A Boyd In The Hand Is Worth Two Anheuser-Busch


If I was a chef (which I’m not, but I bet this conjecture is close to the mark) and one week I over-ordered, say, lobster, prime rib and maybe Macedonian weasel cheese, here’s what I’d do:  I’d purée them all in a giant Cuisinart, make a bisque, invent an esoteric name like ‘Entaksi’ or ‘Imekala’, serve it to top guests on a busy Saturday night, then wait for the accolades about my aggressive creativity to roll in.

That’s what I used to think of winemakers who made strange varietal blends, using grapes with opposing characteristics, different brix and individual responses to things like malolactic and oak-aging.  I figured that they somehow wound up with extra blocks of various grapes and just tossed them all together in the stockpot and hoped that the resulting wine would make them appear iconoclastic geniuses on the edge of the New World cut—which it rarely did.

So, when a sample of Boyd Morrison’s ‘Apothic’ arrived via NAFTA (North American Free Tipple Alliance—a trade bloc open only to wine writers) and I saw that it was a blend of chardonnay, riesling and moscato, my first reaction was to roll my eyes and squish out a ‘sheesh’, especially since he only made 400 cases of it and still sells it for only fourteen bucks.

Sounded like a textbook case of, “What do we do with these hectares of chardonnay, riesling and moscato we were supposed to pick on September 17, but couldn’t because the Mexicans were all hung over?”

Not, mind you, that I don’t trust the winemaker’s judgment.  Boyd Morrison is to wine what Van Morrison is to transcendental live jazz/blues fusion; as Toni Morrison is to maudlin, over-the-top black woman brain-dumps; as Jim Morrison is to lizard kingdoms.

Well, perhaps that is a slight exaggeration.  Were I to shame the devil by telling the truth, I’d have to admit that I don’t have the slightest clue who Boyd Morrison is.  He is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside a fermentation carboy.

And it’s not for my lack of trying.  As a professional critic, I may embrace few of journalism’s most essential mandates (i.e.; I take eons to get to the point, I embrace unnecessary words, I rarely fact-check and if I end with a bang, it’s merely the sound of me imploding my Dell Pentium), but I do try to do a modicum of research about a wine’s genesis before I write about it.

Usually, that’s child’s play, because most enologists are ego-tipsy, and once the heavy lifting is done and they’ve got nothing to do but drink, they love doing interviews and posing for photo ops and they pass out biographies as eagerly as that bee-costumed schmuck at the florist shop passes out 10% off coupons.

Not So Boyd Morrison

Uncovering background dope on Boyd Morrison wound up being tougher than discovering the identity of a random Special Ops commando.  As buffs of the beast know, wine websites usually cream all over their winemaker, but Apothic’s neither has a tab on him, nor any photographs of him, and even more cryptically, in discussing Apothic’s origins, offers this sentence:

‘In late 2005, a Master Winemaker envisioned an epic wine that would combine Old World blending traditions with a markedly New World style. Thus began the path that led his protégé, winemaker Boyd Morrison, to create Apothic…’

Further copy mentions the mysterious ‘Master Winemaker’ several more times, but never once identifies him by name.

Strangest of all was the conversation I had with the winery itself.  They were extremely accommodating and friendly—too friendly, perhaps.  They insisted that they were gathering my requested biographical information as we spake; that it would be to me within the hour.

Michel Chapoutier

That hour passed, then another and another and twelve more…

Ultimately, taking the bull by the horns, I found a brief film clip of Boyd being interviewed at Joe Canal’s Woodbridge liquor store.  At least, it was someone claiming to be Boyd Morrison.  This individual was extremely clean-cut, nicely coiffed, wearing what looked like a pair of Skechers designer glasses—not at all resembling the loping, slovenly, unshaven protohumans I usually encounter when I ask to meet the winemaker.

Who are you, and what have you done with Boyd Morrison?

If this is indeed Boyd Morrison, he looks more like the kind of fellow who wants to discuss Jesus and your immortal soul when you answer the door at ten o’clock Saturday morning.


Ah, But The Wine…

So, as I began to say before I got all sidetracked by Boyd watching, when I uncorked the wine, I expected this arcane alloy to go the route of most last-minute desperation blends, which generally hit the palate sort of wrongly—flabby, unbalanced and lacking finesse—kind of like my Entaksi bisque.

In fact, my Apothic epiphany was profound and my surprise could not have been more pleasant.  Apothic is obviously a well-planned and intentional blend of expertly-chosen grapes; it rolls across the tongue in a series of juicy, sweet fruit layers—and the fruits are sufficiently well-defined that even a first-year tasting student should be able to assign each to the varietal from whence it sprang.  The moscato kicks in honey and probably a bit of rose; the riesling brings peach and apricot to the party while chardonnay’s ripe apple notes are obvious.  The wine retains 2.58 g/110 ml residual sugar, but a nice acid spine (3.36 pH for geeks), partly the result of picking the grapes at night, when acids are highest—as  the intensity of the fruit notes are partly the result of a later-than-usual harvest in 2011, but also due to centrifugal racking.

How do I know all this?  A little Boyd told me, via viticulture notes, which he signed in such an obtuse manner as to further compound the mystery…

…Except That:

Will the real Boyd Morrison please stand up?

I think I’ve figured it out.

The wine’s website insists that ‘Apothic’ was named for an alchemistic place called the Apotheca, wherein 13th century vintners stored their most coveted concoctions.

Fie on that, I say, because if that were the case, why not call the wine ‘Apotheca’?

No, that’s what mystery writers refer to as a red herring.  A quick reference check with the most valuable site on the web, Urban Dictionary, will tell you what ‘apothic’ really means.  And I quote:

‘Generally used to describe a dull, boring, or depressed person.’

So that’s it.  Boyd’s not a spy, not a cipher; he is a wet blanket, a soporific stuffed shirt, a nudge—probably too introverted to want any publicity.

Dude!  No worries!  We can’t all be gregarious, clubby, Big Men On Campuses like yours truly!

The game plan going forward?  I’m sure you’re too shy to make suggestions, Boyd, so let me take the driver’s seat here:

You make the wine and I’ll make the headlines.


Apothic White Winemaker’s Blend, California, 2011, around $14.


Posted in CALIFORNIA, Chardonnay, Moscato, Riesling | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Sammy And Jack, Sammy and Jack; I’m Gonna Get Me Some Sammy And Jack

The  best part of covering celebrity wines is that you don’t actually have to taste them to finagle columns from them thousands of words long.

And do you know why?  Because, my droogies, there’s no need to taste a celebrity wine to write about it; the point of a celebrity wine is not the wine, but the celebrity.

Sure, I force myself to draggle through the interminable public relations clatter, which generally refer to said celebrity’s lifelong commitment to excellence, their pride in achievement and unshakeable belief in hard work as the cornerstone of success.  The PR palaver may even mention that the celebrity likes wine.

But when the sun goes down over the High Sierras and the eagle beats a retreat to the eyrie, it mostly boils down to the fact that celebrities—with very few exceptions—dig anything that features their name and image—specifically something that manifests a caché of elegance and the swoon of sophistication.

Like wine.

Which is why you don’t see Dan Ackroyd laundry detergent or Lorraine Bracco toothpaste—but both have their own personal wine labels.

And—although I know this will sound mean and catty and far beneath the usually impeccable standards of this column—the more washed-up the celebrity is, the better he or she likes it.

Which, again, is why you don’t see store shelves stocked with Leonardo DiCaprio merlot or Johnny Depp zinfandel, but you can certainly find bottles of Tommy Smothers merlot and David Coverdale zinfandel.

One thing’s for sure, though:  Wine is made by winemakers, and celebrities don’t want to be winemakers; they want to be celebrities who have a wine label.  Likewise, most winery owners don’t want to be winemakers—they want to be people who can tell their friends they own a winery.

Hell, in my experience, plenty of winemakers don’t want to be winemakers.  They want to be winery owners or celebrities.

But it is nonetheless a subject upon which I love to blather in my boundless amazement that someone would actually pay money for a celebrity wine without the celebrity hand-delivering it, opening it and sharing a glass or two.  And even then, with wankers like Martha Stewart and Vince Neil in the wine label game, even that wouldn’t be seduction enough.

Moving Right Along…

On Tuesday I received an email from Terlato Winery proclaiming the release of 2011 Jack Nicklaus Private Reserve White, a Napa Valley sauvignon blanc—the first white wine in the ‘Jack Nicklaus Wines Portfolio’.

So The Golden Bear has a wine portfolio—who knew?  I suppose that if you are a sports legend, and he certainly is that, you can have anything you bloody well want.  With eighteen major PGA golf championships under his belt, Nicklaus even managed 25 years without a single Tiger Woods-style scandal.  In virtually every area beyond doinking hookers, Nicklaus is the most accomplished golfer of all time.

In fact, the only thing about Mr. Nicklaus that I could uncover that is somewhat unsavory is that he attended Ohio State University—an atrocity that frankly, for a Michigan boy, overshadows Tiger’s transgressions.

Anyway, if Jack wants a wine portfolio, he should have one—no nastiness from me.

Jack and Bill went up the hill, but neither brought a daughter

What I found amusing, however, while scrolling through the strangely misspelled press release, was that it makes it appear that the closest ‘hands-on’ Nicklaus had with the project was a 2010 tour of Terlato-owned Chimney Rock and Rutherford Hill wineries. A bit of high-powered banter apparently followed between Nicklaus, his sons, Jack II and Gary and TWI Chairman Anthony Terlato along with his own sons, Bill and John.  The deal took two days to crib together, following which, the Jack Nicklaus Wines portfolio emerged offering two reds: Cabernet Sauvignon and Private Reserve Bordeaux-style blend.

Now, I am sure there is more to the story, but as an anti-journalist with the most high-end of mediocre ethics, I am held to certain mandates. Among them: If I can’t corroborate that there is more to the story, I can’t say so.

What I can say is that Terlato Wines CEO William A. Terlato maintains:

Were thrilled to add this wine to the Nicklaus portfolio; it’s wine that will appeal to our Nicklaus consumers, distributors and restaurateurs.”

Come again, Mr. T? What’s a Nicklaus consumer?  Somebody who is a Jack Nicklaus fan, I’m guessing, and is willing to hand you $35 for a sauvignon blanc simply because it bears Nicklaus’s name and gold-plated, if somewhat illegible signature.

Personal Note to John and Jane Nicklaus Consumer

And what do you plan to do with the wine once you buy it?  Drink it?  Or cellar it as a ‘collector’s item’.

Because, if it’s the former, consider that you’re paying top dollar for a Napa sauvignon blanc; on average they’re less than half that price;  highly-rated Cakebread, Duckhorn and Grgich Hills Napa sauvignon blancs are all under $30, and even St. Supery Dollarhide, which hauled in 93 Wine Spectator points for their ’10, can be had for around $33.

And if it’s the latter, it rides upon my breeze of fascination over the peculiar psyche of the ‘celebrity wine buyer’.  They are as inscrutable to me as the The Mysterious Stone Heads of Easter Island, the origins of black matter, the Riemann hypothesis—or, for that matter, eighth grade arithmetic.

To me, collecting wine without ever intending to drink it is like buying a pair of $400 Victoria Beckham Sunglasses and putting them on the mantelpiece instead of your face—or paying sixty bucks for a bottle of Jennifer Aniston Perfume and refusing to dab a dollop behind the ears.


Waborita Margarita: Hammy Sammy’s Hawaiian Whammy

Trust me on this: Future generations faced with the monumental task of deciphering this generation’s tendency toward self-destructive stupidity will shrug off our juggernaut consumption of fossil fuels, pooh-pooh our thousands of pointless conflicts over equally pointless patches of sand, discount our insistence on electing officials who clearly have their own and not our interests at heart.

What they will say is this:

‘Replace David Lee Roth with Sammy Hagar?  What the fuck were they thinking??!’

Hagar is the one that looks like an uglier version of Carrot Top.

Hagar, in the most generous of interpretations, is a twittering little twabbie; an annoying adolescent AARPer who at thirty-six was complaining that he just couldn’t drive the legally sanctioned speed limit—sentiments you might expect from a teenager prior to his learning to shave.  A childish hissy fit (welcome as it was) lay at the root of his split with Van Halen; these days, he plays with a pretty good line-up, but he considers Chickenfoot to be ‘the reigning four-piece rock band of today’.

Dude, as a gentle, fully altruistic wake-up call?  You’re 64 years old—an age that a former reigning four-piece rock band considered better suited to mending fuses in the Isle of Wight, then sitting at the cottage fireside bouncing grandchildren Vera, Chuck and Dave on your knee.

Not cavorting on a stage croaking out lyrics like ‘I get wasted; a stoner’s dream on a Friday night.  Jump on it, come on baby; love, love, love that sexy little thing…’

But I digress.

Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum

So, in a typically overpowering display of humility, Sammy has hired a distiller to make what he insists is ‘the finest sipping and drinking rum in the world’.  This means, of course, that in his opinion, Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum is the superior of Pusser’s Navy Rum, Pyrat XO Reserve and Neisson Rhum Réserve Spéciale.

Me, I can’t say: As mentioned in this column’s lede, I’ve never tried it.  What I can say, however, is that Robert Burr’s Rum Guide’s list of the world’s top 250 rums fails to mention it.

What makes Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum so special?  According to Sammy’s (and by the way, what adult person goes by ‘Sammy’ other than Davis Jr.?) public relations people, it’s because it is made with Hawaiian sugar cane, which they claim is ‘the best sugar cane growing region in the world’.  And aside from the fact that International Trade Magazine,  listing the best sugar cane growing regions in the world does not mention Hawaii, it may well be.  It’s probably a mere oversight in ITM’s part—how would I know?  Do I look like a sugar broker?

However, speaking of oversights, I did get a kick out of the fact that although the Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum webpage goes on and on about the ‘master distiller’ that produces it, the distiller himself is never once mentioned by name.  Though in a site supposedly dedicated to the rum, Sammy does manage to squeeze in three entire pages about his career.

Well, I could go on, but really, why?  I’ve already hit my 1400 word limit on products that I haven’t—and probably won’t—ever try.

Sammy and Jack, Sammy and Jack: I’m gonna stick to my Kibbles and Bits.

Posted in CALIFORNIA, GENERAL, Napa, Rum | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Bœuf Bourguignon, Languedoc-Roussillon-Style—On The Hoof

Not saying that they are all simply crackers pastoral folk in Languedoc-Roussillon, that hillbilly heaven bucolic land in the south of France, but here is their recipe for Bœuf Bourguignon, one of the most beloved classical dishes of French culinary antiquity:

Bœuf Bourguignon, Languedoc-Roussillon-Style


2 bottles red wine

2 bottles Uncle Rummie’s Hangover Helper

1 cow, live


Feed wine to cow.  Come back later and do that inscrutably nasal French laugh. Next morning, put Uncle Rummie’s in Rosie O’Donnell’s Purina Cow Chow.

People who follow this column with any degree of regularity know that about 80% is made-up on the spot, the product of a deranged, feverish and generally drink-soused mind.  But this one is absolutely true; at least the ingredients part.

Languedoc-Roussillon winemaker Jean-Charles Tastavy and his partner, cow-cropper Claude Chaballier came across a study that suggested that happy cows produce tastier steaks, and being French, they knew instinctively that only four things make French people happy:  Festivals where you have to wear a wig, dogs the size of voles, making fun of British people and drinking wine.

Left: Clarabelle. Right: John Wayne Gacy

They also knew instinctively that only one of the four was a feasible option for Clarabelle.  At first, Jean-Charles donated his grape leavings, but the pair soon went with full bottles of wine.  Calculating the feel-good amount of wine for human beings into a Queen Latifah-type conversion, decided that two bottles, once a day, would have Elsie jumping over the moon.

But What About The Cost, French People?

That was my first question.  But after a short stint in research-ville, I learned that the average cow at say, 1000 lbs, eats around 50 pounds of food a day.  Purina Cow Chow—there actually is such a product, though it goes by Accuration Sup-R-Lix—runs $515 per ton, making the daily cost of cow feedage around $20.

Figure that by going with Two Buck Yuck, wine would only add four dollars to the equation.

And considering that meat from Claude Chaballier’s wine-wasted bovines tips the scales at $50 per lb. (it said to be sensational), the whole wacky notion begins to make perfect sense.

Except for one tiny little issue:

Drunks don’t particularly care for grass and silage; they eat stuff like Little Caesar’s Pizza Pizza, 7-layer burritos from Taco Bell and—especially if they are ghetto cows and it’s three in the morning—buckets of Popeye’s fried chicken.  That, I think, is the ‘x’ factor that would ultimately throw the whole experiment into irretrievable, unmitigated financial chaos.

Top: Jean-Charles. Bottom: Claude

And yet they carry on, those Languedoc troupers.  They’ve even named their  beef ‘Vinbovin’, French for ‘wine cow’.  How superlatively imaginative of them, non?

At any rate, consider that feeding a Vinbovin on Hungry Howie Value Meal Number 4s, as they surely would demand—and like most slobbering, hootched-up sots, probably not pleasantly—and you’ve taken their food cost to an unmanageable, totally ridiculous $500 per day!!

Methinks that some French clodhopper dairy farmer out there in the boonies has contracted a touch of the ol’ Mad Cow Disease.

Posted in Languedoc-Roussillon | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

I Am Woman, Hear Me Pour: The International Women’s Wine Competition

People are always winging on and on and on about things they hate—Monday mornings,  the Westboro Baptist Church, Rush Limbaugh, root canals, giant spiders in the basement, the U.S. military massacring innocent Iraqi civilians…

Yeah, granted, all that stuff blows the whaling wiener.  But, do you know what I hate?  I mean really hate? I hate that just because I have a Y chromosome, seven kids that call me ‘Dad’, great fuzzy bollocks and a trendy goatee, people automatically assume that I’m a man.

I am the only man in America that cried when Betty died.

Because you know what else I have?  (Of course you do, I post about it ad nauseum on Facebook): I have an effeminate flower garden, a girly dehydrator in which I make chicky chick chick-schtick like sourdough bread, yogurt and dried gay fruit, a television tuned permanently to Coronation Street, a juicer I use to make drinks for which my strapping teenage sons mock me, (including a fresh, healthful, scrumptious blend of celery, apple, carrot and beet—the recipe is available for a nickel).

So really, at the end of the day, when all the estrogen is added up and all the testosterone subtracted and St. Peter hands me my halo—either pink or blue—I think I’m on the short list for one with unicorns, bunnies and rainbows.  Made by Uggs.  Over brunch.  At Nieman Marcus.

As a result, you know what else I hate?  I hate that I can’t enter my shitty basement wine into the The International Women’s Wine Competition, to be held on September 18 in Santa Rosa, CA.  They don’t want my $75 entry fee, they don’t want four (4) 750 ml bottles or six (6) 375 ml bottles of my half-assed syrah, and I am reasonably confident that they don’t want my throbbing you-know what anywhere near their competition.

My mom with a teapot full of my basement syrah.

As Vineyard & Winery Management magazine (the contest’s producer) and Womenwine.com (official media sponsor)  make abundantly plain, the IWWC is for, about, because of, and judged entirely by women, who—according to a survey conducted by  Vinexpo 2009—purchase eight of every ten bottles of wine consumed at home.  So, it makes total sense for them to aim a competition directly at those wanker-challenged, eight-of-ten buying felines to (and I quote) ‘help professional wine buyers and consumers identify wines that women enjoy – and ultimately help wineries sell more wine.’

Helga aiming for the family jewels.

And to ensure complete and utter rule compliance, the IWWC has engaged Helga, She-Wolf Of The SS—out of work since 1945, incidentally—to check the squish of every single entrant prior to judging.

You got it: No vag, no badge.

So Be It, Helga

I will concede the ownership of a slightly under-sized doinker, a couple of kerbangers, some chest hair and a non-lesbian craving for members of my species who do not possess such things.

Therefore, International Women’s Wine Competition, I suppose I have only one question for you left:

Does this wine make me look fat?

Posted in GENERAL | Tagged | Leave a comment

Moscatos and Mosquitoes: Summer In The Motor City

Whenever I travel this wide and wonderful land, wherever I go—from purple mountain to fruited plains, beneath spacious skies and through amber grain waves, from sea to shining sea—I tell people I’m from Detroit and the response I get is the same:

‘Oh well, geez, dude; I guess everybody has to be from somewhere.’

Among outsiders, Detroiters face a sort of cautious, kid-gloves pity—the result of murder stats of around 50 humans per 100,000 (compared to a national average of 7 per 100,000), a housing market that leads the nation in foreclosures with a third of the city living in poverty, a school system in which a first-year student has a better chance of going to jail than graduating and weather patterns so insanely awful—constantly humid and often either below zero or (like now) above 100.  In fact, to find somewhere in the solar system with worse weather than Detroit, you’d have to go all the way to the Galilean moon of Io with its four hundred active volcanoes, atmosphere made of atomic sulphur and temperatures averaging minus 262° F.

“Oh, Daddy! You stole me an air conditioner!”

But, you know what, America?  We don’t want your sympathy.  We don’t want your advice.  We don’t want your bailout money, your emergency managers, your federal disaster relief, and by God, if we want your 12,000 BTU General Electric Window Unit Air Conditioner, we’ll break into your house and steal it.

Our Rep Takes a Rap, But At Least We Haven’t Rioted in a While

And by we, of course I mean they—I don’t want any trouble.  I’d rather kick back on the porch, suck wine and watch mosquitoes the size of sparrows embrace destiny as they are systematically electrocuted on the high voltage grid of my stolen Blackflag Bug Zapper while I—judge, jury and vicarious executioner—ponder the poetic enigma of reality, wherein people zappers have been replaced by more humane lethal injection, which we’d also do for the mosquitoes if we could figure out how to get the needle into those skinny little arms.

And also, I ponder a more universal puzzle: How the hell did a bunch of urban street-kid rappers out there in mileage-free Lexus Land decide that moscato, one of winedom’s best-kept secrets, should be the sudden trendy hip-hop ‘it’ bevvie of choice?  Isn’t that why God invented Salon?

Nonetheless, the gangsta geeks have been name-checking moscato like crazy lately:

L’l Kim: ‘Barrios y lo es abo tu eres despacio; Still over in Brazil, sipping Moscato.’ (Lighters Up)

Kanye West: ‘Hypno, Cris, though, I mean whatever; Saracco Moscato, it do taste better.’ (Make Her Feel Good)

Ab-Soul: Dolphin pills and moscato spills; Everything she need to get her thrill; No Hennessy on the bartender bill; Just a good wine and a good place to chill’ (Moscato)

Drake: ‘It’s a celebration clap clap bravo; Lobster and shrimp and a glass of moscato.  Let’s finish the whole bottle.’ (Do It Now)

Genuine, if random hip-hop status post (verbatim): ‘OK I just had the funniest shit happen I went 2 the store 2 get some moscato & this bitch gone tell me we don’t have any of Sutter Home moscato cause the distributor ran out of grapes.’

Being that moscato, and its frizzy cugina Moscato d’Asti, are fairly obscure wines, the reason for its sudden, chart-rocketing hip-hop popularity are likely one, or all, of the following:

  1. It’s a user-friendly, sweetish, low alcohol, inexpensive wine (the above mentioned Sutter Home sells for five dollars a bottle) that, once you discover, is simply difficult to dislike.
  2. Moscato is pretty much an ‘anytime’ wine, enjoyable as an apéritif, a dessert, in the drunk trunk of a pimped-out limo with spinner hubs, on the dance floor of a velvet-roped nightclub or on the way to a gang bang just prior to getting shot.
  3. It’s a natural for rap lyrics, being one of the few grape varieties that rhymes with ‘yo’.

Whatever the motivation, moscato has managed to not only tap a previously elusive wine demographic, but to strip mine the entire mountaintop away.

Danny Brager

Twenty-something African Americans on a limited budget, who have previously managed to duck wine marketers with the efficiency of a dead-beat dad dodging an F.O.C. warrant, are now at least partially responsible for moscato being the fastest growing varietal in America.  According to Danny Brager of Nielsen Research Analysts, sales of moscato-based wines (including Asti Spumante) have increased a gobsmacking 95% since 2010, mostly among ‘Millennials’ (17 – 34) and Hispanics.

‘This is explosive growth,’ Brager brags.  ‘A couple of years ago, moscato wasn’t even on the list of top 12 varietals.’

Muscat Love

Like any rapper worth his bath salt, moscato changes its handle to suit the occasion.  More than two hundred unique varieties of the grape exist, with associated nicknames numbering into the thousands—likely due to its antiquity.  Moscato was one of the first varietals to be cultivated commercially, probably in Greece.

Can you tell the difference?

In the English speaking world, of course, the most common name is muscat—a reference to the wine’s so-called musky aromas.  ‘Musk’ is defined by Funk & Wagnalls as dried glandular secretions from the cloacae of Central American alligators, Asian civets and longhorn beetles (among other species) and named after the Sanskrit word for ‘testicle’.   I’ll sign off on all this unpleasantness once you introduce me to the wine writer who first squatted down and sniffed an alligator’s anus for reference or licked a beetle as a sanity check; until then—unless a civet’s butt secretions happen to smell like honeysuckle, orange blossom and nectarine—I will have to confess that I miss the sensorial musk connection entirely.

Anyway, the grape more than likely traveled from Greece to Southern France in the 13th century, where it settled in among the viognier and syrah and today produces fortified dessert-style wines in the Frontignan and St-Jean Minervois regions.  A few hundred years later, it found amazingly accommodating digs in Alsace, where unlike the sweet wines of Languedoc-Roussillon, it is vinified to compete dryness.

Drake with his moscato.

In Italy, it is planted everywhere and produces wines of all descriptions,  but the style that originally tweaked hip-hop’s twinkies was Moscato d’Asti, a light, perfumed sparkling version made primarily in the Piedmontese province of Asti and nearby Alessandria and Cuneo.  Confusing, perhaps, is the formerly-known-as Asti Spumante, which has more bubbles and slightly higher alcohol content and is now known simply as ‘Asti’—just as Aubrey Drake Graham, Degrassi Street actor turned Juno Award winner, is now known by the mononym ‘Drake’.  Not sure why Drake shortened his name, but one of Asti Spumante’s emotional issues was that it was almost universally panned by wine bon vivants, being disparaged (in specific) by Napanese know-it-all and really hot hotshot Karen MacNeil as, “…a poor man’s Champagne.”

Yo, ma Motor City fam, ma Deetroit posse, ma Downtown niggaz; and yeah you too, Ab-Soul, Kanye and Drake:

Did or didn’t this Left Coast biznachissima just diss ‘poor men’ like we all once were?

Nonetheless, Ms. MacNeil does not win the award for Dick of the Day—an honor I dole out so rarely that frankly, I’ve never done it before.  That is forthwith bestowed upon one Gil Kulers of accessatlanta.com.

‘Dick of the Day’ Automatically Qualifies Mr. Kulers for the ‘Dick of the Year’ Run-Off in December

Gil Kulers, Dick of the Decade

On September 16, 2011, Kulers—a self-styled ‘wine connoisseur’—wrote a column entitled Rappers Ruin Moscato in which he suggested that hip-hop homies have no business falling in love with light, playful, effervescent moscato because they don’t understand the science of wine, and insist on drinking it at all the wrong times during a meal.  A former sommelier, Kulers seems generally incensed that ‘rappers’ and their minions, many of whom are new to wine, would dare enjoy Moscato d’Asti during the ‘non-sweet portion of the meal’, or even worse, inside their limousines, at a nightclub, or basically, at any time not expressly dictated by him.  He shakes his bald, wine-wise head at the folly of ‘celebrating’ with Moscato d’Asti, saying it ‘ranks among my last choices for a celebratory drink.’

You Guileless Greenhorn Ghetto Thugs: Dickhead Knows Best

Kulers even goes so far as to mock Drake’s lyric, ‘It’s a celebration clap clap bravo; Lobster and shrimp and a glass of moscato.  Let’s finish the whole bottle…’  by pointing out 1) that ‘moscato’ and ‘bottle’ don’t rhyme and 2) that moscato doesn’t go with lobster or shrimp.

Nom nom nom de plume

Far be it from me to argue with a genuine wine connoisseur and genuine former sommelier like Mr. Dick O’Day, despite his desperate discursion into dastardly dickery.  But frankly, as long as the residual sugar is in check and what’s left behind is balanced by acidity, moscato should pair wonderfully with naturally-sweet lobster, and depending on how it is dressed, with shrimp as well.

Oh, and Your Holiness?  I believe the ‘moscato’ rhyme in the lyric was meant for ‘bravo’, not ‘bottle’.  ‘Bottle’ went with the next line, to rhyme with ‘model’.

You Can’t Get Cooler Than Kulers.  Or Can You?

When it comes to making well-informed decisions as to what, when, where and how to drink wine, Kulers sees his purpose on Earth as saving young people from themselves. Even young people who earn more in a week than O’Day has in his entire wine-wanking career.  And if they don’t hearken to his superior grasp of enological propriety?  If they think that dragging themselves up from degrading poverty and truly awful childhoods (L’il Kim grew up homeless on the streets of Bedford-Stuyvesant after being booted out of her single-parent house) to the very pinnacle of their chosen discipline should afford them both respect and leeway in deciding whether or not to drink Moscato d’Asti with Lobster Thermidor?  Or to pop a cork to toast their fiftieth consecutive Grammy?

Well, according to the Daily Dick from arrogant Atlanta, they’ve ruined the varietal not only for themselves, but for everyone else.

And anyway, that’s not even why Kulers is Dick of the Day.  He’s Dick of the Day because his website (http://winekulers.com), which goes on and on and on and on about his wine accomplishments, contains a number of apparently contradictory maxims:

‘You really ought to think about what makes you happy and forget about what other people declare that is good/bad or otherwise about a wine.’

‘Wine is too pretentious…’

‘The world is full of wine lovers and wine writers with a snobbish streak a mile wide.’

And, of course, Wine Kulers’ Mission Statement:

‘Read Whoever You Want, But Drink What You Like.’

Here in Detroit, our population has dipped below what it was in 1920. Even the dead people are moving out; in the last decade, over a thousand corpses have been disinterred by surviving kin and moved to safe cemeteries in the crime-free suburbs. Meanwhile, there are 36 square miles of vacant land—roughly the size of San Francisco—and over 12,000 abandoned houses.  With nearly a quarter million Detroiters out of work, you’d think we’d have plenty of time and patience to develop the empty lots, to tear down the ruined houses, and at very least, to deal kindly with hypocrites.

Strangely, Mr. Kulers, on all three counts, we don’t.

Posted in Michigan, Moscato | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Block No. 42: Penfolds’ Ostentatious Obscenity

As a winery, Australian producer Penfolds has always tried to be all things to all people.

Christopher Rawson Penfold

In 1844, the cause was noble enough: Emigrated English physician Christopher Rawson Penfold planted vines around his Adelaide cottage and set out to produce wine for his patients; he was a firm believer in the curative power of the stuff, and at the outset, he focused on fortified wines styled after sherry and port.  However, once cured, his clientele apparently decided that the medicine had value above and beyond its intent, and Penfold eagerly expanded his winery to accommodate them.  Upon his death in 1870, his wife Mary took over the operation, and the Penfold family retained a controlling interest in the company for another century.

Penfolds’ reputation is justly deserved.  In nearly all categories, styles and price ranges, the winery has consistently offered refined, aromatic and luscious wines.

Home on the Grange 

Max Schubert, creator of Grange

Take Grange.  Named after Dr. Penfold’s original South Australian cottage, which was in turn named after Mary Penfold’s Sussex home, Grange the label was first conceived by winemaker Max Schubert in 1951.  Having toured the wine regions of Europe the previous year, Schubert returned to Penfolds intent on duplicating, and perhaps exceeding, the quality of  top estate wines in France.  Under the auspices of the company, he produced two thousand bottles of an unthinkably (for the era) powerful shiraz-based wine, which he called Grange Hermitage‘Hermitage’ being an Australian synonym for shiraz.  The critics didn’t care for the wine, and sales were weak, so in 1957, Schubert was ordered to stop producing it—advice which he ignored, continuing to vinify Grange in secret.  His insubordination proved providential: By 1960, it was clear that Grange Hermitage was an extraordinarily age-worthy wine—the 1955 vintage alone won 50 gold medals—and management called for re-production, oblivious to the the fact that it had never stopped.

Grange is unique, no question, perhaps in the main because unlike most praiseworthy and pricy Old World classics, Penfolds’ flagship is not single-vineyard designated and cares little about reflecting a specific terroir.  The grapes come from a wide strath of vineyards, and there is no specific ‘formula’ other than the winemaker’s palate.  Still, Grange (the ‘Hermitage’ was dropped in 1989 after French whining grew intolerable) winds up being among the most well known and sought after wines in the world; across vintages, prices average $600 per bottle—it is considered Australia’s only Primier Cru equivalent.

Thanks a Lot; It’s Bin Great

Meanwhile, Penfolds produces a great ocean of quality drink for the masses—and we’re not talking sacramental wines, but wines for the other masses: Consistent, fruit-centered, spice-loaded affordables, many of which seriously over-deliver for the price point.  Koonunga, like the Rawson’s Retreat range, can be had for around $7 a bottle; these wines are succulent and immediately accessible with uniquely Australian blends like chardonnay/semillon and shiraz/cabernet

A trifle more upscale is the Thomas Hyland series, named for Christopher and Mary Penfolds’ son-in-law, a canny marketer who took over the winery following Mary’s death and was responsible for  an exponential growth phase during which the company wound up producing a full third of all South Australian wine output.   Thomas Hyland wines are multi-regional blends (primarily from Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale and cooler Adelaide), and available for under $15 a bottle.

The numbered ‘Bin’ wines (Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz and Bin 128 Coonawara Shiraz, for example) are another of Max Schubert’s innovations.  They’re styled like Grange, but far less expensive, ranging from the mid-$20s to the mid-$30s, with a few notable exceptions like Bin 60A—vintage 2004, at $500, has to be the most expensive screw-cap wine ever made.

There are also Penfolds lot wines, Penfolds reserve wines, Penfolds fortified wines, Penfolds one-off special-release wines; you may be overwhelmed, but if you walk into the bodega with a finite wad of wealth in your wallet and are pining for a Penfolds, it is a virtual guarantee that you’ll walk out with something satisfying.

So, With All This Penfolds-Pumping, What’s the Problem?

‘The Meek Shall Inherit The Earth’. Hey, don’t kill the messenger.

We’re humble people here, right?  Meek, even.  And we intend to inherit the earth, as promised by the Jehovah of Hosts who indicated His intention to ultimately throw open the floodgates of Heaven and transfer the deed to the planet to us wimps.

And damn it, I don’t know about you, but I have a definite bug up my badonkadonk when dealing with non-meek people who act like they have already inherited it.

And if you can spend six figures on a single, barely-released bottle of wine, that’s you.

‘And ye are cursed, and you afflict me, even the whole nation of you.’  – Malachi 3:9

On June 29, Penfolds announced the global launch of the Ampoule Project, an acutely limited-release ’04 Block 42 (Kalimna Vineyard) made from the oldest continuously producing cabernet sauvignon vines on earth (the same earth I intend to inherit, thank you very much); the ten acre plot was planted in the 1880s.  The wine received a perfect 100 point score from Wine Spectator, so some bright bulb in the Penfold chandelier came up with the idea of hiring a bunch of Aussie craftsmen to ‘…celebrate the provenance of truly extraordinary wine and in the spirit of Penfolds innovation and experimentation.’

So far, so good; even the cornball copy.

The tariff that Penfolds is charging?  That’s where the precise nature of the good gets a little squirrely to your average workaday earth-inheritor:

$168,000 per 750 ml.—a standard size wine bottle.

The Ampoule Project team included Nick Mount (glass sculptor), Hendrik Forster (silversmith), Andrew Bartlett (furniture craftsman) and Ray Leake (glass blower), and the resulting objet d’art is accompanied by a Certificate of Authenticity signed by all the above, along with winemaker Peter Gago.  I should think so.

And when you finally decide to open the damn thing—it should be ready to drink the same year that we meek will be cashing in on our inheritance—a senior member of the Penfolds winemaking staff promises to travel to wherever you are—even (apparently) to the wildest depths of the Mato Grosso rain forest or the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula—and hold a ‘special ceremony’ in which he/she will officially open the glass plumb-bob casing and, using a specially designed tungsten-tipped, sterling silver scribe-snap, unscrew the bottle’s cap.

But that’s facetious, of course.  There is no cap.  There isn’t even a bottle: For the money they’re asking, a ‘bottle’ would hardly do, so instead, the wine is contained within a hand-blown ‘ampoule’.

Isn’t ‘Hand-Blown’ an Oxymoron?   

For the bored and curious, an ampoule is a hermetically-sealed vial traditionally reserved for 1) The blood of saints, 2) Low frequency RFID tags, 3) Anointing oil for the coronation of French monarchs, 4) Cesium; the waste extracted from nuclear reactors.

Wine appears to be something of uncharted ampoule territory, and as such, the folks at Penfolds promise a ‘truly memorable experiential and sensory engagement’. 

Amazing what $168 large can buy you in terms of language, too.  Who writes like that, even when they’re joking?

So, if you have the dosh and choose to waste it on a single ampoule of cabernet, what do I care?

Istana Nurul Iman

I suppose I don’t, but once the awe wears off—and it really is a transcendentally beautiful package—the whole deal begins to come across like Penfolds’ version of the Istana Nurul Iman palace, home to the Sultan of Brunei.  With two thousand rooms, three hundred bathrooms, a hundred ten car garage, five Olympic-sized pools and air-conditioned stables for the Sultan’s two hundred polo ponies, the palace seems rather mind-bogglingly over-the-top in a world (my world) where three billion souls—half the population—live on less than $2.50 a day.

Penfolds’ painfully pretentious project likewise.

If six hundred dollars for a bottle of Grange seems steep—and it does—a $168,000 ampoule of Block No. 42 must send you through a newly-formed wormhole of unconscionable self-indulgence and into some bizarre, plethoric, idiotic ego dimension in the wine world’s Twilight Zone.

But I can hardly spend any more time fretting about it, folks; I have a steamy date on Saturday night who I want to impress, and I need to ask God if I can—just this once—borrow the keys to the Earth.

Posted in AUSTRALIA | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Are Traverse City Lambic Brewers Up Shit’s Kriek?

That’s me, far right, second one in.

Excuse me; I know I’m a bad man who in the afterlife will never make it out of the flaming tombs of Dante’s Sixth Circle, where I will lament forever with such heretics as Epicurus and Cavalcante de’ Cavalcanti.

But in the meantime, I happen to find Belgium and every one who lives there sort of hilarious.

In the first place, if ever a country was eternally in the wrong place at the wrong time, it’s Belgium.  History buffs: What do Oudenarde, Ramillies, Fontenoy, Fleurus, Jemmapes, Ligny, Quatre Bras and Waterloo have in common?  Right; all were devastating, destructive battles fought on Belgian soil even though the wars involved had absolutely nothing to do with the Belgianese.  In fact, so much violence has come down behind Belgique borders in conflicts wherein the Flemish were not (willing) participants that Belgium’s nickname is ‘The Cockpit of Europe’.

‘Cockpit’ is a funny word in and of itself—one that I would not want attached to my nickname.

But then again, Boom, Orp, Genk, Dilbeek and Geel are all funny words, but Belgish people live there giggle-free and go to work each morning with straight faces.


Lying Down With the Lambic

For me, in terms of unadulterated chuckledom and guffawery, the Cadieux Café was pretty much the icing on the Belgian waffle.  It’s where many moons ago I was first introduced to fruit-infused lambic beer.  I’d gone to the Café  (on Cadieux and Warren) not to drink lembeek, mars or gueuze (three more funny words), but to make fun of the people feather bowling—a weird, Bocci-like game wherein Belgianites (or their descendants) throw cheese-shaped balls at a feather sticking out of a sixty foot trail of sand.


The Cadieux Café prides itself as being the only home for feather bowling in the United States, somehow missing the point that any one of the country’s other 992,000 bars could in fact open feather bowling lanes, but choose not to.

Anyway, I was a mere pup at the time, and as surreal as the feather bowling was, moreso was the draft beer.  It was, I think, Lindeman’s Kriek, an extremely strange beverage made by infusing an equally strange beverage—spontaneously-fermented lambic beer—with Schaerbeekse cherries, forcing a second fermentation and resulting in a surprisingly delicate, champagne-like brew unlike anything else on the planet.

Believe me, with a couple of pints of kriek in one’s belly, feather bowling doesn’t get any less amusing.

1 Corinthians 13:11, ‘When I Was a Child, I Spake as a Child’…

But, now that I’ve grown and put away such boyish nonsense as driving all the way to the East Side just to mock feather bowlers (I now content myself closer to home, mocking mixed-league players at Langan’s Lanes on Northwestern every Tuesday and Thursday), I find myself now and again craving the odd snort of kriek. Finding it can prove tough, however, even in cosmopolitan, cultivated, hyper-sophisticated Detroit.

Traverse City to the Rescue

Fortunately, craft brewers throughout the state are breathing new life into the kriek vats; the genre is a natural for us because of the ready supply of Traverse City cherries.  A cursory Google grope and help from my buddy Dianna Higgs Stampfler indicated the following breweries making either kriek or a facimile thereof, mostly just called ‘cherry beer’:


Bell’s Brewery; Kalamazoo

Josh and Percy

Founded in 1985 by Larry Bell, a home brewer who opened a brewing equipment supply depot, what began as a basic in-shop beer-making experiment has snowballed; Bell’s now ranks eighth in the country as a craft brewer.  Josh Smith, Bell’s marketing coordinator, describes the company’s Cherry Stout like this: ‘Tinted ruby-black, Cherry Stout gains its signature tartness from 100% montmorency cherries grown in Michigan’s Traverse City region. Rather than doubling up on sweetness, this tart cherry varietal serves as a counterpoint to the warm, dark chocolate notes from the malt bill.’

Josh, Percy Bysshe Shelley could not have said it better had he wanted to—which of course, he didn’t.

Atwater Brewery; Detroit

Housed in a factory warehouse built in 1919, Atwater (on Jos Campeau) claims that their brewing process is even older—a two hundred year old Bavarian method that aims, via imported malt and hops, to replicate a true, ‘heritage-style’ German lager.  With their pair of cherry beers, however, it’s all about Old Glory, including the homegrown American hops.   Cherry Stout blends six malts and montmorency cherries while Traverse City Cherry Wheat relies on a proportion of unmalted wheat to tart-up the brew.

You’ve got to love their motto: ‘We drink all we can, then sell the rest.’

Michigan Brewing Company; Lansing

It’s the artisan nightmare of every craft brewery, but a financial godsend to the creditors: Chicago-based MillerCoors has purchased all brewing equipment and brands related to the Michigan Brewing Company; I neither have, nor do I care have, the details.  Apparently, they’re still brewing brew at the Lansing brew pub, and that’s the important part—hopefully their iconic Cherry Barleywine survived the cut.

CJ’s Brewing Co.; Commerce Township

A brewery gone sports bar or a sports bar gone brewery; either way, they like their Michigan cherries and feature them in a number of pub grub menu items as well as a seasonal draft version of cherry stout.  If you’re on a budget, the Mug Club is the way to go.

Founders Brewing Co.; Ann Arbor

Ratebeer.com ranks Founders, the brainchild of Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers, as the 2nd best brewery in the world, and the awards that these guys have won could fill a primary fermenting tank.  Meanwhile, their entry into the category at hand is called Cerise; it’s a blend of fresh tart cherries and what the sales sheet calls ‘a no-hesitation malt bill.’ (I have no idea what a ‘malt bill’ is, but knowing they were on the brink of bankruptcy in the late ‘90’s, whatever it is I hope they’re paying it).  An unusually intense process sees them add fresh cherries at five different stages of fermentation, giving the product a wildly wonderful balance.  Beer’s available now through August only, so jump all over it.

Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales; Dexter

Jolly Pumpkin is one of the few brewers to call their cherry beer ‘kriek’, probably because they are one of the few that actually do it like the Flanders flunkies do it.  That is, they allow the wort to be innoculated not with hotshot, bio-engineered brewer’s yeast, but with natural, airborne wild yeast, which gives the product a characteristic sour quality.  Ten pound of fresh cherries are added to each ‘firkin’ (a micro-brewer word meaning a quarter barrel), then allowed to mature into a supple, vinous, almost wine-like ale.

North Peak Brewing Co.; Traverse City

Talk about anal retentive—the owners of North Peak can (and do) let you know precisely how many bricks and how many board feet of lumber are in their brewery, a landmark building that once housed the Big Daylight Candy Factory.  They’ll also tell you the species of hops used in Dark Angel Cherry Porter, which won’t be released until October, as well as the ‘degrees lovibond’ of the beer’s color.  With way too much info at hand, you’d figure the beer had better be stellar—and it is.

Oh, for the morbidly curious, it’s (in order) 40,000, 250,000, Chinook and Centennial, and 30 – 37 °L.

Right Brain Brewery; Traverse City

Giving a whole new meaning to ‘pie-eyed’.

As flakey as the folks at North Peak are, when it comes to cherry beer, the brewers at Right Brain are flakier still.  Their Cherry Festive Beer is one thing—juicy, fresh, quaffable and sharp.  But last year, in order to debut new tap handles (didn’t know such a situation warranted celebration, but whatever) Right Brain launched an ale brewed with fifty whole cherry crumb pies from the Grand Traverse Pie Company.  If I didn’t understand the pub’s name before, I do now: ‘Left-brained’ people are said to be more logical, analytical and objective, and Cherry Pie Whole Beer clearly did not originate in that particular hemisphere.


Cryo Me A River…

In a recent column I wrote about Michigan’s April lesson in cryogenics that followed a heat wave in March—doing to our cherry crop roughly the same thing that Lieutentant Calley did to Mai Lai—and I was curious as to how such a wretched harvest would effect craft breweries and their cherry beers.  Turns out that most of them use frozen cherries, cherry juice, or cherry concentrate rather than fresh cherries.

With fruit growers in Traverse City up shit’s creek, I guess that’s what you’d call a paddle.


Posted in BEER, Michigan, MIDWEST | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments