Really, Mr. Goode? MY Faith Suggests That Blogliness Is Next To Godliness

In 1966—the same year that the first acid test was held at San Francisco’s Fillmore, the same year that a B-52 accidentally dropped three 70-kiloton hydrogen bombs near the town of Palomares, Spain, and the same year that Bob Dylan purposely wiped out on his Triumph Tiger motorcycle in order to avoid public appearances, Time Magazine—one of the world’s most widely-read weeklies—published a controversial edition with a red-on-black cover that read, simply, ‘Is God Dead?’

The gist of the accompanying text suggested that then modern-day theologians were facing a relevancy crisis within an increasingly secular America.

In 2008, the Los Angeles Times named the ‘Is God Dead?’ issue among ‘The 10 Magazine Covers That Shook The World’.*

* Note that the exposé on the cover of my July, 1966 edition of  The Intoxicology Report, entitled ‘The Other Miracle At Cana: Jesus Turned Tooth Powder Into Pharmaceutical-Grade Cocaine’ did not make this list.


Swan’s Song

I thought that this Time Magazine controversy was a perfect lead-in to sommelier/scribe Fred Swan’s June 11 non-blog in NorCal Wine about Jamie Goode and his recent blog-related comments.

Goode is also a non-blogger; he refers to his life’s work in a single, made-up word:  He’s a winewriter.

Anorak: You can compose blogs on the quilted, faux-fur lining.

So there’s no doubt, question or homicidal retaliation, I happen to have gobs of respect for both of these industry mega-voices; Swan is prolific, alert and justly proud of being on his way to becoming a Master of Wine, while Goode—who has a PhD in plant biology—wrote a book called Wine Science that I refer to all the time, rarely giving credit where it’s due.  He’s also liege lord of an online wine magazine called Wine Anorak which I  log into every time I forget how to spell ‘Languedoc-Roussillon’; and yes, for the curious, unless you are talking about a snorkel parka, ‘anorak’ is also a made-up word.

Fred Swan

Both of these fine gents look at wine from a point of view of acuity, reverence and frequently, whimsy, and although both probably sport the same Mission Statement, each has his own unique pathway to the Emerald City of success.

Their divergent, if wine-pickled Yellow Brick roads (Swan is from Castro Valley, CA and Goode from London) recently crossed when, according to Swan’s Monday non-blog:

‘[Goode] proclaimed, via Twitter and Facebook, ‘Blogging is dead!’

Jamie Goode

Swan goes on to define blogging as ‘an online journal with brief, sequentially-ordered entries sharing pictures, ideas or news.’

Fair enough; we’ll go with that definition.

IS Blogging Dead??

Abraham Lincoln with a really bad hangover: “I freed the WHAT??”

I love that Fred wrote that Jamie Goode ‘proclaimed’ as much, because proclaiming is generally reserved folks who can make proclamations with some degree of credibility.  Like, when Abraham Lincoln ended slavery by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation?  That counts.  Or, when Roosevelt proclaimed that the United States was at war with Japan, a frightened nation took it at face value that sushi was off the menu.  And when the Oz County Coroner proclaimed, ‘She’s not only merely dead, she’s really most sincerely dead,’ it was a genuine day of independence for all the munchkins and their descendents.

While these are proclamations into which folks can sink their teeth, I’m not so sure about Jamie’s blogging obit.

Beyond Goode and Evil

Oddly, although Al Gore did not invent the internet until seventy-odd years after the death of Friedrich Nietzsche, according to an article in the German weekly Der Speigel entitled ‘Nietzsche: “Blog Ist Tot”’, the puffed-up Prussian had something to say about this brouhaha back in 1889:

‘Nietzsche’s thesis was that striving, self-centered man had killed blogging even before Tipper Gore invented it. The current death-of-bloggery group believes that an online journal with brief, sequentially-ordered entries sharing pictures, ideas or news is indeed completely dead, but proposes to carry on and write them anyway.’

See, I’m In That Camp…

I’m a Nietzschean.  Absolutely.  Whereas I agree with Fred Swan’s other postulation—that the made-up term ‘blog’ (diminutive of ‘weblog’) ‘has taken on derisive, or at least dismissive connotations,’ when I re-read various crap I’ve posted in The Intoxicology Report, it is with pure derision—right before I dismiss it as the product of a deranged and unclean mind likely sporting a low-level, semi-permanent wine buzz.

I am, therefore, in the worst sense of the word, a blogger.  And I acknowledge the stigma  to the point where my forehead, palms and feet are actually starting to bleed.

Jamie Goode, by his own admission, is not a blogger.  Later in his now-infamous Tweet, he proclaims, “I blog, but I’m not a ‘blogger’”

I hear you, Jamie.  Me, I’m a card-carrying atheist who accepts Jesus Christ as my sovereign Lord and personal Savior.

To me, blogging has become like jogging.  In the past, I resented it when people pooh-poohed my daily, five-mile runs through hail, sleet, slush and tornadoes, wherein I risked  female stalkers, rabid dogs and/or (when I lived near the zoo)  escaped lions, as ‘jogging’.  But now, in my dotage, I realize that what I have been doing all these years is, in fact, a made up diminutive of the Middle English ‘shoggen’ and the dialectic ‘jot’, meaning ‘to jolt’: I have been jogging.

I blog and I jog. There, I’ve said it.

Thus, I wear upon the shamed breast of my comfy-chic Nieman Marcus jewel-studded, funnel collared jogging suit a shameful, scarlet ‘BJ’, and as a result, I now have to worry about male stalkers clutching copies of Ecce Homo and The Gay Science With A Prelude In Rhymes.

And now that I am officially out of the blogging/jogging closet, I actually do need to jog prior to my blog, so it’s time for me to make like Bob Dylan and hit the road.


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Man The Lifeboats: Women, Children And Premium Champagne First

Martin Mull, back me up on this one:

For some reason, there are a lot of homoerotic terms associated with being a seaman.  Poop deck, sperm whale, cockswain, hanging around the buoys, ‘All hands on dick deck’.

Going down on the ship.

Shiver Me Morning Timbers, I Need the Head…

Going down with the ship, however, is a naval captain’s historical, chivalric and often legal obligation.  Titanic’s CO E.J. Smith is lionized to this day for his passive suicide; apparently, he wandered the decks in a daze until the boat finally sank.

Other famous captains who have gone down with their ships:

  • Arrrgh… I’m seein’ double!

    Tamon Yamaguchi, Hiryū

  • Ernest M. McSorley, Edmund Fitzgerald
  • Ernst Lindemann, Bismarck
  • John Leach, Prince of Wales
  • Davy Jones, Flying Dutchman

Not all such seafaring schmeckelehs have behaved so honorably, of course.  As you’ll recall from earlier this year, Captain Francesco Schettino was charged with ‘abandoning ship’ when the Costa Consordia sank off the coast of Giglio, killing thirty-two passengers.  And then there’s Viscount Hugues Duroy de Chaumereys of the French frigate Medusa, who not only appropriated the reef-bound ship’s best lifeboat, but shortly cut loose the raft it was towing—the 147 forsaken passengers promptly began to murder and eat one other, as is immortalized in Théodore Géricault’s classic painting.

Cap’n Wussy

Other famous captains who did not go down with their ships:

  • Captain Underpants
  • Captain America
  • Cap’n Crunch
  • Captain Beefheart
  • Captain Kangaroo


Where’s The Relevance In All This Naval History, Mr. Chris?

Right here, Snuggles:  In 2010, a number of widows were found at the bottom of the Baltic Sea, the unsaved victims of ship wrecked near the Åland Islands in 1841.  The amazing part is, although submerged in the frosty Finnish waters for 170 years, most of these widows were still alive!

In fact, one just sold at auction for $37,290.

By widow, of course, I am referring to Veuve-Clicquot, the renowned Rheims Champagne House headed by Madame Cliquot between 1805 and 1866, who took the reins from her late husband Philippe.  Among the numerous innovations for which the veuve (French for widow) is credited is the ‘riddling rack’—an invention that sped up the crucial process of dégorgement to the point where mass production of Champagne was suddenly feasible.  Among her fans was Nicholas I, Tsar of Russia , toward whom the recently discovered, bubble-burdened ship was headed when it foundered in a storm.

Richard Juhlin

In all, 162 bottles of sparkling wine were discovered on the wreck, 145 of which were salvageable.  Each one was opened, tasted and assessed by Veuve-Cliquot enologist Richard Juhlin before being re-sealed by Portuguese corkmeister Amorim.

Juhlin states, “I found these wines prove that Champagne possesses an undeniable ability to age perfectly. No other wine could have survived in such conditions and developed such aromas.”

The conditions of which Juhlin speak include ambient darkness, seabed pressures and steady temperatures of around 40°F; circumstances somewhat difficult to duplicate in the wine cellar.

His seal of approval set the starting price of these wines at between $15,000 and $18,000.

And The Lucky Winner Is…

…The lovely Ms. Julie Sherstyik-Viswanathan of the Republic of Singapore, whose accommodating husband Ravi paid top dollar for a bottle at the recent Artcurial Briest-Poulain-F.Tajan auction in celebration of their tenth wedding anniversary.

As tin is the traditional tenth anniversary gift, Ms. Sherstyik-Viswanathan, it may be interesting for you to note that according to the London Metal Exchange, for what the old man coughed up you could have held out for three tons of silvery, malleable, post-transition tin from which you could have made 41,739 cans, then filled them with Spam, creamed corn, fish mouths, silkworm pupae or BBQ scorpions, which however gross, still sounds like a better investment than a single bottle of Veuve-Cliquot that you know goddamn well you are never going to drink.

But what do I know?  As F. Scott Fitzgerald quipped, ‘The rich are different.’

Personally, I’d like to see these, and all shipwrecked wines enjoyed as they were meant to be enjoyed—guzzled from the bottle on some desert island.

Naturally, the only cat on the entire planet that could carry this off with any degree of class is Captain Jack Sparrow, the most effeminate seaman alive, and by the way, somebody else who refused to go down on with the ship.

‘Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of Mount Gay Rum…’

Posted in Champagne, FRANCE | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Drew Barrymore Wants To Have My Children

Today, God is good and the world is as sweet as the balm from a callow jasmine flower.

Today, I shall count no more my wasted tears nor fret time’s relentless plough.  Today, I am young as the vernal violets that bloom unbidden from that sward of green I forgot to spray with Roundup; the furrows on my cheeks have faded and this blessed hour atones for all.

Why?  Because Drew Barrymore—she who walks in beauty o’er sacred soils, thus mellowed to the tender light—loves me.

I Know, Right?

It’s true though—and Drew (henceforth to be referred to as ‘Love Muffin’ or something equally sappy) sent me a card and a review gift bottle of pinot grigio in which she bared her pretty little soul and proved it.  As you can see from the scan below, she signed the note with a cute, teasing li’l ‘D’, so realistically, it might have been from her personal assistant Diane instead, who I presume is also big-breasted and willing to pose nude, but I’ll choose to play the optimist for once and accept Drew’s heart, spirit and associated nay-nays with gentlemanly grace.

Say what?  You believe that she sent similar cards to wine critics all over the country?  Fie, you blackguard, that’s the rankest compound of villainous smells that ever hath offended my nostrils.  ‘The cynic is the human owl, vigilant in darkness and blind to light, never seeing the noble game.’  – Henry Ward Beecher

Besides, dingbat; read the note: Sugar Hips sends me all her love, which means she’d hardly have any left over to send to other wine writers, would she?  No, I think her loyalty to me and me alone is pretty obvious, and I’m as jiggy wid it as a Phat Farm hoodie.

Drew Barrymore loves me and wants to have my children.

Okay, then, Angel Pie; suppose I drop them off around ten and pick them up when the bar closes—does that work?

Why Pinot Grigio?  Why Now?  Why Drew?

In the interest of full disclosure, I have in the past mocked celebrity wine with the shameless vigor of a toxicodendron radicans vine in the springtime sunshine; I once called Dan Ackroyd’s fumé blanc ‘funnier than he is’ and wondered how Vince Neil—who got drunk and killed his best friend in a car crash—could possibly have gotten a wine label approved by the ATF.  I made fun of Mike Ditka’s inability to conjugate verbs during interviews about his wine, and as for dreadlocked gangsta homeboy L’il Jon, there’s about as much intellectual cogitation required to write about his crunk juice as there is to review his albums.

I am, at the end of the day, a big ol’ meanie, and for obvious reasons, those guys never send me cards saying how much they love me.

Drew’s Love Note Is A Game Changer

You can assume that most Hollywood stars release wines with their names on the label for any number of reasons, all of which can be distilled down to three alphabetical symbols: ‘e’, ‘g’ and ‘o’, and in that specific order.

Ms. Barrymore takes the high road, insisting that her wine was created to honor her family, and jokes aside, it probably is: It’s called ‘Barrymore’ and has a big Barrymore crest on the label.

Left: L’il Jon. Right: Big John

Family Barrymore, of course, represents a theatrical and cinematic dynasty.  Boo Bear’s paternal grandfather was John Barrymore; his demiurgic portrayal of Hamlet in 1922 almost single-handedly awakened the twentieth century to the beauty of the Bard.  Her illustrious great uncle Lionel galvanized critics as Henry (not Harry) Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life, while her great aunt Ethel is today considered to be the greatest actress of her generation.

These are people worthy of celebration, and if it is with a dram of dreamy Drew’s dramatic draught, so much the better.

That said, why she chose pinot grigio as her opening-night varietal-of-choice is a mystery befitting Sherlock Homes—as played by John Barrymore in 1922.  Drew claims that the lightweight almond, apricot and apple-scented Delle Venezie ‘reflects her style and personality: fresh, dynamic and fun’, which is well and good, but what happened to your aunts and uncles, Mookie Pookie?  I thought this wine was supposed to be about them?

Me?  If I’m paying tribute to this distinguished clan, I’d probably go with something dark, brooding, magnificent and above all, unique, as an homage to John: Maybe an oak-fermented carignan from Corbières.  With Lionel, you’d want to remain iconoclastic but be a bit easier to digest so I’d scam up some grapes from a Tuscan estate like Piero Antinori’s.  For Ethel, there’s no question: A lush and lyrical pinot noir—my first choice would be from Central Otago.

For that matter, I’d probably find something other than generically insipid Venetian pinot grigio for Drew herself.  She had a few rebellious, drug-soused years that gave her oomph and suitable gravitas; her acting skills are unquestionable (Riding in Cars with Boys was particularly good) and although as a child star she struck me as strange-looking enough to have played the starring role instead of a supporting role in E.T., she has blossomed into a strikingly beautiful woman, as befits her matinée idol genes. If she really likes the varietal so much, I think the spicy richness of an Alsatian pinot gris suits her better.

But it is Honey Bunny’s call, not mine—and although her trio of acclaimed agnates all croaked before she was born, I’m sure she was schooled in their lives, personalities and quirks while growing up.

So, I defer.

And anyway, she only declared her devotion to me yesterday, so it is way too early in the relationship for us to have our first lovers’ spat—especially about something so insignificant as pinot grigio.

Tasting Notes:

Barrymore Pinot Grigio, Delle Venezie, 2011, around $20:  If the style’s your thing, you may ignore the conscience of the king—he’s dead and burymored and doesn’t care anyway.  As it goes, the wine is pretty respectable for the genre; it suits its purpose perfectly well.  It’s probably an inter-regional blend, since that’s what IGT ‘Delle Venezie’ generally means.  Likewise—in America, anyway—‘vintner’ generally means ‘winemaker’, so to list Snuggle Buggles as such is a bit disingenuous: The wine is actually made by Decordi, a well-regarded winery in Motta Baluffi in Lombardy, and I sort of doubt that Drew Barrymore did much beyond approve the blend.  Said blend, however, is delightfully fragrant and floral-fresh on the palate, with a nice mineral backbone and lemon-lime in the foreground and the aforementioned apricot/apple/almond Triple A flavor fest.

Nice going, Jellytot—I’ll be over Saturday night with the kids if it doesn’t rain.

Posted in ITALY, Pinot Gris | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Give Me Liberty, Or In A Pinch—Give Me Another Round

‘Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants to see us happy.’ – Benjamin Franklin

‘And I love you, too, God.  No, I really do, buddy; I love you.  And this isn’t the beer talking either; I mean it, I love…’  – Chris Kassel

As we approach the monumental occasion of America’s Biquandrandeannualcentennial—our 236th birthday—I believe it’s high time that we returned to the sacred principles upon which this nation was founded right after we stole it from the Indians.

We need to drink more beer.

And more ale and hard cider.  Wine, not so much, unless we can get one of Thomas Jefferson’s house slaves to fetch some decent stuff up from the cellar.


In days of yore, of course, drinking a glass of water was a proposition without plusses: Ponds were rife with intestinal parasites, river water contained blackfly larvae which caused blindness and (this is not necessarily a bad thing) elephantiasis of the genitals, while well water was filled with all sorts of repugnant oppugnants, feces to cryptosporidium to nematodes, and they could cause anything from insomnia to peri-anal itch—whatever that is.

“If You Intend to Date My Daughter, Young Man, Make Sure to Give Her Plenty of Beer And Not Water.”

A very rare photograph of a Colonist brewing beer.

Beer was seen as a wholesome alternative to water; it was considered a food, and as such, was enjoyed by children as much as adults.  Richard Wagner, the non-Die Walküre-writing beer historian from Hatboro, PA, says, “In the Colonial era, a normal family would have gathered for breakfast and all of them—children included—would have routinely received beer to drink. They drank beer like we drink water or coffee.”

Although Americans currently consume more that 50 billion pints of beer per year, the per capita breakdown is pretty lame compared to those characters.  The average meshuggeneh in the Revolutionary War era drank eight ounces of alcohol per day, and the intake of a 1776 ‘gentleman’ is cited in ‘The Making Of A President’ by Marvin Kitman (Grove Press, 2000):

‘Given cider and punch for lunch; rum and brandy before dinner; punch, Madeira, port and sherry at dinner; punch and liqueurs with the ladies; and wine, spirit and punch till bedtime, all in punchbowls big enough for a goose to swim in.’

Kitman goes on to discuss the drinking habits of George Washington: ‘He occasionally took a drink, but never more than a quart or two of Madeira at dinner—beside rum, punch and beer chasers…’


Demon Rum Made Me Do It.  Or Was It Tyrolia?

OK, then.  Based on the above, I have developed a theory, and the more I think about it, the more sense it makes.

I begin with a metaphor.  Or an allegory, or a similitude, or a trope, or whatever it is.

The last time I got my ass seriously whupped, I was a teenager walking down an alley in downtown Detroit after a fireworks display on (appropriately) the 4th of July, and a truckload of skin-headed peckerwoods from Westland or a similar inbred boondock made an unkind, unfeeling and insensitive remark about the length of my hair.  A wise and sober man would have walked on by, but at the time I was smashed on Tyrolia—that foul Teuton-esque sugar wine that I doubt even exists anymore—so instead, I threw the bottle at them.

Good career move, Chris.

Anyway, as you recall from seventh grade American History, by signing the Declaration of Independence, our forefathers were effectively throwing a Tyrolia bottle at the most powerful nation on the planet.

At the outbreak of the Revolution, British land forces numbered nearly fifty thousand men, of which seven thousand were cavalry, twenty-five hundred artillery and the rest, those scarlet-jacketed foot soldiers you see in movies.  The Royal Navy consisted of 131 ships under the famous Admiral Howe; when they sailed into New York Harbor in June, 1776, they carried 12,000 soldiers and 9000 German auxiliaries and citizens said that the masts resembled ‘a gigantic forest’.

By contrast, the Colonies had an army of zero (beside a poorly-trained militia) and a Navy of none.

Now, by all accounts, there were some pretty sharp cookies on our side.  Ben Franklin invented electricity; Thomas Paine was among the most versatile intellects that this country has ever produced, Thomas Jefferson was a slaveholder who could convince a nation that all men are created equal, and George Washington was the smartest one of all: He married money.  What would have possessed these bright, articulate, scholarly Davids to pick a fight with the world’s most belligerent Goliath?

They were shit-faced.  Duh.

Marvin Kitman writes, “Alcohol was a ‘household necessarie,’ as [Washington] described extensive purchases of Madeira and other spirits in his account book.  It was good for his health, he claimed.  He had numerous scientific theories.”

Well, I have a scientific theory of my own:  Your choice-making synapses while drunk tend to be a little logic-challenged.  When I woke up battered, bruised and hung-over  the morning after the Tyrolia incident, I felt like the biggest testa di merdi in the history of mankind, and suffice it to say that once she heard the whole story, I received very little sympathy from my girlfriend, soon to be wife, soon to be ex-wife.

I maintained that shroud of shame up to, but not including, the hour I started drinking again.

This guy just can’t tell the damn boys from the girls any more.

Then, suddenly, I was the most macho ball buster in the County of Wayne, willing to fight to the near-death for the honor of my long, beautiful, snaggy, shaggy, ratty, matty, oily, greasy, fleecy, shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen, knotted, polka-dotted, twisted, beaded, braided, powdered, flowered, and confettied, bangled, tangled, spangled, and spaghettied hair.

And really, who could have ultimately prevailed against a Ram-load of rednecks who didn’t even have hair to pull?

So, I lost my war and the Continental Army won theirs, and I suppose that George Washington, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin spent the rest of their lives snorting Madeira and patting themselves on their collective, odds-beating backs.

How the mighty have fallen

Good on ya, boys!  I suppose I might have been able to do the same thing…

…if only the goddamn French had come to bail me out.

Well, thanks for that one back in the eighteenth century, France.  Although after Normandy, I think we’re probably even.

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Monbazillac: Wine That Even Sugarplum Fairies Can Afford

All the gnarling and kvetching over the California foie gras ban has an upside: It has been driving generic and often nostalgic stories about this iconic pâté; foie fans are, apparently, legion, loyal and pissed-off vocal.

Separated at birth? Dickhead legislator John L. Burton and  actor Bruce Dern

It seems that John L. Burton, the former state legislator who sponsored the fie on foie bill, would have made less gastronomic waves had he called for a ban on asafetida*, ‘Food of the Gods’.

*In Turkish, though, it’s şeytan boku: ‘Devil’s Shit’… so, go figure.

When wine writers dip their pens into the paste and talk about ideal foie frère, botrytised, late-harvest wines generally rise to the top of the suggestion list.  Sauternes and foie gras is a food/wine match-up as classic as Port and Stilton, Muscadet and oysters and MD 2020 and dumpster-dived pizza crusts.

If there’s any drawback to this, it’s more pecuniary than culinary; when it comes to price, foie gras ain’t chopped liver; a block of top shelf Goose Micuit will probably set you back ten dollars an ounce.

And Sauternes?  Don’t get me started. It’s owing in part to low vineyard yields and the intensity required to produce it, which involves waiting (and hoping) for the onset of hit-or-miss botrytis cinerea—a necrotrophic fungus that only sets in when weather conditions are ideal.  Botrytis, commonly called ‘noble rot’, raisinates the grapes, concentrating juice and sugars until a mere drop remains within each berry.  Thus, an entire bunch of grapes is required per glass; a whole vine per bottle.  But, the other side of cost equation is that the name ‘Sauternes’ alone commands a price tag, and when it comes to the lone Premier Cru Supérieur estate Château d’Yquem, I assume that even the most cloud-headed acolyte of the appellation would agree that however transcendent, sublime and incomparably groovy the nectar in the glass may be, a portion of your cash outlay is going toward the logo on the label.

That’s why I was delighted when my FB buddy Axel Ritenis brought up an often overlooked (by Americans, anyway) alternative, which may—in certain instances—be the equal of Sauternes at a fraction of the price:


Godzilla Vs. Monbazillac

Godzilla Vs. Monbazillac

It may sound like a giant mutant Japanese arthropod, but Monbazillac is, in fact, the most famous wine from the most un-famous Dordogne region—Dordogne would be the départment just to the right of Bordeaux looking down on southwest France if you were, say, Godzilla.

There’s gobs of history here.  The sweet wines of Monbazillac predate those of Sauternes by more than a century, although originally—as in Sauternes—the use of botrytised grapes was either unknown, undesirable or unmentioned.  Records indicate that the Dutch introduced a German technique of halting fermentation with sulphur—specifically, burning ‘brimstone’ inside barrels, where it would slowly interact with the yeasts until they died.  Residual sugars frequently exceeded 100 grams per liter, similar to Chateau d’Yquem (compare that to Eszencia, the sweetest form of Tokaji, which can contain up to 900 g/l) but the finished wine boasted nowhere near the current minimum alcohol-by-volume requirement of 12.5%.

Botrytis: An equal opportunity parasite

Noble rot didn’t grace the picture until some time during the eighteenth century, but it was probably only the squeamishness of drinking wine from moldy grapes that held folks off: Dordogne, with its early morning mists for humidity and sunny autumn afternoons for drying out that humidity, favors the development of botrytis spores perhaps even more than Graves, which relies upon a confluence of various rivers to create its microclimate.  The soil is different, too, being mostly limestone and clay as opposed to the silt and gravel terraces of Graves—from whence its name originated.

Less celebrated than Sauternes, the wines of Monbazillac are notable for their varietal composition, typically 80% semillon, 10% sauvignon blanc and 10% muscadelle.  It’s the relatively high proportion of muscadelle that lends Monbazillac its unique profile—compared to Sauternes, the wines are fuller on the palate when young, and although the characteristic semillon stone fruit notes are obvious (peach and apricot), Monbazillac offers an intriguing overtones of ripe figs behind distinct clover honey and toasted almonds; ‘waxy’ is also a common descriptor.

The true selling point, however, is the price.  The average price of Chateau D’Yquem (over numerous vintages) is $609 per bottle.  That’s not a real good benchmark, of course, since there’s d’Yquem and then there’s everybody else—Thomas Jefferson was a huge fan, and reputedly convinced George Washington to order thirty cases for his own cellar.  If any of these are still around, and were stored correctly in the interim, I’d be willing to bet the rent that they are still drinking just fine.

The next wine down the Sauternes food chain is probably the Premier Cru Classé Château Guiraud, averaging around fifty dollars a fifth.  Overall, a Sauternes scoring a mediocre 88 points with Wine Spectator commands around $40 per bottle.

By contrast, the average price of a Monbazillac is around $17—and even that number that is likely skewed northward by a couple of big names* like Château Tirecul La Gravière and Grande Maison Cuvée des Monstres, since wonderful, lesser known bottlings are available for under ten dollars.

Château Labrie

* If you have a spare $200 in the kitty—roughly a couple glasses of d’Yquem—do you know what I can set you up with?  According to the French online wine store La Cave à Pépère, a 1er Cru Château Labrie Monbazillac, vintage (this is not a typo) 1928.

The allowable Monbazillac parishes of Colombier, Pomport, Rouffignac-de-Sigoulès, Saint-Laurent-des-Vignes and Monbazillac itself produce more than dessert wine, but only white wines affected by botrytis cinerea can be called Monbazillac; the rest, even those hailing from the same château, must wear a Bergerac Sec designation.

Farewell foie gras from La La land

The following tasting notes should offer a couple of inexpensive paths to travel during your ‘Farewell To Foie; Goodbye to Gras’  toodle-oo banquet, provided that Governor Jerry Brown doesn’t discover a single, nasty little secret:

Monbazillac can only be produced when vintners ram pipes down the throat of grapes and painfully force-feed them botrytis spores. 

Meanwhile, I won’t speak for the gander, but Monbazillac sure the hell is sauce for the goose.

Tasting Notes:

Château Bélingard, Monbazillac, 2007, around $ 7.50 (375 ml):  Perched on a limestone escarpment above the valley of the Dordogne, Bélingard uses lightly less muscadelle in the blend than customary and sulphur-stops fermentation as in days of yore.  The wine is pedigreed and luscious, showing dried apricot, honeyed peach and a balance of spice, cream and acid.

Château de Monbazillac Cave de Monbazillac, 2009, around $17:  The castle of Château de Monbazillac, with its stunning view of the the Dordogne valley, is situated within the village of Périgord, which as gastronomes know is ground zero for foie gras.  The ideal foie foil, therefore, showing bright acidity, a somewhat tight nose that ultimately opens to scents of sugar cane, almonds and cinnamon. The personality developed in the glass with plenty of lyrical fruit and no cloying heaviness.

Château Vignal Labrie, Monbazillac, 1999, about $20:  A full quarter of this topaz-colored wine is muscadelle, and it’s multiple layers of integrated stone fruit, marmalade and marzipan coat the palate with a near glycerol unctuousness.  Full fruit with a long, citrus-sharp finish.

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Brown (Nosing)-Forman: Diversified God-Like Purveyor of Quality Consumer Products

Witty, intelligent, talented… but no good in a street fight.

You may already know this, but wine writing is a man’s life—right up there with firefighting, bank heisting and gay pornography acting.  No offense to my twin-X chromosomal breast-blooming, goatee-challenged life partners, but I really doubt that Alice Feiring and Jancis Robinson have the stones to stand alone against the wrath of multi-billion dollar wine and spirits conglomerates for no other reason than to make mean-spirited jokes at the expense of somebody who lives half a continent away.

However, after yesterday’s column in which I took perverse delight in hanging the dirty laundry of Brown-Forman satellite Korbel Champagne Cellars on my clothes line, I received an anonymous tip about certain individuals at that fractured froth factory—that spumescent sweatshop—who ‘know how to hold and execute a grudge’.

Uh Oh…

Now, as someone who is still intending to get even with that six-year-old punk who ‘claimed’ ownership of the silver dollar I found in good faith in the school hallway when I was also six, I totally understand the sentiment, Korbel.  And you are absolutely correct: If I have to start worrying about the literally hundreds of dollars I will make as a wine critic over my lifetime, I suppose I should rein in my smarmy, snarky, bitchy worldview a tad, shouldn’t I?

Then again, what would Kurt Russell in Backdraft have done?

Or for that matter, how would Bugsy Siegel or Johnny ‘Wadd’ Holmes have handled the situation?  Would they have rolled over like Beethoven (the St. Bernard, not the musician, dummkopf) and begged for their bellies to be scratched?  Or, would they have fought back like David did with Goliath?  Would they have strapped on their Samurai helmets, gladiator breastplates, Kevlar athletic cups and planted IEDs up and down the pathway to their private sensory-deprivation writing chamber and waited, pacing, until Korbel sent Luca Brasi over for tea and crumpets?

Tough call.  It’s days like this that I wish I’d been born an ectothermic hermaphrodite.

Brown-Forman Is Poised To Reconstruct Society As A Utopian Paradise Based Upon Man’s Inductive Logic 

Actually, it would serve everybody’s purpose better if rather than blathering on about non-existent Brown-Forman objectivist philosophies, I instead praised to the high heavens the other wineries in their portfolio and hoped that Korbel would be muzzled by whoever at B-F is playing John Galt today, which is precisely what I intended to do until I discovered that beside Korbel, Brown-Forman has sold off every single goddamn winery it used to own except Sonoma-Cutrer.

It’s us against them, boys.

Indeed, these two vin vendors are now themselves Davids against a massive, mean and malevolent Goliath of hard liquor.

So, Korbel and S-C, I can indeed commiserate; I’m willing to bet (without any statistics to back me up) that there have been more crimes of passion, contract murders, Columbines, nasty wine columns and rude rejoinders on Facebook made under the influence of Jack Daniels  than ‘Les Pierres’ Estate Bottled Chardonnay.

So, I Am Poleaxed 

At least, I was poleaxed until I put my thinking cap on long enough to realize that to smooth the ruffled feathers of gigantic, multiple-product players in the spirits game, you merely have to invent new drinks using their labels exclusively, publish them, and call them ‘The Three Trendiest Drink Recipes to Usher in Summer, 2012.’

Trust me, these corporate types eat that kind of shit alive.  Okay; I mean, you may call it kow-towing, you may call it groveling, you may call it sucking up, but I certainly don’t.

I call it ‘taking a throbbing wet one up the wazoo’.

In any case, my worries are over, and with any luck, tonight Luca Brasi will be sleeping with the fishes.

The Three Trendiest Drink Recipes to Usher in Summer, 2012

I hereby unveil a trio of soon-to-be-trendy drinks using only Brown-Forman brands, and should you give them a whirl, make sure you use only Brown-Forman brands, because if you try to substitute anything else, the whole concoction will blow up in your face like Richard Pryor’s crack pipe.

The Mea Culpa


The Mea Maxima Culpa Royale

½ oz. Canadian Mist Blended Canadian Whiskey

½ oz. each, Don Eduardo Tequila, Pepe Lopez Tequila, El Jimador Tequila and Herradura Gold Tequila

½ oz. Early Times Kentucky Whisky

½ oz. Finlandia Vodka

½ oz. Finlandia Frost

½ oz. each, Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey and Gentlemen Jack Rare Tennessee Whiskey

½ oz. Tuaca Liqueur

½ oz. each, Southern Comfort, Southern Comfort Lime, Southern Comfort Fiery Pepper

This is all you need to create the perfect summer cocktail

The Mea Maxima Culpa

(Same as above, only add ¼ oz. of Chambord)

The Mea Maxima Culpa Royale

(Same as above, only pour in a Jeroboam of Cook’s California Champagne)


In a cocktail vat filled with shaved ice, pour all ingredients, shake well using one of those devices that Home Depot uses to mix paint, then pour into a well-chilled martini bucket.

*So that’s it…  What do you think, B-F?  Are we BFFs again?

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What The Heck Does Champagne Have To Do With Golf, Anyway?

Plenty, dahling.  Crank the Wayback Machine to 1962 when Tony Lema promised reporters at the Orange County Open that he’d force-feed them Champagne if he won—then beat Jack Nicklaus by five strokes and did, becoming known as ‘Champagne’ Tony Lema ever afterward. Also, a now-famous photo of Rory ‘The Curly One’ McIlroy shows him swilling sparkles from the U.S. Open trophy after his 2011 upset.   Oh, and the saga of Elin and Tiger began in a Stockholm clothing store called ‘Champagne’, where she met golfer Jesper Parnevik, who introduced her to the Urkel-like, mocha-colored Lothario from whom she’s been able to suckle enough tiger milk to last a lifetime.

But What The Heck Does Korbel Have to Do With Either Champagne or Golf?

My impulse is to say ‘nothing even vaguely’—and in fact, before it makes me think ‘golf’, Korbel makes me think ‘Gulf’, since that’s the gas station where I bought my first bottle for around eight bucks.

Naturally, those were the days before international convention made producers (outside of northeast France) who called their effervescent effluvia ‘champagne’ wear the ignominious badge of disgrace and everlasting reproach; in fact, in the United States, the only wineries who can even legally use the term ‘champagne’ on their labels are those grandfathered in prior to 2006.  Most respected houses have recognized the spiritual significance of true Champagne as it springs from its French font and that usurping the name to turn a buck is akin to bylining your shitty novel ‘by F. Scott Fitzgerald’ and hoping no one notices.

How  Far Will Some Folks Go To Avoid Producing Something That Can Stand On Its Own Merit…?

“I need a lawyer. Not to defend me, silly–to run over.”

Korbel has chosen to raise a defiant middle finger to such sniveling, cultish, sycophantic wimps and adds insult to injury by calling themselves ‘Korbel Champagne Cellars’.  Exploiting a legalese loophole known as ‘semi-generic’—which I’d explain to you if I was a lawyer, although if I was a lawyer I couldn’t explain it to you because I’d be dead, having stepped purposefully in front of a DDOT cross-town bus ten minutes after passing the bar—Korbel is required to add ‘California’ to the word ‘champagne’ on their labels, just as I am required to claim that my go-nowhere, poorly-written potboiler was penned by the ‘Michigan F. Scott Fitzgerald’.

So, Back To Golf

‘I had taken two finger-bowls of Champagne, and the scene had changed before my eyes into something significant, elemental, and profound…’  – F. Scott Fitzgerald.

L.: Profound  R.: Not Profound

Of course it did, F. Scott.  Granted, I’m a drunkard, not a duffer, but I would humbly submit that 1979 Krug Brut is significant, elemental and profound while clubbing a ball repeatedly until it falls into a hole is not.  So, it should be that much less W.T.F.y that Korbel’s latest press release announces ‘Korbel California Champagne Honors Star-Studded Golf Tournament’ and goes on to suggest that their affiliation with Lake Tahoe’s July 17 – 22 American Century Celebrity Golf Championship ‘adds to its reputation as the drink of celebration.’

That’s ‘the drink of celebration’, my droogies, not ‘a drink of celebration’—so in 2012, don’t think that celebrating with anything less (or more) is in any way appropriate.  Actually, back in the ’70’s when I was buying Korbel at Gulf Station convenience stores, I did in fact use it as an excuse to celebrate: To celebrate the fact that the counter clerk didn’t ask me for I.D.

Referred to (by somebody, not necessarily me) as ‘The Superbowl of Celebrity Events’, the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship—forthwith known as the ACCGC—has been around for 23 years.  The 54-hole stroke play tournament is arguably the most prestigious and richest celebrity tournament in golf, featuring a $600,000 purse with $125,000 going to the winner.

This year, Korbel will host a $250,000 Hole-in-One contest where 15 top players will vie for a chance to donate half the purse to the Lake Tahoe Community College Foundation, which was set up specifically for students who aspire for more of a Korbel Sweet Cuvée than a Vintage Krug lifestyle.

The ACCGC and Korbel: A match made in Heck

Other events at the 2012 ACCGC include a Celebrity Spray-Off where an A-List of bored athletes like Charles Barkley, Aaron Rogers, Tony Romo and Michael Jordan will shake up bottles of Korbel and mimic the totally phallic ejaculation of sparkling wine they do when they win a championship game or something; the object is to see whose penis technique is most praise-worthy.  Now, it can be argued that wasting Korbel in this way is but a venial trespass in the Gradations of Sin that we learned about at St. Gerard, but only the most callous isolationist among us could enjoy such a spectacle of masculine empowerment without a guilt twinge over the children in Darfur who will be going to bed sober.

Then there’s the 18 Golf Entertaining Tips seminar by Korbel’s ‘entertainment expert’ Tim Laird, who will offer some unique suggestions on how to liven up the golf-themed parties that you are no doubt intending to throw during The Masters, The British Open and the PGA Championship.

Tim Laird, the Chief Entertainment Officer and some random chick in red.

Laird intends to go beyond the obvious ‘turn off the stupid television set and go watch internet porn while mainlining street smack and ordering fifteen pizzas for the jag-off neighbor who called the cops during your last golf-themed party’.  No, Mr. Laird is far more creative than moi, suggesting such fantabulous frolic and jocular hilarity as ‘have a putting contest between rounds’ (fun), ‘fill a vase with golf balls, insert flowers and use it as a centerpiece’ (very fun), ‘put everybody’s name in a golfer’s hat and draw for prizes’ (very extremely and nearly unbeatably fun) and ‘play Texas Hold ‘Em using golf balls for chips’ (the absolutely ne plus ultra of maximum fun).

Everybody Loves Raymond Except Casting Directors

Perhaps less fun, if more edifying, is Googling the other star-studded stud stars of this year’s American Century Celebrity Golf Championship to figure out why they are still considered celebrities in 2012.  Ray Romano  (reported dead in this odd news story that is still online without a disclaimer: has been unemployed since 2009 other than a stint as Manny in Ice Age: Continental Drift for which he was clearly robbed of an Oscar.  And there’s Emmitt Smith, the retired Arizona Cardinal running back who spices up his personal life by selling real estate; and there is Oliver Hudson, an actor who I’ve not only never heard of, but have never heard of a single movie that Wiki claims he’s been in; he does, however, list on his resumé that he was runner-up in last year’s homoerotic Celebrity Spray-Off.

If I were a man-on-the-street type reporter at the event, I would make my own fun in impromptu, one-on-one  interviews with the celebrities, asking them each a single question: “If it wasn’t for your paid participation in this Championship, would you ever, for any reason, be caught dead buying Korbel or ordering it in a restaurant?”

And let the chip shots fall as they may.

Enough About Golf, By Heck!  Let’s Talk About Korbel

‘Family quarrels are bitter things. They don’t go according to any rules. They’re not like aches or wounds, they’re more like splits in the skin that won’t heal because there’s not enough material.’  – F. Scott Fitzgerald

So, I am, admittedly, not a good person to write about golf—I find it insufferably insipid—the only game ever invented that is more boring to play than it is to watch.  And so dull is it to watch that I remember one time (stuck in a Belle Tire waiting room) that I saw some circuit pro get his ball stuck in a tree, climb it, and try to make a shot from a branch, and that remains the single most exciting moment of televised golf in the history of everything.

I am much more qualified to write about wine, winemakers, wine scions, wine dauphines and best of all, wine scandals.

Bubbles, people, more bubbles! The bigger the better.

You may have noticed my incessant use of the word ‘heck’ in the above diatribe, and the reason is not because I have OCD or have made Baby Jesus my personal savior and taken an oath against speaking oaths.  Fuckity fuck, fuck, fuck.  See?  No, it is because the owner of Korbel Champagne Cellars is a man with the unlikely name of Gary Heck, and based on what unfolded in the great Manse of Macerated Mediocrity in Guerneville, California, he’s not been courting any personal saviors either.

“It’s an ugly story. A very sad story, another example about how family fortunes collide,” said Julia Flynn Siler, who as author of The House Of Mondavi  knows whereof she speaks.

“Of course, people bicker over small amounts, too, but this one is so twisted…”

‘O shame, where is thy blush?’ -William Shakespeare; Hamlet

In a twisted nutshell (with an emphasis on the word ‘nut’), in 2006 the family scionette, Richie Ann Samii, along with her husband Chris, were accused of raping two winery employees by the wine-bottle-shaped company pool.  Although charges were dropped, her old man—who is reputedly a tough guy to get along with under ideal circumstances—booted her and her ne’er-do-well paramour from the estate.

Of course, the nut doesn’t fall far from the tree, and Richie Ann—whose sole purpose on earth seems to be taking care of her pet zebras and excelling at—hold on to your Stetsons; a sport even more idiotic than golf: Barrel horse racing—promptly sued her sixty-four-year-old father in Sonoma County Superior Court for the $24 million dollars she feels she was cheated out of during her eviction.

Much juicy, evil, hilarious backstabbing resulted from this sudden hemorrhage of bad blood, including Richie Ann stating that as a child, the family referred to dear pater as a ‘short, fat, bald Nazi alcoholic’ and he to her as a ‘spoiled, mouthy brat who doesn’t pull her weight’.

The Hecks in happier times.

You’d have to go to Pirate’s Bay dot com and download old episodes of Falcon Crest to find anything as left-fieldish as this fright of family fuckery, which was, nonetheless, settled in secret for an undisclosed sum.

Part of the settlement upon which Richie Ann (now 42) was willing to comment was the potential for future litigation.  With a flair for the sort of melodrama likely exclusive to California zebra owners, she said that she would seek no further action ‘from the beginning of time and throughout the universe.’

“Good stuff, Chris. Nice and snarky, just like I like it.”

Which—whether she’s heard of it or not—includes the five wine producing districts of  Champagne.

‘The victor belongs to the spoils.’  – F. Scott Fitzgerald

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