Papa’s Pilar: Preach, Pater; Preach, Preach…

‘Yo ho ho and a solera of rum…’ said no pirate ever.

Clipboard piratesPirates have been given a historical pass in popular culture, at least the old school ones.  They appear as cartoon buffoons like Captain Hook, loveable matinee idols like Jack Sparrow or the sherry-sipping gentlemen rogues of Pirates of Penzance.  The real dudes, of course, were nasty, disenfranchised and often psychopathic kids (average age was around nineteen) whose brutal treatment of victims was far worse than Robert Louis Stevenson’s plank walk.

Still, who knows but that a rollicking Broadway musical may open in 3013 called The Crips of South Central Los Angeles ?

Time to walk the plonk, Sammy,

Time to walk the plonk, Sammy,

Our stereotypical pirate image arose from what was primarily a 17th century Caribbean phenomenon, and based on location alone, they did indeed drink busthead sugarcane hootch like everyone else.  Likewise, starting in 1740, the Royal Navy supplied every sailor stationed in the British colony of Jamaica with a half pint of rum per day.

Chances it was not the sensationally smooth combination of solera blended rums up to 24 years old and finished in Spanish sherry casks like Papa’s Pilar Dark, but something closer to Sammy Hagar’s Beach Bar Grog Rum.

Solera System: 61 Words or Less

In a nut-flavored nutshell, Solera is the Spanish technique of fractional blending wines as they age—essentially, moving portions of a younger cask in a series of timed (over years) steps into older casks, the portion removed from the oldest going into bottles.  As you may imagine, the final barrel winds up being a pretty seasoned chunk of timber.

bottle darkA similar, but far more rare process takes place with Papa’s Pilar Dark; rare because the requisite space, skill and dedication to blend rums of various ages in this time-consuming process is rare.  The result, it may be pointed out, is not inexpensive, but at $40 a fifth for the dark, not all that bad, either.  The light version, called Blonde, is around $30 and at an average age of three years rather than 24, may not reflect the better value, but both are finished in that seasoned piece of oak mentioned above.

Il Faut  D’Abord Durer:  First, One Must Endure

Papa and Pilar and Pilar

Papa and Pilar and Pilar

The ‘Papa’ in the rum’s name is Ernest Hemingway; the ‘Pilar’ is Hemingway’s 38-foot, globe-trotting fishing boat which he bought in 1934 for $7,500 and which is still on display in Cuba.  Named for his second wife, the boat has become an integral part of the history of the Caribbean—especially Key West, Bimini and Cuba.  It was the vessel aboard which Hemingway set a world record in 1938 by catching seven marlin in one day.

Papa’s Pilar creators are Jay Maltby, formerly an executive with Bacardi and Cruzan and master distiller Lincoln Henderson, the genius behind Angel’s Envy bourbon, covered here last year—if that rings a bell.

If it does, gentle reader, you know for whom it tolls…  And it ain’t Sammy Hagar. 

Tasting Notes:

Papa’s Pilar Dark Rum, around $40:  Deep burnished mahogany in color, the rum offers scents of clove,  honey, orange, root beer and toasted walnuts; the first sip is explosive;  potent and soul-searing.  Marmalade, syrup and molasses bounce around the mouth, making it an ideal pancake spirit.  A long vanillin finish with port and espresso notes.

bottle blondePapa’s Pilar Blonde Rum, about $30:  A beautiful, almost indescribably pretty color akin to the shade that cornstalks turn in November.  The aroma shows sage and butterscotch, the mid-palate is loaded with creamy Meyer lemon, spun-sugar and light pineapple.  As does the dark, and likely from the sherry barrel, some toasted coffee bean shows up at the end.

Posted in LIQUOR, Rum | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

San Diego And the B.A.T.F. Are Asleep At The Wheel—Just Like Vince Neil!

POSTERI cannot imagine what extraordinary shudder of revulsion must course through Nicholas Dingley’s family when they see a poster for San Diego’s upcoming Spirits Festival, to be held this weekend at the Port Pavilion on Broadway Pier.  The poster features the smirking mug of the  most deplorable, depraved, diabolical and dangerous douchetard ever belched forth onto the Big Blue Marble as he gleefully displays not one, but two fifths of his latest ‘creation’, Tatuado Liquor.

Thinkers upon these theatrical theses?  This is travesty in motion.

'Kiss me, you fool.'

‘Kiss me, you fool.’

Hiring a grinning Vince Neil to hawk hootch from a national platform is like bringing in Ted Nugent to give Columbine High School’s commencement address.  It’s Bernie Madoff taking teenage Future Business Leaders of America under his palsied wing, Tommy Chong becoming acting head of the DEA, Phyllis Schlafly asking Ellen DeGeneres for a quick roll in the munch wagon.

It’s burning a cross on the White House lawn.

History of Shite Rock (Cliff’s Notes):

Glam metal sucked as a genre, Mötley Crüe sucked as a band, Vince Neil sucked as a vocalist, Generation Swine was the worst comeback album ever, and above all else in this vast and putrid suckosphere, Vince Neil sucked as Razzle’s drinking buddy.

Nicholas Dingley, 1960 - 1984

Nicholas Dingley, 1960 – 1984

On December 8, 1984, Nicholas ‘Razzle’ Dingley, drummer for the cultish, flash-in-the-pan band Hanoi Rocks, was hanging out with Neil and getting wasted in Vince’s Redondo Beach crib, where they ultimately ran out of booze.  For reasons known only to Vince the Invincible—a Hollywood-born entitlement-attituded punk with a soprano so shrill that some of his tunes can only be heard by Yorkshire Terriers—decided to take the utterly illogical next step of hopping into his De Tomaso Pantera and driving to the liquor store for more liquor.  I say illogical not merely in the sense of ‘savagely stupid’, but also because the delivery boy from said liquor store routinely made so many trips to Neil’s house that he sold the directions to starstruck groupies.  In any event, Vince opted not to call and, with Razzle riding shotgun in the suicide seat, drove instead.  According to police reports, on the way back he nodded out, swerved into the opposite lane and collided head-on with a Volkswagen Beetle, severely injuring Lisa Hogan, 18, and Daniel Smithers, 20—and killing Dingley.

When dealing with vehicular manslaughter (with which Neil was charged), judges were a trifle more lenient in 1984 than they are today.  He was sentenced to 30 days in jail, of which he served only 15, likely still hung over when released.

Cashing in on the corpse

Cashing in on the corpse

Is that where his current snicker comes from? Beating the rap? Or is it the irony inherent in his dedicating an album to Razzle, which he just had to call Theater Of Pain?  Can we assume that this record  does not appear on the Dingley family sound loop?

So, some epic fails I understand: We’ve all done things that, in retrospect, were insane; stuff that could have gone south in a cocaine heartbeat, and most of us have wound up with kismet, not karma, on our side.  But Vince, who by all accounts is a violent and unrepentant psycho, was not the unlucky one when his number finally came up; his victims were.  You can tempt this shit for only so long.

One can but hope that had you or I been in this icky situation, we’d have understood that we’d been offered an undeserved wake-up call, and would never touch another drop of liquor as long as we lived.  Not true our glitter-glam golden geek, as his subsequent police record indicates:

2002: Neil punched producer Michael Schuman to the ground in a nightclub parking lot; was found guilty, paid restitution and did community service. 

2003: Charged with battery for choking a Las Vegas sex worker and throwing her against the wall of the Moonlight BunnyRanch; he was fined and ordered to undergo an anger management class.

2004: Arrested  after a fight during a show on October 30 where he left a soundman unconscious for 45 minutes.

2007:  Arrested for drunken driving in Las Vegas; pled down to reckless driving to avoid the DUI.

2010: Again arrested for drunken driving in Las Vegas after smashing a fan’s camera during a temper tantrum.  Served 15 days in jail, paid fine.  Not sure what lesson Vince learned, but I know which one I learned: Extinguishing a Nikon carries the same legal penalty as extinguishing Nicholas Dingley.

2011:  Charged with battery and disorderly conduct after attacking his girlfriend Alicia Jacobs; plead down to disorderly conduct alone and paid a fine.

Clark County Detention Center, Nevada, Feb. 15, 2011

Mug shot, Clark County Detention Center, Nevada, Feb. 15, 2011

Now, not all of the above incidents mention alcohol, so shit-facery may not have been an issue.  Although one sort of hopes it was.  When you become violent again and again and again when you drink, the solution is obvious: Don’t drink.  When you are a serial thug who can’t control himself sober, the solution is a little more problematic, and likely involves buying a deserted island somewhere in the Norwegian Sea and living there alone, forever.

I do not think you could make much of an argument that it involves being the public face for a line of vodka, sneering into a camera while displaying enough alcohol to kill the rest of Hanoi Rocks.

What in the world is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (the federal agency that regulates the permits, labeling and advertising of distilled spirits) thinking in giving  this walking nightmare brand approval, let alone the go-ahead  to represent it in marketing campaigns?

Clipboard sportsYou know who cannot legally appear in a liquor ad? Muhammad Ali, Brett Favre, Tim Tebow and Albert Pujols, none of whom drink and all of whom have, to varying degrees, spoken out against alcohol abuse.  But they are professional athletes, and as such, may  influence minors into thinking that in order to win the Superbowl, you need to play Rum Pong three nights a week and close the bar the other three—or so the Bureau would have you believe.

Now, I am aware that anyone born the same year that Mötley Crüe had their last hit is no longer a minor (by a long shot) and likely does not look to Mr. Neil as a role model, but this is not the point, of course.

And if I haven’t made the point by now, shame on me.

And meanwhile, shame on the city of San Diego for not doing due diligence on the dirty doo-doo of the jackhole representing them, and double shame if they did do it and decided they couldn’t care less about his alcohol-related rap sheet, which is longer than Tommy Lee’s tonsil tickler.

las vegasVince the Vegas Village Idiot launched the Tatuado Liquor Line at the Las Vegas Hotel & Casino—the city in which he can’t seem to stay straight.  Blissfully, he signed bottles of vodka for adoring fans.

Hey, Vince, you twaddling, twittering, manslaughtering twat : The only thing you should be signing is The Pledge, whereupon, do the home team a favor and make like Razzle and hit the road.

Posted in GENERAL | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

When It Comes To Michigan Wine Jobs, Outsourcing Is A Four-Letter-Word

Every year around this time, I rummage through the big ol’ steamer trunk in my spooky, spidery cellar.  Moving aside the mothballs, I dig beneath the silver-buckled, bright green St. Paddy’s Day top hats, the 4th of July Uncle Sam beard, the Easter Bunny ears and my New Year’s Eve diaper/Depends combo skivvies in order to remove and don the appropriate Michigan costume du jour.

Clipboard milkyWhich would be: Genuine souvenir Potawatomie mukluks, Kid Rock t-shirt, Mackinaw Fudgepackers Local 364 blazer, Red Wings helmet and an assortment of stuffed, genetically-altered mutants from the Detroit River, including a carp with fifteen anal fins.


Because I am a proud Michiganderanian, that’s why; wolverinized through the womb; born and bred in the world’s biggest refugee camp, fed nothing but  nutrition-free Vernor’s Gingerale and Sanders White Flight Chocolate Sundae Topping while being strapped to a chair with Luduvico Technique specula and forced  to watch the only clown ever born who was creepier than John Wayne Gacy’s Pogo:  Milky.

Why  else?  Well, my droogies, because that intriguing institute of intoxicology called The Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council has published its usual august August augury: The results of the annual Michigan Wine Competition.

Mom buys me Kibbles 'N' Bits

Mom buys me Kibbles ‘N’ Bits

And I—dutiful, sycophantic, Stepford lapdog that I am—will report upon these results like I always do, using all the poetic panegyrics and epic extolleries that my meager Midwest muse may allow to materialize.

In short, I will wave the home flag with company boy gusto.

And then, later on maybe, if I feel up to it, I will release the hounds.

First: Woots For the Beauts!…

competition-logo-smHaving had a privileged, first-row seat from which to oversee Michigan’s wine evolution, from my first taste of Paw Paw fermented paw paw juice suckled through a glass-bottle nurser to my last sip of L. Mawby méthode champenoise, I have watched an industry’s trajectory of triumph with very few stumbles—and those were quickly absorbed into the glacial till.  The players’ changing mindset over the decades, from varietal choice to an understanding of mesoclimate to the basic truth that with every vintage, our winemakers build upon lesson learned, has made the winners—and losers—in the 2013 competition the most impressive line-up in the 36 years they’ve been holding this thing.

Open only to wine and spirits made from Michigan-grown fruit, a little more than half of the state’s wineries (52 of ninety-four) entered product—which may or may not reflect how many wineries here actually import their grapes.   In any case, of the 448 entries, 64 were awarded gold medals, and of these, six were deemed ‘Best of Class’.

Brevity being the soul of nitwit shit wit, I will stick to an overview of those, but a complete listing link will be given at the end.

Best of Class, Michigan Wine Competition, 2013:

bedazzledSparkling: Black Star Farms  ‘BeDazzled’, Old Mission Peninsula, 2012, around $15:  BeImpressed, not only with Lee Lutes’ aromatic vintage sparkler, which leads with citrus and bows with crisp green apple, but with Black Star’s ability to juggle a distillery and creamery along with the winery.

Chateau Fotaine's chateau

Chateau Fontaine’s chateau

Dry White: Chateau Fontaine Pinot Blanc, Leelanau Peninsula, 2012, about $22:  As the decade’s ‘it’ grape, it is no surprise that pinot blanc beat out a number of sensational dry rieslings to pin down the coveted award.  That said, the version produced by Dan and Lucie Matthies’ wonderful winery shows the variety to the nines—racy and clean, it’s a clear-toned bell; ripe pear and melon with a flower blossom quality that the grape seems develop primarily in northern climates.  Kaffir lime acidity and a lingering taste of peach and lychee.

Dry Red: Peninsula Cellars Cabernet Franc, OMP, 2011, around $20 :  A superb precedent for a grape which is here to stay in Michigan: Plummy, rich and brooding, filled with dark foresty flavors and somber cocoa brightened with a nice beam of acidity.

winemaker-shawn-walters1Semi-Dry White: Boathouse Vineyards ‘Knot Too Sweet’ Riesling, LP, 2012, about $20:  Shawn Walter’s inimitable fingerprints are all over this wine, but not to worry:  He washed his hands, just like the sign directs.  A bit anachronistic; ‘pun’ names for serious wine is pretty much over and out in my book.  But the wine itself has you glancing past the groaner—it’s pure top drawer Michigan riesling:  Lacy and delicate, sugary and tart in calculated harmony, juicy with green apple and lime shored up by stone and a sweet apricotty finish.

Semi-Dry Red: Karma Vista Vineyards ‘Devil’s Head Red’, Michigan 2012, around $11:

Karma corn

Karma corn

Karma kicked in pretty quickly for this cool new winery.  How new is it?  I’m not entirely sure since when I called to ask, the owner claimed to be too busy to answer and told me to call back the next day.  Good for her and deadlines be damned!  Not sure what’s in it, either; the KV website simply calls it ‘a fiendishly dark red blend’.  I’d buy some and try to figure it out, but the nearest shop that carries it is two hours away, so that’s strike three.  Don’t mess with success: If you earn bragging rights for a red wine with 3% residual sugar, you must be doing something right.

ice-wine-brys-estate1Dessert: Brys Estate, ‘Dry Ice’ Riesling Ice Wine, OMP, 2011, around $75: Doing everything right is Coenraad Stassen, Brys’s compulsively talented winemaker, bringing OCD to the OMP.  This ritzy bauble is not only ‘Best of Class’, but in a class all its own; dripping with passion fruit, apricot, grapefruit and honey, it is pure, golden, dulcet candied fruit on the palate with a counterpoint of citrus that allows the wine to hover and linger in perfect balance.


In all, outstanding ovations and homegrown high-fives  to these hardscrabble hyperborean horticulturists, forcing a cynical out-of-state wine culture to sit up and take notice.

Michigan is as Michigan does, and with these wines, we have really begun to outdo ourselves.

Now, about those judges…

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Wino Scorned…

Clipboard pure michiganIn  June, 2013, it was revealed that Governor Rick Snyder’s administration had ignored lower bids from Michigan companies and outsourced the design and printing of a government brochure to Iowa.

The name of the brochure?  ‘Pure Michigan’.

And even worse, it turns out that the egg on Snyder’s face isn’t even local; it was imported from Guangdong.

The worst word I heard in the twenty years of Detroit automotive was ‘TINA’—an acronym coined by Peter Bendor of Samuel Outsourcing.  It means, ‘There Is No Alternative’, and is supposed to justify the fact that most Michigan car companies are ‘forced’ to purchase portions of what they manufacture from outside sources in order to remain competitive.

‘Tina’ is also a slang word for methamphetamine, that pharmaceutical bathtub-gin cancer that makes crack cocaine look like a boon to mankind.  Like outsourcing, of course, meth is addictive, cheap and ultimately, destroys the very people who rely upon it.

I get it, Michigan Grape and Wine Council—at least, I think I do:

How’s this?  In order for the results of your annual competition to appear more ‘legit’ in the tunnel-vision eyes of mean-spirited wine world, you need to employ esteemed experts from outside of Michigan.

Berger, well-done with everything

Berger, well-done with everything

Esteemed experts who like us as much as we like us, including his eminence Doug Frost of estimable Kansas City, the honorable Katie Cook from Minnesota’s hallowed Twin Cities, venerable Peter Bell and the apotheosable Johannes Reinhardt of Finger Lake’s stately (wrong state, though) Fox Run Vineyard, who fed Obama riesling during his inauguration and Our Most Prized Pedestal-Pushing Patriarch de plume Dan Berger of Santa Rosa, CA…

And so on.  Of the twenty-five judging jobs, about half were outsourced.


Think Ford First

Think Ford First

See, that’s where we part company, Grape Council.  There are, in fact, plenty of alternatives.  We’re not picking up widgets from Delhi made by trafficked children being paid two cents an hour so we can compete with Chinese automobiles being built by trafficked children.  We are ballyhooing our state wines—putting forth a global, grape-stained face insisting that we can produce premium wines that can stand with pride against the window dressers.  We are manifesting a wide, inclusive blanket of blustery  self-confidence about our homegrown juice.

Jenny from the block, looking a bit constipated

Jenny from the block, looking a bit constipated

And yet somehow, we don’t have the same self-confidence in our homegrown wine experts?

Say what you want about Jennifer Granholm’s admin, she did her best to put her money where our mouths are:  “As a governor I can’t do anything about international trade policy, but what I can say is that if you’re going to compete for Michigan work, you should be here.”

Which locals should round out the judging panel, then?  Not me—I also get that, which is why I joke about it every year in this obligatory column.  I have found that repeatedly referring to Governor Snyder—The Grape Council’s boss—as a sniveling snot-snouted snakeoil snabby is probably not a real wise career move in the government-funded Michigan wine industry.

Still, as a wine writer, I choose candid uppitiness over craven suck-uppitiness, and whether the Council likes it or not, I have been a member of the Michigan wine community for most of my adult life, raised awareness of our progress as an industry, and will still be doing so when Governor Rhymes-With-Spider returns to counting beans at Ardesta.

So, not me.

Cortney Casey

Cortney Casey

But what about Cortney Casey,  whose love affair with Michigan wine is so all consuming that she finally visited her very first out-of-state winery this month.  She writes about, gushes over and sells ‘Pure Michigan’ products at Michigan By The Bottle Tasting Room in Shelby Township.  She may not know more about wine than Dan Berger, but I guarantee you that she knows more about Michigan wine than any other imported hired-gun on the panel.

George Heritier

George Heritier

What about George Heritier, co-founder of Gang Of Pour, among the oldest and best wine blogs in the country.  Heritier was the baton-twirling drum major at the Michigan wine parade when at least one of the judges on the current panel was too young to drink near beer.

What about Steve Goldberg, sommelier at Ann Arbor’s The Earle, whose amazingly affordable 1400 bottle wine list just hit the Wall Street Journal as among the nation’s best; he says, ‘It isn’t so much that my prices are cheap but that other restaurants charge too much…’

L.: Joel Goldberg R.: Rube Goldberg

L.: Joel Goldberg
R.: Rube Goldberg

And speaking of Goldbergs, what about Joel Goldberg, editor of MichWines, an invaluable, non-beholden consumer guide to Michigan wines.  Joel’s face is de rigueur at any wine event that features Michigan wines, whereas I promise you, I have never seen Illinois’ Jessica Altieri’s face at a single one she wasn’t judging.

Madeline MS and Claudia MS: Michigan's Wine Brain Trust

Madeline MS and Claudia MS: Michigan’s Genuine Wine Brain Trust

I could go on, but you get my drift.  The imported offshore intercessors know their stuff—nobody is arguing that, nor that the Chinese preschoolers turn out some pretty mean thingamajiggies.  And I am sure the Iowa printing press produced a respectable ‘Pure Michigan’ brochure, too.

That isn’t the point.  Jennifer Granholm’s point is the point.  Our product is good enough now that it doesn’t need to grovel for a stamp-of-approval from beyond the pale.


Complete list of winners:

Posted in Michigan, MIDWEST | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Hail, Dionacchus! ‘My God Is a Jealous And Vengeful God’

My God is vengeful against his foes; he rages against his enemies. The Lord is very patient but great in power; the Lord punishes. His way is in whirlwind and storm; clouds are the dust of his feet.  He can blast the sea and make it dry up; he can dry up all the rivers. Bashan and Carmel wither; the bud of Lebanon withers.’

– Nahum 1:  2-8.

Dave's pin

Dave’s pin

In some dusty drawer somewhere—likely beneath my vintage, pre-Internet collection of Boobs ‘N’ Buns Bonanza—my sommelier pin still exists.  I bring this up because Dave McIntyre, a FB familiar and intoxicology incubus, received his sommelier certification yesterday and proudly posted a pretty picture of his proprietary pin.

Which led to a discussion of whose prodigiously proboscised, humungously horned scnozz is depicted on said pin (photo opposite); responses ranged from  Adrian Brody to Jimmy Durante to Cameron Diaz before the second nose job.  The most erudite responses insisted that the figure is either Dionysus or Bacchus, who I—eternally self-effacing and awkward in a crowd—was pretty sure were the same dude only with different last names, but did not want to bring it up lest I sound less eruditer than they.

Good thing, too.  Turns out that, like many of the Greek gods and their Roman equivalents, the history, personality and bailiwick of Dionysus and Bacchus is unique unto each.

Spoiler Alert:

I mean, considering that neither exists.

Dionysus:  ‘I’m Young, White, Androgynous and Filled With Existential Angst…’

Five centuries before the Virgin Mary had a rather awkward baby shower, the playwright Euripides immortalized the already immortal Dionysus —the last deity accepted into the Greek Pantheon—in the tragedy Βάκχαι.  He portrays him as a angry young god, pissed off that the mortal side of his family refuses to worship him—the same dilemma that Madonna found herself in.  A thousand years later, the epic poet Nonna described him in a similar vein, and if you would like to fact-check me, feel free: Dionysiaca, the longest surviving poem from antiquity, is a mere 48 volumes long.

304px-Dionysos_Louvre_Ma87_n2Dionysus, a.k.a. variously, ‘The Giver of Unmixed Wine’, ‘God of the Press’ and ‘Enorchês’referring to Zeus’s testicles, into which the bouncing baby boozehound was apparently sewn, was the mythological leader of the cult of wine.  Described as outrageously attractive, he was constantly being mistaken for a prince and kidnapped by pirates for ransom, whereupon, he would wreak havoc upon his luckless captors—although occasionally he’d squirt forth a little estrogen by turning the sailors into dolphins instead of shark food.

koreshA cult leader from the David Koresh School of Mean Streak, Dionysus once repaid King Midas’s hospitality by granting him the ‘golden touch’—whereupon, everything the royal old dweebix laid his hands on turned to metal, including his food, drink and family. During the course of Euripides’ tragedy, Dionysus systematically drives his cousin Pentheus insane, whereupon Pentheus is torn to pieces by a local gang of women in a frenzy of drink, revelry and divine ecstasy.

And this is perhaps the most significant non-transferable aspect of the Cult of Dionysus: In many stories, the focus  appears to be less on the mysteries of wine and more on the liberation of the wild, repressed soul of womanhood.

The Romans, apparently, didn’t find that side of the metaphysical universe particularly appealing.

Bacchus: ‘I’m Rich, I’m Rotund, I’m Ridiculous—But Don’t Call Me Thurston Howell III’

L.: Dionysus R.: Bacchus

L.: Dionysus
R.: Bacchus

As an antidote to the Greek’s baleful, bad-tempered, Bowie-esque bastard, a buoyant, big-bellied, Belushi-esque broski called Bacchus stepped in during Rome’s reign.  The archetypal Blutarsky was infamous for raves so crunk and off the chain that watered-down modern versions are still called bacchanalias.  Ruddy and plump, the son of Jupiter was said to have been born in Thebes, and Horace—the lofty, long-winded Latin lyricist—may be credited with the personality reinvention.  In his Odes, Book 2, he describes Bacchus thusly:

‘…You’re said to be more suited to dancing,

laughter, and games, and not equipped to suffer

the fighting…’

bachhusUnlike the myths surrounding Dionysus in which the epicene egomaniac exploits the darker side of drink—insanity, loss of emotional control, revenge, even murder, Bacchus comes across as a rustic bumpkin and a party animal; his followers swig and vurp and otherwise epitomize the orgiastic Roman mindset while trivializing the Greek pantheon.  Banal instead of anal, Bacchus is a cartoon character and Dionysus is a Maxfield Parrish portrait.

Took thousands in cash on a 3 hour tour.

Took thousands in cash on a three hour tour.

Thurston Howell III, a.k.a. Jim Backus:

With a net worth of  $2.7 billion, the 60-year-old native of Providence (fitting), Rhode Island has developed a cult of nasally, doorman-tipping, suspender-wearing, American Express Centurion-carrying, prenup-demanding blue-blooded Gold Coast bootlickers myrmidons that I do not display sufficient noblesse oblige to join.

Dionacchus: The Best of All Budding Benders



Therefore, I have chosen to organize my own cult.  We will meet on days with a ‘y’ in them and worship a new god—Dionacchus—an amalgamation of Greek and Roman trait traditions.  First, we will get moderately inebriated on retsina and discuss Pyrrho‘s school of skepticism and the Neo-Platonists such as Plotinus who tried to unify Plato’s thought with theology while inhaling patchouli and listening to Annie Lennox and comparing Ziggy Stardust’s evolution throughout the decades.  Then we will shave our heads, slip into our military cargos, crank up the Klipsch sub-woofers and contemplate Gorgoroth while injecting Everclear directly into our temporal lobes.

There is a slight initiation fee, of course, but here’s the good news: You will make money every time you recruit new members.  This is not a pyramid scheme, I swear; this is a legitimate multilevel marketing plan fully approved by the National Consumer’s League, Alticor and every single deity left on Mt. Olympus.

Back To The Sommelier Pin… Who Is it?

'Inka Dinka Bordoo'

‘Inka Dinka Bordoo’

How the hell should I know?.  It’s too ugly to be Dionysus, too skinny to be Bacchus, and I have it on good authority that it can’t be Dionacchus—sommeliers are notoriously nasty and snooty about the subject of retsina and Everclear.

I’m sticking with Jimmy Durante.  Onward and upward.

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

From The Halls Of Montes’ Uvas…

To the shores of triple wheeee!

…That unforgivably awful pun must in no way detract from the quality factor of the  trio of tremendous wines sent me by my Celtic cab/carménère compatriot Jen O’Flanagan, who has lent her advocacy to the uvas of the underworld—in this case, Chile—as well as to the grapes of Greece, where I’d known her focus to be. 

800px-Tucuman_Hipermercado_Jumbo_Portal_TucumanBack in 1987, a pair of wine-savvy partners called  Aurelio Montes and Douglas Murray surveyed the Chilean vinosphere and saw a huge niche: The land was ideal for premium wine production, the history was unparalleled and yet, most winemakers throughout Colchagua were content with producing inexpensive, limited-quality and often sweet plonk to stuff the shelves of Hipermercados Jumbo.

Aurelio Montes

Aurelio Montes

So, the duo enlisted the help of their equally talented friends Alfredo Vidaurre and Pedro Grand, intending to prove to the world that Chilean wine could be more than low-end jug ‘pais’—the grape (or a close relative thereof) introduced by Hernán Cortés (or a close relative thereof) to Mexico in 1520, which made a remarkably quick migration through South America: Until very recently, pais was the most widely planted grape in Chile, supplanted after half a millennia by cabernet sauvignon.

Cabernet was, in fact, the noble nursling upon which the newly-formed Discover Wine Ltda. intended to stake its reputation; and almost immediately, that became reputation with a bullet. Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon 1987 charmed critics and cognoscenti alike.  Rich, redolent and racy, the wine showed the depth and elegance of wines never before produced in that area, and is considered by most the wine that jump-started Chile’s premium wine industry

The Alpha label is still going strong, producing versions with merlot, syrah, chardonnay, malbec and carménère (note: no pais).  And the winery has seen some explosive growth in the intervening years, now boasting fans in seventy-five countries around the world by fusing quality and price in a user-friendly package.

And that’s the Holy Grail of every winemaker in every wine region on the planet, of course.  But Chile has a quartet of unique advantages that makes its grail holier than thine—the Atacama Desert to the north, the Andes Mountains to the east, the Patagonian ice fields to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the west.  Thus fenced in, the valley’s climate has evolved as a sort of blend of California’s and France’s only without major variations between vintages.  It’s dry, but Andean melt-water is readily available via numerous nearby  river systems, and nearly all Chilean vineyards are irrigated to some extent. The mountains also provide a climate buffer, allowing wide temperature variation between day and night—vital in maintaining acid levels in wine grapes as they ripen.



In 2005, Colchagua  Valley was named ‘World’s Best Wine Region’ by Wine Enthusiast Magazine, and the narrow viticultural zone is indeed a distilled version of all of Chile’s macroclimate superlatives. Somewhat Napa-like with a core river,  ambling, often terraced slopes and a fertile valley floor, the area is a sub region of Rapel in the Central Valley.  It is often referred to as Chile’s first ‘Grand Cru’ appellation, so it is fitting that Viña Montes was a pioneer in moving the local mindset from mass-produced wines to estate bottled vinifera. The first winery to plant syrah in Colchagua, Montes has recently extended its vineyards toward the sea and along the hillsides of Colchagua, where a still-wider diurnal temperature fluctuation further pushes the envelope of ‘Super Chilean’ quality.

Beside Alpha, Montes offers a limited quantity, 100% syrah under the Montes Folly and a number of premium wines under the Limited Selection, Special and Classic series.

The trio below is now tried and true—no need to send in the Marines.

logo-montes-150x1501Montes Twins (Malbec/Cabernet Sauvignon), Colchagua Valley, 2012, about $15:  Rare to see the twins without their Bordeaux triplet merlot, but here you go.  It’s a crafted and balanced high-altitude, high-acidity, high-tannin fifty-fifty proposition that takes itself seriously.  Plenty of textured opulence with blackberry, kirsch and cocoa-laced anise; a many-layered finish with graphite minerality and malbec’s signature Asian spices.

logo-montesalpha-150x150Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon, Colchagua Valley, 2010, about $20:  A thrilling and intense smorgasbord for the price: Forest scents and inky fruit (cherry and currant especially) accent tobacco and cedar notes while the round mid-palate is intertwined with rather parching but silky tannins.

logo-montespurple-150x150Montes Purple Angel Carménère, Colchagua Valley, 2010, around $70:  A mostly-carménère blend with a bit of petite pinch of verdot, the wine aspires to be the first Chilean carménère able to summit Ojos del Salado—and succeeds, albeit at a hefty tariff.  Ripe, dense and juicy, the wine shows the ambition of the varietal in its best Colchuaguan light.  Blackberry, plum and mocha match smoke, and vanilla in the nose, while the palate is rich and softly spicy.  Eighteen months in oak and a solid beam of dark fruit make the wine imminently cellar-worthy.

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

Somm Or Scam? You Tell Me…

trio verticalThe buzz-phrase ‘bucket list’ gets a lot of press these days; in post-modern America, it means a roster of those things you’ve always dreamed of doing, but have somehow not gotten around to doing.

The phrase is a truncated version of ‘Things I’d Like to Do Before I Kick the Bucket.’ 

Typical bucket list items might include climbing Mount Everest barefoot, translating the Koran into Elvish, singing ‘Hello, Dolly’ to the Dalai Lama, memorizing pi to the twenty thousandth digit and becoming a Master Sommelier.

I bring this up not only because all of items on the list require an inordinate amount of time and/or money without offering much of a return-on-investment beyond bragging rights and potentially, frostbite, but because the Master Sommelier Diploma Exam (held in July of this year) produced some interesting results, if few Master Sommeliers.

Of seventy candidates tested, some of whom had tried before, guess how many passed?


And for the privilege of failing, the other sixty-nine candidates paid a combined total of $70, 725 merely in exam fees: To reach the level where they would be ‘invited’ to participate, they were required pass three other sommelier levels, for which they paid a total of $1,845 each.  This does not even take into consideration the endless hours of wine sampling and associated costs necessary to reach the awesome heights of sensory skill needed to delude yourself into thinking that you could actually succeed the first—or third time in.

'Blind Tasting'? Breakfast of Champions...

‘Blind Tasting’? Breakfast of Champions…

‘But, hang on,’ you say.  ‘Doesn’t someone with a Master Sommelier ‘degree’ subsequently make a boatload of cash from endorsements, rich people tips and face-recognition once they appear on the Wheaties box?’

Maybe, but I tend to doubt it; you’d have to show me the stats.  If you pass the bar exam, for example, which has a national pass rate of 69%, you can be relatively confident of securing a six figure salary within a few years if you want to; those statistics are readily available, because there are more hungry law schools than hungry wine schools.  Now, you cannot practice law without a law degree, but can a Master Sommelier  haul down lawyerish scoot because they are Master Sommeliers?  Or, among those that manage it, is it more likely because they have the sort of personalities that were able to pass the test:  In other words, a compulsion for detail, a congenial people-focused attitude and innate ability to up-sell a product they believe in?  And thus win those jobs based more on individual merit than on a couple of consonants they paid to have tacked onto their names?

There are indeed lucrative careers in the wine industry, but how many are held by Master Sommeliers? I do not know.  But not many, considering that there are only a couple hundred Master Sommeliers alive on the entire planet.

It’s a remarkable and obviously near-impossible achievement, no question about it.  I am not purposely belittling it, nor am I anti-sommelier by any means—especially considering that I spent ten years I will never get back working as one.  And, since you’ll ask, I am certified; nothing more.   I never made it past ‘First Class’ in Boy Scouts either.

somm posterBut at its cold heart and avaricious soul, is the quest for Master Sommelier street cred less an honor and more a scam designed to lure in folks with money or sponsorship who have no real chance of passing the test?  Especially since the film Somm has inspired a number of folks to add it to their bucket  list?  I have a few MS friends who I love and respect, so I will do no more than touch the side of my nose at this point.

But I will tell you that if you decide to climb Everest, with or without boots, your chance of success are about 1 in 6; considerably higher than your likelihood of becoming an MS—although your chance of dying is a bit higher at 1 in 28.

ms_logoCost?  About $35 k to climb the world’s tallest mountain.

At this point, I’ll leave it to the Court of Master Sommeliers to suggest a realistic tally for the sum total expenses required to finally wear ‘MS’ after your name.  Or not.

Posted in GENERAL | Tagged , | 12 Comments

Dueling Digits: Michigan AVA Vs. Michigan AVA?

This kind, obviously.

This kind, obviously.

Michigan’s shape has been compared to a mitten so often that our nickname is ‘The Mitten State’.  Colloquial claptrap, my good people.   What kind of mitten has an Upper Peninsula?  And if you think that the Yoopers don’t count, next time you want a genuine, guilty-pleasure, cholesterol-charged pastie, try a Saladworks.

Plus, the distinguishing feature of a mitten is what?  No fingers, right? That would be a glove, right??  Michigan has two distinct phalanges on the left hand side, a pinkie and a ring.  And each one happens to be so wine dexterous that it is its own American Viticultural Area; Leelanau Peninsula, and Old Mission Peninsula.

ice ageAlthough separated by less than five miles of Bondi-blue bay water and created the last time the Ice Age dropped in unannounced, in the 1980’s the peninsular pair petitioned for and received individual recognition, largely the work of Larry Mawby and Ed O’Keefe, among the earliest vintners to recognize—even before the hallowed Michigan State Extension gang—that the area could not only produce vinifera grapes, but if correctly chosen and judiciously planted, resulted in world class versions of them.  At the time, the focus of MSU’s agricultural hopes was for a state wine industry based on hybrids, which thrive in cooler climates and have proven resistant to mildew, phylloxera and nematodes.

Mildew, Phylloxera and Nematodes Be Damned!

Ed O'Keefe

Ed O’Keefe

Most vintners on either side of the West Arm (of Grand Traverse Bay ) agree that wine yarns about the LP/OMP double digits begin with Edward O’Keefe, Jr.—a Pennsylvania native who built a summer home in Acme, just east of Traverse City.  In 1974, looking for a second career, did what plenty of folks looking for a second career in the Great White North want to do: He opened a winery.

Which is not to say that he went in with stars in his eyes:  Instead, the canny Celt consulted stars.  First, 17th generation vintner Karl Werner and then, enologist Dr. Helmut Becker who confirmed what O’Keefe had suspected: That there were patches of peninsular property that mirrored Old World climates, and that his own 55 acres of Old Mission could, with modifications, rival some German acreage.  That modification took place over the subsequent year and involved moving a million cubic yards of topsoil to form a better slope, then enriching that soil with 900 tons of humus.  Rumor suggests that his financial advisors recommended that he invest in a fifty-five acre greenhouse instead.

And then he planted grapes.  And by ‘he’, of course I mean Bernd Philippi, who oversaw the 27 acres of riesling that went in.  And 17 acres of chardonnay, along with one of merlot—the last planted in error,  but evidently still producing.

Although Ed O’Keefe’s first vintage produced an award winning chardonnay, riesling proved to be the long term rock star.  It is still the grape that Ed’s son Sean, now Chateau Grand Traverse’s winemaker, believes is the Old Mission’s future as well as its past.

Old Mission vineyards

Old Mission vineyards

He also calls the wine people to his immediate left ‘Vulcans’, for reasons to be explained later—but for now, suffice to say, he reveals a genetic predilection for the Germanic gem upon which the estate was founded:   “Pinot blanc is useful,” he maintains, “and it has a place here on Old Mission.  But so far, even the best ones are falling apart after four or five years while we’ve seen our rieslings continue to improve for a decade or more.”

Sean is a big fan of Old Mission gamay noir, too, but he seems understand that it won’t be the premier grape of the peninsula any time soon.  “Cabernet franc is getting a lot of press these days.  But I think if I could get more people behind gamay noir, they’d be sold on its ability to perform in our northern climate—it produces wines that are versatile and elegant.’

Franc ‘n’ Blanc Are Pretty Swank

Coeraad Stassen

Coeraad Stassen

O’Keefe finds his Moriarty in another Old Mission winemaker, Brys Estate’s Coenraad Stassen.  Despite his unshakable love for riesling, Stassen weighs in on the side of  pinot blanc and cabernet franc as the grapes that show the most potential for quality growth in Old Mission Peninsula.   “I agree with Sean that pinot blanc is not necessarily a long-lived wine; that’s why I make mine in a fruit-forward style with no oak and low alcohol.  There is not enough weight and structure to let it age for a long time. I make mine so that it is market-ready by April.”

He is even more gung-ho on cabernet franc:

“It’s one of my favorite varietals to work with; the intense fruit and spice that develops in our cooler region at Brys, we have almost 8 acres planted.  Unlike pinot blanc, cab franc has excellent aging potential and I have had them from Michigan as old as 18 years that are still holding up fine.  I think Cabernet Franc has great potential in Michigan, especially on Old Mission Peninsula.

Proof’s in the punt (and the punter):  Brys Estate is the current holder of the best Cabernet Franc of the last decade. Brys Estate 2007 Artisan Cabernet Franc.

Moving Right Along…

Larry Mawby

Larry Mawby

Meanwhile, on the other side of the drink—literally as well as figuratively—iconic winemaker Larry Mawby had a few years’ head start on these Old Mission upstarts. And the start he up and started in 1975 was, L. Mawby winery, where, unlike OM’s O’Keefe, Mawby took his cue from Burgundy rather than Germany and planted the king and queen of Champagne, pinot noir and chardonnay—grapes which conventional wisdom said could not be grown in Northern Michigan.

BTW, conventional wisdom also said that if God meant man to fly, he’d have wings.

Mawby’s wings sprouted via méthode champenoise, the labor-intensive technique that accounts for nearly all of the world’s top sparkling wines.  Mawby was and is the reigning monarch of Michigan mousse, producing many of the award-winning bubblies that other wineries call their own—he just doesn’t tack his tag onto the tun.  His mentorship of Grand Rapids native Dr. Joseph O’Donnell, a neurosurgeon bitten by the wine bug, led to Shady Lane Cellars in 1987.  Shady Lane’s first plantings were, at Larry’s urging, eleven acres of Champagne varietals, but today—shades of Shady irony—under the winemanship of Adam Satchwell, the kingliest kudos come via riesling.

Lee Lutes

Lee Lutes

Sandy loam and proper vine orientation explains rieslings love of Leelanau; at least in the scholarly view of one the most OCD of winemakers in either peninsula—Lee Lutes of Black Star Farms.  Although slate soil is the grape’s first love, he maintains that the till deposited throughout Michigan over centuries long gone seems to work just fine.

Says Lutes: “The glaciers left us a remarkable mosaic of soils, each one leaving  a unique imprint on the wines they produce.   Our toughest topographies can range from bald, barren hillsides without topsoil to rock-hard clay layer three feet thick.  But we plant and we  commit; Black Star has vineyards flourishing in clay and gravel so hard you can hardly get a shovel in it; we used mechanical augers to plant and the shear pins keep busting…’

whie pines signBut, are there distinct, identifiable and commercially exploitable differences in the soil composition of the twin peninsulas?  Most area vintners say no, although Lutes, along with White Pine Wines’ Dave Miller, is petitioning for an inclusive geotechnical soil-boring study throughout wine country which both believe would benefit Michigan winemakers more than of many state-funded analyses that have been performed.

And anyway, Miller adds:  ‘Those state funds are drying up. If we can find the resources to see the studies paid for internally—by wine growers and wine producers like us—we can direct  funding to projects of genuine benefit to the long-term quality of Michigan wine; too much has been left to  trial and error.’

Lutes’ trials—and self-confessed errors—have taken place on both Old Mission and Leelanau peninsulas, where he has discovered that, although vineyard soils may not be drastically different between the two, vineyard environment certainly is.  “I find, as all northern vintners find, that mesoclimate—the unique conditions in particular grape-growing site—are everything.”

He points to his cabernet franc and merlot growing in a gravel amphitheater—an old mining pt—at the base of Old Mission, which faces southwest: “It’s hotter than blazes in the summer and the grapes ripen perfectly, while just up the road, without the same orientation, these red wine grapes simply will not ripen.  Success is a marriage of location, location, location—and clone, clone, clone…”

The great, wide-awake sleeping bear Larry Mawby concurs.  “Geologically, Old Mission and Leelanau were created in the same glacial phenomena, and our soils are quite similar; beach sand to gravel to heavy clay.  But Leelanau is a larger piece of property and inland, south of Northport and the lake, we see more heat accumulation days than anywhere on Old Mission.  Three or four miles from Lake Leelanau, the acid profile of the wine changes considerably.”

lim obamaSpeaking of heat, Mr. Mawby would not want me to exit without mentioning global warming, a topic with which he has stronger opinions than Limbaugh on Obama:  “Climate change is real; it is happening now and it will continue to happen, and will have long-term effects on Leelanau and Old Mission.  And not necessarily good effects, either; we can expect more extremes, more climactic variability, and for grape growers, these are never positives.  A single spectacularly  violent storm during the summer can devastate an entire season, and for us, it is in the cards.”

Back To Alnitak; 40 Eridani A, Sixteen Light Years From Robert Parker Jr…

You thought I forgot??

Spock_vulcan-saluteSean O’Keefe refers to Leelanau winemakers as ‘Vulcans’ because they are orbiting a distant enological star and not because as a people, they attempt—and fail—to live by reason and logic without the interference of emotion.  Nor does Sean (ever the gentleman) make direct reference to their pointy ears.

Using my extraterrestrial powers of telepathy, I must conclude that throughout the gentle rivalry between the digits, and more than in almost any other adjacent AVA that I know of, there is a lot of cooperation, much the same as when we from Vulcan helped you glorified rhesus monkeys reconstruct your devastated post-World War III Earth.

Posted in Michigan, MIDWEST | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments