Digging A Re-Invented View Of Buena Vista Winery

There’s an adage in the wine business, on-premise and off:

‘Spend more than $100 for a bottle and you are starting to pay for the label’.

What that means, of course, is that a lot of folks suffer from Veblen Goods Syndrome, wherein they believe in an immutable ‘price = quality’ dogma which causes them to gladly shell out ridiculous amounts of money for Château Mouton Rothschild ($600), Salon Champagne ($300), Jasper Hill ‘Emily’s Paddock’ Shiraz ($125), Didier Dagueneau Silex ($120), Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Spätlese ($115)…

The syndrome, incidentally, is named for Thorstein Veblen; the first economist to write about the concept of seeking status through conspicuous consumption.

A brief breakdown of Veblen people who pay for the label in wines over $100:

Thug Nation homies who’ve cashed in on rap; nouveau-riche Chinese busino-weenies who can’t even pronounce the names of the wineries they buy; wealthy litigation attorneys who can rattle off all five Bordeaux Premiers Crus, weather patterns each Medoc vintage since Reagan was in office, every five-star Parisian hotel with a helipad—but who look surprised when you mention that New Zealand has a wine industry.

A brief breakdown of people who pay for the label in wines under $16: 


A Round-About Path To Buena Vista’s Rockin’ New Label?

Yes.  And we aren’t there yet.

First, let’s talk about the psychological phenomenon known as ‘re-invention of the self’, especially as it relates to the above examples of Veblenites and Buena Vista winery.

Joe Dispenza and his dispensable brain.

In his bestselling self-help book  ‘A Guide To Changing Yourself From The Inside Out’, the great chiropractor Dr. Joe Dispenza—erstwhile creator of those plastic cartoon-character Pez delivery conduits—discusses the emotional blocks of ‘vision creation’, methods of choosing courage over fear, the value of performing neuroscience experiments on marmosets instead of rats, and how such  techniques proved indispensable in the ‘self-reinvention’ of Calvin Cordozar Broadus, Jr.—former Baptist balladeer who became a coke-head crooner named Snoop Doggy Dogg, then a murdering minstrel (acquitted on both counts) named Snoop Lion, and currently, a disfigured has-been named DJ Snoopadelic.

Dispenza also has the strength of character to call a spade a spade, or in this case, a left-handed bowler who uses a wrist spin action—a.k.a., a  ‘chinaman’—a Chinaman: Hong Kong billionaire Zhang Zhirong who was born into degrading poverty and as an adult, reinvented himself  via the perspiration of thousands of others who came from—and remain in—degrading poverty.

And don’t get me started on the litigation attorneys with the wine cellars.  What statistic is more obscene to you?  That the United States, with 5% of the world’s population, uses 25% of her energy—or that we have 50% of her lawyers?

Mid-Life Crisis Cited As ‘Number One Reason’ For Personal Reinventions:

Lookin’ gorgeous, Gorgeous!

Madonna, for example, has had many such ego implosions: Boy Toy at 25, Marilyn Monroe at 30, Evita at 40, Disco Maven at 50, and now, at 87, Skeletor.

Jefferson Airplane, performers of such marvy 60’s classics as ‘White Rabbit’ and ‘Somebody To Love’ was reborn after a psychedelic, drug-filled decade as Jefferson Starship, who promptly began releasing puerile, unlistenable crap like ‘Sara’ and ‘We Built This City’. 

Cassius Clay became Muhammed Ali at the age of 22, which is a bit young for a mid-life crisis, but repeated blows to the head caused him to age faster than the rest of us.

Chastity Bono treated herself to a boner at the age of 40 while her father Sonny,  a staunch conservative, became a tree-hugger at 62.

The Oldest Commercial Winery in Caifornia Comes of Age, And It’s High Time…

Hefner: ‘You’re never too old to marry a fetus.’

So, having celebrated its 156th birthday—the same age that Hugh Hefner was when he decided to resurrect his living corpse by marrying a girl in her twenties—it is no real surprise that Buena Vista Winery in Carneros was primed for a makeover.  Having seen six owners since 2000, with production drops and issues with infrastructure integrity, long-time employee Fred Unsworth maintains, “When I first saw the winery it was old and being kept together by chewing gum.  To those that have been here a long time, [the new owners] are a revelation, something that should have happened years ago and didn’t.”

Jean-Charles Boisset

Dudley Do-Right appeared at the opportune moment to save Nell Fenwick from Sonoma’s Northern Railway spur in the form of a Frenchman, Jean-Charles Boisset, who first saw the winery at the age of 11 on a trip to Sonoma with his grandparents.

Now the president of Boisset Family Estates, Jean-Charles reminsices about the ‘love at first sight’ swoon that fell over him during that first encounter and which he cherishes to this day:

“Love not only for the wines,” he gushes, “but as well for the buildings, for the style of the buildings and the energy of the place,” he said. “I never fathomed that such historical buildings were in place in California.  I fell in love with it.”

Somebody must have said, “Dude, get a room already,” because that’s what he did: In May, 2011, Boisset Family Estates purchased the brand, the inventory, and the California Historical Landmark tasting room—formerly a production facility—and immediately began a restoration effort.

“The wines are great,” Boisset explains, “but we can explain to people what a great region it is through its long-lost heritage. I envision Buena Vista to have a very strong future. The future is its past.”

About That Past…

“I gotta be me…”  That, or someone else.

Back in the 1840’s, a bombastic Hungarian braggadocio called Agoston Haraszthy de Mokesa decided to sail to America and reinvent himself in Wisconsin, which he quickly found to be too cold for winemaking—his family’s business.  So, along with the thousands of Forty-Niners wagon trains, he made for California in search of the kind of agricultural gold that sprang from the soil, not the mountains.  He dubbed himself ‘The Count of Buena Vista’—the sort of prerequisite name-change needed in personal reinventions—the same stunt pulled by The Artist Formerly Known As Prince and Slim Shady.

The Count of Buena Vista

One of the beauties of antebellum California was that you could tell people you were a Hungarian Count without having to prove it.  Growing wine grapes was a different story.   In that pursuit, you had to put your talent where your mouth was, and it proved trial-and-error for the Hunky homeboy, who first set up vineyards in San Diego (too dry), San Francisco (too wet) and San Mateo County (too foggy).

It wasn’t until 1857 that he discovered struck vinous gold in Sonoma, and established a winery based on the science of agriculture—something rare at the time, and something that only a fellow with deep pockets could hope to undertake.  Indeed, he went on a European perigrination just prior to the Civil War, and returned with five hundred cuttings from Europe’s top wine-producing countries.

The Count hoped that his true contribution to California winemaking would be his demonstration of modern methods of viticulture and premium varietal choices, which he was convinced would make the fledgling state a world-class vintner, writing, ‘…wine-growing in this State will, before long, exceed in value the amount of gold exported.’

History has proven out this odd, committed visionary many times over.

It’s Label Time, Kids!

Ugly old label on left; classy new label on right

So, I began this War ‘n’ Peace length jeremiad spewing jealous pique righteous indignation over those who can afford to spend money on wines with famous names on their labels while I have to wait for free samples to arrive by UPS.

But the new/old label on Buena Vista’s latest releases caught me pleasantly off-guard with retro nineteenth century fonts and an old-school new name: Buena Vista Vinicultural Society.

As to the quality of the product, those reviews appear below.  But I must say, when Jean-Charles—the new ‘Count of Buena Vista’—decided to get a room with the old one, I’m glad he chose a room with a view.


Buena Vista

Tasting Notes:

As consistent and predictable a package as you might expect from a winery’s first (and 157th) release, Buena Vista’s varietals are the usual suspects, the vintages what you’d imagine them to be and the price identical—$16—for each one.

Buena Vista Vinicultural Society Zinfandel, Sonoma, 2010, about $16: An easy, early-drinking version of this archetypal Sonoma varietal, gorged with sweet tannins, jammy plum, briery blackberry and numerous savory spices including cinnamon, nutmeg and mint.  A serious zinfandel with a chewy profile—some smoke, but no mirrors.

Buena Vista Vinicultural Society Cabernet Sauvignon , Sonoma, 2010, about $16:  A sweet, generous approach to Carneros cabernet; dusky, musky and rich with pie cherries, creamy blueberry, chocolate and a touch of loam, leather and clove behind the lurking oak.

Will the REAL Jean-Charles please stand up? (Shut your eyes and pretend that the barrel says ‘Buena Vista’.

Buena Vista Vinicultural Society Merlot, Sonoma, 2010, around $16:  Medium-bodied with stereotypical Sonoma merlot suppleness; the aroma is all over the mixed-fruit map and includes blackberry, huckleberry and velvety cherry jam.  Mildly-oaked, showing a bit of spice and vanilla throughout the palate, with a quick, but satisfying finish.

Buena Vista Vinicultural Society Pinot Noir, Sonoma, 2010, about $16:  Nicely balanced with cedar, black cherry and caramelized brown sugar up front, emphazing a spectrum of spicy, foresty flavors, even-tempered tannins and a solid core of violets, cranberry, hazelnuts and bay rum.

Buena Vista Vinicultural Society Chardonnay, Sonoma, 2011, around $16:  A gold-hued (49ers-approved) wine with green apples, nutmeg and lime on the nose, honey and pineapple in the mouth and a discreet butterscotch finish.  Not over-the-top massive, but restained and classy.

Buena Vista Vinicultural Society Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma, 2011, about $16:  Focusing on the citrus side of the varietal, the wine displays a nice soul of lime and grapefruit; the slight grassiness is mostly fresh-smelling and gentle.  Crisp acidity enlivens the palate, with exuberant notes of melon, candied lemon and pear.  I also picked up a distinct note of cardamom—but I’d already cheated and read the winemaker notes who said that I’m supposed to.  Maybe it’s psychosomatic—among the various psycho things I confess to.

Posted in CALIFORNIA, Sonoma | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Morning Wood vs. Evening Wood: Ravenswood For Halloween


In the past. I have joined the onslaught of wine writers who come up with something cutesy, silly and obvious to recommend for Halloween—something like Poizon (a wine to ‘die for’), EVIL (upside down label—either that or you’re supposed to store it like ketchup) or Vampire Merlot.  It’s de rigueur to refer to such wines as ‘hauntingly delicious’ or ‘spookily scrumptious’ and in general assumes—not incorrectly—that we’re more interested in appropriate Halloween puns than appropriate Halloween wine.   Hence, Re:Source Media’s recommendation of pairing Witches Falls riesling with dark chocolate, one of the worst match-ups in the history of humanity.

Anyway, in my household—at least when the kids were young enough to require adult supervision on their neighborhood rounds—it was much more apropos to fill a thermos with Jim Beam than to carry around a wine bottle—although I stopped the thermos trick when the seven-year-old next door said to me, ‘You smell like Daddy does right before he gets in a fight.’

So, if my gonads were to be held to the embers by overzealous Army reservists in a Baghdad prison and I was forced to name a wine for Halloween, I would, between Janet Leigh screams, give a shout-out to Joel Peterson’s California classic Ravenswood—and not just because Abu Ghraib translates to ‘Place of Ravens’.

Joel Peterson

I’ve interviewed Peterson in the past, and he is a clever cookie, no question.  I’d love to share the fact that he was raised by bats or wolves, but in fact, he was raised by braniacs who could easily have slipped over to the dark side and performed bizarre experiments in castle laboratories.  Instead, his father worked with high-temperature lubricants and his mother worked on Big Bang theoretics via the Manhattan Project while Joel himself has a degree in microbiology from Oregon State.

I know, I know:  With all this scientific sapience in the genes, Peterson could have been reanimating corpses instead of taking the path of lesser resistance: Winemaking.  But, just as fellow chemist Victor Frankenstein dreamed of becoming the Modern Prometheus as a boy, the Joel Peterson dreamed of becoming the Modern Pierre Pérignon, in part thanks to his father’s wine club—which he joined at the age of ten.

Shut Up And Spit!

Halloween costume ideas: ‘Dude standing on box’

According to legend, Joel’s pre-teen education was in the chemistry of wine: The phenolic acids, stilbenoids, flavonols, dihydroflavonols and anthocyanins that make up flavor perception.  His father, despite his obsession with lubricants, was not interested in a lubricated son and uttered the infamous invective, ‘Shut up and spit!’ when the young whizbang decided to be heard and not seen.

The silent phase did not last long, and his bio suggests that by his mid-teens, he not only had a ‘working knowledge of European vineyards and vintages’, but, to the ‘delight and consternation of everyone who has met him since, he talks about it’.

Halloween costume ideas: ‘Naked dog on leash’

I interviewed him last year and found him to be delightfully urbane, frightfully bright, and yes, talkative.  I’d say that the chemistry was perfect if I wanted to pull another stint in Ravensville, Iraq and have my funny bone tossed to the rottweilers.

Now, the thing about chemists is that they specialize.  For Peterson’s father, it was grease, for his mother, U-235.   In his day job, Joel pursued immunology, and when it came to vinology, he settled on a most un-European grape, at least in popular parlance: Zinfandel.

Halloween costume ideas: ‘Megan Ambuhl’

Of zin he claims: “There are three sins: Too much sugar, too much alcohol and too much wood.  With some of the earlier missteps, bogged down by enough oak to built a house, I’ve learned that with a grape this big, you use some restraint.  Ultimately, I make wine that please me.”

Well, I’d be able to comment intelligently on all the wood talk if in high school I had taken chemistry more seriously—and later in the day.  Unfortunately, instead of paying attention, I fantasized my way through 1st hour Introduction to Chemical Engineering since I sat behind Lisa Di Alberto, whose visible bra strap caused what scientists call, in their popular parlance, ‘auroral tumescence’, and what we called in our popular parlance (and still do), ‘morning wood’.

I took shop 2nd hour, but it turns out that even if there was a carry-over effect, the wood was still useless.

So, I will wait until the 31st and sample some Joelwood: I picked up a pair of samples, Sonoma Old Vine and Napa Old Vine.  They are—as fits the season—brooding, mysterious, swarthy and big.

But even without the wine, the name ‘Ravenswood’ chills me to the evening bone: Is this not a name suited for Halloween?  Does it not conjure up everything that ever went bump in the night—moldering crypts of the Stygian undead; the great wastes of Dartmoor where the howls of the wolves seize in your throat like the mists; the house standing against the hills for eighty years, not sane, holding darkness within…

Oh, and that goddamned Place of Ravens fright factory in downtown Baghdad—but you can hardly blame Joel Peterson for that.

Tasting Notes:*

* (Note on Notes: Ravenswood covers many strata of zinfandel: Those reviewed below at the lower end and others climbing price-wise, up into the upper levels of the zinfosphere; the $75 Icon… but I never get sent samples of those.

You don’t suppose it has anything to do with me mentioning my teenage membrum virīle and military human rights atrocities in Iraq in the same breath as their product, do you?)

Ravenswood Zinfandel, Sonoma County, 2009, about $16:  Beautiful ruby color with a touch of burnt orange at the rim; this wine remains bright with cherry and cranberry notes on the nose with a distinct floral background.  The mouthfeel is silken and smooth; flavors include cedar, graphite, cassis and raspberry with an edge of sweet spice—cinnamon and brown sugar especially.

Ravenswood Zinfandel, Napa Valley, 2010, around $16: Full-bodied and colored a deep garnet, the 2010 Napa shows unadulterated loyalty to the varietal  It’s balanced and softly rounded with cool blackberry, brambly wild raspberry, cocoa and coffee swirling through a lissome texture.  A lovely accompaniment to an upscale Halloween barbecue.

Posted in CALIFORNIA, Zinfandel | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Predicted 2013 Wine Shortage To Affect Only The Lazy, The Weak And The Politically Disenfranchised

First, the bad news:  Thanks to piss-poor performances by our lollygagging allies in everything alcohol, 2011 output is down in Europe’s top three wine producing countries, Spain, France and Italy.

According to an October 18 report in Bloomberg News, the shortfall is predicted to be in the neighborhood of 1.3 billion bottles.

Drought leaf, France

The reasons for the slump are complex, and this is a column which prefers to view the world with effortless, child-like simplicity.  But in brief, lousy weather in 2011 damaged vines in southern Europe, leading to depletions of storehouse hoards and leaving no inventory to fill the pipeline. Between a winter drought, a cold start to the season, hailstorms and a summer heat wave, this year’s European wine production is forecast to tumble by as much as 500 million gallons.

‘Wine-Free Weekend At Bertie’s’

That’s an awful lot of rotgut for the rabble to relinquish.

“It’s historic!” cries Bertrand Girard, chief executive officer of Groupe Val d’Orbieu. “We’re short of wine. We’ve never seen that in three or four decades. Spain has zero stocks!  Italy has zero stocks! We no longer have stocks to bridge the gap. We have no more entry-level wine.”

Sucks To Be You, Bertie

Now, the good news:  Some of us have been preparing for such a crisis since the 1960’s, when we realized that the ‘Red Menace’ was more about cabernet than Communists.

Our wine shelter with the Bordeaux purposely mis-labeled so the neighbors wouldn’t steal it.

In fact, as a child, I helped my father construct a wine shelter in our backyard—a reinforced bunker with steel beams across the wall and a concrete roof.  We stocked it with vintage Bordeaux and Burgundy, leaving only enough space for us kids to camp out there—truth be told, when two of my buddies suffocated, we added ventilation holes at the base of one of the walls.

That shelter remains intact to this day, and by now some of those wines—1947 Château Smith Haut Lafitte, 1953 Château Haut-Brion, 1959 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Grands-Echezeaux and of course, our entire stock of 1961s, should be quite stunning come further wine shortages or a zombie apocalypse.

L.: Hiroshima. R.: Detroit.

See, we were smart.  We knew that ultimately, we would not need a bunch of 21st century bollock-free, socialism-loving Eurotrolls making our wines for us.  These were, of course, the days before California began making wine that was actually consumable by people not on welfare, but it made no ultimate difference: If the atomic bomb had been dropped on Detroit—as our teachers kept telling us that it would be since our automotive plants were easily revamped to produce war weapons—we still wouldn’t have missed a hangover.

Why is That?

Because we can make wine out of anything, that’s why.  We can make it out of lawn clippings, dried-up leaves from the maple tree, grapefruit rinds, chicken bones or coffee grounds—and, in a pinch, we can raid the rooms of our teenagers until we find a stash of reefer and make wine out of that.

It is simply the nature of the beast.

Therefore, for those of you who lacked the prescience, prudence, perception and perspicuity in between episodes of Perry Mason and Petticoat Junction to prepare, no worries.  Here are a handful of recipes to prove that for real Americans, a doctrine of unilateral, isolationist laissez-faire alcoholism is the only way to go—so long as wine can be made from stuff you have lying around the suburban split-level.


  • ½  cup dried golden chanterelle mushrooms
  • ½  cup dried psilocybin (optional)
  • 1 ½ lbs. sugar.
  • 24 oz. jar canned mackerel heads in syrup
  • 11.5 oz can Welch’s 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate
  • 2 tsp. acid blend
  • ½  tsp. grape tannin
  • 3 ½ qts. water
  • 1 packet Champagne yeast

Boil everything, cool to blood temperature, add yeast, wait three weeks and feed to cat.


  • 10 oz. dried bananas
  • 1 can concentrated gorilla urine
  • 1 gallon warm water
  • 2 lbs. sugar (this will vary, SG should be 93-95)
  • 1 crushed Campden tablet
  • ½  level teaspoon yeast nutrient
  • 3 level teaspoons acid blend
  • 1 packet Montrachet yeast

Boil everything, cool to blood temperature, add yeast, wait three weeks and feed to monkey.


  • ½ lb. freshly ground coffee
  • 2½ lbs. dark brown sugar
  • 1½ tsp. blotter acid
  • ¼ tsp. tannin
  • 7½ pts. water
  • 1 tsp. yeast nutrient
  • 1 packet yeast infection

Boil everything, cool to blood temperature, add yeast, wait three weeks and feed to overachieving yuppie.


  • 2 ½ gallons Monsanto ‘Liquid Concentrate’ Round-Up
  • 3 lbs. organic evaporated cane sugar (preferably Whole Foods brand)
  • 1½ tsp. citric acid
  • 1 tsp. yeast nutrient
  • 1 packet genetically-modified imidacloprid-resistant Brewer’s yeast

Boil everything, cool to blood temperature, add yeast, wait three weeks and feed to Republicans.

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What Alcohol Really TRULY Does To Your Brain

Earlier this week—on October 16, to be precise—Forbes Magazine published a column by David DiSalvo called ‘What Alcohol Really Does To Your Brain’.

David DiSalvo

Well, my friends, I read it and it is complete plonk.  Mixed with hogwash.  Sprinkled with poppycock, piffle and hooey and stirred with fiddlesticks.

But, if you also read it, you already know that since it was written by a fellow who lists as his literary raison d’être  ‘…Writing about science, technology and the cultural ripples of both.’

Ripple ‘n’ Me

Now, as a world-renowned, Oxford-educated enological whiz-bang who has won the Nobel Prize in Shiterature every year since dynamite was invented, I must say that anyone who mentions Ripple in his wine bio has lost my professional respect before he begins.

So, old and exhausted as I may be, I suppose I will now have to pull on my medieval body armor, my pauldrons and gorget, my chain-mail and boar’s tusk helmet and toss a salvo back at DiSalvo.

First, Let Us Examine His ‘Premises’: 

1.  Why drinking makes you less inhibited…

DiSalvo sputters out some unconvincing claptrap about booze ‘depressing the cerebral cortex’s behavioral inhibitory centers’, as though our brains are filled with little suburban shopping plazas where teenager-like neurotransmitters spend daddy’s paycheck on Hollister glutamates and Abercrombie & Fitch intracellular dopamine.

Yeah, right.

Presto change-o

What actually happens is that after a couple Jaeger Bombs your circadian photoentrainment circuits (vision) improves exponentially, and as a result, not only do you recognize the true depth of your manly machosity in the Men’s Room mirror, you also realize that the ‘7’ in the corner booth with the tattooed bodybuilding biker boyfriend has become a ‘9.5’ in a corner booth with Seymour Krelborn from ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ as her date—and that the angry sneer she’s been casting your direction is actually a ‘come hither’ pout of sexual interest.

The fact that you awaken in the post-op ward at Beaumont Hospital with tubes in your nose leads to DiSalvo’s second postulation:

2.  Why drinking makes you clumsy…

David DiSalvo blames the cerebellum.  Again with the big words, David?

Turned down ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’

I thought ‘cerebellum’ had to do with Sarah Bernhard’s acting career before the Civil War, but it turns out to be a swamp-colored, crumbled-up knob of fleshy tissue at the base of the brain which—according to Wikipedia—is responsible for ‘motor control’.

Okay, then, Mr. Smarty-Pants: I was taken to the hospital via ambulance and did not—repeat, did not—have to control any motors.  I lost that fight because I got sucker-punched by a nerdy florist while staring at the fleshy tissues of the booth girl and not because of any malfunction in my metencephalon, which is the upper part of the rhombencephalon within the medulla oblongata.  Duh.

Man, do I hate DiSalvo-esque know-it-alls—don’t you?

3.  Why drinking increases sexual urges but decreases sexual performance…

This one doesn’t pass the very first smell test.

Obviously, any mention of two of the squishiest, repulsivist, most non-sexiest parts of the human anatomy—the hypothalamus and pituitary—have no place in a mature discussion of sexual arousal and subsequent Sting-quality tantric performance, or lack thereof.

Bones do.  So, the reason that you suddenly want to jump the bones of the cocktail waitress, who is not only your best friend’s wife but also your younger sister—has nothing to do with any icky secretions of thyrotropin hormones or serum concentrations of androstenedione.  Far from it.

Still-cute heyday

You see, David, Knob Hill 101° stimulates the heart, not the brain—specifically, that section of the right artrioventricular orifice which controls bonhomie, philanthropy, charity toward ugly chicks and the sincere magnanimous conviction that all women, no matter how deformed, overweight, annoying or retarded, deserve the same sort of sexual gratification as Madonna received during her still-cute heyday.

And if any erectile dysfunction on the part of this drunken man should follow, be assured that it is not the result of bourbon-induced nerve-impulse blockage or constricted blood vessels in the ol’ meat thermometer, but rather my firm, unwavering ideology that all women—even big-tissued mini-skirted bar chicks—are not to be objectified, considered a commodity or put to ‘use’ without regard for their personality or sentience.

Quite simply, Mr. DiSalvo, I am a 21st century ‘good guy’.

And lastly…

4.  Why drinking makes you sleepy…

They just don’t mix well.

Clearly, David DiSalvo has never been on a week-long bender, and that is perfectly understandable.  Working for a dead multi-trillionaire like Malcolm Forbes probably prohibits long stretches of unaccounted-for absence followed by phone calls to Human Resources by a warden, a doctor, a coroner or a cop.

But I can assure you, once you are firmly in that Sazerac saddle, you do not fall off it easily.  You don’t work, play, procreate, write, sing, invent game-changing alternatives to nuclear energy, discover cures for  Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, find prime numbers in the Catalan–Mersenne number conjecture or eat.  You drink.

Most assuredly you don’t sleep, because you understand instinctively that sleeping interferes with precious drinking time.

Now, I know what you’re going to say: Since I can’t remember ninety percent of what happens during lost weeks, perhaps I do sleep and just forget.  Well, I say to you, ‘If you are going to play by your rules instead of mine, I’m taking my wine column and going home.’  Capicé?

Anyway, people, there you have it—and my advice to you is elementary, mandatory and easier to digest than milk toast over a three-minute egg:

In the future, if you want to know about spatiotemporal economics as described by morphological syntax and how it specifically relates to the collapse of Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns, read Forbes Magazine.

If you want to know how alcohol affects the brain, read someone who knows whereof he speaks.  Like me.

Alcohol Abuse Forum

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Concept Wines: What A Concept

‘Science takes a giant leap… backward.’

That was a line from some old television commercial that aired when I was a kid; I can’t remember the product, but I do remember the tag line, which probably doesn’t say much for the ad agency that came up with it since their only justification on earth is to make twits like me remember to buy anything that the jingle tells me to.

1938 Phaeton

Anyway, it seems like every time I attend Detroit’s International Auto Show, which is every year they have one, which is every single year since I was watching black and white commercials on an RCA console, the crowd-pleasing concept cars just keep getting uglier and uglier—and I can’t figure out why.

2001 Scion Hako

I can figure out why, say, in 2012, every American small town is hideous to drive through, when—back in the Golden Age of concept cars; ‘40’s and ’50’s—they were quaint, lovely places where you wanted to move, marry a blonde calico-skirted virgin and raise kids named Buddy and Sis, but today, thanks to McDonalds, Taco Bell, Dollar General and Rite Aid, every small town in the United States looks like Dante’s Vestibule of Hell as you enter and a cross between Mordor and Malebolge as you exit, and worse, like they’re all made of ticky-tacky and were squeezed out of a giant municipal Play-Doh extrusion press.  But that’s cash-flow, tax revenue and for-a-few-cents-cheaper-than-Mom-and-Pop-can-do-it—nothing more.

1938 Lincoln Zephyr

But automotive design?  Why should it cost any more or less to design something sublime, cool, transcendent and beautiful than something atrocious, graceless, clumsy and crude?

That’s just it: It shouldn’t and it doesn’t.

Toyota HI-CT

So, even though this is a column about wine, the photos accompanying it will all be concept cars, some built, others not—the ones on the left from the previous century, the ones on the right from the 2000’s.

1948 Tucker Torpedo

You tell me if I’m off base here or if our favorite car companies would be better served hiring designers that can exercise that side of their brains dedicated to poetry, style and macho posturing rather than that the side of the brain dedicated to conceptualizing clunky earth-first dorkmobiles aimed at tasteless vegans.

But anyway, about that wine:

Conceptual Healing

Renault Espace FI

Volk’s Wagonload of Concept:  The fact that by his own admission the varietals he produces are ‘hand-sell marketing burdens in most channels’ doesn’t stop Kenneth Volk of Lodi’s Silvaspoons Vineyards (formerly of Wild Horse Winery) from barreling forward with such outré oeno offerings as torrontés, negrette and trousseau, which he further describes as ‘under-appreciated heirloom varietals’.  He reminds us, however, that he may in fact be a vino visionary since wines like viognier and syrah did not take off for a long time, and now are some of the most sought after new-wave wines in California.

1954 Mercury XM 800

You Can’t Quite Get a Handle on Randall:  Grahm’s cracker wines include the inimitable Le Cigare Volant and multi-grape Contra—which the Bonny Doon web site dutifully explains is pronounced ‘kon-truh’ for those of you who would otherwise pronounce it ‘schik-uhl-groo-buhr’—but none of his wines are so odd in concept as ‘DEWN’.  Referred to as a ‘Viognier Port’—even though international convention discourages using the word ‘Port’ on a wine not from Douro, Portugal, the world’s oldest regulated and demarcated wine region—Grahm does it anyway.  He pulls viognier from the Chequera Vineyard in Paso Robles, then halts fermentation with strawberry and peach eau-de-vie along with a little neutral brandy, and produces a toasty, nutty, hauntingly lovely cordial that weighs in at 8% residual sugar.

2003 Eliica

ASPCA—The American Society to Profit from Cruelty to Animals: You can sleep easily in the knowledge that $29 of every $30 you spend on Frenchie Napoleon wine will not be going to aid abused and unwanted pets, and that the buck that will go to the ASPCA is a highly promoted PR stunt.  Named for the bulldog owned by Frenchie Winery proprietor Jean-Charles Boisset, the Frenchie Napoleon label depicts said mutt dressed not as Napoleon from Animal Farm (known for his demagogical cruelty toward livestock), but as Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, who suffered famously from ailurophobia—an irrational fear of felines—and is reported to have stabbed a stray one to death in his tent following the Battle of Wagram.

1969 Toyota EX-III

‘Fess up Parker: What’s In There?:  When the final sun sets upon the penultimate horizon—as it did for Daniel Boone in 1820, Davy Crockett in 1838 and Fess Parker in 2010—I think the wine gods will agree that a $14 blend of syrah, grenache, petite sirah, mourvedre, cinsault and carignane in which the winemaker Blair Fox refuses to divulge vintages is what we call, in technical jargon, ‘leftovers’.  Crazy like a fox, that Fox.

2001 Pontiac Aztek

Lose/Lose Wincarnis:  This odd ‘tonic’ wine, first produced in 1887, blends wine and malt extract with therapeutic botanicals like gentian root, mugwort, angelica root, balm mint, fennel, coriander, peppermint leaves, cardamom seeds and cassia bark.  It’s often mixed with gin to make a cocktail called a ‘Gin and Win’ and is hugely popular in Jamaica, home to another popular therapeutic botanical.

Exception to prove the rule: Loathsome 1920 Audi

When is a Pinot Noir not a Pinot Noir?  When it’s 24% mondeuse, apparently—just ask Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat, who responded to the clarion call for an under $20 California pinot with his Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir.  Now, I thought that for an appellation wine to carry a varietal name on the label, it had to be 85% that varietal, but evidentially Santa Barbara County—listed as an appellation in Appellations America—gets a pass.  In any case, whereas he has indeed kept his pinot beneath the ceiling price, he may have missed our point: The wine is supposed to taste like a pinot noir, too.  Mondeuse is an interesting enough grape, believed by some to be a genetic parent of syrah, but one thing is clear: There’s a sound viticultural principal behind its usual blending companions, shiraz and cabernet.  That is, it tends to be big and brambly and can—and in this case does—overwhelm the subtle majesty that true pinot-philes crave.

Exception to prove the rule:  Savagely cool 2006 Daedelus

Louisiana Wine:  The quaint, oft-repeated fact that ‘wine is now produced in all fifty states’ fails to take heed of another important fact: Just because it can be produced everywhere doesn’t mean it should be.  Take the Bayou State.  Yeah, yeah, I know—Louisiana has historic cultural ties to France and Spain and is the gastronomic capital of the bloody galaxy, but dudes, Louisiana is a big humid swamp where even the heartiest hybrid and most long-suffering labrusca grape comes down with downy mildew and Pierce’s Disease quicker than a Lance Armstrong doping denial.  Four commercial Louisiana wineries are now producing about 20,000 gallons of AVA wine per year, mostly from the unremarkable cynthiana, muscadine and blanc du bois varietals, but fortunately, that quantity barely satiates Mardi Gras reveler for twenty-four hours, so none is left to foist upon the rest of us.

Posted in GENERAL | Tagged , , , | 14 Comments

Charbono: a.k.a. Douce Noir: a.k.a. Bonarda: a.k.a. Cheryl Sarkisian

It’s always a bubble to discover a new (ish) varietal, and a double bubble when it turns out to be a scrumptious steal.  Yesterday, someone handed me a bottle of Colonia Las Liebres Bonarda, 2011—an $8 Mendoza red that further proves the Argentinian talent for taking vapid varietals and turning them into va-va-voom varietals.

A Boner For Bonarda

Hillside vines in Savoie

Having  by all accounts been born in Savoie, France—that fragmented alpine appellation known for Germanesque vineyards that cling to sunny plots of slope—bonarda, locally called ‘douce noir’ (‘little sweet’), joins a roster of unusual Savoie varietals: Chignin bergeron, jacquère, altesse, mondeuse blanche and mondeuse d’Arbin.  These are cultivars not widely grown outside this small pocket of southeast France and produce crisp whites and fruity, acidic reds; the climate prohibits aggressive ripening.

Bonarda in Mendoza

In Argentina, however—like malbec and torrontés—bonarda finds ideal digs, especially in Mendoza’s rain shadow, where it enjoys its preferred high altitudes (most Mendoza vineyards are planted at between 1500 and 3000 feet ASL) with a firm footing in sand-over-clay, low-salinity soil.

After malbec, in fact, bonarda is the most widely planted red wine grape in the region.

That’s a remarkable statistic when you consider that Mendoza alone produces two-thirds of Argentina’s wine output, and the acreage-to-vineyard ratio, though down from its highest levels in the 1980’s, still represents more than those of Australia and New Zealand combined—and about half of the planted vine acres in the entire United States.

That translates into an awful lot of bonarda—a wine that most Americans have never heard of.

Well, You Have Now, Damn It!

Top: Honey Boo Boo. Bottom: Rossi’s Boo Boo.

One reason why the name ‘bonarda’ does not instantly spring from the lips of Mendoza’s wine fans here in the States is that, until recently, it was rarely released as a stand-alone (by Argentina wine law, 80% of a varietally-named wine must be that grape), but instead was used as a bulk-blend addition to Argentina’s equivalent of Carlo Rossi’s Paisano.  And, in fact, given a lice-picking, nose-thumbingly dysfunctional Honey Boo Boo upbringing, bonarda produces primitive, low acid plonk that deserves the sort of handled wine bottle that you’d store under your sink.

The times, they are a-changin’, though: According to Leticia Blanco of Luigi Bosca, a major winery in the Lujan de Cuyo region of Mendoza, ‘Bonarda has taken a beating as a trash grape.  It’s been alienated for years as a jug wine, but it’s finally getting its reputation back.’

Recently—at least to those of us north-of-the-border—an upsurge of concentrated bonarda from older vines has become available, and this stuff can be remarkable.  The identical terroir phenomenon that occurs with torrontés—wherein a reasonably drinkable Spanish white develops all sorts of intriguing and newfangled nuances in the dry South American air—happens to bonarda.  Nothing too mysterious about it; bonarda is a late-ripening grape, and in fact is one of the last varietal to be picked in Argentina.  The beauty part of growing vines in even-climate, desert-like conditions comes with irrigation, where harvest can be based solely on ripeness.  This is a luxury that France cannot offer.

The other advantage to irrigation farming is that you can produce huge quantities of grapes, and as a result, in general, wines tend to be priced to move.  Such appears to be the case with old vine bonarda, which peaks at about $15 a bottle.

Colonia Las Liebres Bonarda, 2011

Hauling down 87 points, CLL Bonarda, 2010—the wine with the elongated rabbit on the label—was Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Week on July 2 of this year.  Never got a chance to sample that vintage, but based on the description given by WS critic Nathan Wesley, the profile is similar—and no wonder: A third advantage to the drip-irrigation method * is that vintages remain somewhat identical.

*It should be pointed out that there are plenty of fault-finding folks who fooey this method of watering, since, if misused to increase yields, it can result in overly-manipulated, terroir-free, characterless wines.  In fact, EU wines laws have utterly forbidden irrigation until fairly recently.  Still, plenty of viticultural areas which produce world-class wines would be unable to even grow Rossi Paisano quality product without real-time monitoring of soil and vine moisture—and that includes Washington, Australia, Lebanon and much of California.

In any case, so long as irrigation is well-managed and kept to the minimum level required to promote development while staving off water stress, there is no reason why it should not be an effective tool in producing deep, complex wines.

And is:

L.: Sonny and Cher Bono. R.: Sunny Napa charbono.

For my money (little as it ultimately proves to be), Colonia Las Liebres Bonarda is one such example.  Fruity, dense and tannic, the wine shows a spicy, mineral nose backed by tarry plum and licorice.  A bit restrained upon opening, it should wake up within fifteen minutes and become rather effusive—juicy raspberry, blackberry and more of that fleeting licorice flavor which often comes from the barrel, but which I believe in this case is a component of the grape itself, like the sweet tannins.  There’s also an interesting, unmistakable tone of Junior Mint and cherry Jolly Rancher, making this a wine for the whole fam damnly.

…Making it ideal for Honey Boo Boo night on TLCThe Lard-Lover’s Channel (fortunately, bonarda goes well with crackers)—or at very least, for reruns of The Cher Show, starring the grape’s true namesake, Cher Bono.

Posted in Bonarda | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Symbiotic Synergies And Subsequent ‘Sins Of The Sommelier’

It may come as a surprise to the nine or ten regular ‘followers’ of this column, but I hate big words.

‘Dick’s too short a word for my dick; Get off my antidisestablishmentarianism, you prick.’  –  Eminem, ‘Almost Famous’

I’m not really all that big on small words either—I find that they are constantly getting in my way when I’m trying to say something—but the impenetrably convoluted, brobdingnagian, multisyllabic ones?  The kind that intellectual-thug rappers like Eminem and Jay-Z use?  The words you have to Google to get from one paragraph to the next?

Hate ‘em, hate ‘em, hate ‘em—and if you wonder why I’m always using them, it’s to prove that I can combine cerebral street alcoholism with sophisticated, literary, B-Boy posturing.

I’m kidding, of course.  I use them because I am making a joke at the expense of long-suffering readers who feel silly if they don’t know the definition of a word that I don’t know the definition of either.

Google on, suckers!!!

This is the kind of stuff that amuses me—and we adults have a sho’ nuff obligation to keep ourselves amused.

Anyway, Who Is François Chartier And Why Does His ç Have A Proximal Diacritic Appendage?

‘I’m not shoplifting, I’m annexing, like Napoleon did to Spanish Flanders.’

He’s a Canadian—specifically, a Québécois—so further analysis of things about him that make no sense is futile.

Futile, but fun nonetheless, n’est pas?  Chartier is a former sommelier who has (according to his web site) ‘transcended the world of wine’ and… in June, 2009… (To quote http://francoischartier.ca verbatim):

‘ François Chartier published the first results of its scientific research harmonies and molecular sommelier in a book entitled papillae and Molecules’

Something else that amuses me, and probably you to, is to read direct something-to-English translations done by people who should probably not be translating things.  Chinese translations are particularly funny, but French runs a close second—mostly because French-speakers are somewhat, shall we say, ‘condescending’ to people who hail from English-speaking countries, particularly when it comes to matters involving wine.

And in fact, it’s a wine book that Chartier has written, and is apparently also the best cookbook in the world (innovation category) according Paris Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.

As is Chartier the Paris Grand Prix Sopexa International’s Best Sommelier in the World, even though he is retired.

But, papillae?

It’s not necessarily a big word, but I had to Google it anyway, like I had to Google Paris Gourmand World Cookbook Awards and the Paris Grand Prix Sopexa to find out who in Light City should be getting a room with this geeky garçon Chartier since they seem to love him so much.

It turns out that in the context of his book title, papillae means ‘tastebuds’.

A soupçon (yet another cédille—a word which should, but doesn’t have a cédille) of further research indicates that, translated as ‘Tastebuds and Molecules’, the 2012 edition of Chartier’s book purports to be a scientific smorgasbord of flavor fraternities—tastes that have a non-subjective basis for mixing well together.  He claims to have spent two decades of ‘passionate study’ identifying secret relationships between pineapples and strawberries, mint and sauvignon blanc, thyme and lamb, rosemary and riesling and other comestibles.

It’s a fascinating study, actually, although a laboratorial approach to flavor compounds as they relate to each other—and wine—is hardly a unique one, and an Amazon search for ‘Tastebuds and Molecules’ lists the inevitable category ‘Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought…’ and recommends at least a half-dozen books on the identical subject, including Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchenand Andrew Dornenburg’s ‘What To Drink With What You EatBased on Expert Advice from America’s Best Sommeliers’

The PR sheet claiming that the book is ‘cutting-edge’ may be a bit of a façade, but evidently, Chartier’s project has been well received by dispatches dear to our drink-drowned hearts.

I turn once more to Monsieur’s web page and a [sic]-literatim pericope:

‘François Chartier has exceeded the mere instinct harmonies food and wine. Its rigorous research has given her the keys to achieving harmony always successful.’

– Harvey Steiman, WINE STPECTATOR

L.: Spectator’s Steiman. R. Stpectaor’s Steiman

We will assume for argument’s sake that WINE STPECTATOR is the Québec edition of Wine Spectator and that the Harvey Steiman quoted is a vernacular-challenged doppelganger of WS’s San Francisco Editor-At-Large Harvey Steiman, whose ‘tasting beat’ covers Australia, Oregon and Washington and not Quebec, and whose grasp of punctuation and the syntactic constituents of the King’s Good Ebonics is beyond reproach.

Meanwhile, Chartier’s book—among other interesting notes—offers practical advice to sommeliers who in the past have dared to make pairing suggestions based on instinct, experience and tradition.  Now—as Chartier’s peer Anne Desjardins of The Sun—points out, thanks to ‘Tastebuds and Molecules’:

‘The magic of food and wine pairing successful can rest, not on empirical perceptions and tastes, but on sound science’.

Well, mon Dieu and sacré bleu, thank goodness for that, Anne, because I can define ‘science’, but might have to Google ‘empirical perceptions’.

But, Back To Phun With Phrench Phonetics

However integral a role gastronomical science may play in advising sommeliers that, up to this point, their empirical perception methodology has been a osti d’kalisse de pourris (Français québécois—Google it if you must), science is as boring in 2012 as it was in Brother Burçet’s 10th grade Physics class.

Far more salient to today’s humor-impaired world is the simple, soul-satisfying, heart-warming science—art, really—of making fun of French people trying to speak English.

Ergo, for your viewing pleasure, are some further faithfully duplicated word-for-word quotes from http://francoischartier.ca:

  • This unique experience* allows him to draw her again TOP 100 CHARTIER vintages time to buy with your eyes closed! 
  • This year, 175 new wines are discussed in the next premiere arrivals from the SAQ, all listed in a sensible and practical calendar of future arrivals 2011/2012. 
  • now can also listen to his chronic food and wine to the cooking show curious Bégin. personality only wine in Quebec have received the National Order of Quebec (2008), the highest distinction awarded by the Government of Quebec.

*Please note, the longest word on Chartier’s entire web site is the ten-letter word ‘expérience’, for which we big-word haters can be grateful, since it could have been worse:  The longest word in the French language contains 189,819 letters and is the scientific name for ‘titin’.

(If you, like me, misread this to say ‘the scientific name for Tintin’, rest assured that the scientific name for that dull and rambling Belgique snorefest contains only four letters: ‘yuck’).

Chelle Roberts indicates with her index fingers the ideal number of letters in a word.

Meanwhile, speaking of scientific names, Brisbane buddy and fellow big-word hater Chelle Roberts informs me that the etymological term for people suffering from this affliction is ‘hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia’.

So now you know.

What I don’t know, and fully intend to ask François Chartier if ever I find a need to leave cold, dull, drab, wet Detroit and travel to colder, drabber, wetter Quebec is this:

Is it gastronomically appropriate to serve English wine with pidgin?

Posted in GENERAL, PAIRING WINE AND FOOD | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments