Join The N.R.A. And Get A Free Ticket To The Vegan Expo

Well, not quite.  But close.  Yesterday, in the same spirit that rubba-neckin’ Bubba McCan-Koozie goes apeshit when NASCAR cars crash, I represented the Anti-Press at the annual Vegan Tastefest in Novi.



Over the years, among my fellow bleeding-heart liberals, I have been a lone voice in the wilderness, not only decrying veganism but actually collecting liberal heart-blood and passing out 1 oz. samples at vegan events throughout the Midwest.  I have marketed biodynamic, low-fat puppy burgers; I have interviewed members of other omnivorous species like birds and hedgehogs to see if they ever refuse to eat meat on moral grounds; I have installed clandestine surveillance equipment at PETA barbecues and filmed righteous vegans swatting mosquitoes; I have dressed up like Temple Grandin at the annual Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Vegan Parade using mascara that was tested on preschoolers.

To Vegans, I Am Punishment Both Cruel and Unusual

Holier than thou

Holier than thou

Live and let live, I say—up to, but not including, peckishness.  Is there anything that sticks in the craw more than a smug, vocal catechumen of any marginalizing lifestyle that not only is virtually impossible to maintain with any degree of integrity, but which is also based on theoretics filled with more holes than Bonnie, Clyde or their Ford V8?

There is not.

And you know I’m in good company here, don’t you?  The only time that Jesus got righteously pissed-off was when he was cleansing the synagogue of hypocrites.

And speaking of Jesus, vegans: Considering that the Dude from Galilee not only ate fish, but actually conjured them up out of thin air to feed his followers, at what point do you feel a little weird placing yourself on a higher moral plateau than God?

So, Here’s The Thing…

Thomas Wolfe on home turf.

Thomas Wolfe on home turf.

Correct me if I’m wrong:  The core philosophy of ‘veganism’ is not about diet; it is an all-encompassing world-view that supports the reduction of animals suffering and exploitation of sentient beings including insects—which is why silk (exploits worms) and honey (exploits bees) are no-nos.  Now, I could pick such a Mission Statement apart until the cows come home, but vegans everywhere would immediately argue that my points are moo (t) because having cows who need to come home exploits cattle.  And when I point out that a lot more bugs are inconvenienced every time a new soybean field is planted, let along the number of soybean weevils slaughtered when the field is treated with cholesterol-free, low-fat pesticides, they will shrug and admit that they are not ‘perfect’ and that this is still better than raising soybeans for animal feed, which is essentially ‘killing twice’—first, the weevils and then the cows who, as Thomas Wolfe warned, can’t go home again.

Beefcake for straight men.

Beefcake for straight men.

Yeah? How hard is to extrapolate from there that the true mission of every vegan should not be to ask the waiter if the wine is fined using bentonite instead of fish bladders, not to seek out flax bars that include no edible eggs in their inedible recipes, not to pleasure one’s self while looking at a nude poster of Traci Bingham painted up like butcher fodder, but instead to eradicate all predatory carnivores from the face of the earth?

Hungry meat-eaters cause far more suffering among earth’s innocent wildlife than they offset; thus, killing them once eliminates the callous murder of all organisms that would otherwise become their prey.

Get on it, vegans.  KillFest 2014.  Start with Fido and the neighbor’s enslaved Himalayan cat.  Either that, or—God forbid—your vague Rainbow Bright-like goal of ‘lessening suffering among sentient species’ is pretty much gluten-free hot air.

Anyway, back to VegFest 2014.

arm bandAt this time of year, when vegans come out of a genetically-induced hibernation caused by the lack of a winter supply of organic, local, sustainable Whole Foods fruit, they appear to be as lean and hungry as Iago, minus the honesty and macho.  In fact, vegans on the whole do not strike me as the floor model for Emily Brontë’s lauded simile, ‘Her bright cheek, as soft and pure in its bloom as a wild rose’; rather, in general, they seem wan, thin and haunted-looking.  But that’s fine—I have always had a thing for wispy, nerdy, insubstantial girls with Daddy issues; they are not nearly as intimidating as strapping, self-confident, sausage-fed Jungfrau cheerleaders.  So, in that regard, VegFest was like the all-you-can-eat buffet at Sweden House, except without the people food.

And the Fest offered plenty of deer-in-the-headlight types in pleather leggings, armpit hair peeking out from Patagonia Island hemp tank tops like April crocuses; there were relapsed hippies so militantly anti-meat-consumption that they don’t even bite their nails; there were older, well-dressed skeletors intent on staving off the unstaveoffable, and prominently, there was one exception to prove the rule: An obese person who had perhaps had made a recent, unscheduled stop at Coronaryopolis and was now trying to get back on board the train.

Meat-free sex toys at the Green Daffadildo.

Meat-free sex toys at the Green Daffadildo.

See, there are two kinds of people you generally don’t see at vegan expositions: Fat people and black people.  This is not to say that there are not plenty of health-conscious African Americans who have sort of let themselves go, size-wise, but as far as I can tell, overall, veganism is pretty much a skinny honky phenomenon.

So, at the Expo, what was the object of the affection that turned their complexion from white to Walking Dead?

Irony-fortified wax fruit on display at Eat Like You Give A Damn. I didn't.

Irony-fortified wax fruit on display at Eat Like You Give A Damn.

Such crowd-pleasers as Sarah’s Falafel, devoid of corn, milk, eggs, MSG, soy or nuts and other stuff that nobody associates with these deep-fried Lebanese ratballs in the first place.  There was a Vdalish booth selling strange, upscale vegan ice cream made from ingredients unknown, although we sleep blissfully knowing that no cows were milked in the making of the product.   And Max’s Granola, which is actually quite good, and has a backstory so touching and sad that I urge you to research it and buy some—I’d fill in the poignant details, but I am right in the middle of being a smart ass, thank you very much.

The N.R.A. Connection…

I titled this tome with an allusion to gun nuts, which if they were food, would technically be on a vegan’s menu.   But in 2014,  are there two more archetypally divisive cults than tree-stand hunters and tree-hugging vegans?  Unless it is militant Pro-Life Christians and that restaurant in Lower Manhattan that uses aborted fetuses as pizza topping, I’d say not.

Clipboard powderHolsters vs. holistics, cordite vs. Vegemite, combustion vs. compassion, MRI Black Powder vs. Mercola Protein Powder—if it comes to blows, the smart money, of course, is on the boys with the AK 47s.  But what in the world were the owners of Suburban Collection Showplace thinking when they booked the Michigan Arms Collectors Exhibit into the hall directly next to VegFest 2014?

I see—it’s a profit game and they were thinking cash flow.  The same motivating factor that inspired the sponsors of VegFest to charge me ten dollars for a ticket to wander around gawking and stalking and squawking smack among the assholier-than-thou.

And yes, there was an N.R.A. booth set up between the two events, with Cracker McBeavertail—a semi-literate, semi-automatic-owning semi driver—advertising ‘free admission’ if you were willing to commit to a year’s paid membership to the National Rifle Association.  When I asked him if my free ticket would also cover VegFest 2014, he looked at me as if it was moi, not hoi, who was batshit insane:

“You think if a dude’s wife makes him go to a vegetarian festival she’s gonna let him buy a gun??!”

Soup's on!

Soup’s on!

True dat, Sir Douchalot, which is why I have a love/hate relationship with both of these flake-fringe factions.  Although, as the vegans confess, I too am an inherently imperfect creature who admits membership in some crackpot cults of my own, including the one that believes in capital punishment, but only if the bodies of the executed are used for food.

Onward and upward, droogies.

Posted in GENERAL | Tagged | Leave a comment

Helfrich Produces No Dogs, Thank You Very Much

I know a wine writer who berates other wine writers who use the ‘A’ word.  I won’t give her name, but I will say that she resembles a yeti, and not in a wholesome, Julia Child sort of way.

A trio of Michigan wine writers in their native habitat.

A trio of Michigan wine writers in their native habitat.

Now, my baby momma daddy, who doesn’t resemble a yeti but who would likely represent yeti in a class-action lawsuit against The Discovery Channel, also objects to the ‘A’ word.  And in terms which a fellow lawyer might describe as a violation of Michigan Penal Code 750.102: Willful blasphemy of the holy name of God. 

Both of these law-savvy, wine-knowledgeable intellects are ‘Type A’ alpha dogs who generally bring their ‘A’ game to the table, so it was with a sense of profound relief when the ‘A’ word slipped effortlessly, again and again, from the honeyed lips of Anne-Laure Helfrich—one pretty yeti.



The word is ‘Alsatian’.  And Anne-Laure Helfrich—who is Alsatian—uses it to describe her nationality, her wines, her language and also, to refer to that breed of dog known elsewhere as a German Shepherd.

See, that’s the only time the above-referenced, self-appointed know-it-alls believe the word ‘Alsatian’ should be used.

Arf-Free Dining

Anne-Laure Helfrich. I know, right?

Anne-Laure Helfrich.
I know, right?

Anne-Laure is not a dog.  In fact, Anne-Laure is arguably the most un-doglike vigneronette in the entire global wine kennel.  She makes her first-runner-up, Ivy du Toit of Jason’s Hill Winery, look like Sweet Polly Purebred after a botox bungle.

As a red-blooded Alsace-lovin manchild, breaking bread with Ann-Laure (at the same suburban restaurant where Jimmy Hoffa disappeared when I was a kid) was an experience that a more literarily-inclined hack might refer to as ‘a droll and delightful diversion’.

So long, Mr. Hoffa.  We hardly knew ya.

So long, Mr. Hoffa; we hardly knew ya.

And, speaking of kids, turns out that Anne-Laure has never heard of Hoffa, dating me dreadfully, which is probably how I would have dated Anne-Laure.

So, with the ice broken, then re-frozen, we moved on to her wines, and do you what?  Enough with the ‘A’ words already.


Anne’s Awesome Alsatian Array at Andiamo’s: Aromatics, Acidity and Affordability

Alsatian vineyard.

Alsatian vineyard.

Helfrich Family Winery teeters on the tippy-top of Alsace, that marvelous slice of vinous Valhalla wedged between France and Germany.  Scarcely two hundred miles from top to bottom, the region straddles Lorraine and the Franche Comté to the west and the upper Rhine to the east, celebrating a wine style that can fairly said to be a fusion of both traditions and creating synergies that are occasionally greater than either.  By law, focus is on specific varieties—mostly whites and a single red.  Pinot noir from the appellation can be a tough swallow, however, often tannic and oaky; nothing to rival German spätburgunder and not even in the same ballpark as Burgundy. That said, the Alsace ‘serious’ red wine tradition did not begin until the 1980s, whereas the superlative whites have been around since the land was called Austrasia.

Perched on the cultural crossroads, influenced by the Franks and the Teutons, the wines pays them equal homage.  Like the Germans, the lauded whites are made from riesling, gewurtztraminer, pinot gris, pinot blanc and sylvaner (with muscat accounting for around 3% of vine plantings).

Like the French, these wines are vinified dry, except in late harvest version known as Vendange Tardive (in Germany, these would be classified Spätlese) and Sélection de Grains Nobles, botrytis-infected grapes, similar to a German Beerenauslese.

In Alsace, the name of the varietal is listed on the label, and like the Germans, wines are bottled in flûtes d’Alsace, which resemble the narrow and elegant vessels of the Rhine.

Rich Helfrich History

King Childebert II; wine-lover, wop-hater.

King Childebert II; wine-lover, wop-hater.

The Helfrich family has been producing wine in Northern Alsace for six generations, while the vineyard itself, called Steinklotz, has been around since 589 AD, when King Childebert II was still lopping off the heads of Lombards.  It is situated at ideal elevations ranging from 600 to 1000 ft, and soils are composed of a scant few inches of loam over a base of calcareous bedrock, helping it to retain heat.  Like all vineyards in Alsace, Steinklotz is  dry-farmed, but unlike most, it has been awarded Grand Cru status—a coveted AOC designation enjoyed by less than 5% of the region’s vineyards.

We sampled a selection from both the Grand Cru Steinklotz Vineyard and the lower-end Vin d’Alsace line made from grapes sourced from the Couronne d’Or Vineyard Association.  With a single surprising exception, all the wines showed clean balance, pure fruit and the explosive aromatics and grape integrity that Alsatian wines display, occasionally to to exaggerated levels.

It was the Grand Cru Riesling—often the flagship of an Alsatian portfolio—that left me less than transmogrified.  So I won’t dwell.  Suffice it to say that the wine, vintage 2012, was a solid offering, showing a slight rubberiness typical of a younger, cold-climate riesling; wet stoniness was there along with some mandarin orange notes, although in moderate doses.  From any other region, I would have sung its praises louder, but the bar for Alsace riesling is set Olympian high.

The others made the hurdle on the first try, especially the entry-level ‘Noble Varieties’ from Couronne d’Or.  Pinot Blanc 2013 made a striking frontal assault in the way that this variety can in chilly northern Europe.  Strong, lively scents of Bosc pear blended with softer apple and blossom notes, washing over the tongue with bright, oak-free persistence.  Pinot blanc is considered an ‘everyday’ wine in Alsace, which is not to dumb it down, but to suggest that you could easily drink this wine on a daily basis.

helfrich-gewurz-corePinot gris also finds a resonant voice in Helfrich’s cellars—a voice that is both operatic and hedonistic.  Rich, smoky, tinted with ripe, almost bruised apple flavors along with peach jam, the wine screams for a side of native Alsatian foie gras, a delicacy for which the region has been known since the 17th century.  Like the rest of the line-up, Noble Varieties Pinot Gris 2013 undergoes a membrane press and a cold fermentation, after which it is cold settled in stainless steel and racked on lees.  Neither is there so much as a splinter oak in the Grand Cru cuvée, and the fruit intensity redoubles.

Would that the producers had taken their own advice.

Would that the producers had taken their own advice.

For my palate, attempting to produce gewurtztraminer outside of Alsace is a fool’s game.  I don’t care how talented the winemaker is or how heralded the vineyard, nobody has ever come close to maximizing the incredible potency of this grape like like the Alsatians in their narrow strip of medieval France.  It’s like that time that decent filmmakers decided to remake the un-remakeable Pink Panther using Steve Martin in place of the irreplaceable Peter Sellers.  Martin is a comic genius, of course, but dudes; why?  If it ain’t broken…

Like the movie, most non-Alsace gewurtztraminer tends to be shadow wine; a poor imitation of the archetype.  With Helfrich’s entry, a shimmery symphony of lychee, honeysuckle, citrus peel and grapefruit define a classic exemplar, drawing marvelously from an ideal terroir.

The two tiers of Helfrich wine retail for $15 and $28 respectively, and stand up beautifully to reference-point Alsatian wines—Trimbach, Lucien Albrecht and Zind-Humbrecht.

Yeti Grable

Yeti Grable

The Indomitable Snowchick

As for Anne-Laure, who also stands up beautifully, same as she sits down, I suppose my chances with her—the Betty Grable of the yeti stable—are about as good as any other snowball’s in hell.

In other words, about the same as my chances of finding Jimmy Hoffa.

Posted in Alsace, FRANCE | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Bret Wine Never Tasted So Fine

Can you guess why Mel Practice opted out of a career in medicine?

Of course you can.  Same reason that the Scheister Brothers don’t have a law firm or why Sam ‘n’ Ella don’t open a sushi bar.

Jean-Philippe Bret, shown actual size

Jean-Philippe Bret, shown actual size

So, when I interviewed Jean-Philippe Bret at The Fine Wine Source last week, the gorilla in the room was not Jean-Philippe, who is scarcely bigger than a lemur,  but the question of why, with a name that is synonymous with cork taint—the bane of winemakers everywhere—he opted into enology.

Turns out that the old adage is proven out once again:  ‘You can’t choose your parents’.

Bret Brothers of Vinzelles

First, The Stage:  Vinzelles is a tiny village in the tail-end of Mâconnais, which is in the tail-end Burgundy, and a close neighbor of the better-known commune of Fuissé.  Both Appellations d’Origine Contrôlée borrow a hyphen from etymology and a sense of identity from the town of Pouilly.  Pouilly-Vinzelles is, by law, white wine made exclusively from chardonnay.  It is ludicrous small, with less than 130 acres planted to grapes (despite the word ‘Vinzelles’ being rooted in the Latin word for vine)—the rough equivalent of a couple of shopping malls.

Next, The Props:  The soil of Pouilly-Vinzelles is primarily limestone and clay, a perfect environment for otherwise easy-to-please chardonnay.  Bret grapes are hand-picked from old vines (40 years, on average) and the brothers produce around 3000 cases per year.  Since 2000, the brothers have been loyal to sustainable agriculture with seven of their wines certified organic.

The brothers three.

The brothers three.

Now, The Players:  Jean-Philippe is the eldest of a trio of Bret brothers; Jean-Gillaume and Marc-Antoine are the other two, and after hearing about their combined 22 vinous acres in Mâcon-Vinzelles, Pouilly-Vinzelles and Beaujolais-Leynes, I have come to this conclusion: Dudes, you are overdrawn at the hyphen bank and need to cut back on the punctuating. STAT.

La Soufrandière

La Soufrandière

Finally, The Curtain-Raiser:  The Bret Brothers currently produce eight wines from their La Soufrandière estate, including a single red, made with gamay and released under the label ‘Beaujolais-Leynes’ to indicate the small, granite-soiled commune nestling at the crossroads of Beaujolais and the Mâconnais.  Despite its Beaujolais assignation, the wine is brooding and earthy, although on a different scale than a Cru Beaujolais—not as complex, perhaps not as elegant; a very old-school red from the area.

That said, the Bret Brothers chardonnays I sampled were universally appealing, and displayed the characteristic freshness and minerality that make whites from this region bracingly delicious.

The Bret house style favors a deep citrus profile, beginning with lemon peel and finishing with white grapefruit.  Oak is restrained, present only as a nod, not a wallop, allowing the terroir’s inherent minerality to hold court.  These wines are sold young and generally consumed young, but the spine of acid suggests that they’d be better at four or five years old.   Wines of this kind develop delightful nuances as the mature—overtones of hazelnut and buttery oatmeal that begin to superimpose themselves above the citrus.

Is Jean-Philippe Bigger Than A Bret Box?

LEMURFair question.   Jean-Philippe is actually larger than even an extremely well-nourished lemur, though not as big as a silver-backed mountain gorilla on a hunger strike.  As the affable heir and spokesman for the house, he takes such jokes in stride (I hope), in part because he is good natured by good nature, and in part because his English is somewhat challenged.  He acknowledged the grotesque irony of his name, and added—to my delight—that the estate, La Soufrandière, translates to ‘sulphur mine’, which would also be an off-putting moniker in the wine world.  In fact, the bon mots flew with such abandon that I dared not—repeat, dared not—ask him if his first name was short for Jean-Phylloxera.



Posted in Burgundy, Chardonnay | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Relax, Wine Business: Kathie Lee Has Arrived

cavalryThe global wine industry—beleaguered by the recent recession, fickle vintages, lazy retailers, semi-literate historiographers and the idiotic 100-point scoring scale—may be likened to the Frankish army at Anatolia, Wellington’s forces at Waterloo, the 2nd Ox at Pegasus Bridge or Gandalf and Pippin at Minas Tirith.

What these sad sacks needed—what we all need when times get rough and Paul Simon is laying himself down with groupie squish instead of over our troubled waters—is the cavalry.

But who will lead that charge against the Forces of Eno-Dullness?  Who will be the deus ex machina swooping down on the vineyards in the play’s final act?  Who will be our Knights Templar in Asia Minor, our Marshal Blücher in Belgium, our British Commandos on D-Day?

kath‘Horns, horns, horns; great horns of the North wildly blowing. Rohan had come at last!’- The Return Of The King

I’ll tell you who, shall I?

She’s sittin’ pretty in the fourth hour of Today’s Talk, right alongside Hoda Kotb—a name that looks like the nurse who typed out the birth certificate had her fingers on the wrong row of keys.

Million-Dollar Smile and Gams That Just Won’t Quit

Kathie Lee Gifford’s resume is pretty daunting.

kath and frankYou see, some women are born great while others have Frank Gifford’s greatness thrust into them.  But that would his first wife or perhaps Johnny Carson’s wife or that flight attendant he was schtupping on the QT.  Kathie Lee may have come to Frank’s boudoir as sloppy seconds, but her hefty pedigree was already in place—including babysitting for Anita Bryant, performing the sing-a-tune on Name That Tune with the other mentally-challenged Kennedy, Tom, and being Regis Philbin’s long-time straight-man.

And by straight-man,  of course I mean in the Anita Bryant sense, because even though her bio lists among her life skills (besides songwriting, acting, and hosting) stand-up comedy—emphasis mine—I think that even the most ardent Gifford fan, and I count myself among them, find her about as funny as a necrotic scrotal ulcer.

"Oh geez, Martin.  I thought I read that her career was dead..."

“Oh geez, Martin. I thought I read that her career was dead…”

Well, strike that.  It was moderately good situational humor when she interviewed Martin Short in 2012 and kept inquiring about his wife, who she apparently forgot died in 2010.  But that was improv.  It was funny when she sang ‘If you could see me now, out on a Fun Ship cruise’ for the company that owned the fun-free Costa Concordia.  And, it was moderately giggle-worthy when she burst into crocodile tears when it was revealed that her K-Mart clothing line was made from the sweat of Honduran pre-schoolers.

But (God bless her lily-white badonkadonk), I think we can agree that Kathie Lee Gifford is to stand-up comedy what drag queens are to Victoria’s Secret models.

Wine’s a Different Kettle of Squish

Well, wine ain’t funny either, Kathie; so, it’s right up your alley.

kathie with wine casesOf course, most of her on-air imbibing is done via computer-generated special effects, since if you pester guests about dead people when sober, there’s no telling what you might bring up drunk.

Nonetheless, she is quite proud of her staged wine drinking persona, and even more proud of her latest venture:  Her very own line of GIFFT wines, not made by Honduran orphans, but by Scheid Family Wines in Monterey Country.

After all, as the besieged Texans at the Alamo knew, as the encircled Red Army at Stalingrad knew, as the wee Halflings on Mt. Doom knew, what the world needs now is another celebrity wine label.

Clipboard muskrats“It’s well documented that I am a wine lover,” Kathie Lee gushes like a muskrat in heat, explaining why she entered the wine trade. “I wanted to create wines I would want to drink and serve to friends in my home—an elegant chardonnay like those I tasted in California in the 1970s.”

Interesting choice of varietal and decade, considering that California chardonnays in this period were benchmarked by Chateau Montelena Chardonnay 1973, which bested some top white Burgundies at the famed ‘Judgment of Paris’ competition.  As a result, many of the wines soon bopping around in Kathie’s pay grade were overly alcoholic knock-offs; heavily oaked and vanilla-flavored wood juice that was even harder to swallow that the price tags.

Elegance is a subjective descriptor, I suppose, so between me and the wall, I always thought ‘The Giff’ was a rather inelegant meathead myself.

60th Primetime Emmy Awards - ArrivalsAnyway, Kathie partnered up with the Scheid Family Vineyards, which I expect means she threw a bunch of money at them,  since the ‘vineyard’ is essentially a custom crush brand builder who will cash your check and hand you your wine.  And voila:  Beside the chardonnay, Kathie Lee has released a Shied-made ‘blend’ that she can spill all over the red carpet when the Emmys roll around.

Further distancing herself from actually drinking wine, Kathie Lee recently told USA Today, “That glass in front of me on TV most mornings sits as a prop.  It’s a prop which basically says, ‘Party with us. Come join the party.’  That’s really all it’s there to do.  I mean, I don’t drink at 10 a.m…”

That makes one of us, Kathie.  But coolaballoolies, baby; I expect that your new venture is also merely a prop, so that you can wedge ‘winemaker’ between your equally ludicrous titles ‘songwriter’ and ‘comic’.

I can’t review the product because nobody has sent me any samples, but not for nothing, Kath—have your girl call my girl, because I’m not one to look a GIFFT horse in the mouth.

To be continued… (?)

Posted in CALIFORNIA, GENERAL, Monterey | Tagged , | 1 Comment

You’re A Good Manic, Stillman Brown

As a man of honor, as well as the kind of ‘showman’ wine writer who is willing to go to any length required to keep you, the reader, on the edge of your seats—up to (and including) transgressive acts, coprophagia, self-mutilation and physically attacking you in public—I will hereupon reveal one of my darkest, most shameful secrets.

No, it is not my history of drug abuse, my mile-long police record, my multiple divorces (one from my first cousin) or my several outstanding felony warrants for selling ketamine to Girl Scouts.  It’s much worse than that, mah neezy:  I have a degree in psychology.

Suicide is painless, professor.

Suicide is painless, professor.

As such, when called upon to review a trio of outstanding releases from the obsessive-compulsive Paso Roblan winemaker Stillman Brown, I recalled an infantile exercise I was once required to do by some namby-pamby prof who drove a lime-green Fiero.*

* Sidenote: Remember the time before they invented lime-green Fieros when you actually had to get to know people to find out they were douchebags?

Anyway, the assignment was to write a paper entitled The Charlie Brown Theory of Personality, which the professor totally ripped-off from The Five Factor Model pioneered by such mid-engine, pseudo-sports-car-driving weenies as D. W. Fiske and Raymond Cattell.  In it we were tasked to psychoanalyze various characters from the inexplicably popular comic strip Peanuts and see who fit into which of the five ludicrously condensed ‘personality variables’: Neuroticism, extraversion, disagreeableness, openness to experience and conscientiousness.

Which played out, in case you are interested (I’m not and I wasn’t), in order, as Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, Linus and Schroeder.

So, being as lazy as I am hard to convict in a court of law, I thought I might save myself the trouble of reviewing the freebie wines and instead, revive that tired old format to see which of those ‘gauges of emotional stability’ might best be employed to describe Charlie Brown’s brother Stillman.

The results?  Well, my droogies, suffice to say that they surprised even an old, beaten-down, world-weary, Kelly-Green-Ford-drivin’ cynic like yours truly…

The Stillman Brown Theory of Personality

ClipboardNeuroticism:  He is a model neurotic. He is prone to spells of contemplative depression and paralyzing fits of over-analysis when it comes to the contents of his wine barrels. Constantly worrying about covering the note on his million dollar ocean-front pad, he nonetheless refuses to cut corners on his winemaking, such as using a hose instead of jugs of Absopure when he waters it down.  He has a perpetual crush on the little bob-headed Cajun girl, taking small joys in her foibles (like dressing him in lime green and dying his homeschool-hair platinum) that may make her more attainable. He is noted for his inability to fly a dirigible.

Which character am I?  Stillman Brown.

Clipboard snoopyExtraversion:  He is a typical extravert and, having slept through Color Theory class, he may be seen wearing tartan pants with a lime-green smoking jacket.   Flamboyant, daring and outgoing to a fault, he tries to join in every activity and steer every conversation toward political science in order to justify his own college degree, which is even less justifiable than mine. He undertakes gallant, but fictitious missions in an Ultralite wherein he is able to extinguish the Hindenburg fire just as it starts, thus saving the humanity, the humanity.

He is Joe Cool, the life of the party, or at least, he lives in the house where we party because the garage is full of Chateau d’Abalone.

Which character am I?  Stillman Brown.

Clipboard lucyDisagreeableness:  Exemplifying the word ‘crabby’, he revels in his disagreeableness by engaging in pointless warfare with strangers on social media. Typical portrayals feature him bossing around bartenders, dominating wine competitions, mocking ThinkProgress Democrats and generally being a pain in the badonkadonk. His attempts at psychiatry generally involve misguided advice delivered loudly and angrily while jawboning a cigar that looks like something you’d see between legs in an NBA locker room.  One recurring interaction is when he offers his recovering alcoholic interviewer a pretend club soda which is, in fact, laced with Everclear.  Writer goes on three week bender, loses his job and family, and he preens.

What character am I?  Stillman Brown.

Clipboard linusOpenness to experiences:  He is clearly the brightest person west of the Mississippi River.  Witty and knowledgeable, he is prone to passionate, if stifling dull socio-political monologues and is totally immune to having the living shit chuckled out of him afterward.  He has invented his own God-like creation, The Great Zeppelin, and faithfully malingers at the mooring mast in Lakehurst, New Jersey every May 6 waiting for it to appear, which it never does.  He has his own idiosyncrasy, an ever-present ear tattoo, but he does not seem particularly sensitive about it; it’s just ‘who he is’.

Too old to pursue physically challenging things, he must instead use his intellect to mull over new and interesting adventures.

What character am I?  Stillman Brown

Clipboard schroederConscientiousness:  He is borderline lovable, but most casual drunks know him for one thing: His ability to turn grape juice into wine. Other than the incomparable Alexis, certain girls suffering from Usher Syndrome have been known to have crushes on him, but he will have none of it.   Disciplined and focused in his passion for classical enology, one can imagine him setting his alarm clock for two AM on weekends to check the progress of a stuck fermentation one more time.  Checking, yes; actually fixing the problem, not so much.  He is generous to a fault, and would offer to turn off the automatic sprinkler when he forces you to sleep in his yard; he would give you the shirt off his back, which, being a hideous lime-green-like color not found in nature, you wouldn’t accept were you unclothed in the Valley of the Shadow of Death in January.

What character am I?  Stillman Brown.

Of course, children—it goes without saying that you should not try this dangerous level of psychoanalysis at home.  Leave it to those of us who have been certified in Contemporary Metapsychology Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and have been tested using dummy patients in a fake clinical stage set.  Or who, at very least, have taken a brainsmithing course in trade school.

Enolytic Progress Notes:

Disclaimer:  I believe that documenting the structure, sensory impression and price of a wine seriously alters the drinking process and conflicts with fundamental dypsoanalalytic skills.  However, faced with ATF pressures to comply with state laws, I now record dynamic recollections of a buzz to clarify not only what took place while I was up-ending it, but also to indicate that certain conditions and events did not take place.

Stolen photo.  If I had taken it, I would have gotten the vintage right.

Stolen photo. If I had taken it, I would have gotten the vintage right.

Chateau d’Abalone Verdejo, Paso Robles, 2013, around $20:  Patient appears pale: HTML hexadecimal number #FFFF31, ‘Daffodil’.  Wine functions well on the olfactory level, showing tropical dementia with distinct delusions of being made from mango and pineapple, although balanced by more healthy grounding in good old American Bosc pear.  Precocious development in a wine so young; a diagnosis of Lolita Complex seems warranted.  A sexually salubrious drinker may wish to wait until the wine has attained statutory acceptability, although priests and Gary Glitter fans will not want to cellar it for more than an hour.

Stolen photo.  If I would have taken it, I wouldn't spilled the shit.

Stolen photo. If I would have taken it, I wouldn’t have spilled the shit.

Pink Zeppelin Dry Rosé, Paso Robles, 2013, about $20:  Gender dysphoria is a preliminary diagnosis:  Wine is incorrigibly and wantonly pink, a color that in Western culture symbolizes femininity, sensitivity, tenderness, whereas über-mannish ‘Zeppelin’ connotes National Socialism and death from above; juxtaposing the two is the wine equivalent of Herman Goering pissing rainbows.  Wine displays multiple personality disorder as—depending on the session—grenache, syrah, mourvedre and cinsault each emerge as the dominant identity, manifesting creamy strawberry, ripe watermelon and finally, grapefruit.

Stolen photo.  If I would have taken it, there would have only been one bottle because that's all that cheap fuck sent me.

Stolen photo. If I would have taken it, there would have only been one bottle because that’s all that cheap fuck sent me.

Colossus Syrah, Paso Robles, 2012, around $50:  I confess to misdiagnosing this patient, and all the subsequent mayhem is down to me—up to (but not including) medical malpractice suits.  During our first session, the patient showed the textbook symptoms of megalomania, more commonly referred to as ‘narcissistic personality disorder’.  Patient believes he is the Greek Titan Helios somehow transported from Rhodes to Morro Bay (possibly in pieces, like the Statue of Liberty) and manifested delusion of grandeur in the fixed belief that he possesses superior qualities in strength, power and general scrumptiosity.

In fact, during our second session, I delved deeper into the subject, by which I mean I opened the bottle and drank from it, and concluded that all the ego, sense of omnipotence and grandiose delusions are justified.  This wine is indeed superior to all other Paso Robles syrahs, and me and the Titan just rented a room at the Farmhouse Motel.

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Why American Wine Will Never Be As Interesting As French Wine

A few days ago, Tom Wark published a column called  ‘Why French Wine Will Never Be As Interesting As American Wine’.

Tom Wark

Tom Wark

Je l’avoue, there are very few wine columns—French or otherwise—that I find as interesting as my own, which is a good thing considering I’m about the only person who reads them.  However, occasionally—when weak and weary upon a midnight dreary—I have been known to take a stroll down Anamnesis Avenue and wander around Past Blast Park.

As such, I decided to take a rather novel (for me) approach to Mr. Wark’s interestingly-titled piece: I decided to read it before disagreeing with it.

I will link the article at the end, but in its distillate form, Wark suggests that authoritarian and protectionist regulations in the French wine community prevent the sort of variety experimentation and terroir terrorizing that Americans enjoy by virtue of us being the only superpower left in the interstellar Gould Belt.  Such unbridled unregulation and free-spirited non-protectionism allow us liberty-loving Yanks to plant riesling vines in the middle of The Great Salt Lake if the pioneering spirit so moves us.

The French can’t get away with this, of course.

whos-afraid-of-virginia-woolfVia dialogue with an ‘interlocutor’ (who I suspect is about as real as George and Martha’s son in that Albee play about The Three Little Pigs), the example that Wark proceeds to offer is Burgundy.  His fictitious, frog-fricasséeing Frenchman dares to assert that ‘Burgundy is Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and it always has been,’ because, ‘We know what works’.

Le Introlocutor

Le Introlocutor

Tom Wark will have none of that, of course.  Rather than reminding Pepe Le Acid-Flashback that if wasn’t for Americans bailing his poodle-poaching, snail-snorting derriere out in Normandy in 1945, Montrachet would be planted to Müller-Thurgau, Wark takes the high road and suggests that France’s hidebound, close-minded, parochial obeisance to tradition prevents them from making truly ‘interesting’ wines.

An Interesting Word is ‘Interesting’.

"Very interesting.  But schtoopid."

“Very interesting. But schtoopid.”

My dad comes from European wine country and grew up speaking the very black, Sauron-created tongue that Mr. Wark’s hallucinatory foe would speak if he were real and not a literary device.  Besides having taught me an awful lot about French wine (which he loved) and very little about American wine (which he did not), my old man was (and is) a pretty well-respected illustrator constantly called upon to critique the artwork of amateurs.  His verbal safety net when thus confronted (as he usually was) with sub-par, sub-human splotches of wasted paint, chalk, pencil or similar media, was to squint his eyes, take his chin in a little hand-formed cup and pronounce the work ‘interesting’.

By which, of course, he meant it sucked donkey dingaling.

In my house, therefore, ‘interesting’ became an ‘in joke’—a euphemism you used when you didn’t want to hurt some mini-Michelangelo’s or budding Botticelli’s talent-free feelings.

But that’s not how Wark intends it, of course, although it is fair to say that just because he finds American wines more ‘interesting’ than their French counterparts, he does not necessarily find them better.

At least I hope not.

champippleRather, he is rightly championing good ol’ U.S.A.ian ingenuity, where from every vinous mountainside, we let freedom ring like in that song we stole from the British.   And who better to poster-child this spirit of pilgrim’s pride than all-American wino Fred G. Sanford who boldly mixed what no homme had mixed before, Champale and Ripple?

The French would see such blends as sacrilege, of course, preferring to adhere to—as Wark refers to it—‘inertia, safety and protection’—although they did make some waves recently when they mixed wine and cola.

Clipboard crackersThus far, I am on board with most of what my ally in alcoholism adjudicates.  The French would never blend pinot noir with mondeuse like Au Bon Climat; not even on a bet, not even to see if it would blow up so that they could win their next war without us.  They wouldn’t rip out the steen to plant pinotage like the South Africans; they wouldn’t stir diethylene glycol into the Beerenauslese  like the Austrians and they wouldn’t sell viognier and tell customers it was roussanne like Randall Grahm—although the French might sell graham crackers and tell customers it was Bonnie Doon shortbreads.

So I am back to the word.  Interesting.

Chicken_of_the_seaWhat makes a wine interesting to Tom Wark may not be interesting to me, Randall Grahm or Jean Passepartout.  One man’s Chicken of the Sea is another man’s poisson.  Of course, under the broad parameters of ‘interesting’, antifreeze-flavored Auslese probably qualifies, as does Rouge Sucette wine cola, but in general, you’ve jumped off the Objective Overpass and landed in the middle of Subjective Street.

Smell is the most evocative of our senses; that much is not open to much debate.  A wine’s flavors, both scents and tongue-ticklers, have the ability to tap deeply into our memory banks and make withdrawals as they see fit.  The the olfactory nerve is located near the amygdala, the area of the brain connected to emotional memory. That’s the beauty of wine’s sensory experiences—it conjures up images, including thoughts of how we got here, writing about wines and chewing the fat with phantom Frenchmen.

take thatI was weaned directly from mother’s milk to French wine, and the deep unique nuances of these appellations—the soils, the grapes and whatever trillion traditions the French employ light up my  amygdala like a supernova in the Gould Belt.   When I sip a steely Mont de Milieu, I pull in the tangibles—the peach, the stone, the subtle but startling scents of brine—all things upon which Messieur Wark and I could probably agree.

swissBut it’s the intangibles in a glass of Chablis that I find most interesting.  A single whiff and I am transported back to simpler times—sunlit gardens in the Swiss countryside surrounded by aunts and uncles nattering in a tongue I was never able to master—Tom Wark could not possibly share those memories, any more than I could have a role his vivid and reconstructed life.

No glass of his Napa chenin blancs or rieslings, however heralded, can do that for me, and for obvious reasons: That’s not what we were drinking.

And in the end, whether its a wine, a wine column or a wine library, interesting is as interesting does.


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Shine On, Shine On Hard-Ass Moon

Moonshine is many things to many people.  To unemployed Ma Swaller in Possum Twat, Arkansas, it’s survival economics as she sells Persimmon Punch for a buck a cup to her neighbors.  To Dork Hazzard, it’s dodging (literally) the Feddies in a souped-up Charger that can run on booze.  To  Blind Melon Chitlin, it’s the gauge that didn’t measure the methanol correctly.

Gatlinburg-Moonshine-IndustryTo me, it’s hitchhiking in rural Tennessee as a teenager, being picked up by a gap-toothed cracker who passed over a jam jar of clear liquid and asked if I’d ever tried ‘White Mule’ before.  Not wanting to look like the callow, slumming Yankee fuckwit that I was, I replied, ‘Sure! Lots of times!’ but I could tell that he didn’t believe me.  I was dutifully instructed to hold my forehead tightly before I drank, and when I asked why, he said, ‘Jest do it.’

In fact, to his profound rebel-yell-howling amusement, I swallowed and—feeling as though I had just been kicked in the forehead by the phantasmagorical white mule—gacked and grimaced and clutched my imploding brow with enough force to rip a phone book in half.

How can there not be a commercial angle to this shit?

And According to Ole Smoky Distillery, There Is…

On top of Ole Smoky, all covered in pine

I tossed my poor cookies, from suckin dat ‘shine.

- Folk ballad

So, in the mail I receive—at my request—several quart jars of Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine, compete with retro labels that look like they were typed on an antique Underwood.

ClipboardUndertable might be more appropriate:  Thar’s some whomp-ass in them thar Smokies.   The signature tipple, called ‘Original’ is strong as a draft horse and about as posh, but it’s clean as the country water in that old song about Nashville Cats.  The label claims that it’s 80% homegrown corn from Eastern Tennessee, with the other twenty percent being some proprietary secret that gives it ‘the distinct character of genuine moonshine’.  Not sure that this is the wisest marketing strategy considering that the real backwater deal occasionally contains antifreeze, glycol and lead (potentially deadly) as well as methanol, an optic nerve poison.  And yet, the fact that I am alive to use my late-model Underwood to type a review and can physically see what I just reviewed—albeit in double—is indication that Ole Smoky did make me croaky, so they won’t be heading to the pokey.

??????????????????????????????Beside 100 proof ‘Original’, Ole Smoky also offers ‘White Lightnin’’ flavor—an attempt to produce some highbrow, Hipsterberry Finn version of hooch.   Five times distilled, which effectively removes anything that could be confused with character, Ole Smoky touts the bevvie as a gin or vodka alternative.  But, lest you forget that it is actually nothing more than unadulterated E85 in a mason jar, the PR says it’s for mixin’ rather than mixing—just in case you snobs try to get too uptown with it.

The other flavors, Blackberry, Apple Pie, Cherries and Lemon Drop are for the feint of heart.  At a pallid 40 proof—little more than strong zinfandel—they are hardly the stuff of forehead clutchery—essentially, to White Mule what Paulie Shore is to Stanislavski method acting.

Bobbie Gentrification

Ode To Billy Joel: 'I'm in hate with an uptown schlub...'

Ode To Billy Joel: ‘I’m in hate with an uptown schlub…’

With state laws relaxing marijuana penalties—even while strengthening their hold on the stuff by demanding all sorts of fees and permits and bag limits on it—you can be sure that you’ll soon be seeing upmarket schemes for investors to make more bhang for the buck.  As we speak, two Yale MBA graduates called Brendan Kennedy and Michael Blue are running a Seattle private-equity fund designed to buy up the smaller marijuana-related businesses to create a single over-priced organic pot hypermart.

Likewise, it is not surprising that the once-clandestine art of backyard distilling, which has always existed in the hollers and forests of Appalachia far from the prying revenuer’s eye, should be making a run for mainstream gentrification.

trioWhat remains to be seen is if the true charm of moonshine is in its furtive, tax-free, below-the-radar illegality, or if it is something that really needs a spot on the shelves of the rich and famous.

My rotgut tells me that Ole Smoky is a fad—a flavor-the-month, something that the blue-bloods will drink for a hoot, but only once in a blue moon.

Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine, various flavors, around $28/750 ml.

For more info and availability:

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