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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Lunch with the Posse and John Concannon

The ineffable Pat Schneider was on the ameche the other day and saying all the right things, especially in the Three Little Words Department. From Let’s Have Lunch [always a strong lead], she doubled-down or whatever with Meet John Concannon and trumped my ace with the ever-reliable On His Card. Then she threw in Bring the Posse, just for lagniappe. Done and done, Patsy!

The Posse is my shifting and largely shiftless band of ne’er-do-wells, lowlifes and public nuisances, i.e., wine scribblers. For Pat and John’s edification and dismay a pod of us gathered at Ben & Jack’s Steak House. Zagat calls B&J ‘contenders in the Peter Luger clone wars,’ but surely means only the beef and bacon, for B&J, owned by two ex-Luger waiters, outdoes Luger’s décor and service by a country mile and a London stone.

Maître d’ Nick Velic saw us as a ravening mob, but was too suave to say so [he’d likely have preferred troupe des gloutons sauvages]. He chummed us with in-your-life bacon and a vast platter of shrimps and split lobsters while platters of sliced Porterhouse  image were done to glory, as was a plate of grilled salmon. With these we poured Concannon’s 
new Conservancy line of varietals: Petite Sirah, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. To all of the above our little troupe did full justice or even a little more, the wines in particular, while our host whistled the patter.

John Concannon, known as John,* likewise said all the right things. He recognizes consumers’ value-driven values [i.e., bargain-lust] and courts the thrifty with the Conservancy line, for which his mantra is ’50-30-15,’ by which me means that from packaging to palate they look like $50 wines and taste like $30 wines but cost a mere $15. zzzzzzzCONservancy[His other lines are the Reserve and Heritage, which run from $25 to $60, and the bottom-dollar Glen Ellen. It sounds as if it should be a Speyside single malt but is actually named for his great-grandmother.

Concannon Vineyard, which was founded by John’s great-grandfather James Concannon in 1883, is east but not far enough east of San Francisco and Oakland. Although the Livermore Valley had once been known for its fine wines, John says it has been plagued down the years by surpluses, Prohibition and that great evil, phylloxera. And so from its 50 wineries and 5000 acres of vines of the early 1900s it had shrunk to six and 1500 by the late 1960s. Then, having missed the California wine renaissance, it was left ripe for unrestricted urban expansion, a.k.a. development a.k.a. blight.

On the other hand, not so fast: far-sighted Valley residents forestalled the threat by banding together to protect the land with what is now called the Tri-Valley Conservancy, a conservation easement that fosters agriculture and walls out strip malls, big-box stores, high-rise condos, tract housing and other offenses. The Concannons are proud that theirs was the first winery to join it, and so have named the Conservancy line in its honor. [Napa’s vineyards are similarly protected, but it took some 20 years of bitter and divisive wrangling—and for some there the acrimony still lingers. See two excellent books by James Conaway: The Far Side of Eden: New Money, Old Land, and the Battle for Napa Valley and Napa: The Story of an American Eden. Both books are splendidly written, as well as occasionally and grimly funny.]

John says his ancestors were a resourceful lot. In 1865, James left Ireland at 18 and ricocheted off Maine and Oregon before putting down roots and rootstock in the Livermore Valley. His son, ‘Captain Joe,’ served under Pershing and Patton, and pulled the winery through Prohibition by making altar wine for church use. [Beaulieu’s Georges de Latour did likewise. The National Piety Index was never so high as under Prohibition.] Jim, or ‘Mr. C,’ John’s father, took over in the 1960s.ZZZZConcannonlabel In 1964 Mr. C made history by releasing the first varietally labeled Petite Sirah [left]. John grew up at the winery but wasn’t pushed to follow his  dad. ‘He said ‘Make your own name, follow your own dreams . . . and if you think it’s right for you, come back”.’ After some 22 years in medical sales, he did.

We heard more—about developing the Concannon Clones [Cabernet 7, 8 and 11, now widely planted], the winery’s new solar array, and the renovation of the old tasting room­—before talk shifted to the Deal of the Hour: Wappo Hill may be sold for a fire-sale price. The 56-acre estate of Robert and Margrit Mondavi was put on the market in May and priced at a rarefied $25 million. Finding no takers, it will be auctioned in November for rather less. Indeed, the minimum bid is $13.9 million, or 44 percent below the asking price. The house was designed by Cliff May, who designed the Mondavi winery, which it resembles with its low-sloped roof and viewing tower. It runs to more than 11,000 square feet on three levels, sits in an oak grove atop a hill south of Yountville, and has 360-degree views, two bedrooms and a large indoor pool whose roof opens to the sky.

That set off a skein of rich reminiscences by Posse member Hoop de Jour, the oft-disappointed New York Knicks devotee.

‘The first time I visited the place,’ Hoop said, ‘I was impressed but mystified. The place is enormous, so I asked Bob why it has only two bedrooms. He said “So the kids and grandchildren can’t stay over”.’ Hoop also recalled a failed luncheon invitation: ‘During another visit he invited me to lunch, and I had to say I had only a half hour before my next appointment. As I was leaving one of the staff came up to hand me a package. It contained a sandwich, a half-bottle of Opus One and a note that said Robert Mondavi doesn’t do half-hour lunches.

Then there was a tasting at the winery, a legendary tasting that Hoop stopped before it was fairly begun. Mondavi was about to pour when Hoop sniffed his glass and said ‘Excuse me, but I smell soap in my glass.’ Sniffing the glass for himself, Mondavi agreed. ‘Yes, there is,’ he said. ‘But which brand?’

Legend has it that Hoop, always quick on his feet despite the cane he leans on [and which he recently used to break the nose of a would-be mugger], shot back ‘I can’t name the brand, but it’s definitely a Procter & Gamble product.’

As for the house, the hammer goes down Nov. 16, so if you want to live like a god in Napa, hurry your bid off to the auctioneers, Sheldon Good & Co.

Love What You’ve Done with Your Hair

Joy Sterling is what Dr. Johnson would have called a woman of parts, for she writes books, runs rapids, scales mountains, imagecelebrates Earth Day and, ever since 2006, has been both CEO and queen regnant of Sonoma County’s Iron Horse**. She is naturally smitten with your tottering correspondent and has flirtatiously sent this Halloween billet-doux. I now share it with you, Thirsty Reader, from largeness of soul and a desire to show off.  So pop a few corks with me, why don’t you?

Wait—that isn’t Joy. This is:

 ©2011 Bill Marsano

*I just threw this in as an excuse to pass along H.L. Mencken’s nifty barb: ‘A Rotarian was the first man to call John the Baptist Jack.’

**Moreover, she walks in beauty like the night and is never, ever sick at sea.

Now THIS Is a Sale

Penny Saver, my impecunious next-door neighbor was panting at my door the other day, barely able to speak but vigorously waving a fuchsia-inked postcard. It proved to be an announcement of Pop’s Wines & Spirits latest semi-annual sale, and it is my glad task to tell you the lip-smacking cork-pulling glass-clinking details of this event, which runs to Oct. 11.

Pop’s is at 256 Long Beach Rd. in Island Park, a village at the ragged and watery south end of Nassau County—you’ll find it just above the middle of the island of Long Beach, more or less between JFK and Jones Beach. In short, it’s out of the way, but it compensates with year-round aggressive pricing [often 20% lower than elsewhere] on a routinely staggering array of wines and spirits. The sale, however, goes beyond aggressive: 30% off the normally low prices on almost everything in stock—and no limit on how much or how many.


Out of the way? It soitenly is, as the great Durante used to say. Pop’s is, moreover, rather an unprepossessing institution from the outside. Indeed, one might write it off as just another strip-mall liquor store. One would be wrong.

There are other NOs: no holds, no deliveries, no rainchecks, no exceptions. After that, the loading dock is open. Anyone wanting to deplete his bank account by depleting Pop’s stock need only show up with his garish postcard and a front-end loader or forklift. And if you haven’t been, so to speak, carded? Well, as the artiste-philosophe Flavor Flav has said, ‘One monkey don’t stop no show,’ which is to say that if you sign into www.popswine.com for the regular e-mail bulletins, the general manager, Victor Doyle, will give you the discount anyway.

Pop’s online and e-mail offerings are thirst-making. Most entries begin with a bottle shot and a red-ink screamer like They say $28 (Wine Advocate), we say $13+, when bought by the case!! This is customarily followed by somebody’s point score, for those who believe in such, and a dose of folderol about the wine’s eager tannins, crocus-cloth mouthfeel and cutest little button nose, for those who believe in that. Sometimes it’s a big dose, as some of Pop’s in-house poets incline toward the epic form.

Then comes the pricing, which goes like this: the ‘Good Wine Stores’ price [i.e., others’ retail], Pop’s Single-Bottle Price, Pop’s Mixed-Case Price [for even one bottle so long as you buy 11 more of something else] and Pop’s Case Price. You can usually tell at a glance that you’re getting a deal or a steal, but if you’re addicted to decimal points grab a pencil and knock yourself out.

Note: Some limited wines are net-priced and not subject to the 30% discount. They’re the ones whose retail price and single-bottle price identical.

Time now for specific examples.

Here’s one now: 2009 Château Haut-Plantey, Haut-Medoc: ‘Stellar Red Bordeaux Super Value… $11+!!! "Great Inky dark-red color with’ yada yada . . . . It retails elsewhere for $15.69 but Pop’s 30% discount drops that to $10.98. Kendall-Jackson’s new-style Chardonnay, Avant [2009] plummets from $17.50 to $12.25. Rodney Strong 2009 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir falls from $21.75 to $15.22.

xxxsughere Paolo Panerai’s 2009 Le Sughere di Frassinello, an oak-aged SuperTuscan from the Maremma goes from $33 to just over $23 and change. And at the higher end is the 2007 Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet. The retail price of $78.19 drops to $54.73 after the 30% discount, making it almost affordable without the need for government loan guaranties.

Of course you’ll do your homework, checking various online outlets: some may have the same item for less, or perhaps not less but close enough that, even with shipping charges applied, you’d prefer to wait by your door instead of going out to Pop’s [which is, by the way, now open Sundays]. Still, many will find this sale something of a bonanza. But if you’re out of town or out of funds you’re out of luck: It’s your misfortune, as the cowpoke said to the dogie, and none of my own. Compose your minds toward peace and wait patiently for Pop’s next sale, which begins Jan. 2 through President’s Day [Feb. 20], 2012.

©2011 Bill Marsano

Arrant Snobbery or, The Tale of Unlucky Pierre

This is a little tale of snobs and snobbery. Maybe not so little; certainly not so short, and so I crave your patience. Indulge me and be rewarded, I swear.

Early in the last century Amy Lowell [1874-1925] was a leading figure among the poets known as Imagists [Ezra Pound skanced them as Amygists]. She was a richly flamboyant figure, a cigar-smoking lesbian who at her readings didn’t so much read her poetry as declaim and perform it. She employed sound and lighting effects, theatrical gesticulation, even, now and then, bullying [she once told a baffled audience ‘Well? Clap or hiss, I don’t care which, but for Christ’s sake, do something!’]. Lucius Beebe said admiringly that she ‘expertly handled a full-size, all-Havana smoke,‘ and added ‘reading a volume of Keats while the smoke rolled around her in clouds, Miss Lowell was one of the inspiring sights of her time and place.’
zzzzzzzzlowellLate honors: In 1925 Lowell was the first poet on the cover of TIME. She died a few weeks later and won the Pulitzer Prize the next year. Her family’s later poets are Robert and James Russell Lowell. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an image in which Amy is, as they say, smokin’. FYI, this and other TIME covers are available at timecoverstore.com.

In short, she was a force of nature, and at a reported five-feet-oh and 200 lbs, almost a Rock of Gibraltar, too. She was also a snob. If you’ve heard the wheeze about the Yankee Brahmins of

. . . dear old Boston,
The home of the bean and the cod,
Where the Lowells talk only to Cabots,
And the Cabots talk only to God

know you that this Lowell spoke to no Cabots, none. Spoke to none, supped not where they dined, refused invitations they accepted. Once, bound for Europe on the old S.S. Devonian, she chanced to clap eyes on the passenger list before boarding and recoiled en horreur. Immediately ordering her dunnage put ashore she fled as if in fear of her life, explaining to a pierside reporter ‘There are sixteen Cabots aboard the Devonian this trip, and God isn’t going to miss such an opportunity.’

zdevonian3 Toff travel, from Boston, anyway, a century ago. The Devonian was but a mere plodder; no ocean greyhound she! Sedately riding the foaming wave at 15 knots, she could get across ‘the Pond’ in a restful eight days or so.

For that; for enlivening American poetry; for her heroic and entertaining presence Madam Lowell gets a pass on her snobbery. Wine snobs, on the other hand? No way, Gamay.

Wine snobs are a species of vermin; they should be hunted for sport. They are Enemies of Wine whose delight is to damage the innocent pleasure of others; to humiliate the neophyte; to preen themselves on superior knowledge at the expense of those who know less or dare to disagree. They are the chief support of the soft-drinks trade, to whose products they drive customers in millions. They summon to my mind the shade of Ambrose Bierce and his remark ‘their immunity from a swift and awful death is proof of God’s love for those that hate him.’

Two such creatures, Gerry and John, bodied forth recently during an online discussion ignited by Unlucky Pierre, an importer who had the temerity to ask whether French wines would sell better in the U.S. if producers noted the grape varieties or blends on their front or back labels.

Gerry, a public-relations executive, stuffily said that it wouldn’t be of much help because ‘Consumers who don’t know which grape is used to make bourgogne rouge probably wouldn’t buy it, anyway.’ The logic has a certain leaden brilliance: if you don’t buy it not knowing what it’s made of, you won’t buy it if you do. Got that? No one who chanced to start with Oregon Pinots and then tried a few from California and then even New Zealand would, upon seeing the words Pinot noir on a French label, decide to give it a try. Truly. Take Gerry’s word for it. Please.

‘And,’ Gerry added, nose aloft, ‘those who do know would be disappointed in the producer for playing to the lowest common denominator by naming the varietal on the label. Personally, I would see it as a lack of integrity and selling out.’

Heavens to Betsy, Thirsty Reader! It had never occurred to oblivious me that informing consumers would be so foul a deed, such that Camille Pissarro would have included it in his series of Turpitudes Sociales. Under that title Pissarro drew images of ‘social disgraces’ to instruct his nieces on the horrors of contemporary society. That was in 1889, but the series may still have some relevance today, as the following pictures suggest.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzcapital”Capital” is the first of the series. Other ‘social disgraces’ include the likes of “Texting at the Dinner Table,” “Rejected by Dalton,” “Bad Break-up,”
Refused at the Velvet Rope,“
“Trolling for Hookups on Craigslist,” “Stiffing the
Waiter” and “Awkward!”

Of the 28 memorable images in the series, surely the most painful is this one, the stark and haunting De-friended on Facebook.”




Still, I wonder whether righteous Gerry realizes he’s hoist with his own petard. For example, should one of his Burgundies suddenly appear with the notation ‘100% Pinot Noir Grapes’ on the label, Gerry has but two courses of action open to him, neither especially attractive: He can stop drinking that wine and be a fool or continue drinking it and be a hypocrite.

The situation is so clear it would be obvious to even such obtuse folks as The New York Times’s ethics columnist—the old one, who admitted he had absolutely no training in ethics, not even a college course, and was in fact a former gagwriter for TV sitcoms. [As was too often self-evident.]

Next came John, owner of a winery in Washington, who lamented that ‘wine neophytes in the USA have been so conditioned to think that grape variety(ies) is the most important thing to know about a wine [and most of them are] ‘entirely unaware of the concept of terroir and its huge influence on a wine.’ He added, heart all a-flutter ‘And let’s not even venture into the perhaps more subtle influences of variety clones.’

Oh whyever not, John?

John’s logic is surreal. Knowing the variety, he says, is ‘probably of only secondary importance to the region of origin and the pedigree (classification) of the wine, because knowledgeable wine aficionados already know the grape varieties . . . . ‘ Think about that for just a minute, please: if they already know the varieties, that’s because the varieties are of primary importance.

Despite all, John finally agrees that ‘the lower or middle tiers of French wine that generally are of more appeal to the un-knowledgeable USA wine consumers would probably sell better if the grape variety(ies) were listed on the label.’ Still, desperate for an out, he finally concludes that ‘there is very little room available for such stuff on labels.’

Growing more choleric by the syllable, he rambles on: ‘Ideally, [grape variety] would be placed so that little or no extra effort would be required to access it,  meaning that the [front] label should have this information. But [this] label is usually the work of paper art dearly paid for by the winery to entice buyers to purchase their liquid art. For my winery, I insist on having a clean, distinctive display label. I place all blending and other information on the [back] label for that reason . . . ‘ Really? Damned if I know whose labels he’s been looking at, but they can’t possibly include his own.

zzzzzzW.Hall-new Ooops!
This is one of John’s front labels. The name of a grape variety seems to have crept onto it, in plain sight, but
doubtless without his knowing.


John rambles on: ‘were I pandering to the masses, then concentrating my efforts on the [label] might prove beneficial. But I’m focusing sales on people who know wines and do not place label interest paramountly [sic]. Makers of low-priced wines or wines intended for relatively non-knowledgeable wine drinkers might benefit from significant focus on labels. . . . And how does a serious winery maintain brand identity with labels that in no way look like [its] mainstream offerings? Do you think neophyte consumers are really going to read the bottling statements on labels? Heck, no! And these labels (or the next "big thing" label) are already passé, and people are getting tired of them. Now what? No, I’ll do an intensive job up front on my labels, and then I’ll make them ALL such that there’s no question that they are from my winery.’

This one-man shouting match suggests that John has become just a little unhinged, and it obscures Pierre’s simple question, which was: Might French wines sell better with varietal labeling? Got that? Seems like a plain yes-or-no question to me. Brand identity was never in question and multiple label styles were not mooted, Thirsty Reader. “Big thing” labels? What the hell is he talking about? In any event, he’s certain ‘people are getting tired of them,’ whatever they may be, and he won’t put details on his label because he knows people won’t read them. Smugness to such a degree almost rises to the status of an achievement.

Who benefits from such self-important nonsense? Is it truly pandering, or selling out, or dishonorable to announce what grape or grapes a wine is made of? Are they who ask for such basic information mere masses, presumably unwashed? The lowest common denominator? Would you like to sit down to dinner with Gerry and John?

Should you chance upon them, or they upon you, I earnestly propose that you heed the wisdom of my nextdoor neighbor Hoo-Chee Ma [Yo-Yo’s pole-dancing sister], who got it from Brave Sir Robin: 

Run away!


zzzzzzzzzzzzzbaseballIn sum, snobbery is cheap, easy, vulgar. It is unworthy. It brings to my mind The Baseball Codes, a book of etiquette. These are the unwritten rules of the game and though they be informal and handed-down they are violated at peril. Buy the book by all means, fans, but for now consider the neat summary of it by the ex-major leaguer Bob Brenly: “I can break it down into three simple things,” he told Jason Turbow and Michael Duca, the authors. Respect your teammates, respect your opponents, respect the game.” Wine snobs take note; members of the U.S. Congress, likewise.

And Pissaro? What of him? Well, he is the focus of the exhibition Pissaro’s People at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass., through Oct. 2. It isn’t nearly so gloomy as the drawings here suggest.

© 2011 Bill Marsano


Pinot on Parade

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

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzpinot noir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A last look before these salmon are served.

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

Starting the day with a volleyball breakfast. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2011 Bill Marsano




Derby Day, Bourbon Barrels and Woodford Reserve

It’s Derby Day Saturday, Kentucky’s National Holiday, which involves many ponies and enough mint juleps to drive you to drink. Want a recipe? You could look it up, as Casey Stengel used to say. The April 2010 post Talk Derby to Me has recipes given to me by some distilling luminaries: Chris Morris of Woodford Reserve; Booker Noe, Jim Beam’s grandson; Jimmy Russell of Wild Turkey; Kevin Smith of Maker’s Mark and their legendary like. [Fred Noe, Booker’s son, possibly aware of the huge brogans he must fill, provided two, one based on Beam and another on Knob Creek.] They’ll keep you adequately lubricated for the whole weekend.


My personal Derby pick is Stay Thirsty [above, with Ramon Dominguez up], whose cheerful name recalls not only my devoted Thirsty Reader but Dos Equis beer’s Most Interesting Man in the World TV and radio commercials, memorably taglined ‘Stay thirsty, my friends.’ The MIMW’s sophistication, worldliness and craggy good looks blend Marlboro Man, Fidel Castro, Ernest Hemingway and Ricardo Montalban [in his Rich Corinthian Leather Period]; finding a face for that was a tall order*. That plus the patended deadpan narration of Will Lyman and good copywriting makes ads that are funny, witty and imaginative; unlike, for example, most wine commercials. So funny and witty they inspire the same from viewers: quite an accomplishment, considering that as a rule YouTubers’ comments are usually moronic when not worse.

Of the 15 spots in the series so far my favorite opens deceptively with an idyll in the Italian countryside but goes wild very quickly. Most can be seen online: start with Google and YouTube, then check out www.facebook.com/dosequis; it has more spots, plus details of the upcoming ‘League of the Most Interesting’ contest. Unfortunately, the contest doesn’t involve overhand bowling or being thrown out of an airplane in a kayak [perhaps due to some PR-side fretting over ‘liability’].

My backup is Pants On Fire [Rosie Napravnik in irons], again for the name. Both names, in fact. Just imagine the track announcer excitedly shouting ‘Napravnik’s taking Pants On Fire to the rail!’? Not quite the same if it’s Mucho Macho Man, say, or Archarcharch? To say nothing of Comma to the Top, a horse unreliably reported to be owned by a renegade international copy-editing cartel.

When last in Louisville [say Looville, never Loo-ey-ville] I was not on the rail or in the infield or at the clubhouse turn but was immersed in whiskey and baseball at two of the city’s finest wood-working institutions. One is the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory, which got a magnificent makeover, renovation and general glorification in 2009. You know the drill: immerse thyself in the National Pastime; see trees become bats; soak up the wisdom of Ruth, Aaron, Williams and other great hitters; and learn about women and minorities in the game. Then play with the many interactive displays and achieve photo immortality while clutching an immortal’s bat. That’s me [below] with the Model B220 warclub of the great No. 7**]. It’s the real thing, hence the white cotton gloves.

Bill and Bat

Then came the Brown-Forman Cooperage [née Blue Grass] which makes 1500 barrels a day for Woodford Reserve, Old Forester, Jack Daniel’s, Early Times, Canadian Mist, El Jimador and Herradura. Among spirits companies only B-F has its own cooperage, and despite the addition of modern equipment and constant updating, the plant still has a 1940s look and feel—and smell: the air is rich with the aroma of furnace-charred American white oak.

Chris Morris, B-F’s master distiller, guided me safely through and warned me about the perils of the barrel railway, while saying the aromas are his favorite part. Mine was the hand-work. The hand tools of the cooper’s mystery—the sun plane and the croze, the long joiner [a plane about 6 feet long], the bung auger, the chince or chincing iron [‘used for driving the flag into the groove’] and such—were vanished even by the time the plant opened in 1945. Even so, barrels are still raised by hand [N.B.: not made, assembled, built, erected or slung together; the term of art is raised]. An expert can raise a couple of hundred per shift, and there are hushed whispers of veritable Stave Gods known to have raised 350 and even more. The cooperage has since opened to the public; it’s a treat for kids and factory-tour fans who delight in seeing raw material become parts become products, also for fossils like your correspondent, who is so old he can remember a time when American workers actually made things. See www.mintjuleptours.com or call 502 583-1433 and seek ye the peerless Joanie. And just watch your step anywhere near the barrel railway.

This is no drill, as they said at Pearl Harbor. Barrels come down the rails without warning, swiftly and silently; they weigh more than 100 pounds apiece and will flatten anything and anyone that gets in their way.

It’s thirsty work watching so much barrel-raising, and it called for a drink or few, which Chris elected to lay on at the Woodford Reserve Distillery, down the road a piece near Versailles, which you’ll want to pronounce Ver-sales. You don’t want anyone thinking you’re French. The building, a handsome limestone structure dating to 1838 and added to on several occasions since, sits serenely in a bosky dell beside Glenn’s Creek.


The setting inspires romantics to dream of colorful artisan moonshiners, but Chuck Cowdery, author of the superb Bourbon, Straight: The Uncut and Unfiltered Story of American Whiskey, has said that modern ‘shiners, who merely cook bulk sugar into crude booze, deserve not folkloric halos but sojourns in the Waddy-Petrona Correctional Facility and Dental School. Max Watman, whose delightful Chasing the White Dog : An Amateur Outlaw’s Adventures in Moonshine, would no doubt agree.

Brown-Forman has restored the distillery to a thing of rural-industrial beauty, and visitors are welcome to stop in and see Woodford Reserve being made. It’s awful-looking, awful-smelling stuff you see pumped into the big wooden fermenters, but then chemistry takes over the ancient practices of pot distillation


and oak-aging work their miracles, first in the three big Scotch-built copper stills, then in the barrels stacked for six or seven years in the rickhouse.

Tours of varying length are but $5 and $10 [call 859 879 1812] and there are spaces available to rent for festive events, but weddings and wedding receptions are excluded, most likely for reasons of self-defense. Wedding-rehearsal dinners? They’re another story because they’re reliably less boisterous events [859 879 1934]. Whatever the reason for your visit it will be the part of wisdom to call the tour office first, for precise directions are required. The taped message warns that ‘due to our distinct location’ [i.e., the 19th Century], ‘using GPS is not advisable.’

The distillery is a landmark partly for its beauty [it’s considerable; this is Thoroughbred country, after all] but mainly for its importance in bourbon history. It was here under Oscar Pepper [son of the distillery’s founder, Elijah] that Edinburgh-born Dr. James C. Crow pretty much created modern bourbon by innovation and experiment. He created the sour-mash process and maintained rigorous cleanliness in thesearch for product consistency, and he was the first, so far as is known, to sell exclusively whiskey that had been aged in new charred oak barrels. Before the Good Doctor made bourbon, most of what Kentucky made was mere whiskey, and often very mere whiskey at that.

Our farewell drinks that afternoon came from a barrel in the rickhouse: Chris tapped it with an electric drill and I came thirstily to the rescue when the bit jammed in the dense wood. All those hours of This Old House turned out to be useful after all. Imagine that.

Stay thirsty, my friends.



*well filled by the actor Jonathan Goldsmith. You were expecting maybe Ludwig Stössel?

**Mickey Mantle. You had to ask?


The distillery became a National Historic Landmark in 2000. Dr. Crow did indeed practice medicine, and he gave his services, according to Chuck Cowdery, ‘mostly without charge.’ Cowdery adds that he ‘was fond of reciting the poems of Robert Burns’ and that after his death his name became part of one of America’s first brands, Old Crow. Once famous, it is now no more than a bottom-shelf ‘value brand.’

© Bill Marsano

Jess Jackson, Titan

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


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

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

Jess82VR Chard

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

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

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

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

Mum’s the Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Queen_Elizabeth_The_Queen_MotherOfficial portrait as Queen
by Sir Gerald Kelly

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

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


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

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

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

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

©2011 Bill Marsano

Paddy and Pazzo: Double Cause for Celebration

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Sicilian Vespers

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

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

Red Priest

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

Mixing and Glassware

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

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

Sláinte and salute!

©2011 Bill Marsano

Farrago and Foolery


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

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

Dear Bill,

Every Day with Rachael Ray Magazine Tells Us How

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

What To Look For To Become An Overnight Wine Expert

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

Look forward to hearing from you . . . .

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2011 Bill Marsano


A Little Zing from Zinfandel


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2011 Bill Marsano

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