Springtime Cocktails à Go-Go!

When someone from an upscale firm in uptown Manhattan queries you regarding ‘re-creating’ some springtime drink recipes, you know they are not only going to be scenester ‘it’ drinks, but boisterously, excruciatingly, insuppressibly so.

bambiSo, if you agree (as I did) to write about them, the re-creation’s first step is not checking the sideboard to see if you have all the right ingredients—you don’t and that’s a given.  Nor is first step checking to see if you’ve heard of all the right ingredients—you haven’t and that’s another given.  The first step is to tell said firm that if they want you to write about these drinks, they have to make them themselves and send them to you in fancy little containers that you can later use in bottling rotgut applejack from your homemade still to transport across state lines.

And that’s exactly what dear Amanda Gerecs offered up, although I didn’t forewarn her about the bootleg bit of the bargain to avoid bringing disrepute to The Thomas Collection. 

A scenester in native costume

A scenester in native costume

Now, everything trendy needs a hooker’s hook, preferably something either ghetto or European, ideally something vaguely familiar to the average wannabe trend-john, but still subculture abstract.

Fundamentally, and above all else, however, it must something susceptible to Madison Avenue-style packaging.

Of course, right from the gitty-up you can raise the hipster quotient of whatever you are pushing by making it out of a whole bunch of other trendy things (whatever they may be) with the hope that such a stylin’ synergy of caché will produce a self-sustaining chain reaction of fashionability until sheer unbridled hipness exceeds critical mass and the whole thing explodes all over the jet set like a detonating nuclear warhead.

Voilà; the Spring 2015 Cocktail Collection is Born

So, I will offer you the drink recipes and drink recipe’s begetter and the drink recipe’s begetter’s home base bar, and then I will make gentle merry over the preposterous ingredients and have a wee bit of glee at the expense of the begetter and then I will evaluate the drinks.

If that formula is copacetic to you, beloved reader, onward and uptownward:

I’ll Have What She’s Having
By Ian Hardie (Huckleberry Bar, Brooklyn)

1 1/2 parts Caoruun
1/2 parts St. Germain
1/2 parts Aperol
3/4 parts lemon juice
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters

*Shake all ingredients and add to a coup glass. Garnish with a grapefruit twist.

Huxckleberry Bar

Huckleberry Bar

Ain’t no huckleberries at the Huckleberry Bar, fo shizzle, ma nizzle. St. Germain is bad enough, but Caoruun? In a coup glass?  WTF raised to the power of google-plex.  For the record, Caoruun is Scottish gin, which would be the same sort of low-watermark of trendiness as Indian scotch if Indian scotch existed, which it doesn’t. But a coup glass?  Apparently a typo.  It’s called a coupe glass.

Ian Hardie

Ian Hardie

I’ll Have What She’s Having is so named because no self-respecting card-carrying member of the male persuasion would order Scottish gin mixed with Aperol, which sounds like monkey tranquilizer, but which is actually even weirder than monkey tranquilizer—rhubarb and gentian (whatever that is) and cinchona (whatever that is)  blended until it turns into one of those Infinity Mirrors, where everything I have to look up contains other stuff I have to look up, until the ingredients recede into a boundless, never-ending continuum of culinary nonsense.

The Drink:  OSHA orange in color, this is an ideal cocktail for deer hunting season, so it may have to wait until November.  It is full bore medicinal with an overlay of almost sickly sweetness—the kind of sugar-covers-bitter desperation counterpoint that cough syrup manufacturers use to mask the awful flavor of their product, but which appears to be in sudden vogue at the Huckleberry.

Sandeman Spritz
By Jim Meehan (Please Don’t Tell, NYC)

1 ½ parts Sandeman Founders Reserve Port
1 ½ parts Grapefruit juice
1 ½ parts Pellegrino Chinotto

* Combine the first two ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Shake with ice and strain into a Douro spice rimmed rocks glass filled with ice. Top with Pellegrino Chinotto. Garnish with half a grapefruit wheel.

Meehan in native habitat

Meehan in native habitat

You were going fine until we got to the Chinotto.  Reserve Port, check; grapefruit juice, check, Pellegrino, check.  But ‘Chinotto’?  Evidently, a Chinotto is some mongrel, mutated strain of orange that wandered too near the Enrico Fermi plant in Trino.

But hold on, Jim; I just re-read your recipe and I have a question:  What’s up with these measurements? Why, if you are dealing with ‘parts’ rather than ounces, do you need everything to be in one-and-one-halfs?  Doesn’t ‘one part each…’ amount to exactly the same thing?

The Drink: Now, this one is actually pretty good in a nostalgic sort of way.  Whenever I got stuck with a cheap bottle of red review wine, I used to mix the leftovers with Sunny Delight or whatever juice I had in the fridge to make a sort of impromptu sangria, and this brings me back to those days.  The addition of sparkling water does elevate the bevvie from the ranks of a jerry-rigged buzz-vehicle to a genuine, hallowed ‘spritz’, so kudos for that!

Day Spa
By Clint Rogers and Harrison Ginsberg (The Dawson, Chicago)

1 ½ parts Caoruun Gin
¾ part Chamomile Cucumber Syrup
¾ Lime juice
½ part Cocchi Americano
½ part Grapefruit juice
¾ part Suze
¾ part Chareau
Two dashes Jamaican #2 Bitters

*Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake with ice. Strain into a rocks glass, then fill with fresh ice. Garnish with cucumber slices.

Rogers & Ginsberg

Rogers & Ginsberg

This drink is so goddamn exotic it took two people to invent it.  Not unlike Lennon/McCartney, working together until wee hours, adding a chord change here and bridge lyric there, I can imagine Team Rogers/Ginsberg brainstorming over the liquor well at closing times, an endless array of potentially lethal combinations spreading before them like a boy’s chemistry set:

“Scottish gin is a given, obviously” says one, “—this is geek grog after all; but maybe some of this cucumber syrup left over from the Holistic Lumberjack convention in 1998?”

chem setReplies t’other: “Yes!  Yes! And Cocchi Americano, as you well know, is everything Lillet is not—it’s much more ‘boutique novelty’ and can dress up a Corpse Reviver #2 like nobody’s business, but no barman worth his Himalayan Pink Flake Salt would leave out the Suze.  And the Chareau.  Both named after old ‘Pass-around Suze Chareau from sophomore physics…’

It lives!

The real Rogers and Ginsberg composing cocktails

The real Rogers and Ginsberg composing cocktails

The Drink: I confess; like most five-year-olds, I used to fantasize about drinking Pine-Sol. As my poor, old, gray-haired mammy scrubbed the cotton fields clean on hands and knees, I would totter over and sniff her Pine-Sol bottle, and by God, it just… smelled… potable.  Well,  Chamomile Cucumber Syrup and Cocchi Americano notwithstanding, this is precisely the sort of light, limey, zesty, refreshing experience I’d always anticipated!

Unfortunately, those callow days of misspent youth have passed me by, and when I tasted Rogers & Hammersberg opus, all I could imagine was drinking Pine-Sol.

Sandeman Sangree
By Peter Vestinos (Wirtz Beverage Group, Chicago)

1 ½ parts Sandeman Porto Founders Reserve
¾ parts Plymouth Gin
¾ parts Lemon Juice
½ parts Simple Syrup
2 parts Soda water

* Combine all ingredients, except the soda water into a cocktail shaker.
Shake briefly with ice. Strain into a highball glass filled with ice. Add soda water. Add a lemon wheel and grate nutmeg across top.

Peter Vestinos

Peter Vestinos

Finally! The good old cursed fiend with fury-fraught, mother’s ruin: English gin.  And to blend? None of this imported, byzantine, multi-layered, hard-to-pronounce complex syrups—simple syrup will do, thank you very much.  I’m not sure it needed the Port, which turned the cocktail a shade that Macbeth ColorChecker would have called ‘O.J.’s Contaminated Blood Sample Maroon’ if they had any balls, but the drink was actually something I’d drink again.  Nicely balanced, not too cloying, not too tart.  This is the winner of the bunch.

And In Conclusion…

…It should be apparent that I can hardly contain my enthusiasm as I await the Summer 2015 collection, to see if these mixologists can outdo themselves in pure ludicrous dart-board creativity.

pine solAnd yet, at the same time, I may in fact find that I have been dropped from The Thomas Collection’s mailing list altogether.

Fear not.  To the emporium I bring my own humble offering, and this I cast upon the throne of Trendopolus in the House of Hipsteria for all you wannabes and alreadyares to evaluate.

“Drink upon my drink, ye Mighty, and despair!”

(If you have trouble locating any of these ingredients, message me and I will send you samples in this cool collection of bottles I now have.)

The Ozymanias Schpritzer

By Chris Kassel (Basement Lab, Kassel Castle)

1 ½ parts Pine-Sol
¾ parts Homemade Rotgut Applejack
¾ parts Monkey Tranquilizer
½ parts Short Bus Syrup
2 parts Contaminated Blood Sample

*Mix, drink, expire.

Posted in LIQUOR | Tagged | 1 Comment

Mona Elisa’s Smile

Why are infectious smiles called infectious smiles?  I get the semantics; if you are in the presence of someone with a perpetual, ear-to-ear grin you find yourself emulating it with some sort of Zelig-quality compulsion. 

But infectious sounds so STD-ish; so ebola epidemicky 

I’m forthwith nominating an colloquialism change:

A communicable smile.

Elisa Ucar

Elisa Ucar

Elisa Úcar has a communicable smile.  It bisects her pretty face beneath owlish specs and never seems to evaporate; she is the Cheshire cat of winemakers. I’m sure she grins in her sleep, which is something her husband Enrique Basarte will have to confirm.  With some people—used car salesmen, motivational speakers, Madame Tussauds figures—a perpetual smile can be positively creepy.

But Elisa is so unstoppably bubbly and cute that it is nothing short of transmittable.

She is (along with Enrique) the owner of Domaines Lupier in San Martin de Unx, which despite a French sounding name, is in Navarra, north-central Spain.  They had both spent a number of years in the Spanish wine trade, Enrique enologically and Elisa in sales, and had a nagging suspicion that they could do it as well, or better, than many of the wines with which they worked. The search for the ideal acreage (or hectareage, or whatever you call a bunch of vineyard dirt in Spain)  was intensive; it culminated in the purchase of more than two dozen parcelles—twenty-seven tiny plots of land planted, in this case, entirely to Garnacha.


It’s a family affair

That’s their obsession; their favorite grape.  That’s all they grow and that’s all they vinify and that’s all they care to do.  They may be one-trick ponies, but they outperform many a Spanish stable.

Says Elisa, “We examined the terroirs in various areas until we found exactly what we were looking for: Black Garnacha on old vines in different soils at various orientations and altitudes—between 400 and 750 meters above sea level. Some the 27 ‘treasures’ we found were planted in 1903, which made it possible to obtain the ‘savage’ expression of Garnacha we were after.”

logoNow, that may what they were after and that may what they intend their two labels (El Terroir and La Dama) to express, or there may be something lost in translation.  Either way, to me these wines are no more savage than Elisa’s smile is pestilential.  Both wines are unique, certainly, with characters unto themselves, one showing the varietal testosterone, the other the stereotypical counterpart displaying floral notes and graceful flourishes, but neither what I would refer to as farmhouse-rustic, which are wines that I might describe as ‘savage’.

10473073El Terroir, 2008 (around $50)

A firm undercurrent of earth frames a dark fruit bouquet; the wine shows aromatics of blackberry, cocoa and tart black plum with a bit of mint.  On the palate it remains broad and deep, echoing the ripe berries of the nose while maintaining an acidic lift that works with the fruit intensity and avoids any trace of jamminess.  That, according to Elisa, is thanks to the elevation; the grapes see plenty of sunshine, but enjoy cool high-altitude evenings.  Handpicked from 12 plots with vines that average 75 years old, this particular vintage of El Terroir spent 14 months in barriques and puncheons, offering some interaction with the oak tannins, but not too much.  Thus, the wine retains a freshness that may belie its weight.

la damaLa Dama, (around $80): Explosive aromatics filled with a luscious blend of violets, fennel, strawberry and pomegranate underlayed with graphite and stones. In fact, the clay-calcareous soils of the 15 plots from which the grapes are drawn are of tertiary origin and contain what Elisa refers to as ‘mother-rock’—a trait to which she attributes the wine’s clean minerality.  I found that, but also a juicy and many-faceted array of red fruits and a pristine finish that was not overburdened with tannin, but enhanced by a judicious dusting of it.


Like Mona Elisa’s smile, her wines are somewhat addicting, and like any respectable contagion, only can be caught for a specific period of time.  As Elisa says, “Each bottle is precious”, because only 40,000 were produced.

They are masterpieces of the style—thus, the allusion to Leonardo’s most famous opus may be appropriate.  And if the original Mona happened to have a bottle of La Dama beneath that famous lace-work bodice, the smile may finally be explained.

Posted in SPAIN | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Orange Is The New Misogyny?

What’s that they say about arguing on the internet?  Even if you win, you’re still a misogynist pig with woman-hating issues stemming from childhood?

OFFENDING PICTURESomething like that.  In any case, I was labeled such (and worse) by a somewhat rabid (not ‘hysterical’; that would be sexist) wine person called Sarah May Grunwald when I refused to be mortally offended by the photograph to the right, which appears on the website  ‘Orange Wine Festival’ under the caption, ‘Orange Is hot’.

Now, to be clear, it’s not an advertisement for the festival; it’s a photograph posted to the site, and according to the site administrator, by a woman.

As you notice, it is a customer at last year’s fest being served a glass of wine whilst clad in a low-cut blouse which, when photographed from the perspective of a ceiling fan, displays a remarkable visage of über-boober.

Sarah May Schickelglutzwald

Sarah May Schickelglutzwald

Grunwald, a ‘female winelover’ [sic], had her Twin Xs so infuriated by this image that she not only sent a nasty-gram to the festival calling it ‘gross and disgusting’ (and, adding an odd insult to injury, ‘unoriginal’) she reposted it to #winelover [sic] using her own caption: ‘Pigs’.

Which—considering it is exactly what similarly-named wrath-nik Sadie Mae Glutz wrote in Sharon Tate’s blood on the Polanski’s door—happens to be unoriginal.

The assumption is that Ms. Grunwald was offended by the visible acreage of female apocrine gland and not so much by the awful platinum-blonde dye job, although the picture clearly shows more root than rack.  I say ‘assumption’, because when I asked directly, I received a non-direct response somewhat clouded by a collection of coarse contumelies capped by the contention that I hate women.

'Cover thyself, harlot'.

‘Cover thyself, harlot’.

Now—considering I may indeed have tarried an extra ta-ta-second over the picture—that would be the metaphorical equivalent of accusing me, standing awestruck in front of Venus de Milo, of hating art.

I was also accused of having unresolved issues stemming from my teenage years (true, no doubt; among them is a dislike of being accused of being something I ain’t) and, along with my fellow pigs, of being unable to confront this woman in the actual fleshy flesh without a need to immediately skitter to the Men’s Room and relieve myself sexually.

Like Rush Limbaugh—who really is a sexist jizz stain—says, ‘You can’t make this shit up.’

Ilsa May Grunwald

Ilsa May Grunwald

Grunwald, who (incorrectly, apparently) I imagine dressed in a field-gray woolen tunic with an SS Helferin breast insignia, runs a wine tour group called Antiqua and is married, to no  great surprise, to a dude named ‘Ettore’ who calls himself ‘the resident gourmand’ and has a Masters degree in pre-Roman bar snacks.

To each her own, but the first snark-free question is:

‘Why would a woman running a company catering to the members of the wine-loving public launch such a venomous, crude and inaccurate public denunciation of a member of the wine-loving public?’

The Larger Question, Of Course, Is…

Is the photograph legitimately sexist?  Even if it was posted by a member of the female persuasion? (In which case, the caption would have been more taxonomically correct reading ‘Sows’.)

Chris Kassel

Chris Kassel

I suppose you’d first have to provide to me a definition of sexism that does not involve an intention to discriminate or a suggestion that men are inherently, genetically superior to women, or have a genuine reaction to the photo that says to you (as a man), ‘If I attend the Orange Wine Festival I will meet such a vision of voluptuity and live happily ever after nuzzling titanic tiggobitties’   Or to you (as a woman), ‘This picture instills in me anxiety and insecurity and tries to convince me that if I attend the Orange Wine Festival and drink orange wine, any body-image issues I have may be instantly cured’.

Or, to be sexist, does the picture have to simply change your focus from wine to women and schlong?

Remember, the picture was posted by a woman.  If I, a crackerhonky from a mostly-white suburban neighborhood, refer to Barack Obama as a ‘nigger’, yeah, in good conscience you can label me racist.  If Jay Z, from a rough Bed-Stuy housing project, calls his homies ‘niggers’, is he a racist likewise?

That is a question each honest person must answer internally.

Externally, mine is ‘no’.

alfalfaAnd equally externally, if you thereupon accused me of hating black people, my response to you (whether your name is Rush or Etolle or Alfalfa or Sarah Mae Glutzwald) involves a request that you perform an anatomically difficult coital act upon yourself, whether in a public latrine or in the privacy of your own boudoir .

Which, since it requires no adherence to societal stereotypes regarding men and women, no suggestion that one is better than the other, no pandering to Rush Limbaugh’s mindset, cannot possibly be labeled ‘sexist’.

As I am sure that my five beautiful, intelligent, independent, non-misandrist daughters will agree.

Posted in GENERAL | Tagged | 3 Comments

Richard Mayson, Quinta do Centro And A Bunch Of Unrelated Stuff

How does the road from Coronation Street to Alentejano, Portugal get lost on Selden and 2nd in Detroit?

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of a noontime ride in the wine frontier.

Richard Mayson

Richard Mayson

I’m a huge fan of Alentejano, both as a concept and a wine region, so when a chance to interview Richard Mayson came up, I leaped at it.  Or rather, I drove toward it—the rendezvous was set for one of Detroit’s trendier hotspots, which is exactly the sort of place you’d want to rep this drab dystopia when somebody from similarly drab Manchester, England comes to town.

The subject of Manchester was where we derailed, however. Mayson, who owns Quinta do Centro in Alentejano, where he makes wine with acclaimed enólogo Rui Reguinga, happens to live in the north of England—specifically in Coronation Street country.  For those unfamiliar with this strange little British soap opera, it is not only the longest continually running show of its type in history (55 years), it is also so financially successful that it basically underwrote everything that Granada Television has done since.

And it is insanely addicting: Despite all odds, I have watched nearly every episode since I was a kid.

Coronation_Street_TitlesThat’s not something that most Detroiters can claim, nor would they claim if they could—Corrie, as diehards like me call it, seems better suited for bored matronly retirees with a fixation on daily backstreet life in England’s industrial North.

TracyBarlow1_Deirdre_1980sBut, Mr. Mayson is not a dowager and he’s not retired; he’s a widely read author and regular contributor to Decanter Magazine, and yet, he’s such a Corriephile that he confessed to actually have had it playing on the hospital room television while a dear relative was dying so as not to miss a show.  Thus, we whiled away our wine talking hour sharing deep insights into Tracy Barlow’s character and the death of (spoiler alert) her mother Deirdre.

Sort of pathetic, non?

L.s. Lowry

L.s. Lowry

Fortunately, a delay in the flight upon which he’d intended jet back to Manchester gave us an extra span to yabber.  Unfortunately, we still avoided wine-talk, and instead discussed his street light fetish—he has a portfolio of the world’s most fascinating lampposts, now including some from Detroit—and the book he’s writing about Lancashire artist L.S. Lowry.

Greatfully, thanks to the internet, and the honorary degree I hold from Google University, I was able to fill in the wine blanks after the interview.

First, Mayson is married to a Blandy (as in a Madeira Blandy) and has also penned a book on that fine fortified phenomenon from the Portuguese archipelago: It’s called ‘Madeira: The Island And Its Wine’ and as son as it becomes available, I’ll share a review.

Quinta do Centro

Quinta do Centro

But the wines we drank as we discussed the Rover’s Return, Lowry’s ‘matchstick men’ paintings and the homeless person peering in the window at Selden Standard were Mayson’s own: Quinta do Centro; three wines, all blends, reflecting the remarkable terroir of Reguengo on the slopes Serra de São Mamede, which  sit a rarified 1600 hundred feet above sea level.  The soils are rocky and predominantly granite, and the trio of rock star wines Mayson produces are all named, fittingly—in Portuguese—after rocks.

duas-pedras-alentejo-wineDuas Pedras ($10)  is a co-fermented blend of Touriga nacional (60%) and Syrah with a small quantity of Viognier; the aggressively floral white, according to Mayson, is the ‘salt in the cookie’.  “It’s not obvious when it’s there in small quantities, in this case, 2 or 3%.  It’s only obvious if it’s missing or it there’s too much.”  The wine expresses bright red berry notes (cranberry especially) with an herbal and mineral lift; the palate is full and and shows the richness of Touriga and the spiciness of Syrah.

Pedra Basta ($18), or ‘Enough Stones’, may be the swan song of the series—or it may not be.  In any case, like most wines, when it comes to Mayson’s, you can have too much, but you can never have enough. A fabulously aromatic blend of Trincadeira, Arragonez and Alicante bouschet, the wine shows a bouquet of velvety violets and briery raspberries; it opens into a layered medley of fruit and textured mineralit, showing lively acidity and moderate oak that does not overpower a long, spicy finish.

pedra-e-alma-alentejo-winePedra e Alma ($30) is the flagship wine; Mayson’s reserva.  Portuguese for ‘Stone and Soul’, the name is poetry reflecting both foundation and ascendency, which I am sure the winemakers intend the wine to display.  And indeed, it does.  Made from Trincadeira, Arragonez, Alicante bouschet and Grand noir, aged for 2 years in new French oak, it shows a cassis-like concentration of dark fruits, one of which owns the somewhat elusive comparison to mulberry, which I identify only because of mulberry trees in my yard.  There’s elegance behind the complexity, with licorice, Damson plum and a seductive tarriness, all braced by pure and primal acidity born of the vineyard’s elevation.

I asked the lamppost-infatuation, Lowry-beset, Coronation Street-consumed and Madeira-mad Mancunian if he’d named his daughter after one of his multiple obsessions, and he confessed that although his kid’s name is Isabella, his wife—now a Mayson—commonly goes by the sobriquet ‘Blandy’.

And I sheepishly admitted that I have a daughter named Corrie.  Hands across the water; heads in BBC.


Posted in PORTUGAL | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Steadfast Sancerre Stands Strong Amid War Of The Words

I believe I have finally begun to grow up.  I am about to discuss an article written by a colleague named Beppi Crosariol, in which I intend to spend zero minutes making jokes about his preposterous name, but rather, will focus upon the content of his character.

That’s progress, right?

Beppi is not to be confused with Beppo

Beppi is not to be confused with Beppo

The piece, in the Globe & Mail—arguably wine’s most sacred writ—reports on a magnetic-resonance machine study conducted at the Basque Center on Cognition, Brain and Language; it is titled ‘Science has spoken: Big wine doesn’t mean more flavour’

First, regardless of whether or not you believe that big wines have more flavor, I think we can all agree that big words are for anal poindexters with penis issues; thus, use of the term ‘magnetic-resonance machines’ when you mean ‘MRIs’, and ‘Cognition’ when you mean ‘shit we think about’ and adding wholly superfluous and ostentatious ‘U’s’ to basic words like flavor suggests that Beppi doesn’t like his pee-pee.

In any case, the first sentence is:

‘It appears that haughty Euro-centric wine connoisseurs were right all along: Lower-alcohol wines are more interesting than the big, fat ethanol bombs coming out of California.’

Wine glass shown actual size.

Wine glass shown actual size.

Now, unless he is speaking about Donald Patz, big, fat ethanol bombs represent but a small fraction of the things that come out of California, and plenty of the wines take their cues from Euro-centric winemakers in Southern Rhône and Northern Italy.  But, my point is, regardless of what science may find, when it comes to wine, ‘interesting’ is about as subjective and non-scientific a word as any I can imagine.

Which Brings Us to a Case of the Case in Point: Sancerre

"Do I look like someone who bores easily?"

“Do I look like someone who bores easily?”

Another wine scribe, David Honig, opined recently: “Flavor descriptors are useless because different people taste different things.”

I’m still oscillating that portion of my anatomy which encloses the cerebellum over that one, especially since he said it in defense of wine scoring systems, stating that they are the better ‘consumer tool’—even though critics score wines based on what they taste, and, of course, different critics taste different things.

(He later went on to say that brett isn’t a flavor, and although I swear I have tasted it,  I have sufficiently self-inflicted upon my braincase the neo-adult version of Shaken Baby Syndrome to worry about that right now.) 

To me, flavor descriptors are useful precisely because different people taste different things.  That’s what wine education is all about; listening to others and gauging the weight of their sensations compared to yours.  Sometimes you convince, sometimes you acquiesce. But always, you learn.

comte labelSo to the point, one of the requisite rituals of my Spring is cracking open a bottle of Sancerre. This wine represents to me a first-among-equals sip that speaks boldly but gently, a perfect metaphor for the season. As a reliable go-to, Compte LaFond, from Baron Patrick de Ladoucette, is an upper end (around $30) Sancerre that displays all the myriad subtleties that we look for in the appellation.  That is, as a Sauvignon blanc it displays floral and mineral notes without being aggressively citrusy or grassy—the 2011 that I poured had not yet begun to show ravages of age, but had settled into its twilight years with elegance.  Four or five years is about maximum for this label, when the tempered acidity and tamed terpenes seem to pull out the lemony bottom, and rich, complex undertones appear.

At 12.5% ABV, it is the polar opposite of a big, fat, high alcohol bomb from California.  The Hall to the Patz, in other words.

Now, I consider that interesting, which I suppose makes me a Euro-centric wine connoisseur, and thus, according to preppy, peppy Beppi, right all along.

But, although such descriptors as Mr. Honig finds useless include the following:

Springtime‘…Nice, almost musky intensity with aromas of light peach, white flower blossoms and powdery chalk; the palate develops into a bright blend of lime zest and fresh rosemary, especially nice when chilled; the wine is refreshing and light, but grounded with a backbone of minerality.”

…on a personal level, the truly interesting qualities in this wine are the following:

‘…The bouquet conjures up smells from an open window in the house where I grew up, with April breeze behind it blowing into a living room where I, though underage, was allowed on Sunday afternoons to sip wine alongside the adults, each of whom had unique smells of their own according to clothing, cologne and the peculiar je ne sais quoi of personal chemistry; the palate completes the image of quiet, happy moments when the lemony tang of Sancerre and the velvet of a callow afternoon buzz seemed to me to be the greatest thing on earth…’

That would indeed be useless to Honig or the homogenous horde of hoi polloi he happily hosts; in fact they’d be useless to anyone but the only one who really counts:  The dude drinking the Sancerre.

In which case, to moi, it is the opposite of useless:  It is priceless.

You see, although I may have grown up a tad, the moment I lose such marvelous, wine-inspired childhood thought-associations, the distinction of being a Beppi or Honig-style adult immediately loses its technicolor.

Posted in GENERAL | Leave a comment

The Sinskeys Of The Father Visited Upon The Somm

Robert Sinskey doesn’t think much of wine writers.  Oh, dear.

He does, however, have a soft spot for ‘lumbersexual sommeliers’, which I suspect is really a hard spot, but I would never say that, because otherwise, when I tear the venerable Napanese sot a new lumbersexual-ready knothole, I might come across as petty and vindictive.

And we can’t have that, can we?

eater-logo_800Sinskey (patriarch of Sinskey Vineyards except for the father who’s been doddering around the lower forty since 2000) recently wrote an op-ed for Eater, the self-styled Vox Media ‘society/culture’ cluster-bleep which relies heavily on advertising from people who own, among other things, vineyards.

RSV tasting room: 'Pretentious, no arrogant, bitch!'

RSV tasting room: ‘Pretentious, not arrogant, bitch!’

Titled ‘Why Sommeliers Matter More Than Wine Scores’, it begins by postulating that ‘the era of wine arrogance is over’, then proceeds to disprove its own postulate by projectile-puking several hundred words of venom unsullied by any predilection other than arrogance.

After taking an unnecessary and inaccurate opening swipe at Robert Parker Jr., referring to him as an ‘ex-attorney who anointed himself the palate of America’ (when we all know that nobody was more surprised to Parker’s rise to fame than Bobby P. himself), he suggests that sommeliers—who he considers ‘young and cool’—are an industry vox populi more valid than either wine critics or the Vox Mediapuli trainwreck he writes for.

In mathematics, this may be referred to as a non-logical axiom, because not all sommeliers are young and hardly any are cool.  He follows that singular inanity with another, suggesting that since wine critics do not ‘rise through the ranks of cuisine and service’ their loyalty is to their own egos before it is to their reader’s palate.

So my question is this:

'Would I be proud to serve this to my family?'

‘Would I be proud to serve this to my family?’

Some wine writers do have a fine-dining rap sheet, including me, but what does that have to do with a critic’s role in the scheme of wine appreciation?  A sommelier recommends bottles from a finite and inventory-sensitive wine cellar in order to make money for the boss; if a critic is found to have benefited financially from a supposedly objective recommendation, his/her career is in jeopardy.  If a series of such recommendations turn a huge profit for the restaurant, the sommelier gets a bonus.  If the same holds true for a critic, he or she gets a pink slip.  Or should.

But I digress, which is exactly what Sinskey does for the next six hundred words in which he offers us a succinct, if unsolicited, history of wine in America, culminating in another rip at his namesake Robert, whose 100-point scale he refers to as ‘simplistic’ and who, mid-rip, he inexplicably credits for having recognized 1982 as one of the defining Bordeaux vintages of the twentieth century long before other critics who, throughout the tirade, remain unidentified and thus, ripped-by-proxy.

But, Back to The Lumbersexuals

sinskyHere is a picture of Sinskey.  Please note that he has what may be described as a classic lumbersexual visage. In fact, he appears to be an archetype of the breed; the Platonic essence of whisker-sprouting, lumbersexist desperation.

Let’s analyze this face from a purely objective physiological perspective: The bone structure radiates a certain wimplicity that is echoed in the choice of corrective lenses: Half-frame granny spectacles hanging from a cord around his neck like a heterosexually-repressed librarian.  His boyish bangs, the color of the Pillsbury Doughboy’s tushie, dangle with forced nonchalance above a neat, multi-toned, meticulously-groomed beard; the open-collar designer shirt suggests the faux-ruggedness of any self-respecting lumbersexual—looking the part without actually being the part.

"I am a pencil-jack and I'm okay."  ♫

“I’m a pencil-jack and I’m okay; I sleep all night and I draw all day….” ♫

Because, of course, Sinskey does not come from actual lumbercultural roots; he’s a Fine Arts major from Parsons School of Design on 5th Ave and W. 13th.  And trust me, Greenwich Village is about as far from the logging communities of the Great Northwest as you can get and still be within this galactic arm.

But, that’s the beauty of lumbersexuality.  It requires a beard and butt bangs and some synthetic machismo, but no skills whatsoever with a chainsaw.

That’s why he’d be advised to not to wield one in the personal space of passive-aggressive pundits like moi.

Hiding a Multitude of Sinskeys

Bobby P

Bobby P: Pure butch

It’s said that if you claim to understand quantum mechanics it’s because nobody ever explained it to you.  Same goes for the 100-point scale, which Sinskey finds ‘simplistic’ and I find anything but.  In fact, my objection to the 100-point scale is not that it’s too simple, it is that it’s too complex and ultimately makes no sense.  But that’s fodder for future fustian forays.

It’s also said that no one who bitches about Parker’s scoring system ever got a 95+, but Robert Sinskey makes some very nice wines and it is inconceivable that his unaccountable anti-critic ire could result from him being on the shit-end of the score stick.  So I spent some time on the net, and yet, and yet…

I couldn’t find a single link where Wine Advocate listed a Robert Sinskey wine; not a single Parker score for a single Sinskey wine anywhere.

That strikes me as weirder than a cocktail party at the Betty Ford Clinic, so I’m hoping that you boys and girls at home can help me out.

Life After Wine Critics

Life After Wine Critics

In any case, Sinskey’s ungood upchuck of umbrage is unsettling to us ego-driven scribes who, let’s be honest, serve at the pleasure of winemakers.  Were they to collectively go all Sinskey on our asses and refuse by court injunction to allow us to write about their products, can you imagine the slow death we’d die?  —Or, suffering a fate worse than death, be forced to write about beer?  It would be like a Passion Play about the Middle Ages when those vassalsexuals (winemakers) assumed the Black Plague was spread by cats (wine writers) and killed them all, then discovered the disease was actually spread by rats (sommeliers) which now proliferated in the absence of cats.

What a world our children would inherent.

captain.trace.1No, I think it behooves us odd bedfellows in the Kebo Futon Sofabed®  of life if we strive en masse to respect the fruits of each others’ labor, to work together for a Uniteder States of America, to join forces as sentinels of liberty, indivisible, without regard to color, religion, creed or lumbersexual orientation.

To Robert Sinskey, your humble narrator says:

“Remember Wake Island, sir! Remember Pearl Harbor! Remember The Maine!  And above all, remember your duty to your galactic arm! 

Now, go in peace and sinskey no more.”



Posted in GENERAL | Tagged | 6 Comments

Syrah, Syrah: A Tale Of Two Pretties

‘It was the best of tomes, it was the worst of tomes…’

first pictureOr something like that. When we were assigned that ponderous boat-anchor in high school, I told Brother Lithgow, “I’m not reading any more until this Dickens schmuck makes up his mind.”

I did read more, though.  Smacking students was not only legal in Catholic school, it was de rigueur.  And I’m glad I did—the overlong, overwritten and overwhelming exploration of the divergent characteristics of human nature, symbolized by a city to the north, and one to the south, is worth the odyssey.

I have a similar reaction to the dual faces of Syrah, the patriarch of  Northern Rhône, the enfant terrible of Washington, the darling of the Central Coast and the honeysnuggles of the Barossa Valley.

grapesIn Spain, the grape expresses a number of attitudes grafted from all the above, and can produce Syrahs as unique as any.  Impossible to generalize of course, but were coals held to my fallen arches I’d say that Spanish Syrah tends to be less fruit-driven than New World Versions, less brooding that French versions, less ripe than Aussie shelf-stockers.

Exceptions abound, no doubt—one of Syrah’s more remarkable pedigrees is its ability to express the personality of where it is grown.

The two I contrasted yesterday perfectly showcased the duality inherent in the grape; one, like the London of Dickens’ novel, was dark, fog-bound and treacherous, the other, like Paris in metaphor, was gaudy and bright, but with the trappings of artifice.

I’ll try to explain what I mean, using less words than Book the First; I promise.

Castell d’Encus ‘Thalarn’, Costers del Segre, 2012, around $35 (a.k.a. Paris): 

Raül Bobet

Raül Bobet

d’Encus has an interesting back story—it was first planted in 1151 and at the time, great hollows were carved from solid cliff-side rock, which winemaker Raül Bobet still uses.  51 acres are planted to vines, spread in the high-altitude technique of dense spacings (up to 3000 vines per acre), but grown  on low-yielding root stock.  This leads to smaller vines producing fewer grapes of higher quality.

‘Thalarn’ is 100% Syrah, which in Costers del Segre (in western Catalonia) is somewhat unusual—the grape is useful as a component ingredient in several Spanish master recipes, but in this case, the purity of the manifest expresses the clarity of mountain-grown Syrah.  The wine shows a splashy core of colorful fruit, but it comes off almost confectionary on the nose, like sniffing Grandma’s bowl of hard-shelled raspberry candy.  There are floral undertones, sweet as the gilded salons of Versailles, and a palate as smooth and as embroidered with cerise and cream as any formal French silk suit. The wine shows aristocratic breeding without sharp edges, but it’s longevity may be subject to subjects beyond its control.

García Burgos ‘SH’, Navarra, 2009, around $25 (a.k.a. London)

shJavier García and Laura Burgos, a pair of well-respected winemakers from northern Spain, teamed up at the Cantera de Santa Ana in DO Navarra to produce a pure Syrah on the lower slopes of the Pyrenees mountains.  The story I heard was that they called it ‘SH’ because this is Garnacha country, followed by Tempranillo and Viura, and straying from the pack has meant going with one of the varietals introduced to Navarra in the eighties—Cabernet sauvignon or Merlot.  Syrah is still sort of an iconoclastic upstart in this ancient winegrowing region, so when Javier/Laura decided to vinify it alone, they wanted to keep it sort of hush-hush—hence, the name, which probably should be pronounced with four more ‘H’s.

This is the opposing face of Syrah in northern Spain; SH leads with the force of a charging Tudor, all brusqueness and potency with big earthy smells and heady aromas of pipe tobacco.  These notes are repeated in the mouth, with more fruit, though black and blue fruit—blackberry, blueberry along with pepper and bittersweet chocolate.  A long finish and enough character to anticipate an even longer reign in the kingdom of Wine Cellar.

the end(I could, of course, go on with the lame Dickens metaphors, but something tells me that it is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done, if I don’t.)

Posted in SPAIN | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment