Poured with Pleasure

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

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LoatherCon 2013 Scores Gift Bummers for Wine Lovers

It’s the most won-der-ful-l-l t-i-i-i-me of the year! Yes, Thirsty Reader: Your grumpy correspondent’s annual rant about the hideous gifts foisted on we who accept alcohol as our personal savior. There will even be a Year’s Worst selection. [Hint: it makes ice out of ice . . . .] I am rested and ready, too, having taken several months off, with much time spent expensively in a dentist’s chair. Also dealing with family feuds, a pregnant daughter-in-law’s fainting scare, the demands of grandson Henry, rotating flu-like illnesses and uxorial dentistry too, and finally the arrival of a second grandson, Charles Langley Day Marsano, to make the yuletide bright. He’s the first male of the family to be named for an aircraft carrier. ¶Now then: Gift giving is simple if you heed the sage: the perfect gift for the man who has books is more books. For drinkers, substitute drink and Bob’s your uncle. But beware the word –related. Wine-related, with its poisonous hyphen, crosses the Gadroon Border into wine accessories. That way madness lies! Riedel me this and I am yours

        Riedel                              Brand X

and yours alone, but Anchor Hocking me that and you risk a Miss-Otis-regrets-she‘s-unable-to-lunch-today moment. So: anything from a catalogue in the seat pocket of Hal-Al, the booze- and highjack-proof Islamo-Judaic airline, is just out of the question. OK? ¶ Finalmente a date was fixed and the word went forth announcing what is known in Gotham as LoatherCon. First to arrive was my downstairs diva Opera Winfrey, the Wagnerian soprano, towing her consort, Canon Mañana, sometime Heldentenor and lackadaisical evangelist [‘Save your own soul’ is his motto]. What they brought to the party, apart from a fine bottle of Wild Horse’s excellent 2009 Cheval Sauvage, made from the picked pickings of the Santa Maria Valley, and probably artisanally, too, was assorted icky jewelry and picnic junk.

zzzzcorkscrew-cufflinks ‘Just imagine’, saith Canon M., ‘wearing silver cufflinks inlaid with tiny oak chips, or modeled after wee corkscrews. Waving your wrists in the air, desperately hoping someone will notice.’ As for the picnic tools, they put me in mind of Christopher Hitchens’ line about picnics being among ‘the four most overrated things in life’. Right: Plates on laps, plastic forks, bad seating, poor climate control and bugs to boot. The current offense: neck harnesses for stemware and even holsters for those who prefer
zzzznecklace2 zzzzholster
shooters from the hip. These people should be fed alive to Joan Rivers. ¶ Cole Junger, noted outlaw psychiatrist and salad-bar entrepreneur, denounced his clumsy and largely useless Corkcicle. Yes, it’s still here, partly because of dubious raves by Oprah Winfrey, who deemed it a ‘favorite thing’, and on Amazon. Of which more anon. Reader Ted Hope disagreed: ‘The haughty and leaky Corkcicle has struck’, wrote he. ‘Fresh out of its box, into the freezer, into a warm, part-bottle of good Malbec for 15 minutes and into a glass. It was at this point discovered, upon tasting, that the Corkcicle had a leak’. ¶ Voici le problème: The -icle part is of thin plastic—two shells, glued together—with a 20-inch seam that’s destined for failure. We figured this out over Cole’s Château St. Jean Cinq Cépages, a nifty Bordeaux blend that was excellent company. FYI, clever Ted has now returned to chilling with two or three frozen grapes. ¶ Also back: electric corkscrews. I skanced them last year, but Chem & Chaw, the irresolute Catskill tummelers, got one this year, and they brought it along with Ravenswood’s Barricia Vineyard Zin, which is the reason they’ll be invited back for next year’s do. C&C found an Ozeri Nouveau II, in their stocking; see and hear it here: http://vimeo.com/47489581. Amazon’s average
customer rating is 4.5 stars out of 5. Honest? Chem explains that some Amazon raves are fakes, especially if they are brief and vague, like ‘Wow! Sensational idea. Great stocking-stuffer!’ ‘When you see 200 raves and hardly any pans,’ Chaw says, ‘read the pans.’ So I did. And most critics reported poor performance and even total motor failure; some noted flimsy construction. So why all the raves? A hint comes from reviewer captainramius: ‘ . . . I received a message from the manufacturer explaining that they’re a small business, U.S.-based [even though the product is made in China], blah-blah-blah, and encouraging me to write a review [a positive one, they clearly hoped] . . . my only advice is simply don’t buy this one.’ ¶ Moving on . . . Excessively and even sickeningly dainty, cute, sentimental or cornball: the Brits have a word for it: twee. Sad to say, but wine attracts twee as blue serge draws lint. This came up with the arrival of Agnes Day, a pious do-gooder, and Mae, her hapless and accident-prone sister*. They drink communion wine religiously, so they brought B.V. Georges de Latour Private Reserve and Louis M. Martini Cabernet, which qualify as spiritual experiences**. Their gifts were, on the other hand, were ungodly. A pretentious uncle who uses gift as a verb sent his ‘favorite acolytes of Bacchus’ some items of décor for their apartment’s ‘vinous nook’: a set of ‘bistro-style’ chalkboard bottle tags and an embarrassing plaque.
zzzzplaque zzzzCHALKBOARD-HANG-TAG
They’ll use them once, on his next visit, then send them to the admirable Housing Works thrift shop. Things were worse for Tragic Johnson, the failed NBA star. He brought some very welcome Mad Hatter Napa Red and a less-welcome 5-liter oak barrel, personalized in a mean attempt to prevent re-gifting. This low point in bar-top décor cost $120 at The New York Times Store, which was a shock because a] we remember a time when the Times was a newspaper and b] the thing is lots cheaper from Wine Enthusiast. You’re supposed to age wine in it, which I heartily disrecommend. You’ll commence to
bigbarrel gabbling about kiln-dried staves vs. air-seasoned, split vs. sawn, also the angels’ share—pretty much the whole geekish clamjamphry, in fact. Old friends will begin avoiding you. By the time you realize that the FedEx guy is just ringing your bell and bolting for his truck it’ll be too bloody late. ¶ Spirits- and cocktail-lovers were blighted as well. Housemaid Grenadine, our own all-star Caribbean mixologist and charlady, brought a bottle of George Dickel’s fine new rye whiskey, with which she made a clutch of Manhattans, and an electric mixer, with which she refused to mix them. ‘A drink is a social gesture, above all’, H.G. says, ‘and mixing it, especially at home, should be a warm and personal act of generosity, with batteries not included. Of course if shaking is just too burdensome for poor little you, then you might as well go whole hog: b
uy pre-mixed cocktails in cans. Just don’t invite me.’
Brandi Alexander, the tall and tan cocktail waitress, brought American Harvest, the new organic-wheat vodka from Idaho [which is apparently short of potatoes] and the Worst Gift of the Year: the Japanese Ice-Ball Maker. ¶ A little background: Tokyo consider itself a world c
zzzzmetrokaneocktail, and Dale DeGroff, whose Craft of the Cocktail is a barman’s bible, says ‘the Japanese invented the hard shake, the merits of which are limited to the theatricality of the technique’ [YouTube: ‘Japanese cocktail shake’]. They also invented their own big chill: ice balls
which melt a bitmore slowly
than cubes and fascinate folks who are given to staring into their drinks. The artisanal type, carved by hand with planes and scrapers, on the spot, by the bartender, is preferred by demented purists. For the rest of us, and for our Brandi, there’s the ice-ball maker, which turns ice into . . . ice. Slowly, too. And at enormous expense. ¶ Thus: Day before, make a batch of ice blocks in the special molds supplied with kits from Williams-Sonoma, japantrendshop.com and others. Day of, warm the device in tap water, then insert a fresh block of your specially molded ice and sit back while warmth and weight melt the block into a ball. Have a baby or take a college degree online while you’re at it, for the magic [endothermic reaction is the term of art], proceeds at a glacial pace. Then empty the drip pan, if supplied, or mop the counter, if not, and extract the ball. Repeat. Endlessly. ¶ There may be trouble ahead: Most most of the online videos are deceptive; you won’t make many balls before the zzzziceballmold
fiddlers have fled because you get only one ball of one size at one time. Many sizes are available, and the bigger balls are, by the way, real heavyweights. Brandi says she shattered two hand-blown glasses by casually dropping balls in. Williams-Sonoma’s $700 model makes a ball a bit smaller than a pool ball in about 40 seconds; its $1100 model makes baseball-size spheres and takes even longer. The thing gets slower with use and must be reheated periodically, thus the maker’s posted output of a mere 30-40 balls an hour. Simple arithmetic says that’s an average 90 seconds to 2 minutes each. And there are larger and slower models for up to $1435. All in all, a good argument for small, intimate gatherings. ¶ So that was LoatherCon ’13. We cried for madder music and stronger wine, were true to each other in our fashion, and broke up before the cops came. And at least no one amongst us had the ill-luck to find one of these beneath his tree:
zzzzrabbitrack zzzz2276 

I’m sure these got lots of raves on Amazon too.

 *No modernist she, Agnes remains devoted to the King James Bible because, she says, ‘it shows that Our Lord spoke such beautiful English.’ For her part, Mae is so humble she cannot bring herself to ‘call my Creator by his first name’ and so addresses her prayers to ‘Mr. Almighty’.

**George and Louis, bless them, sailed through the Prohibition years by making communion wine for Catholics and sacramental wine for Jews. Nationwide, congregations grew exponentially; locally, G. and L. grew rich.

©2013 Bill Marsano

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


A Non-Thanksgiving-Wine-Pairing Story

A tedious chore for the wine-scribbler is the Best-Wines-for-Thanksgiving-Dinner story. It’s a statutory requirement, probably because some jealous, sour, water-drinking prig attached a rider to the Repeal Bill back in ’32. And there’s no need or desire for it, because the old Norman Rockwell-stylezzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzglutton2 Thanksgiving dinner is a banquet of excess, with too many dishes that don’t get along with each other. And it stirs the Pairing Urge in many writers.

Not all Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving dinners were sentimental scenes of big birds and bigger grins. This 1923 magazine cover from the Rockwell Museum shows a darker side [nrm.org].

Pairing always seems a rather dubious enterprise to me. For one thing, it generates too much talk. Or prattle.* So instead, I’ll just tell you what went down, Chez Bill on The Day: All-American wines made from America’s own wine grapes, Zinfandel and Norton, because Thanksgiving is an all-American holiday. That simple.

image Zinfandel, American? you ask. Of course. Ours is an immigrant nation, and Zin, an obscurity of low degree, of murky origin and uncertain name, ignored by most and respected by none, is that American favorite, the immigrant success story. Croatia’s Crljenak Kaštelanski, which went to Italy as Primitivo, came to the U.S. as Zinfandel. On our East Coast it was a mere table grape until it went west and Californians began to vinify it. Then it became a hit—but not for long. Planted to excess and in all the wrong places, it faded, reduced to the status of anonymous blender.

Although Ridge Vineyards bottled its first single-vineyard Zinfandel in 1964 [it has 10 singles today], a real revival began only in the 1970s. Kent ‘Dr. Zin’ Rosenblum of Rosenblum Cellars told me that late-comers to California’s wine boom, priced out of the French varieties, turned to Zin at $300 a ton. ‘Many of the old Italian immigrant vineyards’, Rosenblum said had ‘maybe 40 or 50 different clones, many with distinct identities, often about a hundred years old.’ And small. Rod Berglund, owner and winemaker of Joseph Swan Vineyards, has a plot from 1872. How small is it? ‘I really can’t say,’ Rod told me. ‘I’d have to count the vines.’ Joel Peterson, whose Ravenswood Zins have been single-vineyards from his first vintage [1976], says most Zin grapes were sold to Big Blender ‘until smaller producers began to recognized their quality and character.’ Growers who appreciated being appreciated, so to speak, who wanted the pride that came from having their names on the labels, ‘often sold to the little guys at the same price despite the risk of non-payment and the added trouble of working with small lots’. A list of those old vineyards—Teldeschi, Frediani, Varozza, Bacigalupi, Mencarini, Saitone, Bacchi, Piccheti, Ciapusci, Forchini, Pagani, Galleani, Ponzo, Baldinelli, Gamboggi, Belloni, Gamba, Nichelini—reads like a field blend from Ellis Island.

I’m partial to many Zins, both rationally and irrationally. To Ravenswood, from the entry-level Vintner’s Blend that opens the double figures to the vineyard designates that threaten the triples, because of Joel Peterson’s bold motto: ‘No Wimpy Wines!’ [Also one of his cronies is thisclose to zzzzzzzzzzzzzzrattler Jessica Lange, and if you ask nice he might throw in a free rattlesnake with your multi-case order.] Amapola Creek, too. Richard Arrowood’s wit is as good as his wine: He once told me how he arranged the financing for his first winery on a napkin at Windows on the World, adding ‘Today it would be all lawyers. Talking to a lawyer is like talking to a fencepost with glass eyeballs.’ Also, he and his wife, Alis,

Ravenswood: no wimpy
visitors, either.  

have my favorite pairing on their website. Bonny Doon? Randall Grahm didn’t just break wine’s Mr. Stuffy mold; he shattered it with his flagrant puns and his Cardinal Zin. And Don Wallace of Dry Creek Vineyard is a sailor; he puts some of his favorite classic sailboats on his labels: I’m something of a salt myself, so I can’t resist.zzzzzzzzzzzzzzarrow

Isn’t it romantic? Richard and Alis Arrowood, a pair for the ages.

The price range for Zins is equatorial; i.e., wide. For about $10: Smoking Loon, Cellar No. 8, C.K. Mondavi, Concannon, Bogle, Dancing Bull, Barefoot and Marietta; $15-$25 fetches Robert Mondavi, Buena Vista, Frei Brothers,  Kenwood and Renwood, Liar’s Dice,Rodney Strong,  Trentadue, Valley of the Moon, Ancient Peaks, Boeger, Rosenblum, Château Souverain,  DeLoach, Cardinal Zin, Gnarly Head, Green & Red, Sausal, 7 Deadly Zins, Sledgehammer, Sebastiani, Rancho Zabaco, Edmeades, Mariah, St. Francis, and The Federalist. For a little more, Ridge and Franus; then come your pricier Sbragia, Seghesio, Rafanelli, tuxedo-styled Tyler Florence [demurely labeled ‘TF’], Louis M. Martini, Wild Horse Unbridled, Don Coppola’s Edizione Pennino [in honor of his maternal grandfather], Rochioli, and Williams-Selyem. So drink up!

The Norton grape is native but obscure. When and where Thomas Jefferson expensively failed with Vitis vinifera, the recently widowed Dr. Daniel N. Norton of Richmond, Va. successfully dealt with his grief by retreating to his farm and immersing himself in viticulture. There he’s credited with having created Norton [or Norton’s Virginia Seedling, Norton’s Virginia, or Norton’s Seedling,] from the native Vitis aestivalis and an unknown vinifera, now extinct. First ‘published’ in 1830, in the noted New York nurseryman William Prince’s ‘A Treatise on the Vine’, Norton went west to Missouri, then a center of American wine. It was adopted by the German immigrants who in 1837 founded the town of Hermann and, at essentially the same time, the Missouri wine industry. But not by intent: they’d planned to farm, which requires fields, not the steep hills they found. No crybabies, they! Instead of mounting violent protests and demanding a government bailout [this wasn’t France, after all] they took note of the thriving wild vines all around and concluded ‘God gave us a vineyard, so let us make wine’. If not in so many words. Their Norton was much admired in time, and was called ‘the Cabernet of the Ozarks’.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzstonehill Then came decline. One reason was the rise of California and the heady success of its Zinfandel; another was a change in tastes that favored hard liquor. Many wineries converted to distilleries to stay alive. There was a wave of anti-German hostility during World War I: especially after the Mauretania was torpedoed, there was more to it than merely re-naming sauerkraut, which was called Liberty Cabbage. Finally, Prohibition, the Depression and World War II put paid to the state’s vinous prominence.

Unlike Zin, Norton hasn’t really recovered. Few have even heard of it. Confusion doesn’t help: Argentina’s fine Bodega Norton has a large online presence, and some Norton is called Cynthiana. Under either name, it’s found these days in Arkansas and Texas, but the Show Me State is its real stronghold. It is Missouri’s State Grape, grown by six dozen or so wineries. Stone Hill, Augusta, Montelle, and Adam Puchta are some of the leading producers, and some others that are well regarded include Cave, St James, Westphalia, Chaumette, Native Stone and Mount Pleasant. ‘We hand-sell it’, says Tony Kooyumjian, Augusta’s owner-winemaker. ‘It can be too tart by itself but is excellent with food. With a well-marbled steak, with sausages and with rich cheeses, it’s a very satisfying wine.’  Still, the grape remains an obscure one. After all, who these days associates Missouri with wine? Stone Hill’s winemaker, Dave Johnson, says Norton wine is unknown ‘even to some people who live across the street from the winery.’

In Virginia, its manger, it’s largely ignored, despite the fact that a Virginia Norton won a gold medal at the Vienna World Exposition in 1873. In fact, it took a Hermann boy, Dennis Horton, to re-introduce Norton to Virginia, when he founded Horton Vineyards in 1988. Most of the state’s other zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzznorton  Dennis Horton not only restored Norton to Virginia, he restored and updated this handsome old label.

wineries played it safe, planting the French varieties that did so well for California. They were, after all, established as public favorites. But Horton wasn’t alone. Jenni McCloud, owner, founder and head evangelist of Chrysalis Vineyards, put in 69 acres of Norton; other producers include Cooper, Keswick and Abingdon, although there are not so many as what McCloud calls ‘this gem’ deserves. In Virginia as in Missouri, the internet is the best friend of wine-lovers whose states are sufficiently advanced to allow direct shipment from beyond their borders. Those who don’t might well look into www.freethegrapes.org and wine hero Tom Wark’s winefermentationblog.com. Both of them tirelessly attack the Three-Tier System, the oligarchy that makes sure consumers pay more for less choice.

So—Norton and Zin for next Thanksgiving. Why not? On the other hand, why wait?

*When Doug Pendleton, owner of the famous Grapevine Cottage in Zionsville, Indiana asked a clerk for his favorite pairing The fellow rubbed his nose, pulled his beard and stroked his chin [this is made up] and said ‘I’m torn between cedar-roasted salmon with a corn-and-scallion soufflé and a Russian River Pinot Noir ‘or a grilled ahi-tuna sandwich with havarti and Conundrum.’ [not made up]. Torn, is he? Well he’s not invited to my house. I’m fresh out of ciabatta rolls and wouldn’t give havarti house-room.

©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

FDR: Cocktail Hero

Could November put a teetotaler in the White House? Mitt Romney is forbidden drink as a Mormon, so let’s hope that, if elected, he will serve.

image USS Augusta was FDR’s longest yacht [600’] for the shortest time: Just enough time for he and Winston Churchill to thrash out, over drinks, no doubt, the Atlantic Charter in 1941.

That is, let him separate the personal from the presidential. Abstinence is tyranny when forced on guests. ’ I don’t claim, Thirsty Reader, that drink makes a president good or bad; I ask only that hospitality and sophistication rule; that the nation’s greeting be something more warmer than Come on in, the water’s fine. Bush II was teetotal for cause, but he poured Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay, Peter Michael ‘Les Pavots’ and the lovely Schramsberg Brut Rosé for the Queen of England. Other of our presidents have offered only cold comfort. Take Rutherford B. Hayes. At his White House, said Secretary of State William Evarts, ‘water flowed like wine’. The Carters were rigid that way too, and made no bones about it. Ted Kennedy recalled their at-homes: ‘You’d arrive at 6 or 6:30 P.M., and the first thing you would be reminded of, in case you needed reminding, was that he and Rosalynn had removed all the liquor from the White House.

Thus the inebriati turn admiring glances toward Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He it was lifted the curse of Prohibition from our parched nation. The Noble Experiment, which promised an epidemic of morality, led instead to a tsunami of crime, corruption, hypocrisy, lost tax revenues and lost jobs. And organized crime made a killing. Literally.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzFDR5  The President in a stress-reducing moment.

No man of the people—him with his WASPy pedigree and his cigarette holder—FDR nonetheless had the common touch. He campaigned to end Prohibition and did so first chance he got. In March 1933, scarcely three weeks in office, he legalized beer and light wines, and the horses were out of the barn. Clydesdales toured the suds-loving cities of the East and Midwest even as brew was shipped to the White House by air. With a Repeal amendment already rolling, the jig was up in jig time. When Utah ratified Repeal that very December, Prohibition was, at last, dead as a smelt.

In the White HouseFDR instituted for his staff and pals what he lightly called the children’s hour, at which they relaxed at day’s end, draining stress not over the traditional cookies and milk but over cards, tobacco and martinis, with the two-pack-a-day President as Mixologist-in-Chief.

Now the classic martini—dry gin, vermouth, olives or lemon twist—is the Fred Astaire of cocktails [the Manhattan is the Cary Grant]. Proportions are a matter of to taste but should always maintain the drink’s Fredly style: lean and elegant. Likewise the question of shaking or stirring is a personal matter: the former gives more texture through its raft of ice shards [created by vigorous muscle-work if you don’t have something like the Post-Imperial shaker shown below]; the latter gives silky smoothness. Shoot anyone who brings up that wheeze about stirring clockwise vs. counterclockwise.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzPostImperialShaker.Full1.web  The Post-Imperial Cocktail Shaker, freely adapted from a 19th Century device. The artist Benjamin Cowden created it earlier this year. See a video, and other of Cowden’s unique scultpures, here: http://www.twentysevengears.com/Portfolio.html.

Here’s the shopping list for the basic or classic martini: two ounces of gin and ¼ to 1/3 of an ounce dry vermouth plus olive garnish. Eric Felten, whose recipe that is, also offers a version of ‘classic 1930s proportions’—adding just a wee bit more vermouth plus two dashes of orange bitters. FDR went perhaps a little beyond the pale. His specialty was the dirty martini, a variation that requires a potent dosage of olive brine. To make matters worse he mixed his dirty martinis personally, relentlessly and, if the we read the fossil record aright, very, very badly. Indeed he bids fair to go down as the most enthusiastic and least competent of presidential martiniphiles. Some guests are said to have dreaded the soirées for the sheer awfulness of his martinis which, dirty or not, have been described as ‘soggy with vermouth’ and/or mutilated, according to staffers cited by Nannette Stone, with orange juice, grapefruit juice, absinthe and even anisette. Whether from design or exuberance is unclear.zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzv3

FDR & Co. aboard Vireo, which is now displayed, handsomely restored, at Mystic Seaport. For more: www.mysticseaport.org. FDR’s ice yacht is in the National Parks Service’s ‘custodial storage facility,’ a name that suggests the cavernous warehouse seen at the end of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’. Odds of its ever being seen again don’t seem very good.

The olive brine may have represented the tang of the sea for FDR, who was a sailorman to the bone. He’d always liked messing about in boats: a bark canoe at Campobello, an iceboat on the Hudson, a 21-foot knockabout called the New Moon, the 25-foot sloop Vireo, the houseboat Larooco and his personal Presidential yacht, the ex-Coast Guard cutter Electra, renamed Potomac. He borrowed the heavy cruiser USS Augusta for his first meeting with Winston Churchill [as a former Assistant Secretary of the Navy, he apparently had connections]. Another presidential yacht, the Sequoia, was inherited from Herbert Hoover, and the two together

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz1Potomacfast  Now a favorite with San Francisco party planners, the ex-Coast Guard cutter Electra had a subsequent  career as FDR’s presidential yacht. The smoking lamp was always ‘lit throughout the ship’, as Navy lingo has it; the drinking lamp was too. FDR’s other presidential yacht was the Sequoia. Charter one or both at usspotomac.org/ or sequoiayacht.com/.

floated in seas of irony. The former, built for government work, became a rich man’s toy; the latter,  built as a rich man’s toy, joined the government. Both were used against rum-runners. Of all people. Retired, the Potomac was briefly owned by Elvis Presley; the Sequoia was dumped, like the White House liquor and the Panama Canal, by Jimmy Carter.  Quite the little housekeeper, our Jimmy.

In an era before sound bites, the term Martini Diplomacy never surfaced, but FDR certainly practiced it. Certainly it sealed his friendship with Winston Churchill, who would say that meeting FDR ‘was like opening your first bottle of champagne; knowing him was like drinking it.’ As to just how much FDR drank, that is a vexed question, and you wouldn’t like to rely on the testimony. His friends, and there were many, swore to two small drinks and in bed at 10, but his crew of flame-keepers have been counterbalanced by his detractors, equally numerous, who’ve gone so far as to claim that he was regularly carted off to his room by his Secret Service agents, singing college fight songs as he went. We must settle for the fact that he did as much for the martini as to it, and that he set a high standard for presidential hospitality. Long may it wave.

Which gin for the martini? Good question; one that invites exploration. Cocktail King Dale DeGroff [very cold, straight up, olive and twist] favors Beefeater but nods he favorably image toward several others: Tanqueray and Tanqueray 10, Old Raj, Bombay White Label, Gordon’s, Plymouth [left, in its new and much-improved bottle] and Sipsmith. Explorers are in fact spoiled for choice, as there’s also vociferous support for Boodles, Bombay Sapphire, Junipero, France’s Citadelle, Tanqueray Malacca, the rare and insanely priced [$700!] Nolet Reserve, and even one of the bargain-priced oldies, Gilbey’s. Among others, such as Broker’s, which has been getting attention and awards recently. But in vermouth you have essentially two choices: Martini & Rossi and Noilly Prat. M&R is DeGroff’s favorite; he says NP is ‘very in-your-face and can overpower the more delicate gins’. Maybe that’s because NP has, sadly, ceased to bottle the martini-oriented vermouth it had long provided to the American market; instead it’s concentrating on its Euro-style aperitif version. Here and there you’ll hear a voice cry out for the less-known likes of Boissiere [sounds French but is Italian] and California’s small-batch Vya. But vermouth there must be, in detectable quantity. Ignore, please, the 15:1 bravado of the Mad Men era, likewise the foolishness of ‘showing the vermouth to the gin’. That top-hatted, walking-stick-wielding bon vivant of old Lucius Beebe wrote prose so florid, Brendan Gill said, ‘that one could have built grottoes out of it,’ but when it came to such nonsense as naked martinis he wasted no furbelows on the show-offs: ‘Anything drier than 5:1’, he said, ‘is just iced gin’. Anonymous, most prolific of experts, goes further: ‘Ordering a dry martini means you are a sophisticate. Ordering a large glass of cold gin means you are a drunk.’ ‘Nuff said.

As for glassware, by all means prefer the conical stem, the glass that means martini around the world. But one of a ordinary size, please. The fad for glasses the size of hubcabs has not quite abated, but they’re clumsy to handle and cause what begins as a briskly cold drink to turn warm and soupy right before your eyes. Also shun anything imagefragile, ill-balanced and spill-prone, such as Benjamin Hubert’s unique but risky design at left, a dry cleaner’s dream. A martini on the rocks reposes in an Old Fashioned glass. Martinis, finally, are made with gin: that’s their default spirit. Substitution requires a modifier, as in the vodka martini. Anything else? No, nothing else. Any old booze can be flung into a stemmed glass and often is, but that does not a martini make.

Come we now to the what scholars and academics call ‘the literature’, which exists in plenty. Any respectable personal library might well include Eric Felten’s suave How’s Your Drink?: Cocktails, Culture, and the Art of Drinking Well, Dale DeGroff’s The Essential Cocktail: The Art of Mixing Perfect Drinks, Gary Regan’s The Bartender’s GIN Compendium, Nannette Stone’s The Little Black Book of Martinis: The Essential Guide to the King of Cocktails, A. J. Rathbun’s Good Spirits, Imbibe!: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to "Professor" Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar, by David Wondrich and Dale DeGroff, and William L. Hamilton‘s Shaken and Stirred: Through the Martini Glass and Other Drinking Adventures.

Nothing quite like curling up with a good book and a good drink, eh? Cheers!

©2012 Bill Marsano

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Books for Father’s Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2012 Bill Marsano

Barolo Bodies Forth

When I was one-and-twenty I heard a wise man say,
Barolo is the king of wines, & wine of kings: hooray.
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year,
And those that are must might’ly strive
To keep its memory bright and clear.
–Col. Pesto

In other words, Barolo has lost its gleam. Piemontesi resting on their truffles have been outpaced by the folks Curzio Malaparte called i maledetti toscani. While Piedmont was preoccupied with Fiat’s 500s, Olivetti’s Letteras, Pirelli’s tires  and Ferrero’s Nutella, The Cursèd Tuscans rebuilt Chianti Classico and Vino Nobile, invented SuperTuscans, revived Scansano and ignited Brunello di Montalcino to the point that the market’s thirst and pocketbook had to be appeased with Rosso di Montalcino, its fratellino or baby brother. Brunello even got its own scandalo—the mark, in Italy, of having truly arrived—in the inevitably named Brunellogate of fragrant memory. [Kerin O’Keefe is brisk and lucid on this in her excellent Brunello di Montalcino: Understanding and Appreciating One of Italy’s Greatest Wines, just out from University of California Press.]

‘But you digress!’ cries my nextdoor neighbor, the punctilious Fussy Galore.* ‘Get to the point!’ Fussy is right as usual, so revenons à nos moutons, as the French may still say: our subject is not While Piedmont Slept but Why.



Cascina Adelaide, beneath Barolo’s castle.

Leonardo LoCascio, founder of Winebow, says one reason is cultural: ‘There are many small producers. They have a natural reserve and sometimes a bit of a Burgundian attitude: we make the wine, and if you want it you can come and get it.’ And small production, sometimes less than one bottle per vine, means high prices. ‘So Barolos,’ he adds, ‘can have the status of collector’s items. The producers have lost the battle for everyday consumption, but I’m not sure the situation is all bad, since the market has lately become truly international.’ The Chinese, for example, thirst immoderately for Barolo and, having more money than Warren Buffett put together, can afford to. LoCascio adds that ‘The Nebbiolo grape is high in tannin, and the wines are hard on release,’ so it’s hard to tub-thump for wines that won’t be opened for two decades. Unlike the competition: ‘Sangiovese wines are pretty much ready to drink—even Brunello.’

Barolo’s challenges are seen in the Roberto Voerzio quintet LoCascio imports. Voerzio makes fewer than 50,000 bottles a year. His Brunate, Cerequio and La Serra fetch more than $200 a bottle, and his Riserva Capalot and Sarmassa sell only in magnums at well over $400. OK, Voerzio has cult status. But still. Thus it was gratifying to see Barolo emerge recently from what Henry James called the edge of the glittering ring to resume what he also called dancing in the central glow. Suddenly, dal blu, several producers have bodied forth here in Manhattan, where burning Sappho loved and sung.

Marchesi di Barolo’s event at BLT Prime on E. 22nd St., featured the Abbona Quartet: owners Anna and Ernesto and their successors-elect, Valentina and Davide. All of them hard-working and handsome. Especially Davide, who hypnotizes enough bevies of fainting pre-teens to make Justin Bieber wail disconsolately, ‘What am I, chopped liver?’]

We opened with their Riservas of 2000, 2001, 2003, 1990, 1980 and 1970, then floated to lunch on the 2007 Sarmassa, Cannubi, Coste de Rose, and Barolo di Barolo. For lagniappe, a little Rosso Arneis, a touch of Gavi di Gavi, a whiff of Zagara Moscati d’Asti, and a few glicks of the digestivo Barolo Chinato [made with cinchona bark, hence its quinine sting]. A glick is what the bottle says when you tilt it—and the amount thus poured. Were they good? Is Justin Bieber chopped liver?

zzzzzzzzzdavidevert zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzbieber 
Davide                             Chopped Liver

The estate was the manger of the first Barolo Revolution, in the mid-1800s, when, Valentina said, ‘Barolo was a sweet wine.’ Of course: Piedmont is cold, high and alp-ridden, given to stopping fermentation early and leaving much residual sugar behind. Accounts vary, but it was either the Marchesa Giulietta Falletti or her neighbor, the Count of Cavour, or both who summoned from France one Louis Oudart. He was turned loose in the Marchesa’s cellars to good effect. His merthods soon spread, notably to the cellars of nearby Fontanafredda. As that was a property owned by King Vittorio Emanuele II, the ‘Wine of Kings’ tag stuck.

Something more than a century later came Renato Ratti’s revolution, which was more of an evolution, actually. Renato aimed at eliminating oxidation and other defects, and at softening Barolo’s billy-club tannins without resort to heroic aging. His innovations won some converts but not wholesale conversion, thus dividing the producers into two camps: the traditionalists/fossils and the modernists/renegades, who argue to this very day. His son Pietro’s credo for his Barolos—Marcenasco, Conca and the new entry, Rocche, which were poured and inhaled at a portfolio tasting—‘is the same as that passed to me by my father . . . lavish great care on the vines to obtain the best grapes possible, then respect the grapes in the cellar. Balance, elegance, refinement, complexity: these are the characteristics that I wish for my wines: every day, at every vineyard, in every wine.’

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzratti  Pietro Ratti and crew. Smiles and clean clothes suggest this photo was taken before work began.

Well, OK: everybody says that, but when does change go from improvement to loss of identity? ‘It’s wine all right, but is it still Barolo?’—that’s the Bone of Contention, the Apple of Discord, the Fruit of the Loom. Much like cosmetic surgery, come to think of it. And so traditionalists/fossils insist on protracted fermentations and aging in huge botti and bottle far beyond DOCG minimums. The hottest issue in the style wars is, as in Montalcino, the Mod/Ren idea adding other grapes to what has ever been a 100% varietal wine. Trad/Fos are outraged: Per la vergogna! This is as it should be. Wine, the ineffably twee Kay Carino reminds us, is a thing of nuances and distinctions in its very soul.

Like most of his fellow producers, Pietro goes beyond Barolo. His Barberas, d’Alba Torriglione and d’Asti, were on the table with his Dolcetto d’Alba Colombé and Nebbiolo d’Alba Ochetti. But no luck on his Villa Pattono SuperPiedmontese, a Barbera-heavy blend with Cabernet and Merlot.

Fiorenzo Dogliani threw a lunch in the wine cellar of Tony May’s SD26, which like Duffy’s Tavern is ‘where d’leet meet t’eet’, especially when Fiorenzo is pouring a passel of his Beni di Batasiolo wines. Food-friendliness is a hallmark of BdiB, and Fiorenzo and I happily agreed, despite having little common language, that the table is where wine truly belongs: it is its true terroir. BdiB’s line goes beyond normale, riserva, and five single-vineyard Barolos to whites, including Roero and Gavi di Gavi; sparkling wines; and other soldiers marching in the Piedmont Parade.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzfamiglia Dogliani Dogliani family in the ‘70, when Beni di Batasiolo was founded. At center, Papà Antonio, inseparable from his hat, white shirt and tie, faithful dog, wife and eight children, in more or less that order.

I will say that we did all of them proud, but to me the most interesting was the new Moscato Spumante Rosé. Yes, amici, a rose-red Moscato, tinted with a red-cheeked Moscato clone grown in Trentino-Alto Adige. It’s the newest of Fiorenzo’s range of bubblies, which include Asti [as if by law], Moscato d’Asti Bosc dla Rei, Spumante Metodo Classico Dosage Zero, Pinot-Chardonnay Spumante Brut and Brachetto Spumante. And it comes just in time: Prosecco looks like conquering the casual bubbly category, and so I’m rooting for the success of Moscato Rosé. It’s fizzy and light and pretty as a smile. It’s sleekly sweet and summer-ready as a string bikini.

The biggest Barolo bash in Manhattan was the work of the newborn Accademia del Barolo, under whose gonfalon 14 producers have united [yes, united!] to promote their flagship wine. The event was held at Del Posto, which it is OK to go to now that management has ceased skimming tips and will fork over 5+ million in makeup bucks to the help.

Backstory: In the early ‘70s, Gianni Gagliardo, son of a near-teetotal family, married a wine grower’s daughter and then wine itself, becoming head of his own house** about a decade later. He instituted his annual Asta [auction] di Barolo in 1998 and his son Stefano, now in charge, fostered the Accademia. Not easy, Stefano says: ‘the Piemontesi are mountain people; they are tough and stubborn and extremely independent. No one tells them what to do. You can’t recruit these people.’ zzzzzzzzzmartinetti.bmp The Accademia came about organically; morphing itself into being ‘based on a virtual group already existing when the Barolo Auction was held last year.’ That independent streak is why Stefano [left] says that when it comes to the idea of adding other varieties to Barolo, ‘You know, in our area there at least 350 producers, and so you can listen to 350 points of view on any question. So I don’t believe that a proposal of that kind would have a chance to succeed’.

Ten of 14 Accademia soci or members presented their 2007s: Gianni Gagliardo, Azelia, Cordero Di Montezemolo, Damilano, Franco M. Martinetti, Michele Chiarlo, Paolo Scavino, Pio Cesare, Luigi Einaudi and Prunotto. [Not present: Monfalletto, Vietti, Voerzio and Conterno Fantino]. The witty Anthony Giglio lightly led the guided tasting, which was followed by an unguided buffet tasting of oldies dating to 1990—all of them crus, several in magnum, some riservas. Producers who were braced on the style wars were clearly pretty sick of it. Michele Martinetti said ‘Sometimes people like to wear our clothes for us. It’s not a question of modern or traditional. The question is Do you like it?’ Alberto Cordero added ‘Are you traditional? Are you modern? I hate that question. There is only Barolo.’ Stefano Gagliardo would not be drawn; instead he offered his favorite pairing: ‘Chocolate and old Barolo!’ ‘Nuff said.

Other Barolos showed and shone here and there about the same time: Sobrero, Aldo Conterno, Carretta, Cerretto, Elvio Cogno, Fratelli Revello, Palladino, Gaja, Giacomo Conterno, Giuseppe Mascarello, Castello di Verduno , Giuseppe Rinaldi, Guido Porro, Luciano Sandrone, Luigi Pira, Paolo Scavino and Vietti. All in all, a rewarding group. Such a mitzvah to have Barolo’s flag planted so firmly here again. Salute!

Travel Notes

Piedmont is a beautiful, region, easy of access from Milan and the Lakes, and if at first glance it suggests Tuscany with taller mountains, more Italians and fewer Germans, it’s also more workaday and less prettified. Unlike Tuscany, it hasn’t been groomed and manicured—Hoovered, as the Brits put it—into something that’s more diorama than domicile. Wedged between French and Swiss alps to the west and north, and the Ligurian Apennines to the south, the region is well named: Piemonte [Piedmont] means “foot of the mountains.” Turin is the Big Truffle, busy with business and industry, although not quite so much as formerly. The Le Meridien chain and the peerless Renzo Piano have turned Fiat’s Lingotto plant—an enormous avant-garde structure that opened in 1923 as the world’s largest and most advanced factory—into a stylish hotel with shopping, music, theater and convention facilities. It doesn’t make Fiats anymore, and its unique rooftop test track, where once Fiat Topolinos and other models puttered bravely round, is now off-limits to the internal-combustion engine. On the other hand, it’s wide open to joggers.

Then there’s the Piedmont of yesterday, which lives in the countryside and doesn’t run panting after the new and the novel but instead looks to its history and traditions. It is a landscape of mountain-backed broad valleys slashed by glinting Alpine streams, of spiky hilltowns that are never lovelier than when seen looming above pale carpets of gauzy harvest fog. This is nature’s Piedmont, rich in parks and nature preserves and home to an earthy gastronomy of clear, assertive flavors, undiluted and untampered-with. Matt
Kramer calls it “Italy’s most glorious regional table.” I have misty memories of the old woman who wouldn’t sell me a cheese until she’d picked out one that satisfied her and wrapped it in vine leaves before my eyes. And then there was a tiny restaurant called [and in] Madonna della Neve, where they served my tiny delicious ravioli del plin in semi-traditional  style. That is, not on a napkin on a plate, but just on a napkin on the table. [Real traditional style dispenses with the napkin.] 


La Signora wasn’t willing to sell me a cheese unless she’d wrapped it herself.

Of course, there are the white truffles, hunted at night by cagey peasants called trifolai with their hounds. Imagine: Piemontesi were once ashamed to eat such stuff as  fungi grubbed from the dirt, even as New Englanders back in the day were disgraced by their lobster suppers. They were signs of backwardness and shameful poverty. Now that truffles are $100 an ounce and more, the stigma has rubbed off to such an extent that the Chinese are faking them as fast as they can. [One sure way to tell: the fakes have almost no smell; the real ones stink most heavenly.] In October and November the annual fair dominates Alba, the wine country’s metropolis and oomphalos of truffledom. During the fair I like to saunter the length of the Via Maestra, Alba’s main drag, greedily inhaling as shop doors open to expel rich, reeky gusts of truffles’ rank, decadent, intoxicating aroma.

Excellent and plentiful agriturismo lodgings range from modern and spa-like, such as Beni di Batasiolo’s Il Boscareto, to romantic, castle-like havens on the order of Renato Ratti’s Villa Pattono, which dates to the 1700s. Some are small as Fratelli Revello’s and Cordero Montezemolo’s while Castello di Verduno manages to be fairly large but still intimate. All have dining on-site, as do Marchesi di Barolo [Il Foresteria] and Gagliardo [La Vineria del Barolo]. The simplest thing to say about these places is that no one ever wants to leave. And so, here’s where to find the agriturismi: ilboscaretoresort.it, villa pattono.com, revellofratelli.com, castellodivedrduno.it, corderodimontezemolo.it.

I’ll offer just one alternative to agriturismo: the Castello di Novello, in the town of that name, just a few miles south of Barolo. Huge but with just 11 period rooms, it is a castle that is frankly beyond belief: a 19th Century Victorian neo-gothic extravaganza offering vast valley panoramas and gloriously decorated with towers, pointed-ogive windows, crenelations Juliet balconies, grand stairways and enough other bits of architectural foofaraw to suggest Lucille Ball in a fright wig and a touch of Charles Addams. It is, as the Italians say, suggestivo, by which they mean evocative, romantic and thrilling. And not to be missed. It even has reasonable rates. Find details at icastelli.net.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzcdnovello2124  Castello di Novello: Extravagance meets confection.

Buon viaggio! 


*Fussy is one of a sororal quintet that includes the cowardly Wussy, brassy Hussy, bed-haired Mussy and the off-rhymed Tushy, who describes herself as ‘statuesque and steatopygic.’

**No power on earth can make me say eponymous.

Christmas Bounty Revisited

No excuses, Thirsty Reader, for my lollygagging, shilly-shallying and wool-gathering. Truth is, the Grandfather Dodge absorbs me. I have indulged in the joys of young Henry William Day Marsano whenever possible and not looked back. Still, my amends are due, so here is the promised screed on aeration [decanting will have to wait].

Aeration is not letting wine breathe but making it. My maestro here was Arthur Godfrey, freckle-faced red-haired ukulele-playing Golden Age radio/TV host. He was the most trusted man in pre-Cronkite America, going by his pitch list: cigarettes, Chrysler, Bufferin, instant coffee, dog food, Reddi-wip, tunafish, Pepsodent and more. He was a tyrant, going so far as to fire one of his ‘Little Godfreys’ on the air, but he had integrity, too, dumping Colgate-Palmolive over ecological issues and Chesterfield over cancer. [Paula Deen, please note.] So when, in the late ‘40s, people griped about the flat taste of the then-new frozen orange juice, Minute Maid got the message and Godfrey got the call. Thus one day on a 7-inch screen TV I saw him gently zzzgodfreylookpour oj from one carafe to another. Aerate it, he said. Works wonders for oj. Did then. Does now. Wine, too. 

Godfrey’s announcer, Tony Marvin, was no ordinary announcer, by the way: it was he who created the role of sidekick, as later exemplified by Ed McMahon. Mr. Marvin, as I knew him, was polished, sleek and handsome. His tan and his voice were both of oiled mahogany. He and his wife, Dorothea, had a brainy and gorgeous daughter named Lynda. I keep waiting for that fact to surface one day in casual conversation because it will kickstart my personal 2000-Year-Old Man moment: ‘Know her? I went with her, dummy. I went with her!’

Alors! Revenons à nos moutons. There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays and aerating wine, and every single one of them is right. Christopher Kimball, the preternaturally boyish Grand Admiral of Cook’s Illustrated, has tested and blessed what I call the Godfrey zzzzbeeraerator Multi-Pour. He also [winters are long in Vermont] tried thrashing wine in a blender, but found it just so-so. Also, you can blow air through a straw or use fish-tank aerators. [Home brewers do, but call them ‘wort aerators.’ The one at left, from Williams Brewing, is for platoon-sized parties. Still, wine loons usually prefer gadgetry.

Take Eisch’s Breathable Wine Glasses, please! At $38 each and up. Air is said to enter through the glass itself. Really? For Christmas I got two, one breathable, one plain, so I could compare and, Eisch hoped, be convinced. Good luck with that. I tried to taste a difference but could not, perhaps distracted by the nagging question why? Wine aerates itself in any glass anyway; so what if air enters through the glass? Eisch, undeterred by such quibbles, is now offering breathable expresso cups.

Aerators go in the bottle or atop the glass; both came to my party. All work to one degree or another; the sticking point—the bone of contention or apple of discord or fruit of the loom—is how much clumsiness, inconvenience and wounded esthetics you can stand. At Casa Nostra, it’s not much. Thus Owen Petard, masochist and devotee of self-inflicted wounds, has a warm loathing for the Centellino [below]: ‘It’s clumsy and fragile. Stick it in the bottle, pray the stopper holds, then pour one way to fillzzzzcentwllino2 the teeny bulb reservoir, then pour the other way into your glass. Twice for each glass! And it’s $55—for an overblown version of the pastis pourers beloved of broken-down petanque players in the South of France?’ Metrokane’s Rabbit, is all black and silver plastic, as if sired by some 1960’s Soviet design bureau. Less hideous is the clear-glass onion-shaped aerator called Soirée. The neatest ones resemble pouring spouts and do their work mostly out of sight: The Nuance Wine Finer, Grand Admiral Kimball’s fave, is shown below. It’s much like the Trudeau, Selection and the poetically named True Fabrications.

Science now comes to the fore, explained by my neighbor Yitzhak Newton, the noted Jewish scientist and godfather of the snack-time cookie industry: ‘Giovanni Battista Venturi (1746–1822) discovered that air can enter a liquid that is flowing and constricted. The Venturi Effect kept carburetor manufacturers in clover for donkeys’ years and dogs’ ages; then in 2007 Rio Sabadicci used it for his Vinturi aerator. zzzventuri3 Hold it over a glass, pour wine into it, and wah-la!: instant aeration. It’s a two-fisted, stand-up process and its sucking hissssss may disconcert. Or not. Up to you. Aerators that sit atop glasses use one-hand and don’t hiss: they aerate by gentle sprinkling. Metrokane’s Swish is of that stripe, as are two handsome Metrokane models that come with carafes included. There is also the WineWeaver, which is available clear or, says Poppa Wheelie, the aging stunt cyclist, ‘in your choice of revolting colors.’

Is forcing air into wine a bit brutal? Jim Ruxin, owner of online’s Village Wine of Brentwood, says ‘Yes, it is too aggressive. It does soften tannins, but it also takes away some flavors and character.’ Others disagree, but Jim’s comment leads me to a point I’ve seen nowhere else: the claim for each of these devices is that one pour will produce a glassful of perfection every time. No way, Rosé! Each device aerates every wine identically, as if all wines were the same, as if all benefit equally from the same degree of aeration. [Vinturi, a bit more refined, has a white-wine version.] Once the wine’s in the glass, there are no Mulligans, no do-overs, no adjustments. Like it or lump it. Thus the Godfrey Multi-Pour beats all: you can aerate as much as you like and stop when you like what you taste.

So much for the Christmas bounty received by we few, we happy few, we band of brothers here at Casa Nostra. My Corkcicle went to Housing Works Thrift Shop right pronto, and much of the rest of the stuff was donated there too, although re-gifting incidents have been darkly hinted at. At least none of us got one of these:


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.

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