiskey vet-erans Tom Jago, James Espey and Peter Fleck learned of enormous new tax breaks being offered to commercial users of Irish dairy products. Buying cream by the long ton, they applied the ’just add alcohol’ approach with notable success.

And so recently (while I should have been writing this, in fact) I unlimbered the crystal barware and adminis-tered the sacraments aided and abetted by my nextdoor neighbor Upton O’Goode, an relentless prankster from County Donegal, who dropped in with his two rascally brothers Doone and Compton. Together we toasted the memory of Mulligan, Stu, a punctilious librarian and pedant who was killed in a duel over the proper cata-loguing of Lafcadi O’Hearn.

The Italian counterpart of St. Patrick is San Pazzo, who drove the snakes out of the countryside and into elect-ive office. As for Italian drinks, I’m going to preen my-self on my own inventions—the Red Priest and the Si-cilian Vespers. Both are based on Prosecco, for which the world has been going crazy for some few years now. Too crazy, if you ask me. With Prosecco raised to DOCG status, its vineyard is being expanded, which bodes ill for quality. So before exploitation does to Pro-secco what it has done to Pinot Grigio, Soave and Fra-scati, get some and chill it, and some cherry juice and Sicilian blood-orange juice, too, to 45 F./7 C.

 mionetto IL labelonly JEIOlabel
Perfect Proseccos for your Red Priest and your Sicilian Vespers, to say nothing of your Bellinis.

Mionetto Il and Bisol Jeio Prosecco are available al-most everywhere. The Sicilian Vespers requires blood oranges, which are available fresh in some markets be-tween October and March. Beware: blood oranges are ugly little things, nothing like your standard California products, which are big and cosmetically perfect, like Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton. And equally tasteless. They’re very pulpy, so juicing can be a messy business. Bottled juice is fine (it’s usually a blend of Sicilian San-guinello, Tarocco and Moro oranges. It’s available on-line and off-, but I often sneak mine in from Italy in my luggage. [Yes I’m deranged; why do you ask?]

Sicilian Vespers

5 oz. Bisol Jeio Prosecco
2 oz. Blood-orange juice

For the Red Priest you substitute cherry juice. Making it is a real project, so you might want to start with the bottled juice and see how it goes.

Red Priest

5 oz. Mionetto Il Prosecco
1 oz. Plymouth gin
1 oz. cherry juice
1 tsp. lemon juice
Optional garnish: a cherry, preferably sour.

Mixing and Glassware

Prosecco’s effervescence is fragile, so pour the (thicker) juice into the (thinner) wine: the resulting self-stirring effect requires little or no help from your bar spoon. (I admit that others counsel the exact opposite, but with-out explanation.) My nextdoor neighbor Louie DiNuo-vo, a relentless pest and freeloader, recommends add-ing some muscle: an ounce of Gran Gala or Cointreau, or Cherry Heering, as appropriate. Serve both of these drinks in flutes, Collins glasses, or one of the tall nar-row column glasses that are the cynosure of all eyes at these days at Colicchio & Sons on Tenth Ave., where deleetmeetteet.

Bar-Bet Background: The Red Priest is named for An-tonio Vivaldi, the Venetian composer called il prete ros-so for his red hair. The Sicilian Vespers recalls March 30, 1282, when enraged Palermitani revolted against their French masters. Verdi’s opera I Vespri Siciliani uses the ringing of the Vespers bell—the call to evening prayer—as the signal for the revolt to begin, but many historians believe was merely coincidental with the ris-ing, which was more spontaneous than plotted. Either way, the French screamed bloody murder.

Sláinte and salute!

©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


A Little Zing from Zinfandel


Paso Robles, which lies about halfway between LA and San Francisco, may be famous for its Rhône Rangers, but many Pasos (as the locals style themselves) wouldn’t have you overlook their Zinfandels. To that end they are holding a festival—winery events, tastings, auction, hoopla and folderol—March 18-20. (There might even be lollygagging, for all I know, and shilly-shallying, too, for the Pasos are a reckless crowd.) Anyway, I am partial to Zinfandel in all its infinite variety, including Italy’s Primitivo and Croatia’s Crljenak KaÅ¡telanski, for many reasons. Right now it’s because the Pasos have produced a truly witty television ad for their festival.

And because I’m not going to be geographically constrained, I’ll add that further zing is provided by Joel Peterson of Sonoma’s Ravenswood. Peterson, founder and president of same, originator of the battle cry “No more wimpy wines!” was elected in November  to the CIA’s Vintners Hall of Fame, which he entered treading upon the prostrate bodies of those who cling to the pernicious belief that wine belongs on a pedestal instead of on the table. Anyway, click on the arrow below to see Paso’s nifty commercial.

We’re required by statute to quibble a bit here: An alpine peasant playing a Neapolitan tarantella on a Sicilian accordion in Tuscany has nothing to do, in whole or in part, with Primitivo, which is the wine of Puglia. It’s probable that the spot’s producers were guided by the fact that many Americans think Tuscany is Italy and have never heard of Puglia. Never mind; that’s wine on the screen, and it’s looking good.

Wine advertising has seldom been very good, has it? In print, lots of bottle shots. On television, much the same. Puritanism is one cause: You can show the product, pour the product, even hold the poured product up to the light, the better to admire its splendid hue, but you absolutely cannot show people drinking it, cannot give the impression that they like it or will enjoy themselves if they drink the stuff.

A few years ago, Gallo’s Turning Leaf put a pretty fair TV spot on the air: it showed, as I recall, a handful of attractive twenty-somethings at a cookout, and as the Turning Leaf was poured they declared themselves officially off duty for the weekend by tossing their cellphones into the lake.

The 1960s were a dark time for wine advertising. Italian Swiss Colony gave us their Little Old Winemaker (below), a caricature so egregious it took two littleoldwinemaker_fr actors to  play the part (if you can remember their names there’s probably something wrong with you; if not, see the answer below). Millions of Ameri-cans who’d never heard of Soave until Bolla began advertising it relentlessly came to believe that Soave Bolla was the name of the wine, so when they wanted a bottle of Soave they reflexively asked for Soave Bolla. That  certainly didn’t hurt Bolla’s sales.

Things improved in the ‘70s, when Paul Masson hired Orson Welles to intone “We will sell no wine . . . before its time” (today the role would likely go to James Earl Jones or Morgan Freeman). Welles was a mighty figure and he looked it; he brought class to the commercials and to wine itself, which was treated seriously, but not stuffily. He needed money at the time, and so also made commercials for Carlsberg beer; G&G, a Japanese whiskey; and frozen peas. It’s worth taking a minute to go to YouTube and enter orson welles paul masson. You’ll find an assortment of his Paul Masson commer-cials and as a chaser a couple of superb outtakes. In one he stops a shoot to re-direct and script-doctor the commercial for frozen peas; another is titled Orson Welles Drunk Outtakes for Paul Masson Wine Commercial (for that one you should be a] sitting down and b] well aware of your surroundings, be-cause LOL and ROFL are likely to prove gross understatements. Like, not in church is what I’m saying.) Another reel, titled More Drunk Orson Welles Outtakes, is briefly funny, but a spoof.)

Oh—the Little Old Winemaker. He was played by Ludwig Stössel, who was the face, and Jim Backus, who was the voice.

©2011 Bill Marsano