Att. Winos: Turns Out It’s Brain Buds More Than Taste Buds

N’wabudiké Bobangi

In this vale of toil and sin where your head grows bald but not your chin, there are very few universal experiences.  One of them is this:  You’re in your car, at the club or listening to music in your friend’s Man Cave—or Mom Cave—and you hear a tune with which you fall in love.  You buy the CD and listen again in a different setting only to discover that the song is nowhere nearly as good as you remember.

Oddly, the identical phenomenon happens to N’wabudiké Bobangi, a Mandinka shaman who lives in a real man cave in the foothills of Kilimanjaro and has no dash deck, no car, no electricity and no friends.

Victoria Moore is not only a better wine writer than moi, she's prettier.

And something similar occurs in the world of wine.  Victoria Moore, a canny Daily Telegraph scribe, recently wrote about South African vintner Chris Mullineux’s experience of drinking—and neither recognizing nor particularly liking—his own wine at a tasting in England.

Apparently, this is not an isolated ‘doh!’ moment.  When French researcher Frédéric Brochet offered veteran tasters a pair of similarly-priced, mid-level Bordeaux reds decanted into two different bottles, one with a cheap Vin de Table label and the other wearing the logo of a ‘Grand Cru’, subsequent notes described the so-called Grand Cru as ‘woody, complex, and round’ and the identical pour in the plonk bottle as ‘short, light, and faulty.’

Lest this prove a one-off, Brochet conducted another experiment with an enology class during which he served two wines, one white and one red.  The students described the white as typically ‘fresh, dry, honeyed and lively’ and the red as ‘intense, spicy, supple and deep.’  Unfortunately for them and their career paths, the red wine was the white wine once again, only this time colored with red food dye.

From this, what can we conclude?  That professional wine tasters are mountebanks, cons, frauds and quacks who wouldn’t know their casks from a hole in the barrel?

Château d'If

Or that, like Edmond Dantès, this dastardly shit-disturber named Frédéric Brochet who feeds his pupils carcinogenic food dye should be chained to the walls of Château d’If until he agrees to stop mocking us brilliant Bangers Out of The Tasting Note?

I vote the latter.

But if I take baby-step away from such defensive caviling, it’s clear that these experiments illustrate something profound about the strange science of flavor perception and the ‘why’ behind the ‘how’.  In fact, neuroscientist Gordon M. Shepherd at Yale University believes that the brain’s conceptualizing of flavors is the foundation of an entirely new scientific field which he calls neurogastronomy.

Brochet

Any first-year wine student—with the possible exception of the ding-jimmies in Frédéric Brochet’s class—will tell you that taste is primarily smell, and part of Shepherd’s mission is to disprove the theory that human olfactics were diminished during the evolution process; rather, he believes that our sense of smell is far more powerful and essential than had previously been assumed.

“We think our lives are dominated by the visual sense,” he says.  “But the closer you get to dinner, the more you realize how much your real pleasure in life is tied to smell.  It taps into all our emotions…”

Here, the ‘catchy tune’ analogy comes again into play.  Most of us have experienced the odd, overpowering sense of nostalgia that music can produce—even music we’ve never heard before.  Likewise, day-to-day smells that we encounter—including those that waft up from a glass of wine—can (and should) foster a wealth of memories.  Being able to recognize what these smells are, or remind us is of, is part of the ‘art’ of wine tasting, and comprises most of what we scrawl as tasting notes.

Because for some reason I’ve always been able to identify specifics behind scents, I figured that my sense of smell was unusually acute.  Yet over the years, I’ve come to realize that in fact, my ‘nose’ is no better than average—but somehow, I seem to possess near total recall about things I’ve smelled in the past.  I dream smells almost nightly and can summon up weird mental aromatics of virtually every house I’ve ever been inside—Shepherd calls these spatial pattern memories ‘images of smell’.  When tasting wines, I can usually manage to nail down bouquets in fairly detailed layers—which is one of the reasons I pursued wine as a side-career.  Not sure if this is an ability that everyone shares, but I think so—I have just spent more time obsessing about it, dwelling on it and talking about it—certainly, I have aroma-yabbered to the point where I’m told to shut up.

So I will—and allow Dr. Shepherd to regain center stage.

Gordon M. Shepherd

In his recent book  Neurogastronomy: How the Brain Creates Flavor and Why It Matters (Columbia University Press, 2012), Shepherd offers a fascinating overview of the mechanics of smells—how the nose picks up cues from the back of the mouth and how, when eating and drinking the act of breathing in and breathing out work together to produce the most complex of human sensations—not ‘taste’, but ‘flavor’.

“In fact,” Shepherd explains, “Molecular biologists have discovered that the sensory receptors for smell form the largest gene family in the human genome.”

Wine tasters, therefore, spend more time sniffing than they do slurping, and the actual ‘tasting’ phase is more or less to see if the wine performs to the palate the same pas de bourrée as it does to the nose.

The problem is, as Chris Mullineux discovered the hard way, these sensations can be as volatile as a vendaval, and one man’s leather is another man’s brett, while one woman’s goût de pétrole is another woman’s kerosene funk.

And potentially, these smells are not even there.  In what was perhaps his most telling experiment, Shepherd asked tasters at Brown University to sniff and summarize their impressions of a series of liquids which—unbeknownst to them—were all water, though some were dyed.  Invariably, the notes on the colored water mentioned clichéd fruit juice descriptors and the subjects perceived non-existent scents that matched their expectations.

At the very least, these experiments point to the value of ‘blind tastings’.

Proust trying to remember where he left his keys

French novelist Marcel Proust’s works—especially Remembrance of Things Past—delve so deeply into the precept of ‘flashback flavors’ that involuntary memory is often referred to as Proustian memory.  In the classic ‘madeleine’ episode in the novel’s opening, such a flood of emotion is triggered within the mind of The Narrator after he nibbles a tea cake that the rest of the plot stems from it:

“…And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea.”

Would that my own tasting notes were half so eloquent—and indeed, whenever I read that passage I understand how soundly Proust rubs my nose in it.

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Care And Feeding Of Your New Pet Peeve—Today’s Lesson: Booze

So, you woke up Christmas morning so excited that you soiled your jammies!  You ran out to check beneath the tree and found that Santa had left you a brand-new, snuggly-huggly, squeezable-pleasable Pet Peeve!  Good on ya, Junior!  But don’t assume that this cute li’l peeve will just take care of itself…  You’ll need to love and nurture it with all your heart, just like mommy and Uncle Dad do you when they aren’t snorting meth.  You’ll need to keep it warm so that it festers and swells, and you’ll have to choose a food specially formulated for baby peeves—I recommend Purina Kibbled Bile or Natural Balance Hi-Protein Venom with Extra Huff.

That way your tiny little peeve can grow strong and healthy to become genuine adult, blustery-flustery, compulsive-repulsive anger.

I received my very first Pet Peeve when I was sixteen years old and tried to buy a six-pack at Bill’s Party Store on Orchard Lake and Northwestern, only to be told by Bill—a semi-literate yokel who looked like a gene-splicing experiment gone horribly wrong—that I wasn’t ‘of age’.  Come again, sir?!  Hell, if I’m old enough to die in a head-on collision while driving my big-block V8 ’71 Olds without the lights on, shouldn’t I be old enough to slam a few beers?

Since then, I have become an AKC-Certified® breeder of purebred peeves, and I run the Detroit Peeve Kennel where I will board, train, walk and groom all your annoyances and vexations for a nominal fee.

Here are some of my ‘success stories’:

 

Pet Peeve # 1;  Drinking Age = 21:  The Chinese allow teenagers to drink and are rocketing ahead of us in every important aspect of international commerce, like direct investment, GDP surpluses, population control via baby formula, chopstick exporting and leaded plastic Barney toy manufacture—so why should we let them increase the trade gap by allowing them five extra years to market alcohol to children?

Top: Ponzi. Bottom: Drool.

Pet Peeve # 2;  ‘Meritage’:  Just as I despise songs with verses like ‘Don we now our gay apparel’ and ‘It’s summer and the darkies are gay,’ which take a perfectly good GLBT community word and attempt to change its meaning, likewise do I despise ‘Meritage’ and everything its near-fanatical cult of myrmidons stands for.  Not only is the word meaningless and unpronounceable, in order to label your wine thus you need to join the wine world’s answer to Heaven’s Gate and perform the ritual of sending them a dollar for every case of ‘Meritage’ you sell.

This is a scam that would doubtless have Mr. Ponzi drooling considering that you can call your wine ‘Claret’ or ‘Bordeaux Blend’ for free.

Pet Peeve # 3:  ‘Claret’ and ‘Bordeaux Blend’:  They may be interchangeable and free, but they’re still meaningless.

Ostensibly meant to label red wines made from some unspecified mix of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cab franc, malbec and petite verdot, ‘Bordeaux Blend’ fails to account for the fact that virtually every one of Bordeaux’s 8000 producers use different proportions of different grapes in nearly every vintage—and that the AOC also produces white wine blends.  ‘Claret’, on the other hand, is a timeworn British term for dark red Bordeaux, but has origins in the wine called ‘Clairette’—a light rosé with its own appellation and a style that couldn’t be farther from The Médoc’s.

Settle down, Scalia

Pet Peeve # 4: No Liquor Sales on Christmas:  I know, I know; seven kids, parochial school, Mass every Sunday and an uncle in the priesthood—I may be a Catholic, but I’m still an atheist.  And an alcoholic.  Denying me liquor on Christmas will cause life-threatening detoxification tremens, and besides, it must violate some unalienable First Amendment right.  Word: If you’re a bored ACLU lawyer looking for a cause, give me a holler—I’d really like to discuss this with Antonin Scalia over a bottle of Brunello.

Pet Peeve # 5:  States With ‘Dry’ Counties.  Ditto on the church and state separation argument.  Last time I was in dry Fleming County, Kentucky, unable to legally buy homebred cheer, I saw a Budweiser truck and actually followed it for twenty miles until it came to its drop stop in ‘wet’ Mason County.  This is silly—extra mileage is bad for the atmosphere, bad for my car and bad for my general state of blissful slightly-buzzed equilibrium.

And here’s a question: If an airplane flies over a dry county, do the passengers have to put down their cocktails?

Clef du Palate

Pet Peeve # 6: Wine ‘Accessories’: I don’t advocate drinking and driving, but neither do I hypocrite much—I’ve done it, and you probably have too.  The most egregious experience I’ve had in this department was also the most creative: Stuck in a white-out blizzard on Woodward, I found myself with a bottle of wine and no corkscrew.  There was, however, a pencil in the glove box, and damn if I didn’t manage to get that sucker opened with a Ticonderoga #2.  Since then, wine keys have existed in my world only as a vague and ultimately superfluous convenience.  A different story is The Corksicle ($23)—a plastic tube filled with freeze gel that chills wine when you insert it obscenely through the bottle’s mouth; Clef du Vin, Pocket Model ($90) said to replicate the ‘wine aging process’ at a rate of one year for every second you submerge this dopey, icky thing in your glass;  Air Au Vin Wine Aerator ($58) which ‘bubbles air through wine’ to help it ‘breath’, which it probably doesn’t need to do anyway; and worst of all, the Pulltex Wine Aroma Kit ($159) which contains 24 vials filled with ‘essences’ that duplicate aromas you might find in your wine and not recognize.  Presumably, you are supposed to sniff through the lot until you can identify precisely what you just smelled in the wine, thus ruining the drinking experience for your date and causing great mirth among the restaurant staff.

Group hug time, schvuntzes??

Pet Peeve # 7: Wine Writers:  No kidding, I hate us.  All this silly esoteric nonsense about terroir and acescence and carbonic maceration; I swear to God, if I have to review one more cab and say it tastes like black fruit, leather, pipe tobacco and mocha I’m going to start taking hostages.  And what’s more, we all hate each other, too.  No?  Google Robert Parker, Jr., the world’s most influential wine critic and the man who single-handedly revolutionized the way the world thinks about wine, and nearly every post will be negative, calling him unethical, biased, one-dimensional and funny-looking.  Know-it-all wine journalist Elin Mccoy wrote a whole book on how much she hates him; Wine Library TV’s smart-ass host Gary Vaynerchuk made a video called ‘Is Robert Parker Jr. Bad For Wine?’ and filmmaker Ed Burley produced a self-described ‘epic’ called ‘Escaping Robert Parker’.

And, I have not the slightest doubt that Parker Jr. hates all four of these self-important schtikdreks.

*

Well, that’s about all for today’s lesson, kids.  It’s time for me to take my Pet Peeves in for their shots.  I’m going with my Star Trek usual—Beam, straight up—but the peeves are all opting for Jaegermeister slammers.

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Elvis And Wine: Red, White And Blue Suede Shoes

Of all High Holy Feast Days celebrated throughout the liturgical year of America’s one true religion—Orthodox Schlockologyism—today is the most sacred.

‘For the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people except for Leopold Stokowski and jealous Negroes.  For unto you is born this day in the city of Tupelo a Savior, who is Elvis Aron, the King.’ 

- Red West (King James version), 2:11

Indeed, between that glorious January day in 1935 until Kiester Sunday, 1977 when the King died on his throne while attempting to move mountains, no performer in history has so magnetized the Schlockologist laity.   Like Jesus, Charo and Yanni, so universally beloved is The Hillbilly Cat that no surname is required to bring instantly to mind an image of a shimmy-hipped, greasy-haired, curly-lipped country cracker fittin’ battles and knocking down the walls of every Jericho from London, England to Dickshooter, Idaho .

And if you have not yet had the spiritual Epiphany (a lesser Feast also being celebrated today) of visiting Graceland, do not forget that, like Muslims to Mecca, every Orthodox Schlockologist is required by Canon Law to make a pilgrimage to that sacred Memphis site once in their lifetime.

Mecca... Lecca hi, mecca hienie ho

Me, I’ve already been there twice; the first time in the eighties when I loudly demanded to see the Dumper of Death, only to be told tersely by the guide that the upstairs bathrooms were off-limits.  After the tour, a young lady asked me if I was traveling alone, and when I said ‘yes’ she replied in true awe, “Wow.  I’ve never heard of anyone who could be an asshole when they were by themselves.”

Live and learn, baby.

In any case, we all know that Mr. Hippie-Dippy Pretty Boy from Judah had a jones for wine—and when He ran low, He could whip it up easier than Paula Deen can make a butter-flavored lard cookie with possum-fat icing.

But what about Elvis?  

We all know that in a perfect world, his beverage-of-choice would have been Satnin Presley breast milk, but alas, the world ain’t perfect and that particular stash dried up in 1960.  So, with his vast fortune, sophisticated posse, and hopeless hankering for intoxibration, was he ever able to break from his Southern bevvie birthrights: Sweet tea, Dr Pepper, lemonade and Jack-and-Coke?

In a word, no.

2nd To Nun: Elvis Presley’s Greatest Hits (Off the Crappiest Bottles)

You know what I hate worse than rich people who can afford to build custom Balau Mahogany wine cellars with Tuscan arches and bluestone floors, then cram them with thousands of bottles of priceless collectables?  Those who can build them and don’t.

Elvis's hand-crafted drug cellar

Elvis was one of those.  To his credit, he did contract a thousand-square-foot Philippine Walnut barbiturate cellar with electronic humidity control, grilled glass front doors and double-deep pill cabinets, which he kept stocked with vintage Seconal, Amytal, Nembutal and Tuinal.  But when it came to wine, by all accounts, the Memphis Flash was strictly a Blue Nun kind of king.

Now, lissen Up, Sotheby’s:

The accompanying photograph shows a bottle of Blue Nun from which Elvis actually guzzled before a concert on Aug. 5th, 1976—a police officer working security snagged the (unsigned) bottle and is now selling it on elvisowned.com for $900—roughly the same price you’ll pay for a 98 point (WS) 1982 Mouton-Rothschild.

So, having established that Elvis was not much of a wine whiz-bang, and in fact, preferred the plonky cheap crap, why would a company launch a wine line tagged Jailhouse Rock Merlot, Blue Suede Chardonnay and Blue Hawaii Riesling?  These names aren’t even charmingly kitschy dans le mode de Marilyn Merlot/Sauvignon Blonde, and in fact, they make no sense.

Navin R. Johnson, can you help us out here?  Ah, thanks; now I see…

It’s a profit deal.

Now, that makes sense.  The Elvis Presley Wine Cellars web site leaves us with a scrunchy look of puzzlement, however.  It states:

‘Inspired by Elvis’s undying spirit and appeal, our iconic, collectible King of Rock ‘N’ Roll™ Cabernet Sauvignon, Blue Suede™ Chardonnay, Jailhouse Rock™ Merlot and Blue Hawaii™ Riesling are always in good taste and evoke the incomparable charisma, sensuality and artistry Elvis brought to every performance.

So uncork your favorite Elvis tunes, swivel those lips and get ready to rock your palate with the incredible flavor of the King of Rock and Roll™.’

The sanctified 'lip curl' and three epic fails.

Uh, swivel those lips?  I think even those of you fallen-away Schlockologists who became weary of our clergy’s myriad sexual scandals, money handling issues and homage to false gods (Elvis Herselvis, The Flying Elvises and Elvis Costello) will recall that the ‘E’ swiveled his hips.  He curled his lips.

Now, I will not offer individual reviews of these stupid wines because I really don’t want you to buy them, drink them or even think about them.  They’re too schlocky-sounding even for Schlockologists.  But I will offer a schot at redemption for those of you who have wandered from the path of righteousness.

Here’s the type of letter I receive almost on a daily basis:

Dear Mr. Kassel,

I don’t know how or why I left the Church of Schlockology. There wasn’t really any one reason. Life moved on, and so did I. Career, relationships, other concerns… perhaps no one noticed I was gone. And maybe I wished someone would have come looking for me. But lately, I feel that Someone has—is it Elvis’s spirit within, calling me home? Where can I re-connect?

Sincerely,

Hillary Rodham Clinton

My response was immediate, succinct and (I presume) helpful.

Should be worth $9000 on elvisowned.com. Right?

Dear Hillary,

Yes, it is indeed the Spirit of Elvis that is calling you, and I can help you to become a Schlockology ‘revert’.  But, as evidence of worthiness, you must first perform an act of penance.  Travel to Memphis, break into Graceland, sneak upstairs and fetch me the toilet brush from the Dumpster of Death.  Liquidate anyone who tries to stop you.

Oh, and keep us the fuck out of Iran.  That should do it.

I Want You, I Need You, I Love You,

Chris Kassel

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Beat The Muddles: Drinks from the Beatnik Generation

January 6, 2012 would have marked the 77th birthday of John ‘The Hipster of Joy Street’ Wieners, an influential lyric poet who was one of the lesser known writers of the Beat Generation.

John Wieners. Photo: Allen Ginsburg

Like any self-respecting beatnik, Wieners was born on the East Coast but moved to San Francisco in his early twenties, published his first book of poetry in 1958 when he was 24, then was promptly committed to a mental hospital.  Upon his release, he moved to Manhattan’s Lower East Side where he hung out with Allen Ginsburg and died doing what he loved best… partying with his publisher.

I’m a bit young to have known any real beatniks—at least, of the stereotypical Maynard G. Krebs, bongo-banging, beret-and-black-turtleneck-wearing, goatee-growing, gibberish-muttering variety.  But my folks knew a few second-generation beatniks, and when they dropped by the house, their drink of choice was Mateus—and at eleven I recall thinking that Mateus must be the epitome of real gone cool.  It was fun to say ‘Mateus’—to be able to correctly pronounce it—and by the sultry jazz and steady stream of guffaws that came from the living room as I sat on the stair stoop and listened avidly, I figured it must be fun to drink.   

In fact, Mateus winds up being vaguely fizzy Drool-Aid, a diminutive, boppy Portuguese rosé made from a grape called ‘bastardo’.  When I was a kid, it cost $4 per weird-shaped bottle and it’s only $5.50 today.  These guys spinning Charlie Parker albums on the hi-fi didn’t drink as hep cats—they drank as cheapskates.

Anyway, since a number of hardcore Beat luminaries (notably Kerouac and Cassady) wound up dying of drink, I thought it would be a nice macabre nod to the whole wacky movement to consider some of pertinent potables that made these hokey, hedonistic hipsters howl.

Shaken, Not Stirred.  Or Vaporized During World War III.

L.: '55 Roadmaster. R.: Bridge abutment

First, an overview of why drink may have been even more important to the rank-and-file fifties than it is to us today.  Back then, there were none of these messianic neo-prohibitionists like MADD, the Temperance League of Kentucky or al-Qaeda—everybody consumed as much as they wanted, and if they wound up driving their Buick Roadmasters into concrete bridge abutments, so be it—Russia was going to blow us up anyway, and who wants to live forever?  America was still on a post-VE-Day high, and figured it could get even higher before the other shoe (read: nuclear bomb) dropped; hence, the surge of strange, exotic mixed drinks that were developed or popularized throughout the decade.

The Golden Age of Cocktails coincided with The Golden Age of Beatniks, roughly 1955 until the mid-sixties, when hippies took the torch.  Part of the mixed-drink craze can be accredited to that archetypal agent of espionage James Bond who, despite being at endless odds with the KGB, ordered vodka with confidence.  In 1953’s Casino Royale, Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel, 007 unabashedly orders a Vesper; a sort of nascent martini containing both gin and vodka along with ‘dry white wine’—and, inexplicably, Angostura Bitters.

But Back to the Beat.

Ernest Hemingway—one of Jack Kerouac’s biggest influences—spent most of the fifties either crashing planes or recuperating from injuries sustained in planes he’d crashed, meanwhile going ape over mojitos and daiquiris; Faulkner, another of Kerouac’s musey mentors, preferred mint juleps on the veranda.

Of course, the quintessential tipple of the quintessential beatnik was coffee, since they needed something to keep them awake during interminable readings of free-form poetry about the tragicomic plight of the individual in mass society.  The movement’s literary lights took a more pragmatic view of shit-facery, however—Burrough’s drink of choice was the no-frills Boilermaker (a shot and a beer) while Neal Cassady was even less picky, willing to guzzle Pine Brothers cough syrup, vanilla extract, feedstock Toluene or eau de cologne—unless, of course, he was desperate. Then it was Sterno strained through a sock mixed with Fruit Smack powder to make the classic hobo pick-me-up, Jungle Juice.  For honorary beatnik Hunter S. Thompson,  it was an upended Wild Turkey bottle with a scotch chaser.

Jack Kerouac's liver

Kerouac evidenced a bit more class.  Once he got out of his beer phase, he developed a taste for margaritas, although once he moved back with mommy on Long Island, he returned to cheap, sugary jug wine—likely from Taylor Wine Company.

“Don’t drink to get drunk,” the Dharma Bum said in a textbook case of ‘Do as I say, Not as I Do.’ “Drink to enjoy life.”

Kerouac died at 47 while enjoying life via a blend of malt liquor and whisky, his liver so damaged that his blood would no longer clot.

Gone but not forgotten, Kerouac has—like Rob Roy and Tom Collins before him—been immortalized in a bar drink.  Kevin Diedrich, who runs the bar program at Bourbon Steak in the Georgetown Four Seasons, has created the ‘Kerouac’, made with Partida Reposado tequila, Aperol, fresh grapefruit juice, Cointreau, fresh lemon juice, and agave nectar and garnished with a long, thin orange peel.

Whereas I’m sure Jack would not have turned down his eponymous elixir, he’d likely be more familiar with these classic ‘50’s cocktails, which saw their heyday about the same time he saw his:

Poetry courtesy John Joseph Wieners  (6 January 1934 – 1 March 2002)

 

Mojito

‘Pain and suffering. Give me the strength to bear it…’

  • 3 drops Angostura Bitters
  • 2 parts white rum
  • 1 part lime juice
  • Top up: Club soda
  • 1 teaspoon simple syrup

Muddle the mint leaves in a glass with the sugar and lime juice to extract the mint oils. Fill glass with crushed ice and add the rum and Angostura, then top up with soda water and stir.

*

Manhattan

‘… to enter those places where the great animals are caged. And we can live at peace by their side…’

  • 4 drops Angostura Bitters
  • 2 parts bourbon
  • 1 part sweet vermouth
  • ½ teaspoon Maraschino Cherries

Stir ingredients with ice and strain into glass; garnish with Maraschino cherry.

*

Mai Tai

‘… A bride to the burden that no god imposes but knows we have the means to sustain its force unto the end of our days.’

  • 2 parts dark rum
  • 1 drop Angostura Bitters
  • ½ part orange liqueur
  • ½ part apricot brandy
  • ½ part lime juice
  • ½ part pineapple juice

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a glass filled with crushed ice.

*

Lucien Sidecarr

For that is what we are made for; for that we are created…’

  • 1 part brandy
  • 2 parts Cointreau
  • ½ part lemon juice

Shake all the ingredients together with ice and strain into a chilled martini glass; garnish with lemon twist.

*

Tom Collins

‘…Until the dark hours are done.’

  • 2 drops Angostura Bitters
  • 2 parts gin
  • 1 part lemon juice
  • ½ part simple syrup
  • Top up: Club soda

Shake first three ingredients with ice and strain into an ice filled glass add Angostura Bitters and top up with soda water; garnish with lemon slice.

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There’s School Smart, There’s Street Smart, There’s Book Smart And There’s Me

Hawking: 'Mmmffppmpff'. Computer translation: 'By God, Chris, you're a genius, just like me.

Isn’t it amazing how the creative mind works—the literary brain especially?  Isn’t it spectacular how journalists are able to compose column after column, day after day, year after year, on topics of  interest to every human alive, from slobbering pre-schoolers with dyslexia to the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at Oxford University?  From Szilárd, the alcoholic Hungarian busboy working midnights at House of Hortobágyi to the Most Holy Pope in Rome?  From Jazmin in the Schult single-wide trailer wearing industrial-strength mascara and chain-smoking Newports to Stephen Hawking?

Isn’t it??

See, I have no idea; that’s why I’m asking.

Personally, after two decades of feature-forging, I struggle to compose a single further word on the subject of wine and find myself in endless life-and-death combats with a writer’s hereditary enemy: The Republic of Deadline.

Usually I dredge up something I wrote in 1996, flip-flop a couple of adjectives and change the title and the vintage date on the tasting notes, secure in the knowledge that my editor has a mild case of Downs and my Twitter ‘followers’ only last a week or two before they give up and subscribe to Wine Advocate.

But occasionally, something cattle-prods my snoring muses—which have been in a medically-induced coma since the mid-eighties—into near functionality.

Finkus Bripp, GC

Today it was my homeboy Finkus Bripp, who posted a YouTube vid about how books are physically assembled, from the paper-making to the typesetting to the spine-binding, adding as his subject line:

‘Books Can Be Just As Complex As Wine’.

Well, there’s a concept—and one that happens to coincide with the year-end release of World Library’s 100 Best Books of All Time and Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2011.

Carpeing the Diem, I immediately set up a full-blown, hundred-flight vertical Book Tasting to test Mr. Bripp’s Complexity Theorem.  (A blind tasting would have been ideal, but it proved unworkable, even illogical, since blind people can’t read and when I asked for their input, the American Braille Foundation sent me a curt nasty-gram).

Screw ‘em, yo.

Meanwhile, I brought in a full complement of wine in order to establish a compendium of book and wine pairings, which I believe is the first of its kind in the Free World.  My goal was to match the acidity, structure, texture, pace, characterizations and dénouement of a given novel with a wine intended to enhance and compliment—but not overpower—the reading experience.

Book tasting notes follow, along with appropriate wine accompaniments:

Did Dill actually write this book?

To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee, 1960, about $4.99 (paperback):  Bittersweet through the introductory pages, the book develops into a tight, yet very concentrated bildungsroman—notes of melodrama mix with delicacy and depth throughout the mid-chapters.  Shows wonderful class and a structure completely unlike any other book from the strong ‘60 vintage.  Sweet, yet utterly uncloying, the novel has shown an uncanny ability to age since its release; should continue to improve until the Second Coming of Christ.  Serve with: Morgan Creek Sweet Blueberry Wine, Harpersville (Alabama), n/v, around $20.

*

The first edition of Ulysses required two people to lift.

Ulysses, James Joyce, 1922, around $6.99 (paperback, good condition):  A non-traditional blend of more than 200,000 words, the book blooms with style and substance.  The most massive, concentrated, and (at first read) unstructured of Joyce’s works, Ulysses has attracted controversy and scrutiny from critics but remains a seamless summation of Modernist literature.  Shows formidable levels of enigma with multiple layers of conundrum and a bright perfume of puzzlement.  Best enjoyed throughout the day on June 16thServe with:  Dedalus Wines, La Puerta Alta Malbec, Mendoza, 2009, about $13.

*

The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck, 1939, around $25 (used hardcover):  Dusty and slightly astringent with weedpatch notes followed by freshly-picked peach, the book displays massive power and extract from its opening lines to the depressing end.  Shows all the characteristics of a classic Salinas Valley novel, finishing with aromas of Rose and breast milk.  Serve with: Wrath Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Lucia Highlands, 2009, about $49.

*

Ayn Rand

Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand, 1957, around $50 (35th Anniversary edition, hardcover):  The final release of this controversial writer’s fiction, the narrative remains intriguing and unapologetically elitist to this day, if rather thick, slow and dry.  It is, nonetheless, a full-bodied read, with hints of science fiction that are somewhat difficult to extract from the book’s exaggerated pro-Capitalism postulating.  A juicy integration of philosophy and dystopia leads into a solid core of super-ripe Objectivism, but there is a regrettable and  total collapse at the finish.  Serve with:  John Galt Proprietary Red Napa Valley, 2009, around $25.

*

Faulkner's editor, before and after reading 'Sound and the Fury'

The Sound And The Fury, William Faulkner, 1929, about $10 (Kindle edition): Praised to the rafters by critics, Faulkner’s rich, dark, stream-of-consciousness masterwork tends to taste flat to Jayden and Jasmine Junior in 11th Grade Lit.  Shows a nice balance of Northern industrial and Southern agrarian values; very fleshy and complex through the middle sections, especially Part Two: June 2, 1910; the finish is long (three appendices long), throwing off an enduring residue of despair.  Brawny and brilliant, saturated with adjectives and unannounced time-shifts, this modernist epic is difficult to ingest without serious decanting—Cliff’s Notes is recommended.  Serve with: Mississippi Mud (1 ½ oz. Kaluah, 1 ½ oz. Southern Comfort, 2 scoops vanilla ice cream; blend until smooth).

*

Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov, 1955, (unavailable; banned): Pure, but still forward and precocious, the novel appears to be older than its publishing date would suggest.  Sensuous tension and heady excitement animate the texture of the book, which retains a core of youthfulness while avoiding the austerity of classical literature. Very intense with tightly laced threads of Romantic irony and tongue-in-cheek eros.  Safer if allowed to age more than 12 years.  Serve with: Williams & Humbert Amontillado Sherry, 1972

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I Drink, Therefore I Am: British Doctors Rail Against Abstinence

Sometimes, when the British are funny they know it—AbFab, Monty Python, Blackadder, Fawlty Towers.  And sometimes when they’re funny, they don’t—grownups who still have freckles, rich people with different accents than poor people, calling cigarettes ‘fags’,  chavs—especially those who incessantly say, ‘Ya wot??’, Lamb & Mint flavored potato chips…

…And The British Liver Trust.

Seriously, how funny a name is that?  A national charity that works to reduce the impact of liver disease in the UK, the British Liver Trust (ironically) recently re-printed an article by The Independent’s Lewis Smith suggesting that an alcohol-free January is not only medically futile, but actually dangerous.

Now, in Britian, the average annual consumption of alcohol is 3.5 gallons compared to 2.5 gallons here in America and a mere tenth of a gallon in Pakistan—which means that the Islam Extremists who blew up the London Underground were likely sober.  This probably can’t be said for the IRA who pulled the same stunt at Harrods—Irish per capita spirit-scarfing checks in at a whopping 3.8 gallons.

Now we know why she wouldn't go to rehab

As a result, a lot of British New Year’s resolutions involve teetotaling, at least for a period of time ranging from a few weeks to a few months.  Medically, this is referred to as ‘detoxification’ and tends to confuse the body, which has become quite used to its daily—or hourly—constitutionals.  In a quest for equilibrium, physiological processes are affected, and this is where the risk comes in.  I’d suggest you contact Amy Winehouse for further details, but of course you can’t—detox killed her.

The Smith article, however, maintains that the real threat of going cold turkey is the ‘false sense of security’ that cleaning up your act gives you.

I don’t know about that, Smitty.  Drinking tends to give me a false sense of security, while not drinking gives me a false sense of maturity.

‘Giving Up Alcohol For January? Your Liver May Not Thank You For It, Say Experts’  – Headline From The Independent

No worries, experts—me and my liver stopped talking in college.

Dr. Mark Wright

But you remind me of something else funny that Brits do.  They say ‘bloody’ when they’re not referring to intraventricular hemorrhages or ruptured brain aneurysms—all except Dr. Mark Wright, who is a consultant hepatologist at Southampton General Hospital.  He reserves the word ‘bloody’ for the condition his patients are in when he makes a house call.

No clue as to whether or not Dr. Wright is on the wagon, but he’s definitely on the bandwagon when it comes to that malarkey about false security.

He says: “Detoxing feeds the idea that you can abuse your liver as much as you like and then sort everything else with a quick fix.”

Eat toast; don't make a toast

Echoing that is British Liver Trust’s CEO, Andrew Langford, who maintains, “It makes about as much sense as maxing out your credit cards and overdraft all year, then thinking you can fix it by just eating toast in January.”

I had to read that a few times.  Was old Andrew mixing metaphors along with his gin and tonics?  What does eating toast have to with credit cards?

I suppose he means that you’d live on the cheap in January and try to make up for your extravaganzas through the rest of the year.  Either way, it has no bearing on whether or not the British Liver Trust people are willing to trust my liver.

Abstinence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder, But Drinking Makes The Chick On The Next Bar Stool Grow Blonder

In any case, sobriety is an unnatural state for mankind to exist in.  If you have any doubts, consider cultures that eschew drink for moral, social or anal reasons and how they treat their women.   A good Irish Catholic boy will pound a few stouts, realize how attractive the girl next door is and marry her.  A staunch Kitab al-Kafi-fearing Muslim will come to the same conclusion, but being irrationally sober, he will force her to cover her pretty face with black cloth and stone her to death if she happens to prefer the company of females.  A Mormon will come to the same conclusion and marry her along with all of her sisters.  A Baptist will come to the same conclusion, but he avoids sex because it might lead to dancing.  The Hindus, meanwhile, just tack on a bunch of extra arms and call it a day.

I could go on, but why?  The only thing that cold turkey is good for is sandwiches and if you use its acronym, you’ll find that same holds true for the British Liver Trust.

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Bordeaux Is Selling Out—Or At Least, It’s On The Market

‘Under-the-radar wine estate for sale, Saint-Caprais-de-Bordeaux, château-on-steroids, 20 hectares of vines that are firing on all cylinders.  Priced to sell, this turn-key opportunity is a win-win.’

In the business world, you call such a find ‘low-hanging fruit’ and then, you don’t apologize for the pun.  That’s because in the business world you never complain, never explain while you overuse this, along with fifty trillion other painfully idiotic buzz-phrases.  These I will do my best to avoid as I step up to the plate and take a proactive deep-dive into the next generation of right-sized Bordelaise wineries. Why?  Because, colleagues, I’m a team player, that’s why—and that is the bottom line.

 

An Olio of Orientals

Chinese People Need (Not?) Apply

Having been booted in the economic bollocks like the rest of us, Bordeaux is for sale—a third of it, anyway.  According to Philippe Laquêche, managing director of Yvon Mau—the century-old wine trading company, “People are retiring, and the younger generation in Bordeaux is more inclined to seek a career outside viticulture for a number of reasons, economic and social. Many Bordeaux estates would consider selling if they were offered a fair price.”

Over the past few years, such fair prices have primarily been offered to low-profile, non-tiered chateau outside the high-wire acts of the 1855 Classification; many vineyards being purchased are currently unprofitable and require an infusion of capital, and some, near urban areas, will likely see their fruit ripped out in favor of sprawl development.

But the trend that seems to be raising more hairs on the neck of traditionalists is the fact that French estate agents are receiving flurries of inquiries from foreigners, and, in fact, more than a dozen recent Bordeaux acquisitions have been made by Chinese investors.

The incomparably lovely Zhao Wei

For example, last April the nearly-defunct winery Chenu Lafitte was purchased by billionaire Cheng Qu and handed over to his 20-year-old son as a birthday present; Qu, who is now the largest landholder in the Sino-French cluster-bleep, plans to open a wine-based theme park.  Movie star Zhao Wei—China’s Scarlett Johansson—recently snapped up Château Monlot in Saint- Émilion for something around €4,000,000, while Château Barateaua (an 18th century left-bank vineyard in the Haut-Médoc) was purchased by the Hong Kong-based Marvelke Wine Group.

The French newspaper Sud Ouest reports that such purchases are gathering pace and recent Bordeaux sales to Chinese buyers include Château Latour Laguens, Château Richelieu, Château de Viaud and Château Laulan Ducos.

People, let’s meet in the War Room—we need to wrap our heads around this. After all, when you peel back the onion, you find you have to spend money to make money; otherwise you risk solutions where you over-promise and under-deliver.  No need to reinvent the wheel, is there? 

Chenu Lafitte

Whereas the notion of an Asian invasion may blow a few Gascon gaskets, not everybody views it as a bad thing.  France’s most extensive AOC (nearly twice as large as Burgundy), Bordeaux has 8000 producers and nearly 30,000 vine acres accounting for more than 700 million bottles of wine per year—overproduction plagues the region every time there’s a prolific vintage, and there have been a string of them so far this century.  Prices may remain somewhat consistent for the window-dressers, but prices tend to fall for the non-collectable wines. What we call bargains, estates may call losses, and without cash flow, winery upgrades simply don’t occur.

Alex Hall

Alex Hall, director of Bordeaux property at Vineyard Intelligence, claims, “[Foreign] owners are bringing in new markets. These guys are buying what other people wouldn’t be keen on buying; places where it is difficult to make money at a certain economy of scale because of distribution.”

He goes on to suggest that the love affair between China’s nouveau riche and Bordeaux is a phenomenon with no end in sight and that many of the new pied à terre honchos have extensive contacts in China’s hospitality industry.  They’re simply ensuring an exclusive supply.

Hall says, “Finding a market for their wines is the last thing they have to worry about.”

Flag of Bordeaux, circa 2050

I suppose I agree—a better-managed Bordeaux is in everybody’s interest, and if the Chinese (and Russians, and the Irish and the English—all of whom have bought land in the AOC) are able to energize this tired old terroir, the French will be forced to follow suit—or fold.

…Since this thing is gonna happen, I’ve slipped my business hat back on and come up with a customer-focused, directionally correct, high-performance, portfolio-contemporizing,  intelligently-engineered campaign slogan to kick off  ‘New Bordeaux’:

‘Better Red Than Dead’.

Hey, team—it is what it is.

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