Wine, Women and Just Plain Wrong

I recently read a post by Huffington reporter Brooke Carey in which she got all full of herself because her boyfriend called her ‘more of a man than him’ when she ordered whiskey instead of what he’d asked for: Bud Lite.

She claims, ‘Women who embrace masculine interests are often considered smarter, more laid back, and more fun to be around than their prissier sisters’.

It’s food for thought—or drink, anyway.  And indeed, it got me thinking:  How drastically do whiskey ads, which have, throughout history, been overwhelming male-oriented and male-directed—affect a woman’s impulse buy at the bar?

First, though, I need to dispel some of the absurdities inherent in Ms. Carey’s quote.

‘Women who embrace masculine interests are often considered smarter…’  Considered smarter by whom? Other women?  Oh, by men!!  That’s because we can’t be expected to have meaningful conversations about 17” chrome Momo rims, public flatulence, fantasy football, running people over on Grand Theft Auto or titty bars when speaking to some dumb broad sipping Pol Roger.

‘…more laid back…’  What kind of laid back?  There’s dry, sarcastic, Daria from Beavis and Butthead laid back; there’s sultry, dextromethorphan-diva Sade Adu laid back;and then there’s porn star Sasha Grey literally laid back.  Say, Brooke—guess which one most appeals to the embrace of ‘masculine interests’?

‘…more fun to be around than their prissier sisters.’  Again, alas, I will respectfully object.  Prissy boys, like those who drink Bud Lite and date rye-chuggin’ women, are not particularly fun for us testosterone-oozing boys to be around, but I sort of dig their prissier sisters.  You think you can’t get prissy chicks hammered on Grand Cru Burgundy as effectively as on Bushmill’s?

Show some backbone, brother—it takes longer, that’s all.

But anyway, this piece was about marketing, so let’s take a chronological walk down memory lane with some classic whiskey ads accompanied by a handful of semi-literate observations.

(Click on ad images to enlarge them).

While celebrating their humiliating defeat at Gettysburg, rebel soldiers who were nearly dead from alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) apparently received succor from front-line nurses carrying full cases of Deep Spring Whisky directly on to the battlefield.  Thanks to the courage of such brave and brassy belles—the cream of Rebel womanhood, who Brooke Carey would not dare call ‘prissy’—many soldiers who would have otherwise perished survived to become fully-functional alcoholics.


Post-Appomattox, when the demure damsels of Dixie had returned to their burned-down plantations to drink mint juleps on their pillaged verandas, a new breed of whiskey-provider arose: The Negro.  Ever eager to please aristocratic white employers, servants like the gap-jawed Uncle Tom portrayed in this Norman Rockwell-esque ad loved to recommend ‘double rich’ bourbon to double-rich bosses.  Although it is not depicted here, the blue blood in the ad replies, “Why, Beauregard, what in the world will ah do when those Yankee reconstructionist bastards pass that blasted Civil Rights initiative?’ to which Beauregard answers, ‘Doan’ worry, suh— by den, dey’ll be plenny o’ illegal wetbacks to take mah place.’


During the height of the misogynistic, women-free Golden Age of Whiskey, the family bulldog had more business fraternizing,  harmonizing and guzzlizing with the boys than did the little missus.  The mindless ditty below these wasted warblers is sung to the tune of ‘I’ve Been Workin’ On The Railroad’, though the only individual in this squeaky-clean sextet who looks like he’s ever been anywhere near the workin’ end of the railroad business is the mutt.


The Sixties were rife with racial tension and necessarily saw The Negro again supplanted by The Woman as resident firewater fetcher.  Although ‘Darling’ is not officially shown in the ad, this literary-looking layabout, obviously too busy writing 45° incline beatnik poetry to walk to the wetbar, says: ‘Why can’t you have one too?’ rather than magnanimously suggesting that, in fact, she should have one too.

Off-stage, ‘Darling’ replies: “Seriously, Shakespeare? I’ve been hitting that fucking fifth of Grant’s since before ‘As The World Turns’ started.”


You can blame cheap third world labor, commercial banks refusing to lend Mom ‘n’ Pop a buck, an underwater housing market or Wall Street greed, but as ‘Mad Men’ succinctly points out, the real reason why our economy is in the toilet is because during its formative years, businessmen made decisions while shit-faced, and now we, their grandchildren, are paying the price.  Hip flasks like the one in this ad are now considered museum-worthy objets d’art, which is an aesthetic way of hiding the fact that our forefathers couldn’t get from one bar to the next without taking a little nip from the trench coat pocket.

(Note that the ad touts half-pints at ‘no extra cost’, when in fact you might expect it to say, ‘Since you’re only getting half the liquor, half-pints are actually cheaper…’)


One of the first stabs at marketing whiskey to women.  And yet, it really isn’t, is it?  Even in the Seventies this notion was so controversial that ad agencies drenched it in sexuality really meant to appeal to dudes.  Notice the spread-legged, subservient-on-the-floor posture of the photo’s model and her come-hither comment, “I never say no to Catto’s”—which we troglodytes totally understand to mean, “I never say no to a one-night stand after getting obliterated on Catto’s”.  And even so, lest we worry that this girl-who-can’t-say-no threaten our fragile masculinity like Brooke Carey did to her boyfriend, the copy reassures us that other scotches are either too heavy or too light, not ‘just right’,  thus reducing her to the status of a diminutive, iconographic Goldilocks.


Finally, an Eighties ad featuring zero well-groomed businessmen, zero baying bulldogs and zero groveling black people, but rather, focusing upon two healthy, active women obviously self-confident about their intelligence and athletic prowess!

But hang on a sec—it’s just a joke, isn’t it?  Every healthy horndog on the planet will initially miss the tagline while honing in on the twin, well-defined gluteus maximi, possibly imagining such debaucheries as might nestle therein.  Then, he reads the quote and chuckles to himself, ‘Right.  It’s all about your mind.

Rest assured, Alley Oop, Johnny Walker is chuckling right along with you.


Thus, you’d expect an enlightened generation of politically correct, twenty-first century whiskey ads.

And yet, Maker’s Mark attempt at ironic humor leaves our face all scrunched-up with looks of puzzlement.  ‘Your bourbon has a great body and fine character; too bad my girlfriend doesn’t.’ 

Who is this phantom man talking to anyway?  His buddy?  The bartender?  The Maker’s Mark company itself?  And if it was any of the above, he’s obviously not drinking Maker’s Mark at the time or else he’d say, “My bourbon.”  Or, ‘This bourbon.”  We feel bad for the whining loser, of course, because we sense that he’s probably not worth a smokin’ babe of fine character, nor maybe even expensive small-batch bourbons, but the moment becomes  instantly awkward (bad idea, ad people) and makes us want to respond, “Well then why don’t you get off your drunken ass and go to the gym with her, maybe make something healthy for dinner, or worse case scenario, dump her and try to find somebody more worthy of your hyper-selective tastes?

What’s that??  Oh, another round instead…?”

You’ve come a long way, baby.  Too bad Madison Avenue hasn’t.

Posted in Bourbon, GENERAL, LIQUOR | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Warren Winiarski’s Stag’s Leap of Faith

Within vino’s voluminous vale, the story of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars is the story of Napa.  At least, it’s a microcosm of Napa’s rise from a fiefdom of meh to a kingdom of quality—and that’s a crown that Warren Winiarski can make a legitimate claim to owning.

None of the contestants were asked why a fifth of Americans can't locate the USA on a world map.

This is not to steal thunder from the Krugs, the Schrambergs or the Beringers—all of whom established Napa wineries a century before Winiarski skittered onto the scene.  To understand Winiarski’s position on the throne requires a review of the momentous Judgment of Paris, which caused France—then considered by the world (and especially, by themselves) to be peerless producers of cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay—to utterly lose its equilibrium.

In 1976, British wine merchant Steven Spurrier organized a gimmicky competition wherein he pitted California cabs and chardonnays against Bordeaux and Burgundies; ten wines in each category.

Spurious Spurrier spouted some sputum

Since Spurrier was a purveyor of French wines exclusively, his self-confessed goal was to prove that California wines were inferior to French; the fact that the competition would take place during America’s bicentennial insured that PR machines would be operating at full steam.  Thinking to ensure victory for his portfolio of Old World classics, he stacked the pool with French judges—(of the eleven, only one was American)—including such luminaries as Pierre Brejoux, Inspector General of the Institut National des Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, Michel Dovaz of the Institut Oenologique de France and  Odette Kahn, director of the prestigious Revue du Vin de France.

Subsequently, Spurrier confessed, “I thought I had it rigged for the French wines to win.”


“My Wine Has No Nose.”  “Then How Does it Smell?”  “Awful.”

Epic fail; worse than Waterloo. Among the recorded comments of the judges were, “Ah, back to France,” upon sampling a Napa chardonnay, and, “This one is definitely a California—it has no nose, “ after sipping a Bâtard-Montrachet.

In retrospect, Spurrier’s biggest mistake was making it a blind competition.  At very least, he could have coughed every time the judges tried a French wine.  As you no doubt know, in the end, California not only won top honors in both categories, but literally dominated the debacle.  As one observer noted, “It was so utterly improbable that skilled French tasters, suckled on Bordeaux red and white Burgundies, should not only fail to recognize their own wines, but actually express so strong and concerted a preference for those of the New World.”

Nelson Muntz, hallowed bully at Springfield Elementary School, phrased it succinctly, and far better than moi:  “Ha, ha!”

And, beating Château Mouton-Rothschild, Château Montrose, Château Haut-Brion and Château Leoville Las Cases?  Warren Winiarski’s 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, which was a full three years younger than the first, second and third runners up.

To say that the French were incensed is understated; they hadn’t been this pissed off since that Austrian chick told them to eat cake.  They gave Spurrier the silent treatment for a year, making him sit in the corner with a conical hat and banning him from prestige wine-tasting tours.  He might have counted his lucky stars, too—in 1976, believe it or not, they were still guillotining people in France.

How You Gonna Keep ‘Em Down On The Farm After They’ve Seen Pa-ree?

Separated at birth? L.: Winemaker Winiarski. R.: Widow-maker Madoff.

Meanwhile, prestige in hand, Warren went back to growing grapes, which is all he really wanted to do anyway.   Part of a new wave of 1960’s prospectors, he’d left an academic career in Chicago to go west.   He established himself as a winemaker wannabe in Napa, and moved up the ladder rungs as as an apprentice with Lee Stewart at Souverain Cellars and then, as assistant winemaker at the newly created Robert Mondavi Winery.  Once his hands were stained sufficiently purple, he began to search for his own vineyard, finally finding one in the Stag’s Leap District, which he purchased from Napa pioneer Nathan Fay.

Stags Leap District, incidentally, was the first appellation in Napa to be designated an AVA (1989) based on its terroir. The soil is composed of loam and clay from the nearby river along with volcanic deposits from ancient eruptions in the Vaca Mountains.  Nathan Fay first recognized the suitability of this district for growing Bordeaux varietals, and planted the area’s first cabernet sauvignon in 1961, but it was Winiarski who dared to bottle merlot—then woefully under-represented in California—as a stand-alone varietal.

Can you tell which 'R.P.' is which?

A decade after the Judgment of Paris, Winiarski had perfected his wine to the point where 1985’s Cask 23, commanded the highest release price ($75) in Napa history.  It was referred to as “Truly sublime and perhaps perfect…” by a certain critic who shall remain unnamed, although his initials, ‘R.P.’, may as well stand for ‘Really Picky’.

Winiarski continuted to expand, buying more property, building new facilities, forming conservation easements with the Napa County Land Trust (legalese for ‘no Wal-Marts’) and a state-of-the-art multi-tunneled cave for barrel aging red wine.

The culmination of all this activity, award-winning and aggressive accretion occurred in 2007, when Winiarski turned over the Stag’s Leap stewardship (read: sold for a boatload of cash) to a joint venture between Piero Antinori and Chateau Ste. Michelle.

It’s fair to say that this sale was almost as earth-shattering to wine cognoscenti as was the Judgment of Paris, and more than a few eyebrows were elevated at the notion that this near-sacred winery could prosper under the umbrella of a 600,000-case-a-year Washington conglomerate primarily known for middle-road rieslings, but Winiarski has done his best to reassure his constituency:

“I’ll need to teach them about the terroir that I learned over 40 years,” he said.  “I’ll be here at the winery part-time. It’s not like I’m turning out lights.”

He’s proven himself true to his word, too.  After all, you can take the winemaker out of the vineyards, but you can’t so easily unload your DNA: ‘Winiarski’ is Polish for ‘Son of a Winemaker.’

Tasting Notes:

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Chardonnay, Karia, Napa Valley, 2009, around $35:   Classic Napa style with creaminess and crispiness as counterpoints.  Primary aromas are apple pie, lemon zest and pear, with some green apple and French vanilla on the mid-palate.  A vibrant wine that’s built in the vineyard, having kept acidic and refreshing by twilight breezes from San Pablo Bay.  The wine finishes sharp and clean with a bit of custard and oak.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Artemis, Napa Valley, 2008, about $55:  Nicki Pruss, Stag’s Leap’s winemaker, describes vintage 2008 as ‘a scary movie with a happy ending’.  Though yields were compromised due to early-season frost, the wine winds up being a signature Stag’s Leap red brimming with juicy Bing cherry, fennel, violets, star anise and dried sweet herbs—notably, lavender.  Cassis, baking chocolate and smoke dominate a silken mouthfeel with a long, mineral-tinged, mocha finish.

Posted in Cab/Merlot, CALIFORNIA, Chardonnay, Stag's Leap | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

e-Cigs®: ‘E’ Is For ‘Eeeeeeew’

I have about as much business writing about electronic cigarettes as I do writing about inflatable sex dolls, but I can’t help noticing that they are being marketed in a manner that might be charitably referred to as ‘identical’.

Here are some advertising points that were presented to me in a recent email urging me to give e-Cigs® a try; below, I have merely substituted italicized sex-doll words for the word cigarette.

  • Looks and feels like a real (woman?).
  • Cheaper than real  (women?).
  • Freedom to  (diddle?) anywhere.
  • No offensive (girly?) odors.
  • Reduce health risks. (STDs?)

Hon Lik

You will no doubt find this analogy distasteful, childish and utterly facetious—until you reference ‘electronic cigarettes’ on Wikipedia and discover that they were invented in 2003 by a pharmacist named Hon Lik.

Yeah, that’s not a typo.  Hon Lik.  Just saying is all.

Personally, I never developed a taste for medical-grade silica and I haven’t taken so much as a hit off a cigarette since I was twenty-two, so I am conspicuously unqualified to review either one.  I will, therefore, restrict my comments to the mundane, the ludicrous and the snide.

First, electronic cigarettes are cylindrical, ultrasonic cartridges through which the user inhales a propylene glycerin-based liquid that apparently contains cancer-causing nitrosamines which have been zapped into an aereosol mist by an atomizer.

Now, does that sound like a perfectly safe way to cut back on smoking or doesn’t it?  Nevertheless, our Big Brother FDA has seen fit to actually test electronic cigarettes, and has found traces of nicotine in some cartridges claiming to be nicotine-free.  Hence, in July 2009, they issued a press release discouraging the use of electronic cigarettes.

As might be supposed, that decision had the Electronic Cigarette Association®  fuming; they insisted that the tests were ‘too narrow to reach any valid and reliable conclusion’.

Even so, ignoring  such a well-composed and doubtlessly unbiased diatribe, Health Canada also issued an advisory against electronic cigarettes.

Leave it to the American Association of Public Health Physicians—whoever they are—to breath some fresh air into this smoky debate. They maintain that that the effects of second-hand smoke will be significantly decreased by using electronic cigarettes.  Well, AAPHP; considering that the smoke that e-Cigs® users exhale is merely ‘simulated’ rather than real, I’d say that you’ve reached a pretty sound conclusion.

Smoke on, buddy. Smoke on.

What do I Think About What I Think About What I Just Said?

I’m glad you asked.  Quite frankly, I’m not particularly concerned with the health effects of either e-Cigs® or Marlboro Golds®, and in fact, encourage inveterate smokers to continue down their road to personal extinction.  Perché?  Because I bask in the sense of superiority I derive from having given up a pack-a-day habit two decades ago and having never suffered a single relapse.  To me, this means that I am smarter, more disciplined and healthier than you—never mind that I substituted many even more self-destructive habits (some of which are legal) to replace my cigarette jones.

At least, I am smart enough not to fall for the small-print scam that the e-Cigs®  email is attempting to foist upon me.  Although the sample pack that the company promised me is free, I have to pay ten bucks for shipping and handling—most of which I am guessing goes to handling since the whole package is designed to fit in your vest pocket.  So confident are the e-Cigs®  folks of my complete satisfaction that I need do no more.  On the 15th of every month, unordered,  e-Cigs® will send me refills for which I will be charged $100 on my VISA—plus shipping and handling.

This is the same kind of crap that Publisher’s Clearinghouse used to pull on me when I was a kid, where I could order twenty albums for a nickel, then, every few weeks, they would send me a box of records I didn’t order, for which I’d then be billed.  I remember shoring up my album collection for about a year before I sent them a letter saying, ‘I’m a minor, so good luck trying to collect.  BTW, thanks for the free boxed-set of The Statler Brothers Greatest Hits, who I can’t even stand.’

Unfortunately, I had to click an ‘Over 21’ box before I could order the e-Cigs®, so there goes that ploy.

Let’s Talk About Sex Simulacrummery Instead…

As it turns out, there is not much available at my local branch of the Detroit Public Library® regarding inflatable sex toys (other than the odd fact that Hitler issued them to his troops to guard against syphilis)—that, or the librarian just wasn’t with the program when I asked her for reference books.

Gypsy sex doll

Next, I did some online research and found the following spec sheet for a ‘semi-solid inflatable Size 1:1 human Gypsy Erotic Doll with high, feel good, real skin’ from Guangdong, China.

(Some of the selling points appear to have been translated into English more or less correctly:  ‘She is the privacy of your most faithful lover,’ which must be a relief to those gentlemen living in fear that their sex doll has a wandering eye.

But some of the other ad bullets are harder to grasp, so I will attach them verbatim and leave them to you to work out:)

  • Water: All models are solidly insoluble in water
  • Pollution: That nothing can stick to doll body.
  • Realistic: In strict accordance with the proportion of correct human.
  • Flexibility: The interface has a wide range of activities at the regional points.
  • Security: On the human body is absolutely safe, no odor.
  • Easy: Ready available, the total mind and body can give you the highest level of enjoyment.
  • Temperature: Able to withstand any temperature below 300 degrees.

It would seem that even in Catonese pidgin, every possible contingency—including doll-play on Mars, where the temperature is, in fact, below 300 degrees—has been anticipated, engineered and perfected by those horny, chicken-feet-eating, warm-water-drinking, ‘Hello Kitty’-watching, sleeve-protector-wearing, noodle-slurping Chinese.

I may not know art, but I know what I like to wear to PTA meetings...

Or Has It…?  

Apparently not, or at least according to Dutch ‘artist’ Sander Reijgers, who has released a line of NSFW couture made from recycled sex dolls.

He snorts: “These raunchy, waterproof windbreakers and tracksuits are not for the prudish, but if you’re looking to make waves at your local Starbucks or, better yet, next PTA meeting, sporting one of these should draw some stares…”

Stares and waves, indeed, Sander.  But I will go you one better, you red-pants-wearing, gezellig-saying, raw-herring-eating Dutchman.  Since the doll’s ‘anatomically correct’ bits are intact on the windbreaker’s hood, I intend to adorn the ‘orifice most associated with Linda Lovelace®’ on mine with an e-Cigs® cartridge, fully atomized and leaking simulated smoke.

That ought to make the Harper Valley PTA sit up and bark, ought it not?


But, Don’t Take My Word For It!

Slightly Modified e-Cigs® Testimonials:

Rüdiger K.

Rüdiger K., Schutzstaffel officer, Einsatzgruppen, Russian Front:

“I received my (Eva Braun-shaped sex doll) just a few days after my order and I’m more than impressed by the solid feel.  It certainly feels like some time went into the design.  It’s almost like a high-end (hooker).

Diatronia M.

Diatronia M., Medical Lab Technician:

“These (George Clooney-shaped sex dolls) are amazing. I love being able to (cop a quick schtupp) anywhere, even my own home, without worrying about the (really bad example) I would pass on to my children.

Posted in GENERAL | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Beaujolais Nouveau Est Blasé! But Still Okay…

Forget that it’s essentially grape-flavored alcohol juice.  Ignore the ten crus in the appellation that are by far superior.  Disregard the fact that it occupies lowest rung on the Burgundy ladder.  It’s time to pull out the stops along with the corks…

Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!

Rachael Ray is on the left.

We Americans have a soft spot for mediocrity, don’t we?  We celebrate the world of average with an almost cult-like sincerity.  Rachael Ray.  Steve Carell.  Rick Perry.  And why not?  This country wasn’t built by monarchs on thrones but by rubes on tractors.  We’re more about septic tanks than scepters.  So it’s fitting that while wine cognoscenti snicker and roll their eyes, we plebian plonk partakers make a big deal every third Thursday in November over a product that is barely ready to consume.

Beaujolais Nouveau may be to the wine world what pizza dough is to Herman Cain, but any chance to celebrate anything over a snooker of red seems to me an idea worthy of participation.  So the stuff isn’t Concours Mondial material; at around ten bucks a bottle, neither are you risking the rent.  Drinkable?  Duh.  The point of Beaujolais Nouveau is to have something inexpensive and unremarkable to gargle the moment it’s done fermenting—staring at a bottle for two years waiting for the phenolic compounds to link up works for everyone except the tangentially thirsty.

Beaujolais, which from the outset (compared to big bro Burgundy) didn’t have a lot to work with, has made a cash cow out of a quaint bistro tradition.  In days of yore, vintners used to ox-cart barrels of baby wine—six weeks old—to various watering holes and hawk it under banners boasting  Beaujolais Nouveau Est Arrivé!  The other reds of Beaujolais, made with the thin-skinned, tannin-challenged gamay grape, require a bit more aging to reach their prime, but compared to the muscular cabernets of Bordeaux or the regal pinots of Côte de Nuits, not much.  Even top cru Beaujolais are prized for their deep-purple fruitiness—the result of a technique called carbonic maceration during which gamay grapes ferment inside their skins.  Even so, in 2011, nearly half of all wine production in Beaujolais will be sold as Nouveau, equating to 65 million bottles.

Where’s Dubouef…?

In Beaujolais, just about everywhere.

So how did Americans get so tied to the BN phenomenon?  The cynics among you claim the ‘M’ word: Marketing.  Georges Dubouef, uncrowned caliph of Beaujolais and Mâconnais, is credited with kick starting the frenzy a few decades back with splashy labels, blitzkrieg campaigning and low pricing.

All well and good, but a kinder, gentler reason may be the uniquely American tradition of roasting a turkey exactly one week after the release of Beaujolais Nouveau.  BN is a refreshing food wine, and it pairs remarkably well with the myriad flavors of Thanksgiving.

Perry as convention keynote speaker: “So, a retard walks into a bar. He says, ‘OUCH.’”

So quaff on and never mind the naysayers, who should get their noses out of the air and back into the wine glass where they belong.  You don’t buy a Corolla expecting an Avalon and neither should you pick up a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau looking for a Château des Jacques Moulin-à-Vent.

For what it’s worth, according to some Beaujolais vignerons, 2011 is a grande année, one of the best vintages in fifty years.

Which may be a bit like Rick Perry claiming to be the brightest guy at a Down Syndrome convention.

Tasting Notes:

BN won’t be released until 12:01 on Thursday, so I haven’t seen any yet.  But I bet I can come close:

Electric purple in color, the wine is a confected cornucopia of concord grapes, ripe apples, strawberry and watermelon on both nose and palate.  Flavors are fresh, simple and juicy; appealing in the fashion of a guilty pleasure. There’s a bit of violet and licorice behind the fruit, and pure, silky grape tannins to provide a short but puckery finish.

Duboeuf family portrait

Defamatory Notes:

A couple of years ago, I wrote a column about a scandal involving a Georges Dubouef production manager who was caught adding cheaper wines to Cru Beaujolais in order to stretch out the vintage and volume.  Immediately thereafter, I received a nasty-gram from DuBouef’s press people, forcing me to issue an apology.

But, I noted that they were unable address my other, far more serious assertion: that Georges Dubouef has attempted to stretch out his name by adding cheaper letters.

To wit: ‘George’ clearly does not need an ‘s’, which according to Scrabble International is worth an extra point.  And Dubouef is the only surname on the planet where ‘o’, ‘u’ and ‘e’ (one point each) all appear together in a row… an incomprehensible violation of time-honored spelling laws clearly intended to secure him a higher score.

Posted in Beaujolais, FRANCE, Gamay, Gamay | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Petit Verdot Goes Gangbusters in Ripley, Ohio—Believe It Or Not

The jury is hereby ordered to disregard the headline and answer the following question:

If you were going to purchase a ton of wine grapes from California, which varietal do you suppose would set you back the most?  Nope, not cabernet sauvignon, whose culty catechumens are willing to spend thousands per bottle; not low-yield viognier, which is unforgiving even in idyllic seasons; not even trendy malbec, which has recently had Argentina crying for Argentina as Left Coast versions win top spots at competitions.

Bailiff, can you read the verdict?  It’s Petit Verdot.

Generally used as a blending grape, petit verdot’s saturated color, hefty structure and exotic bouquet—often reminiscent of peach blossoms, violets and lavender—adds immeasurably to Bordeaux-style wines, and a little goes a long way.  Typically, less than 3% petit verdot is required to lend a noticeable spice to merlot and floral shades to cabernet sauvignon.  Hence, small quantities of the grape are extremely desirable to Meritage masons, and as John Locke pointed out in 1691, ‘The price of any commodity rises or falls by the proportion of the number of buyer and sellers’.

To put this into perspective, in 2008, grape producers in Napa were paid an average of $3,300 per ton for their grapes—(about $2,700 less than it costs to produce them, but that’s a different column).  At $2,100, pinot gris pricing was balanced a bit by cabernet sauvignon at  $4,700.  In 2008, Merlot fell to $2,600, with spot market buyers able to pay as little as $500 for ‘homeless’ fruit at the end of the season.  Other Bordeaux varietals like malbec and cabernet franc sold for around $4,400 per ton, while viognier—which you’d guess would be a top-earner based on Locke’s supply and demand maxim, took home a scant $2,700.

By contrast, a ton of petit verdot sold for $5,600.

So a non-farmer might naturally ask, ‘Why don’t wine growers just rip out the pinot gris and plant petit verdot?  Of course, it’s because prices fluctuate, and in the five to seven years that it would take for your new grape vines to reach full productivity, trends, tastes and prices would have changed (but Murphy’s Law wouldn’t), so you’d likely find that your petit verdot is worth less than your pinot gris would have fetched had you left well enough alone.

Life’s a bitch, and then you farm.

The fact that petit verdot (a somewhat sissified varietal) is difficult to ripen and tends to go all PMSsy during late-Autumn rain plays into the equation as well, which is why it is now almost extinct in its hometown of Médoc.

New Red In Oh-Hi-Oh

Vinifera Relocation Program?  Somehow, some way, petit verdot has found a comfortable landing zone in Ripley, OhioKinkead Ridge—owned by Ron Barrett and managed by partner Nancy Bentley—was first planted to the French ex-pat in 2001.  Prior to that, Ron and Nancy had been involved in wine operations in the Pacific Northwest, but they were ready for purpler pastures, and began a nation-wide search for potential new vineyard  sites.  As a native of Columbus, Ohio, Ron probably got a little syrupy when he discovered that the Ohio River Valley was perfectly suited for the ambitious game plan they had in mind: Planting glamorous grapes from Bordeaux and Rhône while establishing an experimental plot to test even more extrinsic rootstocks and scion woods.

A word on the Ohio River Valley AVA, and a couple of facts you may not know about it (I didn’t):  First, it’s the second largest AVA in America, and second, it is the birthplace of American viticulture, having first produced wine in 1823.  By the time of the Civil War, Ohio was by far the largest wine producing state in the nation.  Its current obscurity is likely because the primary varietals grown there are baco noir, marechal foch, seyval blanc and vidal—hybrids not likely to make anybody’s Top 100 list.

According to Ron, “With few exceptions, these wines match up poorly with suitable vinifera grown on a good site.  In the case of red wine, the contrast is stark.  With the possible exception of Norton (Cynthiana), I know of no hybrid red varieties which rise above the level of California jug wine in quality.”

Ron Barrett and Nancy Bentley

Yet Ron and Nancy recognized that the Ohio River Valley’s unglaciated limestone ridges, rife with wild vitis labrusca, could likely as readily support the noble varieties of southern France.  Beside petit verdot, they have acreage planted to viognier, rousanne, riesling, cabernet sauvignon, cab franc, syrah, and have taken honors at numerous competitions, winning gold at the Finger Lakes International for 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon and the Jefferson Cup for their ’08 Cabernet Franc.

The competition salutes you...

These are worthy laurels to rest on, and indeed, The Kinkead web site indicates that Ron and Nancy are on the cusp of retiring to North Carolina, and includes a for-sale link to the winery.  Ron indicates that in specific, he’s looking for an Italian millionaire—and fair warning, Silvio Belusconi is looking for something to do these days—but, should you make a fair enough offer (based on California grape futures), I guarantee you’ll be in the petit verdot business by this time next year.


Tasting Notes:

Kinkead Ridge Petit Verdot, Ohio River Valley, 2008, about $20:  Get the 2008 and get it now—only 76 cases were made and 2009 was a total climactic blow-out during which none was produced.  (Like dutiful jurors, potential buyers are ordered to ignore this testimony and may not use it in deliberations over the purchase of Kincead).

The world's smallest vigneron is no bigger than a grape... Believe It or Not

Technically, the French would call it a monocépage (100% single varietal) and colloquially, le zèbre (an oddball) since I don’t think a single one of them makes—or would consider making—an unadulterated petit verdot.  It must be a weather thing, since Kinkead’s offering is a fascinating textural smorgasbord, sweet and savory, dense with brambly blackberry, earthy mushroom, graphite, pipe tobacco and plum.  Whether it shows varietal integrity is not in my place to call since I’ve never tried a pure one before; but I can speak to its big tannins, spicy perfume and extracted color.  I found it a bit harsh on the finish; alcohol warm (it’s over 15%) and still clinging to new oak woodiness.

If these characteristics fade—as they should with a few more cellar years—and the wine holds its fruit, you’ve got a home run, not only for the winery, but for the AVA.

Posted in Ohio, Ohio River Valley, Petit Verdot | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Twist Makes Me Shout

I normally don’t review water—for three good reasons.  First, I’ve never been poster child for ‘Find A Happy Medium’ campaigns, and considerable research has led me to believe that if you drink too little water, you die, and if you drink too much water, you also die.

Recycling day at the Kassel's

But thirdly and most importantly, the whole water culture sucks.  Not to put an Andy Rooney spin on it, but when I was a kid, getting a glass of water was easy: You got a cup, walked to sink, filled it up from the tap, et voilà.  For my kids, it’s a full-blown Broadway production.  I have to get in my car, drive to Costco, pay seven bucks, drive home, carry the heavy box into the house, pour them their stupid water, then deposit the empty bottle in my blue recycling box which I have to take to the curb every friggin Tuesday evening.


The phrase ‘Did you get a water?’ did not exist when I went skipping off to grade school—‘water’, as I recall, had no article attached to it.

Native Turunggare speaker

But Rules, Like Solemn Vows, Were Made To Be Broken

When I waited to the very last second to sign up for college, I discovered that all the useful language courses like Japanese and German were filled; all that was left was Assyrian,  Dongxiang, Uzbek and Turunggare (which is only spoken by five people on the planet—four of whom believe that World War II is still going on)…

…and then there was Advertising.

Since I was unable to get into Med School where I had intended to major in Diseases of the Rich, I opted to aim for a Business degree instead—and therefore, learning the language called Advertising seemed to be the logical choice.  And I must say, this course prepared me for the real world as much as my Bachelor’s in Convincing Inbred Rubes to Build Another Wal-Mart Right Where the Community Home For Disabled Vets Now Stands degree.

Domaine de Pegau, Chateauneuf-du-Pape

I use it in wine reviewing almost daily, where ‘Smells like horse shit’ becomes ‘Styled after the earthy wines of Sicily and Southern Rhône’; ‘The idiots picked too early’ becomes ‘Slightly vegetal with notes of green pepper on the mid-palate’ and ‘Reeks like a charnel house clogged with burnt flesh’ becomes ‘Contains empyreumatic odors of smoke, toast and roasted meats.’

I’ve also discovered that as facile as I am at writing in Advertising, I am equally adept at translating it: Hence, this column.

When I received an email from Molly Maguth of Behrman Communications touting ‘Twist’—a new bottled water—I actually began to hyperventilate.  Never before had I seen such a masterpiece of copy since the spin-doctors wrote, ‘It all depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is’ for Bill Clinton’s Grand Jury testimony.

I will repeat the email in toto, with my linguistic notes below for you folks fluent in the argot of ‘Truth’ and ‘Reality’, but not so much in ‘Advertising’.

Ergo (asterisks mine):

‘Originating from the pure wells of the Pacific Northwest*, TalkingRain Beverage Company has redefined natural water* yet again with a fresh, flawless, crisp spin on water.’

*1)  Pesticides, nitrates and pathogens have contaminated much of the Pacific Northwest’s groundwater.  According to Public water supplies are regularly tested under the Safe Drinking Water Act; however, private wells are generally not tested on a regular basis since testing is not required. 

*2) Water’s chemical formula is H2O.  Not sure much redefinition is required.


‘Simply put*, Twist is zero-calorie*, naturally sweetened, non-carbonated, preservative-free, antioxidant-rich all natural premium water available in a medley of fruit flavors sure to please the palates of any water connoisseur*.’

*1) This is ‘simply put’ how? It took  30 words to say ‘The stuff tastes like lemons’.

*2) Water without calories?  Now there’s a concept.

*3)  Head’s up, marketing team: Little M’wbwe Kakuma, dying of thirst in a Darfur refugee camp, may be a ‘water connoisseur’, but I assure you,  Ralston Throckmorton III—or whichever Gold Coast ‘premium water’ demographic you’re targeting—is not.


‘Bottled in a sleek euro design* for shelf and table top appeal, Twist delivers the quintessential essence of fruit flavor and healthy hydration*.’

*1)  Euro design = Looks more expensive than it is, but requires a hotshot packaging engineer, making it more expensive than it needs to be.

*2) Healthy hydration = Drinking water is good for you.


‘The watersmiths* at TalkingRain, located in Preston, Washington*, instill its water with the perfect blend of juice, green tea extract and fruit essences.  Bypassing artificial ingredients and sweeteners, twist drinks are rooted with a touch of stevia* for extra allure and sweetness’.

*1) Watersmiths?  Who thought that one up? Some Madison Avenue copywritersmith?

*2) Preston is a mill town, and the logging industry is the primary cause of water pollution in Washington.  In fact, Preston sits on a tributary of the Snoqualmie River Basin, about which the Washington Department of Ecology says, ‘Higher nutrient levels and low dissolved oxygen levels in these tributaries may be associated with high fecal coliform inputs.’

*3)  ‘Rooted’? Are you sure this is the correct predicate?  Not sure how a beverage can be ‘rooted’, but anyway, stevia imports were restricted by the FDA because ‘toxicological information is inadequate to demonstrate its safety’.  I’m allured, aren’t you?


‘After 20 years in the premium beverage business, TalkingRain Beverage Company wanted to make water exciting*, sexy* and popular*’.

*1)  It’s hard to get ‘excited’ over something that covers ¾ of the world’s surface.

*2)  The only time water is sexy is when it’s in a hot tub filled with Jessica Alba.

*3)   Any budget for an ad campaign intent on making ‘popular’ a product without which you will die within six days is probably ill spent.


Open Note to Behrman Communications and Ms. Molly Maguf:

Fish out of water

Now, I since I am no doubt in hot water with you, let me just say that this is actually a watered-down version of what I originally intended to publish; after all,  I’m a wine critic, so when confronted with this task, I was a bit of a fish out of water.

At least we proved the old adage, ‘You can lead a scribe to water, but you can’t get him wet’.

But I’ll test the water:  If you’re interested, please continue to send me the stuff that really makes my mouth water:  wine samples.

That is, if I didn’t throw the baby out with the bath water and we can look at this column as water under the bridge.


Posted in GENERAL | Tagged | Leave a comment

Quivira Mourvèdre: Waste Not, Want More


In these days of symbol scrimping, font frugality, typeface saving and character conserving, when we are all responsibly turning our keyboards down to 62° (I won’t waste an ‘F’ for ‘Fahrenheit’ since it should be obvious—what do I look, Canadian?), it’s sort of disheartening to see a winery that wantonly wastes letters.

Yes, Quivira, this means you.  Brownie points for carpooling your name since we know that ‘Q’ never goes anywhere without that poky little midget ‘u’, but really, is calling your wine ‘mourvèdre’ entirely necessary?  What do the ‘u’, that dopey accent grave or the silent ‘e’ bring to the party?

And Don’t Get Me Started on Quivira’s Winemaker… 

Hu Chapel

I’m sorry, Hugh Chappelle, but seriously??  In this imploded economy, where waste not, want not is policyspeak, you feel compelled to splurge on ‘p’s, ‘l’s and ‘e’s in your last name?  With kids going to bed solecistic in China?  For shame, sir—these are expenditures that our grandchildren will have to subsidize.

Peet Kite

And (mention this to your boss, too), if you guys were really Earth First, you’d spelled ‘Hugh’ and ‘Kight’ the way they sounded, and then there’d be enough ‘g’s and ‘h’s for the rest of humanity.  You don’t want us Fundamentalist Christians praying to ‘Od in Eaven’, do you?  That’s a one-way ticket to ell.

And if all that isn’t bad enough, a vineyard called Wine Creek Ranch Estate Vineyard?  Come on, fellas—five names, already?  Three of which (ranch, estate and vineyard) are pretty much the same thing?  Do we even want to go there?

We Don’t…

Therefore, I’ll talk about the winery instead.

The thriftily named 'Ned'

Situated in Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma, Quivira was founded in 1981 by Holly and Harry Wendt and purchased in 2006 by Pete and Terri Kight.  Both couples adhered to a simple dream: To build upon ecologically sound agricultural principles to produce world‐class wines.  Currently comprised of four vineyards, all within the Dry Creek AVA (Wine Creek Ranch, Goat Trek Vineyard, Katz/Absner Ranch and Anderson Ranch), there’s a total of 93 acres planted to zinfandel, sauvignon blanc, various Rhône varieties (including mourvèdre) and a number of oddballs like counoise and sauvignon musqué.

In an effort to increase ‘fruit saturation’—an eno-term meaning intensity of flavor and depth of color—Quivira’s vineyard manager Ned Horton looks at the smaller picture.  Under his persnickety watch, focus has shifted from acre to acre to plant and block, and up to sixty percent of the grapes are culled.

Mor-ved on the vine

Nowhere did this priority re-alignment prove more vital than in the cultivation of mourvèdre.  As a varietal that tends to ripen late even in ideal conditions, the heavy rain that often characterizes late Autumn in Sonoma makes a successful harvest a challenge.  Thinning the fruit to one cluster per shoot helps, but the labor intensity requires pushes this wonderful wine to the top echelons of Quivira pricing.  Still, at $32 retail, it’s a gem.

Tooting Their Own Cowhorn

Demeter certified in 2005, sustainable farming is at the core of the Quivira agricultural philosophy.  In the past, I’ve scoffed at biodynamics as pseudo-pscience, mostly for it’s pspirituality, which calls for some pretty weird preparations (animal manure buried in cowhorns at the Autumn equinox in order to capture the universe’s etheric and astral forces); but I have never taken issue with the essential wisdom behind the witchcraft.  That is, that a farm should be self-sustaining and able to create and maintain its health and vitality without the addition of commercial fertilizers or pesticides.  I believe that winemakers like Hugh Chappelle and Pete Kight who take to heart a rigorous methodology tend to produce better wines—with or without cowhorns.  The self-described ‘obsessiveness’ that they  employ to monitor soil conditions and the phases of the seasons have paid quality dividends vintage after vintage, and if they want to credit Rudolph Steiner (biodynamic’s founder), more power to them.  I don’t think that Steiner was a crackpot—far from it.  I think he was a snake-oil huckster on par with Pat Robertson and Amway’s Jay Van Andel.

That Said…

…It’s Chappelle and Kight who are making the spectacular wines, not me.  All I do is drink them, take down notes and praise the hell out of them in writing.

Od in Eaven

Still, as a sort of cheapskate biodynamic columnist who believes in word conservation, sentence management and a self-sustaining alphabet, I take exception to overly-verbose, word-depleting practices among non-scribes, who may or may not need to use these letters again in their lifetime.  But, sure as Od is in His Eaven, I will.

Hugh Chappelle says:  “Successful natural winemaking requires an integration of vineyard and winery where farming practices are optimally aligned with the desired qualities of the finished wine.”

I’d have said: ‘Take care of Momma and she’ll return the favor.’

Tasting Notes:

Quivira Mourvèdre, Wine Creek Ranch Estate Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, 2009, about $32:  Whew; that was a mouthful.  So is the wine—with a bigger nose than Gérard Depardieu, it’s redolent with dark, foresty fruits like blackberry and wild raspberry, spiced with white pepper and pipe tobacco; the palate fairly bursts with rich cassis notes, smoke, roasted coffee bean and yeasty graham cracker.  Eighteen months in large foudres and small barriques lends a toast and elegance to a long, leathery, lingering finish.  A year or two in the cellar should produce an even more complex wine.

Posted in CALIFORNIA, Dry Creek, Mourvedre | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment