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 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

  • 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

What Is The TRUE Meaning Of Oktoberfest, Charlie Brown?

As mid-autumn in the Midwest moves musty mounds of maple matter to our midden-heaps, München remains but a memory and Frankenmuth, a mere flashback.

But Oktoberfest should live year round in our hearts and steins, our souls and our livers.

Yet for many, the entire Oktoberfest season is overly rife with stress; the need to ‘out-drink’ last year even when it’s financially and physiologically impractical; the pressures generated by the volume of cynical commercialization spewing forth from every mall, every town square, every television station in the cableverse… and this, at a time when we should be less concerned with frenetic ‘last-minute’ beer runs, and more with quietly remembering those we love; to wit., our pint-pullers, our bartenders and our Heineken distributors.

Slightly less so, Oktoberfest is a time for family—provided your family is composed of raging alcoholics—and an opportunity for each and every one of us to pause and take stock, preferably stock from the beer store.

And—correct me if I’m wrong—nowhere is this sentiment more simply and beautifully portrayed than in that gentle animated gem, A Charlie Brown Oktoberfest.

Anyone from my generation can surely recall those windy autumn evenings when us kids—clad in pjs, clutching bowls of Beer Nuts, keg-shaped cookies, pickled eggs and plastic tumblers of Hacker-Pschorr—perched in front of the 10” Admiral television set—the one with the rabbit-ears and black Bakelite top—waiting for those first magical, mesmerizing tuba blats from Vince Guaraldi’s oompah band to signal that the long-awaited cartoon was about to begin.

‘Dunno about you, Linus, but I could murder a Dortmunder about now.’

Originally sponsored by Miller High Life, the special first aired on CBS in 1915, and has been shown during the Oktoberfest season every year since.  We still watch, don’t we (?), reveling in the nostalgia that our favorite characters—Lucy, Linus, Charlie Nut Brown Ale and of course, everybody’s favorite Dussel-Köter,  Der Snoopy—allows us.

To be sure, we force our children watch, too, and punish them severely if they don’t adore it.

But, if we’re honest, watching the show is really unnecessary.  Like the earworm that causes us to replay ‘La Bamba’ fifty trillion times in our heads, we can pretty much recite the cartoon verbatim by now; am I wrong?

The ‘gang’ and Susan Smith–as portrayed my Charles M. Schultz

We each have our favorite ‘sequence’, too.  For some, it is the moment when Charlie Brown ‘thanks’ Violet for the Oktoberfest card she never sent him (!); for others, it is the gut-busting effort that Snoopy goes through to decorate his dog house like the Schützen-Festhalle Armbrustschützenzelt tent, outfitted with a Sekt bar and Maß of Weißbier and festooned with the distinctive colors and coats of arms of Derbeaglenverbindungen—the Austro-Bavarian dog fraternity.  For still others, it’s the prophetic segment where—screaming “O’ zapft is!”—Susan Smith drives her 1912 Mazda Protegé into the partially-frozen pond where the ‘gang’ are trying to ice skate, followed by the heroic effort of Pigpen to rescue her from the submerged vehicle—although, alas, her two children do not re-appear until a 1965 episode of Casper The Friendly Ghost.

But, certainly, the one scene that remains close to each of us, no matter how many times we see it, is when Charlie Brown, frustrated by the immoral excesses of the largest Volksfest (People’s Fair) on the planet even while second guessing himself, cries out in despair:

“Isn’t there anyone who knows what Oktoberfest is all about??”

‘For today, in the Jewish quarter of Leipzig, was born an Übermensch.’

And, of course, up struts young Linus, still sucking his thumb, wetting his bed, playing with his penis in church and puking up his brussels sprouts, to quip the incorruptible, sempiternal lines which remains fresh and vital to this day:

“Sure, Charlie Brown.  I can tell you what Oktoberfest is all about:

‘Nathless the brisk Burgonden all on their way did go,

Then rose the country over a nickel dole and woe ;

The Nibelungen Recken did march with them as well.

In a thousand glittering hauberks. Who at home had ta’en farewell

Of many a fair woman should see them never more :

The wound of her brave Siegfried did grieve Chriemhilde sore.’

A controversial PETA ad that ran during this year’s airing.

In the original un-cut, 1915 version, Linus goes on for six-and-a-half days, but—believing this excessive for today’s ‘short-attention-span’ generation—current sponsor PETA has seen the speech condensed into about fourteen hours.  Gratefully, none of the simplicity, the sincerity and the sheer jubilation of Linus’s message has been lost, and today, when the spotlight finally fades on that school auditorium stage, there is not a dry eye in this house, thank you very much.

So, as we go through our hectic, workaday lives, we would do well to remember the spirit of drunken Teutonic camaraderie of which young Linus and Siegfried so eloquently remind us and which so warms our hearts; and, having once again taken the time from our tumultuous, nerve-racking schedule to watch A Charlie Brown Oktoberfest, we can, perhaps, contemplate the true meaning of Oktoberfest—an all-too-rare experience during the rest of the year.

That’s reason enough to celebrate, is it not?

And by the way, it’s your round, dickface.

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

Auld Lange’s Wyne

My writing laboratory is loaded with Aryan research assistants.

I have a nearly unhealthy fascination with twins; one I believe may rival that of Josef Mengele.  I’ll explain, but first, while the implication settles—a wine writer beginning any column, at any time, anywhere, with a direct reference to a Nazi war criminal—let me say in my Nuremburg-quality defense that I am a wine writer by default alone.

My medical career was short, but Mattel made a doll of me anyway.

In point of fact, my real goal in life was to become an alcoholic stand-up comedian, or barring that, an alcoholic brain surgeon.

Unfortunately, I freeze in front of crowds to the point where I can’t even address my kids at the dinner table; also my hands shake uncontrollably whenever I ‘tense up’ which is whenever I see the slightest drop of blood.

As a result, ‘wine writing’ became my career goal Chapter 11.

So—before I get into the meat and potatoes of this piece, rather than performing a vicarious endovascular coiling on your groin,  I’ll tell you a little joke instead:

Guy walks into a bar.  Bartender says, ‘What’ll you have?”

“Bourbon, straight up,”  the guy answers.  But when the bartender hands him a tab, the fellow says, ‘Hang on.  You said ‘What’ll you have?’.  That legally constitutes a free exchange.  I’m a lawyer; I know.”

Understandably pissed, the bartender says, “Okay, but finish up quick and get the hell out and never come back.  You’re barred permanently.”

Next day, the same guy shows up.  Bartender says, “WTF? I told you never to come back in here.” 

Dude responds, “What are you talking about?  I’ve never been in this place before in my life.”

“No?” says the bartender.  “Well, in that case, you must have a double.”

“Thanks,” says the guy.  “Bourbon, straight up.”


Twin Peeks

Have you ever learned that somebody you’ve known peripherally for a long time, through work or somewhere, has a twin?  And had trouble wrapping your head around the idea?  I’m sure it’s a commonly shared experience.

This one, I figure, is not: On three separate occasions during my life, I have had the above random conversation with folks who have responded, ‘’Well, I have a twin.’

So the whole twin thing has become sort of inexplicably Twilight Zone eerie to me and I now look upon twins with a certain vigilant askance—which, for those who now suspect me of being a Nazi sympathizer, means ‘sideways’–a hip wine reference.  It does not mean that I care what color the Lange twins’ eyes are, nor how they got that way.

A Lange Harangue About How They Hang

How precious is it when mom dresses the twins EXACTLY ALIKE!

For the record, the Lange twins are a pair of Hollywood-handsome, distinguished-looking winery owners who are scions of a gang of mostly non-twins who have been growing grapes in  Lodi for five generations.  As vintners, they produce a dozen wines, including unique lots like musque-clone sauvignon blanc and effervescent Muscat Frizzante.

The Lange fame claim is a vigorous adherence to practices of sustainable agriculture—an ‘ecosystem’ approach which you would think by now would be table stakes for the highly competitive California grape growing industry, but which apparently is not.

Why?  Probably because it isn’t necessarily cheap, and requires a lot of dedication to  interests beyond your immediate crop.

Lange One (Randy) writes in his ‘blogpost’:   “Sustainable winegrowing is all encompassing in its approach, and unlike other farming practices, it requires concern for all surrounding environments, not just with the winegrapes* that are grown.”

* The winery is named LangeTwins, with no space between the two words.  Apparently, this quaint quirk carries through to ‘winegrapes’ and ‘blogpost’ as well—words which become, under deft Lange manipulation, Siamese twins.

Lange Two (Brad) agrees: “It is the balance of environmental health, economic profitability, and social equity. From generating clean energy with solar panels to restoring native habitat areas among our vineyards, we are committed to improve our environmental practices. Ultimately, each element plays a vital role in the integrity and quality of our wine.”

Another element which plays a vital role in the integrity and quality of Langewine is David Akiyoshi, a second generation winemaker who is not only not a twin, but has a legitimate, sustainable space between his two names.  He boarded the Twin train in 2005 after 25 years at Robert Mondavi’s Woodbridge, and raves about Lodi’s capacity as a host planet for zinfandel:  “Long before there were AVAs,” he says, “and 100 point scores, European immigrants who settled in Lodi began planting zinfandel because the grape—and the land—reminded them of what they left behind in Europe, even though zinfandel was never an important grape over there.”

Alas, the munificent gods of free samples opted to skip the zin in favor of the chardonnay and cabernet, upon which I will perform unnaturally diabolical experiments of brain dissection below…

But First, a Healthy Shot of Huh (?) Regarding the LangeTwins ‘Blogpost’:

For absolutely no discernible reason that I can surmise, the above quoted blogpost entitled ‘A Slice of Lodi’s Zinfandel Past’ leads with the following:

‘Elvis was always a dutiful child, and here everybody was thinking he’s wild…’

Jesse Winchester (Just Like New)

L.: Elvis Aaron Presley R. Jesse Garon Presley

Is this because Elvis, as many of us realize, was a twin?

It’s possible, I suppose.  We can, perhaps, look forward to future quotes regarding the following, all also, surprisingly (to me) twins:

Vin Diesel, Scarlett Johansson, Ashton Kutcher, John Elway, Jerry Falwell, William Randolph Hearst, Liberace, Alanis Morissette, Kiefer Sutherland and Ed Sullivan.

Tasting Notes:

LangeTwins Chardonnay, Clarksburg AVA, 2010, about $15:  This is a luscious and lively chardonnay, but damn if it doesn’t have a sauvignon blanc nose.  In a blind tasting, I would have bet the lower forty on it.  One of California’s least known appellations, Clarksburg sits just beneath Sacramento and produces wine of solid, but mid-level quality.  This is a nice one, no doubt, once you rationalize away the grapefruit nose as being a potential blend of key lime and pineapple aromas.  Creamy in the mouth due in part to barrel fermentation, shows an edge of almond and tangerine, giving it a unique slant.  Serve with a pair of cornish game hens.

LangeTwins Cabernet Sauvignon, Lodi, 2009, around $15: Supple, soft, spicy and sweet, this is a ‘drink tonight’ cab with dried cranberry on the palate along with black cherry, cedar, cassis and chocolate. Youthful and deep, this is a wine to tuck into rather than tuck away; the growing season was somewhat challenged, and big harvest-time rains diluted the product a bit.  Fine to drink now, but I’d be cautious about holding on to it long.  Serve with a brace of roasted round eye rounds.

Posted in Cab/Merlot, CALIFORNIA, Chardonnay | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

What Do Women Want? Phenylethylamine, Mr. Freud—Not a Scrotum

Sigmund Freud, The Psychical Consequences of the Anatomic Distinction Between the Sexes, 1925:

“The great question which I have not yet been able to answer despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is:

‘What does a woman want?'”

Well, certainly not the shriveled baloney pony of a dead, dated and démodé doctor, whose views on women were exploitative anachronisms even when he wrote them.  By 1925, suffragists—women and men, conservative and radical—had already slam-dunked it: The Nineteenth Amendment, which prohibited state or federal sex-based restrictions on voting, was ratified in 1920.

When a cigar is not just a cigar.

Meanwhile, Freud considered his wife to be a good little hausfrau, and in one distorted and condescending bout of horn-fellating, claimed that his greatest discoveries were 1) the Oedipal Complex—the notion that somewhere between the ages of three and five, a boy decides that he wants to dispatch daddy and make whoopee with mommy—and 2) Penis Envy:  Freud’s conviction that every woman has a lifelong obsession with her schlonglessness.

‘Do I make you Horney, baby?’

The latter theory was ripped to shreds by contemporary psychoanalyst Karen Horney (perfect name, huh?) who believed instead that us boys have ‘womb envy’ because we can’t have babies—a fancy that Freud pooh-poohed as being the result of Horney’s penis envy.

Personally I think they sound like a couple of pre-schoolers playing doctor with their nay-nays and as far as I’m concerned, they can both go blow a bowl of Belyando spruce.

So, If Not a Tallywhacker, an Alabama Black Snake or a Purple-Headed Pork Sword, What DO Women Want??!

Chocolate, baby, chocolate.

If you are, in fact, a woman and happen to be anywhere near Navy Pier, Chicago November 16-18, there’s this thing happening that is a lot like what happened beneath that mashed-potato-shaped laccolith at the end of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind: A convergence of benighted, wandering souls suffering from OCD—Obsessive Chocolate Disorder, the discovery of which happens to be Karen Horney’s greatest contribution to Cuckoo-For-Cocoa-Puffology.

Over that November weekend, the trade-focused National Chocolate Show runs in conjunction with the consumer-focused Chicago Fine Chocolate Show and promises to be nothing short of a phenomenal female-filled phenylethylamine fan festival—to true chocoholics what Mardi Gras is to overweight, drunk crackerhonkies who haven’t seen a living tit since 1995.

No photo available of Mario Pi. So, here’s Mario Cake.

According to National Chocolate Show founder Mario Pi (another rockin’ moniker—is his middle name Chocolate Cream?),  “We wanted to create a forum for the advancement of the chocolate industry through taste journeys and empowering conference programming on cocoa farming sustainability, trend spotting, fine flavor exploration, new product development, business insights, and more.”

More on that orchestrated pile of steaming PR cacahuatl in a sec.  First—now that we have firmly demonstrated what women actually want—it’s time to address a follow-up question:

Why do women want what women want?


Because Women Are From MARS® and Men Are From Venus Envy

In fact, a recent report by the The Diabetes Association claims that, whereas only 15%  of males crave chocolate, 40% of women do, with three-quarters of those stating that absolutely nothing other than chocolate will satisfy their cocoa concupiscence.

What men want

And—psychologically and physiologically—the reasons are indeed gender specific.

The aforementioned phenylethylamine is a psychoactive drug whose effects may produce sensations of giddiness, attraction, euphoria and excitement—emotions that men produce via kegerators, 103 inch flat-screen TVs and partially-restored 1950 Harley Panheads.  A book released in the 1980’s—that era of effusive, bizarre and generally incorrect self-help theories—opined that chocolate releases mesolimbic dopamine in the pleasure centers of the brain and they are similar to orgasm—which may be why six in ten women report preferring chocolate to sex.

It’s pretty blatant, too: With chocolate, you don’t have to make small talk, act interested or look your best.

And yet, it has been subsequently shown that nearly all ingested phenylethylamine is broken down long before it reaches the brain.  Still,  this has not stopped an entire generation from referring to the ‘chocolate theory of love’.

A more arguable notion is that chocolate contains relatively high levels of magnesium—a chemical that is depleted in women during menstruation.  The idea is that women undergoing PMS (Pre-Mocha Syndrome) begin to lust after chocolate as a way to top up the tank.  The fact that magnesium is the ninth most common element in the universe and is contained in thousands of non-craved foods is pretty much swept under the rug by magnesiumists.

Debra Zellner, Ph.D

Debra Zellner, Ph.D, a professor at Shippensburg University, believes that chocoholism is in the mind, not the brain, and maintains that woman want chocolate primarily because it is a cultural taboo loaded with sugar and spice and everything goes-directly-to-the-hips nice, and that the pre-menstrual, down-in-the-dumps yen is more a psychological desire for comfort food than a physical need to replenish body stores.

No matter the reason, the stats are undeniable: The most widely and frequently craved foods by men are, in descending order, buffalo wings, bratwurst with yellow mustard, meat-lovers pizza and beersicles.

With women, hands down and by a huge margin, it’s chocolate.

That’s What Grown-Up Women Want.  What Does Li’l G’boto Chukwuemeka, Age 8, Want?

Give li’l G’boto Chukwuemeka a beersicle.  For Old Glory.

A day off.  A couple of bucks for her fourteen hour shift.  A singing pink pony that she can eat between choruses.  Or, barring that, a beersicle and a bucket of Buffalo Wild Wings.

The one thing she doesn’t want?  Any more chocolate.

Earlier, I quoted a statement made by Mario Pi-In-The-Sky regarding the National Chocolate Show’s mission to ‘empower conference programming on cocoa farming sustainability, trend spotting, fine flavor exploration—and did I mention ‘blah, blah, blah,’ and ‘shut the f**k up already, Mario?’

Trend spotting?  What about at least a cursory mention of the ongoing trend of child bondage throughout the Ivory Coast chocolate industry?

A recent study from the US government reports that there are nearly two million underage workers in the chocolate industry throughout western Africa, with nearly 800,000 of those in the Ivory Coast, which alone accounts for more than half the world’s supply of cocoa.

That beloved nation, you’ll recall, bore the primary burden of supplying the antebellum American slave trade with unwilling fodder for the auction block, and despite the Emancipation Proclamation, does not seem to have missed a beat.

Scars on a chocolate plantation worker

The technique of removing the prized beans from a cocoa pod involves whacking it with a giant cleaver, and trafficked children working the plantations are routinely photographed with machete scars on their arms, legs and faces.  Not only that, but these children work daily with pesticides and herbicides without protective gear.

Suffice to say that they are paid atrociously, too.  But when prices are low—cocoa futures dipped to historic lows in May, 2012—they’re often not paid at all.

Awareness Level Among Butter Fat Fat Cats?

Joanna Scott speaking on behalf of the chocolate industry. Clearly a lover of the product, too.

Not surprisingly, industry officials refuse to comment, referring inquiries to public relations consultants like Joanna Scott, who maintains, “We are totally committed to working with others in resolving the situation.”

Evidently, this involves building a school in Campement Paul near San Pedro, which is able accommodate about a quarter of the community’s 500 children and for which the village—already subsisting at bare poverty level—was charged half of the $20,000 construction fees.

Meanwhile, the cocoa industry is worth an annual $90 billion.

S’funny, Ms. Scott:  When I am ‘totally committed’ to a moral obligation, I—like most people—don’t look for ways to stick poor people for half the cash.

And that’s not even the kicker: The kicker is something that needs to be read, probably more than once, to be believed:

Confronted again and again with irrefutable evidence of child labor, human trafficking and unapologetic slavery in West Africa and other chocolate producing regions, the industry’s biggest players, including Hershey’s, Kraft-Cadbury, Mars, Nestlé and Blommer, have signed agreement—under pressure—to cut by 70% the number of children working in dangerous conditions by 2020.

By 2020.  This is not a typo, chocolatiers.

What Do Real Women Want?

The same thing that real men want: That this idiotic timetable be withdrawn and words like ‘by 2020’ be replaced with ‘by 2:20 this fucking afternoon, people’.

And, that anything calling itself The National Chocolate Show make this subject not merely a talking point, not only a seminar title, not part of an ‘empowered conference programming’, but the entire focus of the entire three-day get-together.

And if they refuse, we should all agree to throw en masse machete-flavored pies at the event’s nom approprié founder Mario Pi until he gets his Hershey’s Squirts together.

Meanwhile, at very least, if nothing else and once and for all, we have laid to rest Sigmund Freud’s flawed penis postulation:

Li’l G’boto Chukwuemeka does not want a dick.  She works in an industry that’s overflowing with them.

Posted in GENERAL | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Signorello Trims The Edge Of The Fuse

When does ‘cutting edge’ become ‘trimming edge’?  When Ray Signorello, Jr. gets into the game.

I’m not sure if there is a direct translation of ‘signorello’ from Italian into English, but the Latin etymology is all about refinement, gentlemanliness and class.  Indeed, this estate—which has been producing top quality Napa grapes since the mid-1970’s—wears an aura of gravitas in its history, mission, quality and focus—even in the style and font of its labels.

Gravitas, which also has no direct English translation, means (in various measures) weight, seriousness and prestige, and connotes both substance and depth of character.  It is a word perfectly suited to the Signorello family and their extended ventures: It was one of the ancient Roman virtues along with pietas, dignitas and virtus—devotion, dignity and excellence.

To a profound extent, all of the classic Roman virtues fit the Signorello Estate bill.

Clever Pater

Signorello Estate

Wistful venture capitalists in the field of electronics may look back upon Silicon Valley in the mid-Seventies and sigh; those into wine speculation have an identical reaction when they consider Napa wine country during those same years, when an acre of premium property (now selling for more than a quarter million dollars) could be had for the equivalent cost of a mid-level Chrysler.

One visionary turned do-inary was Ray Signorello, Sr., who had the insight to pick up 100 acres of prime vineyard along the Silverado Trail with a plan to be a grower rather than a vintner—then as now, virtually all top estates purchase some quantity of grapes from independent farmers.  But, with Ray Jr. in the picture and the legendary abundance of 1985’s harvest, the family began to custom-crush excess fruit and a whole new phase of Signorello diversification was born.

The following year, work began on a winery, and by the end of the decade, the Signarellos had been more than ‘bit’ by the winemaking bug—they’d been pretty much devoured.

Since then, with Ray Jr. tag-teaming the leadership role until his father’s passing in 1998, Signorello Estate has produced some of the Valley’s most noteworthy Burgundian varietals, with the chardonnay bursting from thirty-year-old vines full of righteous clout, culminating in style and elegance with the night-harvested, unfined, unfiltered Hope’s Cuvée—named in honor of the family matriarch, Ray Jr.’s mother Hope.

Pinot noir, which appears to last have been vinified in 2005, was a product of Carneros and has been likened to Domaine de la Romanée-Conti; it saw lees contact throughout 17 months of French oak aging.

How Red Was My Valley

Winemaker Pierre Birebent with Ray Signorello, Jr.

Beginning in 1990, the Estate began to concentrate on red Bordeaux varietals, with a couple of acres of syrah planted to spice up the mix.  The vineyards currently include two acres of semillon and a micro-plot of sauvignon blanc which is used to produce the lustrous, barrel-fermented Seta—a wine with the depth and complexity of a top estate Pouilly Fumé.

Cabernet sauvignon makes up the bulk of the Signorello plantings; 24 acres in all, most of which is blended with estate-grown merlot and cabernet franc.  Winemaker Pierre Birebent, a graduate of Lycee Agricole Macon-Davaye in Burgundy, translates more French into his technique than merely the blends: His cabernet sauvignon sees extended maceration and frequent pump-overs followed by 20 months on Troncais, Nevers and Alliers oak made into barrels by companies he refers to as tonnelleries rather than ‘cooperages’—even when they don’t.

Crown Jewel

Without question, the Signorello flagship is an homage to Ray Signorello, Sr. in the limited-bottling of ‘Padrone’—a wine which Ray Jr. says, “…expresses the utmost quality of the Estate.”

Culled from two low-yielding (1.3 acres/ton) and rocky corners of the property, the concentrated and superbly-crafted cabernet/merlot blend erupts with huge, berry-saturated fruit underscored with the sort of exotic subtlety that only shows up in these brooding reds: Sandalwood, marzipan, eucalyptus.  At $135, the 2008 is neither for the faint of heart nor the faint of budget.

Now, just as we’ve pigeonholed Signorello as an opulent jewel in the heart of Napa whose wines, though exquisitely balanced and fiercely forward, can hit tariffs to make it a ‘special occasion’ choice alone, along comes a trio of smart, sassily named blends—mostly cab, but all three with a percentage of syrah—that retail for less than thirty dollars, and one, for under twelve.

Promises Ray Signorello, Jr.:   “These wines have my personal stamp of quality, providing cabernet sauvignon with integrity at affordable prices.”

Trust the man?

By now, you should; he’s hit the quarter-century pedigree of gravitas, pietas, dignitas and virtus, which means he’s earned it.

Tasting Notes:

Trim (Signorello Estates), California, 2010, about $12: Following a relatively cool, acid-reserving growing season, nature got a little cocky late in the day, tossing a heat spike at vineyards which brought the fruit to quick ripeness.  This wine is a notable $12 value, showing a lovely nose of plummy summer fruit, appealing sweetness and clarity, but with a touch of spice and earth to display more breeding than you’re used to finding at this price point.

Edge (Signorello Estates), North Coast, 2010, around $20:  A firm cab with discreet but scrumptious oak notes—the result of fifteen months of barrel age—wrapped around a core of current, blackberry, cedar and herbs.  The finish is long and touched with a twinge of coconut.

Fuse (Signorello Estates) Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2010, about $28: Beautiful, dense, and percolating with cola, black fruit, black cherries and a complex floral/mineral lift. Ripe, yet fresh, the wine is dense and structured; there’s an intriguing impact of oak spice submerged with a stylish, earthy palate.

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‘The Drumbeat Of Transparency’ And Other Examples Of Mismatched Synesthesia Among Wine Writers

I am sitting here in the middle of the night reading the label on a jar of Gourmet Collection Cajun Style Spice Blend wearing an expression between bemused bewilderment and baffled miff, since apparently, in its inimitable wisdom, the FDA requires that the good folks at GC list the spice blend’s nutritional information on the bottle.

Which, you may be relieved to learn, is 0% fat, 0% carbs, 0% protein and 0% everything else.  Information which is, of course, 100% useless.

But now, at least, I can sleep—unless the drumbeat of transparency keeps me awake.

Unfashionable Literary Mismatches

Apparently, two different species. Go figure.

Before I go further, let me take a moment to discuss literary terms like mismatched synesthesia, chiasmus and bildungsroman.  They are, of course, part of an academic lexicon used by language scholars with a high tolerance for boredom to pigeonhole figures of speech, plot archetypes, literary genres as well as to shame ninth graders who don’t know the difference between a simile and a metaphor.  They don’t help you write better any more than knowing that the Latin binomial for a whitetail deer is Odocoileus virginianus helps you to hunt better—although should the DNR decide that your twelve-point buck is actually a Bos primigenius, you are probably in for a long night and will likely to be told to wake up and hear the coffee.

To which you will inform the underpaid and overworked conservation officer that he has just committed a faux pas of formality known to English professors as ‘mismatched synesthesia’—which is a specious conflation of the senses.

And you will find that there is nothing closer to the heart of a pissed-off DNR agent than having his grammar corrected by a smart-ass wine writer who’s just shot a Hereford bull.

BTW, ‘Moo’ is an onomatopoeia.

I’m Sure Randall Grahm Doesn’t Much Care For It Either

Were I to write, “I like Grahm crackers,” I would be guilty of two distinct literary indiscretions:  First, misspelling—because in this case the word is spelled ‘graham’.  And second, syntactical bullshit, because I actually hate graham crackers.

Randall Grahm: ‘If you listen carefully, you can hear transparent drumbeats.’

Whether or not Randall Grahm likes graham crackers is beyond the scope of this column, but the sentence ‘Is Grahm cracking up?’ is a fairly decent example of phrasal irony (‘cracking’ vs. ‘crackers’), euphemism—wherein I have substituted  the less offensive expression ‘cracking up’ for ‘losing his fucking mind’—and rhetorical understatement, because Randall Grahm has been slipping away in measurable increments ever since he started burying dung-filled cow horns in his vineyards and harvesting grapes based on phases of the moon—all with the intention of engaging non-physical beings and elemental forces to revitalize the soil structure.

These are, in fact, some of the less strange tenets of purist biodynamic agriculture—a singular subset of organic farming that stirs mysticism and cosmic spirituality into the dynamized dilution of composted cow shit sprayed over the grape vines every spring.

Steiner. Jeremy Irons is a shoe-in for the role, wouldn’t you say?

Essentially, most of this stuff comes from the writings of Rudolf Steiner, a philosopher, mystic and self-styled ‘esotericist’ from the early twentieth century.  Interestingly, he was also a literary critic who probably knew that if your daughter starts vomiting up green puke while her head spins around, an esotericist is not the guy you’re supposed to call.

Randall Grahm, proprietor and winemaker at Bonny Loon Doon Vineyard, refers to Steiner not as a mystic or an esotericist, but as a ‘polymath’, which is an even stranger literary term than esotericist, although it is an anagram of ‘psychopath’.

Personally, I’ll stick with the taxonomic binomial for Mr. Steiner, which is Wackadoodlus kooki.

Which is not to say that Randall Grahm does not make excellent wines.  Superb, even.  He does, and has so for years—even the years preceding his slow descent into madness.

Let’s Talk Foreshadowing

In case you spent your sophomore lit class in a stupor of hemp, hormones and horniness (alliteration) and forgot, foreshadowing is a device used by writers using hints or clues to suggest what will happen later in a piece.  Were you to re-read this column (as if), you would see that I opened with an apparently random reference to FDA ingredient labels.

Now, as mystics like Rudolf Steiner are wont to say, ‘All will be revealed.’

Five years ago, in a quest for publicity transparency, Randall Grahm opted to voluntarily list ingredients on his wine labels.  These include such non-esoteric items as tartaric acid and sulphur dioxide, ‘meh’ information really, since these are, respectively, an acid enhancer and a preservative which are not only table stakes throughout the industry, but also indispensable to any home winemaking operation.

It’s like listing ‘water’ as an ingredient in Evian.

But Grahm is being lauded for such a ‘brave and principled stand’ by respected critic Eric Asimov of the New York Times, who says, ‘I like to know what’s in my food.’

Well, to each his own and to own his each (chiasmus).

Frankly, Mr. Asimov, there are some things in our food that are best left unknown.

Me, I would just as soon not know that my ham and cheese sandwich contains extract from the inner mucosa of the fourth stomach of slaughtered unweaned calves, flesh from tormented pigs forced to live in their own cow-hornless feces and Exorcist-quality vomit, and that the FDA allows an average of one rodent hair and 75 insect parts per fifty grams of wheat flour, which commercial bakers are pointedly not required to list as an ingredient.

The only way I want to know what’s in my wine is if it is antifreeze like in Austrian wine, vintage 1985 or whatever chemical in MD 20/20 makes you see mice in your Bimbo.

In any case, Asimov applauds Randall for ‘taking a bold step in favor of ‘consumer transparency’, apparently foreshadowing a later Grahm quote about transparent drumbeats.

Just So There Is No Mistake…

Personally, I am in total brave and principled opposition to consumer transparency, especially when it involves one of those full-body backscatter X-ray scanners at airports.

I am, however, all in favor of Randall’s luscious wine portfolio, especially the   Roussanne/Viognier, grenache-driven Clos de Gilroy and especially, the wine that put Grahm on the map, Le Cigar Volante, whose cryptic image of a flying saucer on the label was approved not only by the FDA, but likely, by Eric Asimov’s uncle Isaac.

So, since it’s all in good fun, I have no trouble yanking the chain (figurative circumlocution) of Grahm, who appreciates a good—or bad—turn of the phrase as well as any winemaker I’ve ever met.  So, if he wants to believe that transparent pixies are hovering over his vineyard warbling Damhsa Sna Crainn while he sprays microscopic crystals by moonlight, so be it.

One thing I’ll say about him: He’s committed.  Or perhaps, at the very least, he should be.

(…Examples of anastrophe, hyperbaton, euphemism, foreshadowing:  ‘To the nut house went he’).

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What Wines Not To Serve For Columbus Day

Columbus Day is, of course, the annual goombah gala which has nothing really to do with Christopher Columbus and everything really to do with marching down Fifth Avenue surrounded by bands, floats and contingents while bragging about how goddamned happy you are to be Italian.

As a wiser fellow than I once said, “Thou doth protest too much, methinks.”

Equally in the mood to protest are an integer of indignant indigenous Indians who have spearheaded (pun intended) a move to eradicate any jollification of Columbus’s landing—which we all remember from third grade actually took place in the Bahamas (and into whose banks Columbus promptly pumped his doubloons)—and not in America.

The crunk behind the Cree and Crow (et alii) critique centers on the subsequent mistreatment and near obliteration of the New World’s native population, which as an argument is rhetorical: Ethnic cleansing, whether intentional or the result of European-introduced disease, killed more Native Americans than the combined death tolls of the Holocaust, Rwanda and the Armenian genocide.

A True and Worthy Cause, No Doubt…

…Except that, were we to use mistreatment of the chthonic commonwealth as a reason to eliminate our annual chance to pay homage to Rockwell’s Four Freedoms—Freedom from Work, Freedom from School,  Freedom from Junk Mail and Freedom from the Bond Market, we’d lose Christmas (Christian treatment of Muslims during the Crusades), Thanksgiving (annual massacre of more than 45 million displaced turkeys), Pearl Harbor Day (atomic bombs killed 200,000 Japanese civilians) and Arbor Day (mass destruction of Mato Grosso rainforest).

So, today, it is probably in our best interest to simply allow Italians to do their ‘thing’—up to and including allowing old ladies dressed in black to roll their nylons down to their ankles, perma-wrapping all the furniture in plastic, pinching kids on the cheek while stuffing money in their pockets, being surprised that the FDA recommends three meals a day instead of nine and refusing to admit what is blatantly obvious to the rest of us: On some level, each and every one of you relates to someone on The Sopranos.

All Right.  This One Time, Kay, I’ll Let You Ask Me About The Wine…

As we all know, Italians have this whopping hard-on for ‘respect’ (rispetto).  Remember mush-mouth Brando as Don Corleone, normally a pretty stand-up, water-off-a-duck’s-back kind of wise guy, getting all PMSed over some sorry-ass corpse poacher’s supposed insult:

“Bonasera, Bonasera. What have I ever done to make you treat me so disrespectfully?”

Therefore, I think that the least we could do is, if not drink Italian wine exclusively, at least avoid wines which may have connotations that the paisani would just as soon we didn’t bring up.

Imperium Sine Fine—‘Empire Without End’… Right Before It Ended

Trivia: The very first Columbus Day parade happened 13 centuries before his birth.

Italy—in the guise of the Roman Empire—once ruled most of the Western world, reaching its greatest expanse in 117 AD when it spanned two million square miles and covered what are, today, forty countries.

It’s been pretty much downhill for the Italians ever since, culminating in the ignominy of World War II, where they not only backed the wrong horse, but fell off that one before the second leg of the race.

What follows is a chronological list of Italian conflicts which, from calf to toe, Lo Stivale would probably like to forget:

Battle of Teutoburg Forest, (9 AD): Rome vs. Germania.

Uncharacteristically trusting, Germania’s Roman Governor Publius Quinctilius Varus consented to spread soldiers from his three legions across the countryside to help the locals, who promptly rose up and slaughtered them.  Doh!  Retaliation was equally disastrous, and rest of the army was soon defeated in Teutoburg Forest, south of the city of Osnabrück, resulting in 20,000 dead legionaries.

Wines to Avoid:  P. J. Valkenberg Dornfelder Qba, Rheinhessen; Schloss Vollrads Riesling Qualitatswein, Rheingau; Pfeffingen Ungsteiner Herrenberg Spatlese, Rheinpfalz; Huber Bombacher Sommerhalde R Trocken Spätburgunder.


The Battle of Waterloo, (1815):  France vs. Britain/Prussia.

Mini-Monarch, King of Italy, 1805.

Of course it counts, you nattering ninnies; stop fact-checking me and go drink some wine!  Napoleon was crowned King of Italy in 1805.  In any case, this final implosion of military leader and emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821), fought on Belgian soil, followed his disastrous Russian campaign and resulted in the Little General abdicating and dying in exile.

Wines to Avoid: Camel Valley ‘Cornwall’ Pinot Noir Rosé Brut; Three Choirs Late Harvest, Gloucestershire; Astley Veritas, Worcestershire; Hardys Oomoo Chardonnay, South Australia. (Makes the list because South Australian wine industry begun around 1838 by immigrant Prussians).

First Italo-Ethiopian War, (1895 – 1896):  Italy vs. Ethiopia.

Tej tipplers, Ethiopia

Confident of local support that never materialized, the Italians—though boasting the smallest and least productive colonial empire in Africa—figured they could bitch-slap the Ethiopians into obeying a controversial treaty and wound up being handed their culos in a casserole.

Wines to Avoid:  ‘Tej’—Ethiopian honey wine, which you probably should be avoiding anyway.

The Battle of Guadalajara, (March 8–23, 1937):  Italy vs. Ejército Popular Republicano of Spain.

Franco and the Benito Bandito:  ‘Let’s call the whole thing off.’

Following his coup in 1936, Spanish Nationalist General Francisco Franco convinced magniloquent meatball Mussolini to offer up 7,000 men and a number of planes to help defeat dissenters and ensure that his ‘campaign against communism’ would succeed.  It failed and the Italian economy was wrecked in the process.

Wines to Avoid: Borsao Reserva, Campo de Borja, Zaragoza; Coma d’En Pou, Bàrbara Forés, Terra Alta; Condado de Haza Reserva, Ribera del Duero; El Vinculo Reserva, La Mancha


Greco-Italian War, (1940-1941):  Italy vs. Greece.

Trying to one-up Hitler—and marking the beginning of the Balkan campaign of World War II—the disdainful dipshit Duce blew it before he began,  endless rethinking invasion dates—once changing his mind five times in fifteen minutes.  Results were, of course, inevitable.  The woppish windbag may have made his trains run on time, but his troops wound up outrunning them anyway.

Wines to Avoid:  Boutari Grande Reserve; Sigalas Mavrotragano; Gaia Estate Assyrtiko; Estate Argyros Vinsanto

Multinational Force in Lebanon, (1982):  Italy vs. Lebanon.

Fabled vineyards of Bekaa Valley’s Chateau Musar.

Well, the Italians chipped in to some extent, which is more than can be said for most of Europe.  But, the final casualty tally probably speaks to the Italian fighting mettle, which hasn’t yet reached the peak performance of the Imperial Roman Army’s Praetorian Guard:

United States, 265; France, 89; Italy, 2.  (No truth to the rumor that the two Italians were killed when the weapons they threw away discharged accidentally).

Wines to Avoid: Chateau Musar, Cuvée White, Bekaa Valley; Domaine des Tourelles, Lebanon; Chateau St. Thomas, Bekaa Valley; Coteaux du Liban, Blanc du Clos, Zhale-Bekaa.

Posted in GENERAL, ITALY | Tagged , | 1 Comment