Botticelli’s Brunello

When it comes to ageless art, the Italians certainly understand sensuality. A catalog of the masters, from Anguissola to Zandomeneghi, is a showroom of sumptuousness; a busty, broiling fleshpot.

116-1613_imgThough radical for its time, Renaissance art wasn’t a discovery of physical voluptuous so much as a resurrection of it. The glory inherent in the naked form—its sheer vitality, passion, turgidity and especially, its sexuality—had been a defining theme of the Greeks and Romans for millennia. Greco-Roman figures, sculpted and painted during the centuries before and immediately after the birth of Christ, are vigorous and poised, athletic and graceful, both beautiful and threatening, and as beings, quintessentially virile.

Medieval figures

Medieval figures

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, this style was repressed for a thousand years, giving rise to the solemn, shadow-free art of the Middle Ages. The most striking feature of Byzantine art, for example, is its flatness. Depth is shunned; there are no three-dimensional people. Human beings are seen as saint-like and pious, not lusty creatures driven to fruitful multiplication by our time-honored tradition of hanky-panky. The subjects in medieval art are never nude—instead, they are clad resplendently in robes and often crowned with golden halos. As a representative whole they are serene, stylized and sexless people, which means, by biological standards, they are not people at all. Unlike the squirming figures depicted in Renaissance art, Medieval paintings contain no roiling, hyper-pumped physiques, no bounteous breasts, no impending physical energy from flexing muscles—and no penises.

penisThe celebration of human anatomy by Renaissance artists—especially (and specifically) Christ’s penis, was not an appeal to our baser instincts, but the opposite. Christ is portrayed as totemically human, a godhead on a brief earthly hiatus—and the most fundamental demonstration of his manhood is his manhood. His assumption of a mortal coil is not meant to be sexual except, perhaps, in the abstract; Christ is eternally chaste. But it is an embrace of our physiology and is meant to demonstrate his indelible link to humankind.

As such, the non-divine, non-chaste characters in Renaissance art, writhing and tactile, pressing flesh into flesh and churning with lust, demonstrate an indelible love for the experience of living and loving.

Renaissance ravers

Renaissance ravers

This aggressively naturalistic style of painting is often referred to as ‘Florentine’ because its seeds were sown in the 13th century by Florence-born artist Giotto di Bondone. Giotto’s figures were among the first to wear genuine human expressions rife with drama and emotion. Like most progress of the era, this interpretive style was derailed during the Black Death (1346-1353), but the Florentine School re-ignited in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries with the emergence of the movement’s most lauded geniuses, Michelangelo, Fra Angelico, Donatello, Lippi, Masaccio and Botticelli.

Brunello Brown-Nosing

Meanwhile, fifty miles south of Florence, the town of Montalcino enjoys one of the warmest and driest climates in Tuscany. The region’s heralded wine is produced from Sangiovese—the grape that is to Tuscan wine what fresco is to the Sistine Chapel: Raw material awaiting the master’s caress.



Brunello de Montalcino was the first Italian wine region to be awarded the designation of Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG), and today, there are about two hundred producers who make it. The unscored history of wine in the region probably dates to the Etruscans, who domesticated these hills ten thousand years ago, but the first mention of the potent wines of Brunello occurred in the 14th century—the era of the Renaissance’s blast-off. That was the point when people were still calling the grape itself Brunello, which means ‘brown’, and it wasn’t until 1879 that the Province of Siena’s Amphelographic Commission realized the grape was actually Sangiovese.

Sienna, according to my Old Masters oil painting kit, also means ‘brown’, although what ‘Amphelographic’ means is anybody’s guess.

In a perfect incarnation, Brunello di Montalcino is big, fleshy and voluptuous, never angular, ever rotund and powerful—the Rubens of reds. And in Tuscany, as convincingly as in the Piedmont, nobody comes consistently closer to hedonistic perfection than Angelo Gaja.

Angelo Gaja

Angelo Gaja

At 76, Angelo Gaja still works his family’s eponymous estate as he has since 1961, the vintage that produced a Barbaresco hailed as ‘the most profound bottling of its designation ever produced.’ By that point, the Gajas had been making wine in the Piedmont since 1859, and enjoyed an unwavering reputation for their commitment to quality. Angelo inherited a legacy, and he might have gone the path of least resistance: That of the dutiful heir following protocol, heralding in another century of solid, reliable, traditional wine. In general, creative trailblazing has been frowned upon in Italy—as mentioned above, it took hidebound Italian artisans a millennium to rediscover the scrotum. When it comes to cutting edges, wine has been no exception.

But Angelo Gaja is an innovator—this is a man who in 1978 ripped out an established Nebbiolo vineyard in the middle of Barbaresco and planted Cabernet Sauvignon, then named the plot after his father’s horrified exclamation ‘Darmagi!’, Italian for ‘What a pity!’.

clipboardOf course, Angelo’s goal was never change for the sake of change—quality wine is the lifeblood of the Gaja name and the eternal objective of the estate. His boldest moves have been with an eye, nose and palate to upping the end game. Besides re-introducing Cabernet Sauvignon in Nebbiolo country, he pioneered the use of small barriques to soften the contours of rough, tannic Barbaresco, the better to extenuate the fruit-focused, titillating beauty he saw as intrinsic to the component grape. He idealized the rousing elegance and demure dignity of the region’s superstar and instilled a new interpretation within it, a new life—not dissimilar to the way Sandro Botticelli took the heavily robed female stick figures painted by his predecessors and gave them curves and personalities.

In Botticelli’s magnum opus, The Birth of Venus, the goddess stands in dynamic contrapposto, poised and relaxed, bold and modest simultaneously. Meanwhile, Wine Spectator proclaimed 1985 Gaja Barbaresco ‘the finest wine ever made in Italy’.

 Pieve Santa Restituta

Pieve Santa Restituta

And true to Italy Angelo Gaja remains. In 1989, approached by Robert Mondavi for a joint venture in California, Gaja concluded that it would be like ‘a mosquito having sex with an elephant: very dangerous and not much pleasure’. But Tuscany proved a different matter. In 1994, Angelo Gaja bought a controlling interest in Pieve Santa Restituta in the southwest subzone of Brunello di Montalcino. Named for the 4th Century parish church of Saint Restituta, the property consists of forty chalky acres of hillside a thousand feet above sea level. The considerable energy of the Piedmont-based Gaja clan has been funneled into Montalcino for this project, and the first release came in 2005 to the same plaudits they’ve received in the north. The wine is blended from the estate’s top sites in Sugarille, Santo Pietro, Castagno and Pian dei Cerri, and sees twelve months in barriques and another year in large, thirty-year-old casks.

Pieve Santa Restituta Brunello di Montalcino, 2011, about $75

2011 was an interesting growing season in Tuscany, with heat from Africa pushing temperatures so high through August that harvest happened three weeks early. This was to preserve freshness, as grape acids tend to fall off quickly during prolonged heat waves. Some drought conditions were observed in central Italy, but in the deep soils of Montalcino, Sangiovese remained crisp and crunchy and nicely resistant to fluctuations in the water table.

psr_brunello-nvlabel300dpiStructure and polish are table stakes for a Gaja Brunello, but the lusciousness here is astonishing: There is cold red brilliance in the nose, and I imagine that if the Sunrise Ruby cast a scent, this would be it. Luxe, concentrated fresh cherry notes are underscored by red currant and wood smoke; the mouth is whistle sharp and layered with fruit and tertiary notes of juniper, truffle, and cinnamon. The tannins are settled, but by no means restrained—this is wine to survive another decade in the cellar, but if you serve it tonight, go with a slab of red meat—the color of both the wine and the flowing locks of Botticelli’s Venus.

Is Angelo Gaja the Giotto of the Italian wine renaissance? In my mind, the question is rhetorical. Of course he is. In Tuscany, he is also the Botticelli, and perhaps he is also his namesake, Michelangelo, rolled into a single, vital, contemporary package.

His wines have the heft of the Deity’s finger extended to Adam, the carnal candor of naked David poised with his weapon and the svelte sensuality of Venus rising heavenward from her symbolic, scallop-shell vulva.

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Why My Books Now Cost Thirteen Billion Dollars Each

My youngest daughter is one of those kids who pops an anti-ADHD pill every morning to get through the school day and also, probably—being that it’s an amphetamine—to lose weight. For each pill she wolfs down with her Honey Bunches of Oats, I pay a dollar out of my own pocket, but I also pay thousands of dollars in health insurance premiums every year so that Blue Cross will condescend to pick up the rest.

My little junkie

My little junkie

The pills, with no insurance, are ten dollars each.

That’s a lot of money for something with 20 mg. of active ingredient. In fact, it’s fifty cents per milligram.

To level set, a milligram is what the brain of a honeybee weighs. The smallest snowflake you’ve ever seen in your life? That weighs a milligram. It takes a thousand milligrams to equal the weight of a paper clip.

The mondo milligram mega-moolah filters quickly into the pockets of Teva Pharmaceuticals, the drug’s current manufacturer. Considering they bought the rights to the medication in 2008 after a daisy chain of mergers and corporate purchases, how much ownership they may claim to the original overhead R&D costs is open to speculation.

My speculation is: Not much.

Dr. Spin

Dr. Spin

In any case, Big Pharma is always trying to explain why a glorified aspirin costs a year’s salary, and in order to explain it in such a way that normal people can’t see through the placebo pretext, they pay exorbitant year’s salaries to their public relation spin doctors: Doctors with M.D.s in Mucho Deflection.

It reminds me of the way Congressmen—most of whom are millionaires—try to explain why they deserve raises but the kid with pimples and a college loan doesn’t.

In Cliff’s Notes format, the plea that the world’s biggest narcotraficantes enter as mitigating circumstances for charging people so much money for drugs to save their lives that they wish they were dead boils down to three basic premises:

Funcle%2bsam%2bbig%2bpharmairst, the market for many drugs is very small; perhaps only a few thousand people on earth suffer from a given ailment, and if they want a cure, they have to bear the full brunt of hidden costs. Second, research is expensive, and the industry maintains that it takes a decade and well over $1 billion to get a new drug approved. Lastly, the primary competition for brand drugs is generics, and for a number of the reasons, far fewer drugs are coming off patent these days.

What the spin docs don’t tell you is that an equally valid reason for the price gouging is that the US government doesn’t regulate sticker shock; drug makers set prices based entirely on what the other guy is charging. And there’s the rub: For many drugs, there is no other guy, and the maker has a de facto monopoly. Not only that, but patents last longer in the United States than most other countries, giving the producer exclusivity designed specifically to prevent competition.

The result of all that is that I pay a dollar so that my insurance company can pay hundreds of dollars so that the Teva can make millions of dollars and the industry billions of dollars, all on the back of my sweet little snookey-kins and her focus-itis.

The Oldest Trick in My Book

Martin S. taking it seriously

Martin S. taking it seriously

Ever since that smarmy, ‘bro’-saying evil genius Martin Shkreli raised the price of Daraprim from thirteen bucks a pill to $750—thus becoming the poster child for everything we hate about big business and everything we love about the American dream—those of us not invited to the toxoplasmosis pity party saw opportunity where holier-than-thou Samaritans saw problems. Shkreli’s justification for the 5000% price hike was the usual cover story: R&D costs and no competition, even though there should have been competition since the Daraprim patent expired in 1953.

From a purist’s perspective of capitalism, it should come as no surprise that Shkreli’s primary motivation was profit, although you could easily argue that the ensuing publicity shitstorm outweighed the income.

How to Out-Shkreli Shkreli

514ixzharul-_sx331_bo1204203200_Nevertheless, by coincidence or by divine providence, it so happens that the last couple of books I foisted upon the public list at the magical, tragical price of $13—identical to the pre-Shkreli tariff for Daraprim. Now, my prose may not cure malaria, but it is a reasonable antidote for boredom, television, homework and lawn maintenance, and I think I can say without fear of argument that when it comes to raking leaves and putting up storm windows, most of us would rather have malaria.

At this stage in my career, with no Pulitzers or Nobel Prizes on my mantel, or even a mantel to put a Pulitzer on if I had one, I see no reason why I should continue to travel the high road when it comes to pricing.  Heads up, folks: If you have not yet purchased one of the laudable library of Kassel opuses at the low, everyday price of thirteen dollars per, then I must say, kind and gentle reader, that it sucks to be you.

51ra3zopvxl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Because, seizing upon the business model set by St. Shkreli, Patron Saint of Fuck You, Pay Me, I am henceforth raising my book prices. And not to Turing Pharmaceuticals’ outrageous highway robbery price of $750 each, but to the World Bank grand larceny price of $13 billion each.

Of course, lest you think my heart is no bigger than a honeybee’s brain, I am prepared to support this price hike using the Big Pharma matrix:

  1. No Price Controls

Unlike many countries where government agencies negotiate prices for every word published, the US government doesn’t regulate prices on literature. Here, we chapter-makers set our wholesale prices based on what competing authors charge and whether we think our book is better.

  1. Lengthy Patents

Copyright laws in the United States last the life of the author plus seventy years. Since I sold my soul to Satan (coincidentally) the day before those naked photos of Ashley Tisdale surfaced, I have already squandered my afterlife. Thus, I need my cash now.

  1. Limited Competition

8f825fe25cd53c041199c219e5a02ea5_largeGuys, I don’t want to put too fine a point on it and come across as egotistical, but let’s get real. Nobody writes better books than me. Not only that, but nobody ever has. And I should know, I’ve read them all, from coloring books produced by Miss Ryan’s second grade Special Ed class to Kalki Krishnamurthy’s million word, five volume Ponniyin Selvan which took me seven years to get through and required me to learn a new language. I’ve read every single volume in the Library of Congress twice and I was peering over the shoulder of Dr. Linzey as he re-translated the definitive King James Bible from the Masoretic text and the Textus Receptus.

The upshot? I’m better.

  1. Small Markets
Typical Kassel readers

Typical Kassel readers

That said, I do write for a somewhat exclusive market; my demographics are universally well-educated, extremely intelligent beefcake men with outsized genitalia and superhuman strength, while the women in my audience are, to an X chromosome, brilliant scholarly-types with advanced degrees from elite universities, humongous dinglebobbers, bodacious badonkadonks and a compulsive need to send me erotic texts. It is my business strategy that at least a few of you are also heirs to idiotically large fortunes.

  1. Development and Production Costs

Duh. To write wine books I have to drink a lot of wine, which is not exactly cheap, except for the stuff that winemakers and publicists send me for free, which is the only stuff I’m willing to review. And every day, I have to not go to law school and become a highly paid attorney because I can’t be two places at once and I have to be home writing books for you guys.

lake-michigan-sunset-with-dune-grass-mary-lee-dereskeResearch is another dimension to the costs I incur to create works of high art, especially fiction, which is drawn from my manifold experiences on this complex journey through life. You may not be able to assign a price tag to the perfume of your newborn’s breath, the joy of watching your son kiss his bride on the altar, the majestic marvel  you feel as a cold-fire sunset paints Lake Michigan gold beyond the Great Bear sand dunes, but I can:

Thirteen fucking billion dollars.

512ocnggrslThat’s it, kids. I acknowledge that raising my individual book prices to $13 billion will cut into my readership, although I am sufficiently business savvy to offer a one-time 5% discount if you pay cash and order before midnight tonight.

Otherwise, if you don’t think I’m worth it, boo-hoo. You’re not my type of customer anyway. Go read your Grishams and your Gabaldons, or if you are a person of faith, your Gods. Real readers accept the rising cost of genius. And the math is in my favor.

Currently I have seven titles on amazon, and unlike Shkreli, who relies on volume and dying-person desperation, all I need to sell is one lousy book.

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Wine-Free Column: Hanoi Jane’s Children

imageA few years ago, I had the odd experience of visiting the original Hanoi Hilton, the prisoner-of-war camp where McCain, and hundreds of other American soldiers, were held during the Vietnam War.

It’s now a museum, and if ever there existed an example of ‘history is written by the victors’, it’s here.  Remember, North Vietnam was ready to surrender after the Tet Offensive, but so much American dissent for the war was broadcast internationally that they decided to hang on for five more years—and finally won.

Meanwhile, 20,000 more American soldiers died, many inside the Hanoi Hilton.

hanoi-hilton-hoa-lo-16x9-0411-2_13860642634The Hanoi Hilton is now a museum with an entire wing dedicated to the history of the American anti-war movement.  Jane Fonda’s role has a room of its own. Despite the essential righteousness of the anti-war protests, you cannot escape the statistics that emerged from a thus-empowered North Vietnam:

20,000 more American soldiers died.

So, go ahead and protest the results of a lawful, democratic election:  It’s your right.

Go ahead and post endless anti-Trump memes and cartoons and clever plays on words: It’s your right.

Go ahead and let the rest of the world know that you think your country is batshit insane: It’s your right.

Just don’t lose sight of the fact that those who despise the United States on principal are loving every minute of it.  They feed on American divisiveness and thrive on American self-loathing, especially over a circumstance that, quite frankly, we chose in the very sort of democracy which we wish to sprinkle over those less enlightened masses.

However, if you need reasons to think again about any of it, I think I just offered you 20,000 of them.


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A Must Muscadet

‘What can you say ‘bout Muscadet that’s not about lemons and briny spray?’

Like me, you probably have an image of Muscadet that begins on a scale of steely simplicity and works down to utter vinous neutrality. The region, on Loire’s far left, butting the Atlantic Ocean, relies on a grape so innately forgettable that most people forget about a second after they learn the name.

Melon de Bourgogne

Melon de Bourgogne

Want proof? Ask a roomful of people who dabble in wine knowledge what varietal goes into Muscadet and I’ll give you a dollar for every one that says Melon de Bourgogne if you’ll give me a dime for every one that doesn’t.

The wines from this strange little appellation were originally grown for distilleries, like the insipid sippers made from Cognac’s one-dimensional Ugni Blanc. At least Burgundy was planted by lusty Romans; Melon de Bourgogne found its way to Loire via the race least likely to know anything about viticulture other than the headhunters of Papua New Guinea: The Dutch.

The vines in Pays de la Loire used to be red, but after a frost in 1709 froze them all to the ground, the Wooden Shoe Brigade marched in and planted a cold-hardy white varietal then on the decline in Burgundy. The intention was to produce eaux de vie, but for myriad horticultural reasons, the grape did better in the Loire than it had in , and the iconic wine called Muscadet has been a mainstay of the region ever since—the wine that many Europeans consider to be the best shellfish match on the planet.

Dutch sandwich

Dutch sandwich

Why do we call it ‘Muscadet’? Whereas it’s obvious that telling people that your wine is made out of Melon leaves room for cantaloupe confusion, it seems strange to settle on a name destined to be confused with Muscat and/or Muscadine, two separate and unrelated species, or Muscatel—a fortified sugary wine for hobos. But again, we are dealing with the Dutch, a race that eats chocolate sandwiches, say ‘Hi!” when they’re leaving and respond to everything else with “Tsjonge, jonge, jonge, jonge, jonge.”

In any case, the Muscadet appellation was only made official in 1937 and includes three sub-regions: Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine, Muscadet-Côtes de Grandlieu and the miniscule Muscadet-Coteaux de la Loire, which is smaller than a square mile. At over 20,000 acres, Sèvre et Maine is the region’s powerhouse—something that proved a detriment during Muscadet’s first wave of trendy popularity in the 1980s, when high-volume négociants encouraged Melon overplanting, much of it on land that was better suited to growing actual melons.

Overplanted Melon

Overplanted Melon

As a result, there was a glut of cheap, watery Muscadet on the market for many years, doing indelible damage to the brand.

In its textbook, and perfectly lovely incarnation, a Muscadet is desert dry, bright with acidity, demonstrative of an elusive sense of minerality that may show up as a slight, pleasant saltiness and even a bit prickly from carbon dioxide dissolved during the bottling process. But above all, the paradigm version displays an underlying richness from a period the wine spends aging on the lees; the residual yeast particles formed during fermentation.

In balanced measures, these attributes equal a shivery, steely—although often relatively simple—sip.

Michel Brégeon Re-Invents The Steel

Michel Brégeon

Michel Brégeon

In 2011, a cru communaux system was developed in Muscadet, intended to designate superior growing regions within the appellation. The first three named were Clisson, Le Pallet and Gorges.

I assume that there are more of them available in France, but in my secluded corner of the wine world, it is rare to encounter a Muscadet with the creamy depth of these exclusive crus, where a slightly different soil structure and an extended growing season produces riper grapes; older vines produce fruit with more intensity, and thus, the Muscadets, though not quite on steroids, tend to be pumped versions of generic tasting Sèvre et Maines.

img_4537_largeDomaine Michel Brégeon has been a leading advocate of these small, intense, privileged plots. His Gorges vineyard, for example, is less than twenty acres. It is built on gabbro soils, locally called ‘green rock’—acidic, decomposed granite that helps the vines assimilate micronutrients. Combined with ripe harvests from vines that are, on average, 50 years old and prolonged aging on spent lees in underground, glass-lined vats until bottling (up to seven years at times), the wines develop a structural backbone that allows for that most rare of Muscadet phenomena: Traction—an innate ability to get better, not worse, with age.

The wine I sampled from Brégeon, ‘Gorges’ 2013, was still youthful and vibrant, and probably will not reach an optimal maturity for another five or six years. It opens with a yeasty, late-harvesty nose of honey and pineapple, leading into a crisp palate filled with green apple, mint and notably, smoke.

Yet, somehow, the lemon notes that so typify the region remain intact, as an undercurrent that buoys the complexity.

220px-tulipomaniaMaybe that’s the lesson learned from the Dutch, who, fifty years before they got into vineyard management, were in the midst of Tulpenmanie—Tulip Mania, considered the first recorded speculative bubble in economics, during which virtually every soggy bog of reclaimed land was planted to bulbous show flowers.

Rewritten for Muscadet, that old saying goes:

“If life hands you lemons, plant more Melon.”



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A Tale of Two Carignans

Jon Bonné is so enamored with the letter ‘e’ that he borrows a deformed one from a different language just in case we assume the one in his last name is silent. So, it’s no surprise that he spells ‘Carignan’ with a totally superfluous final ‘e’, as though he’s a grapheme pack rat and Vanna White is having a closeout sale on vowels.

Jon and Lisa Bone-ay

Jon and Lisa Bone-ay

The ‘Carignane’ spelling is a California thing, or so I’m told. I wish someone would tell me why, because it’s dumb. I mean, if you are going to re-evaluate Carignan’s spelling, aren’t you better off with ‘Carinyun’, which would at least serve some functional purpose among the phonetically challenged?

Unless, of course, you happened to be obsessed with the letter ‘e’.

ye-oldeWhen Bonné writes about the old vine Carignans of Central California—of which there are a few superb examples that date back more than a century—I’m surprised he doesn’t spell it ‘olde’ vine, the way advertisers do to evoke a sense of faux medieval archaism. Or better yet—and even more pretentiously—‘Ye Oldé Viné’, which would completely screw with the syllabic integrity of the concept but use a bunch of gratuitous ‘e’s. Alas, Jon, I suppose we can’t have archaic and pronounce it too.

But I digress.

When I was in Lodi last year, I had a chance to sample some Carignans from the extremely (with a capital E) old head-trained vines of Jessie’s Grove Vineyard—acres originally planted in 1886. For a level set, during the year those cuttings went into the ground, Karl Benz was applying for a patent for the world’s first automobile, the first bottle of Coca-Cola was being sold in Atlanta and in New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty was being dedicated; Grover Cleveland was President and Jon Bonné’s great grandfather wasn’t yet a gleam in his great great grandfather’s ‘e’.

Bechthold Vineyard

Bechthold Vineyard

The exceptional longevity of this vineyard—lying within the Lodi sub-appellation of Mokelumne River—is due primarily to well drained soils composed of deep layers of sand and loam. The colander effect proved so effective against the phylloxera plague of the late 1800’s that hundreds of acres of vines still grow on their original rootstock. These are bragging rights that fewer than 1% of the world’s current vine crop can claim.

Does endurance equal excellence? Much as we’d like to pretend otherwise, a certain amount of wine tasting is mystique tasting, but I think it’s beyond debate that older vines can produce wines with more subtlety and depth; more concentration and intensity—and for reasons that are easy enough for a layman to grasp: In the era that Jessie’s Grove was planted, irrigating vines was basically unknown in California, so the vines were forced to produce marvelous networks of roots to search for water.

lorenza-roseAnd, as Amador County winemaker Bill Easton points out, “Underground is where you get all these flavor complexities, all the microbial activity. Older vines are just greater translators of that complexity.”

I’m not sure how much value vine pedigree brings to the rosé party, which tends to benefit more from delicacy than grandiosity, but Lorenza Winery’s 2015 Rosé is made with Lodi old vine fruit—33% Grenache, 25% Carignan, 24% Mourvèdre and 18% Cinsault.

One thing is for sure: Being a rosé, it fulfills Jon Bonné’s primary condition: It contains a fancy ‘e’.

Nothing Languid about Languedoc

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, in the Coteaux du Languedoc in Southern France, winemaker Sylvain Fadat is waging a battle of reputation. Not his own, of course—la famille Fadat is five celebrated generations into the wine growing business along the lower slopes of Mont Saint-Baudile in the Cévennes foothills.

Sylvain Fadat

Sylvain Fadat

In 1989, Sylvain established Domaine d’Aupilhac in Montpeyroux, one of the former ‘crus’ of Languedoc, embarking on a singular mission: Despite naysaying critics who consider Carignan at best a blending grape, and at worst a crude, overproduced anachronism better replaced with the Holy Trinity of nearby Rhône, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah, he has invested heavily it, opting to blend ‘Le Carignan’ with… nothing.

So iconoclastic is producing a pure Carignan in the Montpeyroux AVA that it’s illegal. Fadat has opted to declassify his 100% Carignan in order to showcase the majesty he believes the lowly varietal can (if properly attended) display: ‘Le Carignan’, his lone varietal centerpiece, thus wears a generic Mont Baudile IGP label.

“I’ve produced a pure Carignan since 1989,” says Fadat. “I know it can produce incredible wine with finesse, balance and good acidity. Carignan holds its acidity even if the summer is hot. ‘Le Carignan’ is made without any oak because I don’t want people to say my Carignan is good because of the quality of the barrels.”

carignanHe also avoids macération carbonique, the technique many local vignerons rely upon to tame Carignan’s tannins and amplify its fruit. Over the years, borrowing wisdom from his grape-growing kin, he has learned to temper any inherent roughness the varietal may show by careful vineyard management and patience: Carignan’s ability to maintain acid levels allows for longer hang times, and Fadat’s 60 year old vines enjoy southern exposures to extend the ripening time required by this grape in Languedoc before it can produce world class wine.

And ‘Le Carignan’ is that: The wine is opulent and elegant, opening with an intense burst of blackberry and honeyed violet. On the palate, it is silky and fruit-bold with light, sweet wood notes, as likely from the grape guts as from the foudre. A generous length as long as the Languedoc growing season, ‘Le Carignan’ is, in general, refined and polished. But there remains the slightest tug of rusticity that and allows the wine to maintain a sense of the casual—this is precisely what you’d hope to find in a wine from the Languedoc.

You spell ‘Carignane’; I spell it ‘Carignan’, let’s call the waiter over and rack up another bottle:

“Whaddaya sé, Jon Bonné?”

Posted in Languedoc-Roussillon | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Elie and Chris, Halloween, 2016: ‘Black Tongue Tastes’

Horticulture is a word that most of you winefolk know and love; it’s the branch of agriculture that deals with growing, improving, marketing and using produce–and grapes, of course, are produce.

Horrorculture is, perhaps, less familiar to you, probably because I just made it up.  But henceforth, it refers to the branch of literature that deals with the art, science, technology and business of scary shit.

Whereas horticulture concerns itself with the propagation of life, horrorculture involves snuffing life out, then burying it, then waiting around to see if it reanimates.

If it doesn’t, horrorculture digs it up to see what went wrong.

Halloween: Wine and Writ

Birmingham, MI; Oct 31, 2016:

clipboardIt’s October, when (as Danny Boy’s mistress reminds us) all the flowers are dying, and by now, most of the grapes are harvested and the vintage is in the books, the barrels, the cans or the concrete eggs. It’s time for us wine people to put away our childish summer toys and fully embrace the dark heart of autumn.

For those of you who have retained brain matter through the zeitgeist of iPhones and Netflixes, this may occasionally involve the reading of a fiction book.  If you have been even a fair-weather follower of this column you know that writing fiction may not be what I do best, but it’s what I do most.  Ragging on and on about wine is a merely placeholder in my personal dementia, and becoming regularly lost inside a labyrinth of pathological nightmares is actually how me and my keyboards spend our quality time.

myfile-1As such, I’m releasing Black Tongue Speaks, my fifth book of fiction, on October 31, 2016, at Elie Wine Company, 1601 E 14 Mile Rd, Birmingham, MI 48009 (248 398-0030).  The titular black tongue is my own; these are seventeen short stories in the style of my favorite creepy tales from childhood—works in homage to the masters, Poe, Blackwood, Jackson, Lovecraft, Bierce, et al.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t claim to be swimming in the deep end of the literary pool with these cats, but after thirty plus years of publishing horrorculture, I am infinitely comfortable that we’re in the same murky waters.

You may well be the sort that likes a little blood with your wine, and if so, we will gather in your name on Halloween night at Elie Wine Company between 5:30 and 6:30 PM.  I’ll read a selection from Black Tongue Speaks and we’ll tipple from Elie’s superb portfolio.

And for Halloween, What Better Than Graves?

elie-wine-company-logoNothing, of course.  Elie will pour Château Carbonnieux, one of the first estates included in the Graves wine classification of 1953 and known for production of both whites and reds.  We’ll do 2014 for the former and 2012 for the latter.

Elie Boudt has been at the forefront of both the fine wine and the fine arts movement in Detroit for as long as I can remember. He specializes in top-drawer French, Spanish and Italian wines and runs the best wine shop in the city, and also features local artists in his brochures and in displays around the store.

He’s been a longtime patron for all that’s good in this somewhat dystopian ville, and actually, I am quite honored that he has volunteered to bring a little culture to my horrorculture.


Elie Wine Company
1601 E 14 Mile Rd, Birmingham, MI 48009  (248) 398-0030


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Oenophiliacs Beware: Lettie is Upsettie

Minister of Stemware

Minister of Stemware

If there is a wine title more obnoxious than ‘critic for the {terminally dull} Wall Street Journal, I can’t think of it.  Maybe being the Minister of Stemware for the Sultanate of Siak Sri Indrapura or an Environmental Commercial Flooring Hygienist in the wine aisle at Costco.

Nevertheless, I suppose it’s good work if you can get it, and better work if you can keep it, although the latter seems dependent on coming up with an endless stream of ridiculously non-relevant filler pieces to satisfy the insatiable journalistic monstrosity called ‘deadline’.  Hitherto, this feverish crusade for something—anything—to spin into column length has led to such riveting WSJ gems as ‘New York’s Best Sommelier Hails from Philly’ (April 19, 2016) and ‘The Pros and Cons of a Bike Trip Through Napa’ (June 30, 2016) and ‘Dinner and a Movie with a Glass of Wine’ (August 30, 2016). That last one was almost a thousand words about a movie theater that happens to have a bar, including descriptions of what patrons drank during ‘Pete’s Dragon’.

So be it.  I used to write wine columns for newspapers, and as I recall, among the many constraints placed upon wine journalists in a for-profit publication, actually producing interesting shite was fairly low on the checklist.  Fodder is filler, little more.  If you can stumble over the odd story or two that make people say ‘hmmm’, that’s coolabaloolies, but it isn’t necessary:

Plugging up inches in the Food & Drink section is.

For the record, for a wine journalist with chronic writer’s block, one safe bet (the same impetus that drives this piece, in fact) is this:

There is nothing wine people enjoy reading more than a wine person making fun of other wine people.

My Mt. Vedeer memories.

My Mt. Vedeer memories.

And the reason is obvious: Compared to, say, celebrity suicides, cannibal cop trials or the size of Kim Kardashian’s ass, writing about (and reading) wine minutia has a very short shelf life before the ‘grippiness factor’ inevitably and irrevocably breaks down.  If I read about a bike trip through Napa, for example, I expect a bleeding lead about some drunk cyclist pedaling off the edge of Mt. Vedeer.  If I read about the top NY sommelier being from Philly, I want the reason he left Pennsylvania to be that he had a crawlspace filled with Eagle Scouts. If it is wine with a movie, I want the theater to be in Aurora and James Eagan Holmes to bring the ice bucket.

Frankly, without a sensationalist angle, the five or six sentences I can read on line before the copy gets all fuzzy and I’m urged to subscribe to the WSJ ‘if you want to read the full story…’ are generally sufficient to ensure me that I don’t.

casually-racist-whites-bing-o-brings-im-not-up-black-3602314However, a chance to stir up a little shit within your own tribe?  Golden.  It’s like those self-effacing ‘Casually Racist White People’ memes that are essentially white people mocking other white people for their subconscious racism, thus elevating their own non racist status to ‘super not racist’ because they can recognize this foible in others.

Likewise, Lettie Teague’s recent column ‘Wine Lovers Behaving Badly: More Tales of Obnoxious Oenophiles’ allows all us (we believe) non-obnoxious oenophiles to sit back and choke on our own laughter vomit when our benighted fellows display the social equivalent of a closed-head injury.

Give the Suckers What They Want…

Check out those face spots, dear.  They could be... you know.

Check out those face spots, dear. They could be… you know.

Teague’s original column about obnoxious oenophiles (detailing such anecdotes as a stingy, teetotaling dentist who was incensed at having to share a restaurant tab with a wine drinker) so lit the bunsen burner of indignant schadenfreude among WSJ subscribers that a sequel was all but required.

The second article—which I assure you, is well worth the two hundred dollars per year that the WSJ charges for a subscription—includes a new slew of oenologically obnoxious offenders.  There is “a high-profile divorcée who regularly invites men to lunch or dinner and orders expensive wine,” and a wine drinker who was pissed when a couple with whom they were dining ‘drank half the bottle even though they said they didn’t want wine’:

“Perhaps these piggy Pinot drinkers were the same ones who as kids ordered triple scoops when someone else was paying,” whines Paul Berton Birkeland of Bellevue, Washington in a pique of puerile pig-persecuting pomposity.

And then there’s some cheap-ass prick named Robert Rosenthal who dodges paying for an expensive wine ordered by one of his ‘guests’ by announcing loudly (and falsely) to the group that said guest has volunteered to pick up the entire drinks table.

“What could he do?” says Mr. Rosenthal with detectable glee. “He had been hoisted by his own petard.”

So, let’s now take leave of Ms. Teague’s codex of passive-aggressive assholes who invite people to dinner only to publicly humiliate them, and turn our attention to ‘Tales of Obnoxious Wine Writing’, which is more in my codical bailiwick.

  1. Retard's petard

    Retard’s petard

    “What could he do? He had been hoisted by his own petard.”

Unless you are talking about retarded Peruvians, this is a word you should avoid, and probably even then. What could he do, Robert?  He could have said, “No I didn’t, you sniveling, chintzy, schlocky, felch-faced liar,” then strung you up by the petard that contains your gonads.

That’s what I would have done.

  1. “Perhaps these piggy Pinot drinkers were the same ones who as kids ordered triple scoops when someone else was paying.”
Wu hoo!

Wu hoo!

Lettie loves alliteration, perhaps more than moi, so I highly doubt that Mr. Berton Birkeland of Bellevue even exists.  But in the event he does:

“Sir, no amount of righteous indignation over a bar bill makes body-shaming fat children acceptable behavior.  Are your own children playground bullies like you?  Are they Toddlers & Tiaras models all? Your entire family should be fed to Wu’s ravenous hogs ala Deadwood and I’m just the wine writer to cry Sooo-weeee.”

  1. “…a high-profile divorcée who regularly invited men to lunch or dinner and ordered expensive wine.”

Am I that out of touch with WSJ’s demographics?  Who uses the term ‘divorcée’ in 2016?

You Are Probably All Wondering Why I Gathered You Here Today…

Okay, fess up time.  It wasn’t to groupthink tubby tykes and their tubs of Tin Roof nor to ridicule Rosenthal’s ridiculous rhetoric nor to dis dorks determined to describe disunited damsels as divorcées.

It was simply because, to me, there is no post-modern irony more delicious than an opinionated oration about obnoxiousness that uses of the word ‘oenophile’.

Mathematically, how obnoxious is the word ‘oenophile’? It is obnoxiousness raised to the power of infinity.  It is even worse that the more modern, more logical, only slightly more palatable spelling ‘enophile’, which merely reduces the obnoxious factor to the power of google-plex.

whoopi-tmntsetpic1_bigYes, I get the alliteration angle again, but really.  Have some self-respect.  I’d rather be a necrophile than an oenophile.  I would rather strap a gavage tube to ice cream boy’s throat and force-feed him three pounds of Spumoni per hour—I’d rather hoist Whoopi Goldberg’s sweaty, stanky, smelly petard than be referred to as an oenophile.

Oenophile.  Let it roll off your tongue like a pretense-flavored slug trail a final time or two.  Oenophile. Oenophile.  Get it out of your system oence and for all.

Now, go in peace, and in future, dephile not the oenosphere with that obnoxious word.


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