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: April 2011

Jess Jackson, Titan

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


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

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

Jess82VR Chard

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

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

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

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

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