Thumbing Their Noses At Lake Michigan Palates

A random glance at most websites listing Michigan wineries reveals glaring omission: The east side of the state is pretty much not on the map.

And I am not suggesting that this does not make sense, at least traditionally, and at least in the old school ‘Lake Effect’ mindset.  Coined by Fenn Valley founder Bill Welsch, lake effect  summarizes the climactic reasons why Michigan in the dead of winter can’t support vinifera grapes.

Before and after

Before and after

Except along the shore of Lake Michigan.

The world’s third-largest freshwater lake, Lake Michigan’s north-to-south orientation keeps it from freezing over in all but the coldest winters; in fact, it hasn’t happened since disco music was popular and Peter Frampton had hair.  As a result, the prevailing westerly winds that blow across it are always above 32° F, and they keep the shoreline about twenty degrees warmer than the Wisconsin shoreline a hundred miles to the west.

William ‘Wordsmith’ Welsch, Move It On Over…

For the most part, Michigan’s east coast sees a similar but opposite phenomenon, which I will hereby dub ‘The Frostbitten and Idiotically Cold Tundra without Redeeming Value Effect’; the result of westerly winds blowing across Siberia-like midstate Michigan which keep everything vinifera free; these grapes—among them chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc, et. al.—would freeze to the ground in a typical Michigan winter.

michigan_hardiness_zonesExcept in The Thumb.

Take another random map glance—this time at the Michigan Hardiness Zones, noting that a certain semi-circle at the tip of the Thumb enjoys the same mean temperature as all those fancy schmancy Left Coast wineries with their own AVAs—Fenn Valley, Lake Michigan Shore and the Leelanau Peninsula.

Therefore, by all agricultural accounts, this part of the state, often overlooked by oenophiles, should be capable of growing anything that the traditional ‘fruit belt’ can grow.  And guess what?  It seems to be.

So what prevents more wannabe winemakers with boundless budgets from setting up shop here?  I mean, other than the fact that Traverse City is exciting, vital and beautiful and Grindstone City is about as dull as listening to Vangelis while knitting an afghan during a chess tournament  …In Grindstone City?

Well, I felt the need to know, so I headed up to the only two known wineries in Michigan’s green, opposable pollex: Dizzy Daisy and Blue Water.

But First, a Bit of Saling

If I said this garage sale had everything but the kitchen sink, I'd be lying...

If I said this garage sale had everything but the kitchen sink, I’d be lying…

Garage saling, that is—mid-Michigan’s number one hobby for those too fat for hiking, too old for biking, too catatonic for swimming and too sick for endless hours of slamming Kessler/Bud Lite boilermakers at the Dew Drop Inn.  Which is to say, just about everyone.

What, you may ask, is the technical difference between an estate sale, a garage sale and a yard sale?  Easy peasy: A garage sale is where you sell all the crap you bought at an estate sale, and a yard sale is what you hold when someone makes you an offer on your garage.  I mock the species, but I can’t resist the high camp experience of wandering among folding card tables surveying the one-man’s-trash-is-another-man’s-treasure selections, and truth be told, nobody has ever been to a garage sale and not walked out with something.

The one I offered my custom to, on the outskirts of Caseville, was a prototypical example of the breed.  What caught my attention was the fully-accoutered ambulance for sale alongside the rusting mechanic’s sets, cow-ear-tagger, broken furniture and thousands of Grisham novels.

name tagsOh, and perhaps even stranger than the ambulance was the gigantic box of gas station attendant name badges—the kind that you sew onto the side of the shirt that doesn’t say ‘Shell’.  The woman running the show told me that she had bought an entire truck load of the tags, and this box-full was all she had left.

That’s what I love about garage sales, other than the fact that you could double your weight and still be the thinnest person there and double your age and still be the youngest person there: The mental images that the merchandise conjures up. First, the particular mindset that would cause someone to pay real money for a truckload of random name tags; then, the spare time available to someone willing to clamber around said truckload to find their name… in the event that the first question a potential Shell station employer asks is, ‘Do you already have your own name tag?’

On To the Wineries…

Whatever.  Just north of Lexington, I noticed a simple sign for Blue Water Winery, a vineyard of which I had never heard even though it is only a couple of hours from my house.

To me, this sort of discovery ranks right up there with finding ‘Chris’ among the name tags.

Connie Currie and Steve Velloff, not in order

Connie Currie and Steve Velloff, not in order

Turns out that a decade ago, a pair of Chicago rat race software executives decided to trade the smog for the lake fog and planted twenty acres of vinifera and French-American interspecific hybrids (read: survives winter) less than a mile from the Lake Huron beach.  So much extraneous energy did the couple bring with them from duggie-fresh Shytown that the winery wasn’t enough: They bought Lexington City Hall too and started a microbrewery, growing their own hops a mere stone’s throw from the alpaca herd they also raise.

So far so good:  The first vintage was in 2008, and since then, the winery has pulled in some impressive awards, including silver medals for 2011 Chardonnay at the Finger Lakes Competition and another

The Oliver and Lisa Douglas of Carsonville is Connie Currie and Steve Velloff—the former the winemaker, the latter the marketing whiz.  A tour of their green acres reveals some gutsy experimentation:  Zweigelt and grüner veltliner, the cabernet and sauvignon blanc of Austria.  Rightly guessing that our un-Bordeaux-like climate may be better suited to Eastern European varietals like these, the couple is among the frontrunners in planting them instead of the old cool-climate standby riesling.  Although, that said, Blue Water has taken prizes for their riesling as well.

Clipboard hootervilleThe group I sampled had a clear and upfront winner: Cabernet franc, which has taken pun-free root in Michigan viticultural tradition, especially in places that you are not supposed to be able to grow grapes, let alone superstars.  Blue Water’s is dark, brooding and chocolatey with a currant undercurrent and a lots of brambly, pure-fruit blackberry and a nice, parching mouthfeel to round it out.

In all, a nice slice of HooterCarsonville for which, unable to bestow any medals beyond the ones I picked up for a buck at the garage sale, I have written the winery a small ode.  I hope these big city-gone-jump-off-bumpkins appreciate it.

Blue Water is the place to be,

Wine living is the life for me,

Vines spreadin’ out so far and wide,

Keep Chicago, just gimme that country side.


Shy-town is where I’d rather stay,

I’m allergic to our chardonnay,

I just adore a Grant Park jack,

Dah-ling I love you, but get me my wallet back.

Dizzy Like a Fox…

Clipboard signsFlip the Blue Water coin and you’ll come up with Dizzy Daisy Winery on Crown Road in Bad Axe. Now, before I tiptoe further through the vertiginous Asteraceae, let me state for the record that whenever my Washington wine colleagues brag about some effeminate, namby pamby, milktoast ‘sweet spot’ called Horse Heaven Hills, I remind them that while they’re growing grapes in some My Little Pony Valhalla and feeling good about themselves, us macho Michigan mokes are made of sterner stuff:

‘Bad Axe’.

…Named, incidentally, when road surveyors discovered a broken axe at the site of the future city.  If you are wondering why they didn’t call their new town ‘Broken Axe’, ‘Non-Functional Axe’ or ‘Damaged-‘n’- Dulled-By-Pioneers-With-Far-More-Pluck–Than-Y’all Axe’, I have but two words for you:  Don’t axe.

Harold Kociba and vines

Harold Kociba and vines

So, while Connie Currie and Steve Velloff were nary tiny bubbles in their grandfather’s champagne flute, the Kociba family were tilling Thumb turf, raising whatever the market would bear.  They’ve done corn, they’ve done strawberries and now, scion Harold Kociba is doing wine.  Along with strawberries.  And corn.

‘You try what you can to best Mother Nature,’ he claims.  ‘But in the end, Mother Nature wins.’

I love it when a farmer grins.  And Harold Kociba does a lot of grinning; he seems to have settled into the sort of agricultural fatalism that plays out loud and clear the above quote.  I marvel at independent family farms in 2013; they are like that woodworking dude on PBS who uses a waterwheel to run his power saw and does everything else with hand tools.  Just as the industrial revolution made windmills an anachronism, large, factory agri-business farms put most of the country’s Harold Kocibas—community pillars if they ever existed—out of work.  Those who hang on despite economic pressure, shitty weather and, perhaps, cash money offered by the big boys, are to be hailed and revered  as wacky, loopy, dizzy heroes.

I also admire the strong—if often inexplicable—ties that most rural farm folks have to religion.  For many—even most—it is the cornerstone of their worldview.

I confess, I just don’t get it.  Most of us realize pretty early in life that as an economic strategy, prayer is pretty ineffective.  Yet, ‘PRAY for RAIN to end Drought Across U.S.’ has its own web site and Facebook page.   So, you have three million farmers praying for rain, and guess what?  The next year, the fields flood and the same three million farmers pray for the rain to stop.

Is ‘over-praying’ a concept like ‘over-fertilizing’?

My favorite church in the Thumb, where they may or may not pray for rain, since tourism along the Huron coast is a bigger industry than farming, is Our Lady of Lake Huron.  I wasn’t aware that The Most Holy Virgin made it to Southeast Michigan, but I suppose if she showed up in Guadalupe she could have made a vacation detour to Harbor Beach.

joanieGood old Harold Kociba—not sure what he prays for except for more whatever is making him grin so much.  I showed up late on the same day he was holding his annual Strawberry Festival, and found that there was only a single piece of shortcake left.  No matter—that goofball freckle-faced Joanie Cunningham pretty much ruined shortcake for me decades ago.  Instead, his lovelier-than-Joanie tasting room serverettes poured complementary Dizzy Daisy drams, most of which I have had before.  Whereas Kociba always gets an A for Affort, I am not a huge fan of his varietal wines, advertised on the DD site as being available at 7-11.   So, rather than making any remarks I may regret, I will stick to reviewing the Dizzy Daisy wines that I really do like, which are not only sensational, but perhaps the pie that more mid-Michigan winemakers should be sticking their thumbs into: Non-grape based cordials and beyond.

Low-Hanging Fruit?

Of course, the family farm fruit wine tradition is far older than medal-winning vinifera bottlings—it had its commercial beginnings in Kentucky in the 1790’s, but there’s no reason to imagine that berry wines were not made by the Midwest’s first pioneers.  Fermentation-fit berries are native to the region; decent wine grapes (other than Norton) are not.  Still, berry wines in today’s world are even more problematic that nice, need rows of vines:

rose-hill-signFirst, the labor involved in harvesting, say, blackberries, is pretty intensive.  Many producers of big-selling blackberry wine like Rose Hill’s Jenny Beetz believe that home-grown berries add value to her product, but admits that buying juice or just-picked fruit from a distributor would be a less expensive way to go.  And yet, that has issues too: Blackberry growers earn premium prices for berries destined for blackberry extract or medicinal purposes.  Plus, growers need to pick fruit as early as they can, often before the acids have had a chance to mellow out and sugars developed.  Left too long, however, and the birds get them.  Bird netting, as grape growers do, adds exponentially to a berry farmer’s overhead, but buying overly acidic grapes requires throwing sugar at the juice, which is not a practice that winemakers tend to embrace.

Kociba and kompany

L. to R.: Grinning Kociba, grinning Leah Neeb, grinning Melissa Galarno

In any case, by his own admission, Harold Kociba does not grow all his own fruit—pineapples, cranberries and apples do not figure big into layout of his farmland—so, better I should focus on those he nurtures himself.

Berry wines tend to be sweet, which makes them ideal for novice drinkers, but wise winemakers vinify dry to semi-dry as well, understanding that sweet—whether chaptalized or natural—masks flaws and flavors. And besides, dryer wines are more interesting.

That said, a fruit wine disadvantage (if you choose to call it that) is that they tend to be somewhat one dimensional; and if you can’t tell that a strawberry wine is made from strawberries, I count it as points off.*

 * Figuratively, of course—I despise wine scoring on general principle.

Southern Michigan, including Thumb region

Southern Michigan, including Thumb region

Michigan is the country’s premier producer of ‘highbush’ blueberries—the kind with which you are likely most familiar—so Dizzy Daisy Blueberry Wine is, more or less, a Michigan must.   Bombastic and bold, the wine is equally delicate with deep, unmistakable ripe blueberry intensity.  Make it the third tier of your red, white and blue, with a pair of currants to make the trinity.

Currants, both white and red, find the sandy, sometimes soggy soils of Michigan’s Thumb ideal digs; they are closely related to the equally uncommon and equally wine-worthy gooseberry.  The lighter versions are pungent and rich with notes of vanilla and clove; European dark currants are dark, and to some, unpleasant, with malty beer flavors and over tones of pine.  Oddly, Michigan’s pine industry almost eradicated the fruit in the 20th century as the European variety is prone white pine blister, which threatened logging.  They made a comeback around 1966 when it was found that white and red currants are not particularly susceptible to the fungus.  Today, most currants wind up in jams, purees and juices; as a tipple, the most well-known concoction is the apéritif, crème de cassis.  Dizzy Daisy keeps alive the farmhouse tradition of sugaring and fermenting homegrown berries.

Michigan’s month-long strawberry season was at its apex when I stopped by the winery, but unfortunately—following the independent farm Murphy’s Law tradition—something went wrong over the winter and this year’s crop was less than stellar.  His wine from last year’s harvest, in my book, is sensational.  Very pale pink, almost white, the intensity of the strawberry aromas that sneak from the glass are arresting, to say the least.  The wine is dulcet and delicious, dessert wine definitely, but rich, viscous and delightful to the point that no strawberry shortcake is necessary—if there was some, which there wasn’t.

Rhubarb is for Rubes, And That’s No Barb

My rhubarb wine with delivery device: a straw

My rhubarb wine with delivery device: a straw

Despite all odds however, my hands down, thumbs up favorite of Harold Kociba’s specialty wines is rhubarb wine, which he produces from grown at home Polygonaceae.  This love-it-or-hate-it perennial, whose toxicity is greatly exaggerated (the leaves are a laxative, nothing more sinister), is generally so tart that its culinary uses are somewhat restricted; it’s often mixed with strawberries, or if stewed along, needs a good half-cup of sugar per pound to make it palatable.  As such, it is an acquired taste, frequently a staple of agrarian folks on limited budgets without the luxury to acquire tastes for stuff that grows in the yard.

I happen to love rhubarb, and have an heirloom patch of my own that I treasure.  And yeah, I make rhubarb wine, so I acquired that taste around the same time I realized that a slight buzz makes everything more palatable as well.  So, I can promise you that Dizzy Daisy’s version manages to preserve the subtle flavors of the fruit (despite its appearance, it isn’t a vegetable) and its delicate color.  The wine is sweet, but so is nearly everything rhubarby.

I’m looking toward this, the first or fifth (depending on your perspective) flexion-focused phalanges in this big ol’ handprint of a state to be an emerging powerhouse in the wine world.  They just need to work out a few bugs first.

As anybody who understands the industry’s recovery from phylloxera, that can indeed be done—and believe me, nobody around here is twiddling their thumbs.

Posted in Fruit Wines, Michigan, MIDWEST | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Drinking While Pregnant? No ProbleζςτǿЦ∑

My mother was hotter, smarter and drunker than this.

My mother was hotter, smarter and drunker than this.

Dear ol’ mom was known to knock back a few; that is not in dispute.  However, since I was born during the Mad Men heyday, just how much she upped and quaffed while up the duff is a question of some concern.

I will say in her defense, however, that I have never noticed any sign of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder in my system; in fact, nothing about myself that seems to be particularly out of the ordin®¤§ ¥þºŧ.

Granted, I have several vermiform appendices, but this is a hereditary condition.  As are the nineteen toes I used to have prior to my ‘run in’ with a 22” Husqvarna lawn mower; ironically, I now get mocked relentlessly by my children for not having enough toes… Irrepressible l’il minxes!

Oh, they all have extra blind-ended tubes connected to their cecums (ceci?!) as well.  And gigantic, subhuman foreheads.

Strike that. ^

Strike that. ^

In any case, after a life-long study of myself—and in particular, on the effects that my mother’s drinking while I was ‘in utero’ might have had leaves me with the conclusion that the Scooby Doo gang sees Mr. Magnus and he explains to Mystery Inc. the history of Redbeard the pirate ; a terrorist of the seven seas who Mr. Magnus’s ancestors brought to justice I have no  congenital anomalies.


øæ ÞĦψЉЂбΉ љђ∫€∆‡‽↕

Strike those. ^

Strike those. ^

So, earlier this week I was gratified to learn that tilapia is also known as ‘poor man’s lobster that researchers at the University of Bristol have released a study in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology claiming that moderate alcohol consumption during a woman’s health has no adverse effects on the neurodevelopment of her Maria Muldaur  children.

extra eyesThe experiment involved the offspring of 7000 mothers whose prenatal drinking had been closely monitored; the children, age ten, underwent Tyrone Power’s greatest contribution to film noir a 20-minute assessment of their dynamic balance by walking on a beam and static balance, including standing on one leg with eyes both open and closed, except for those children of heavy drinkers who were born with extra eyes.  For them, hearing was used as the ‘gold standard’ for birth defects, except for those children who had developed superhuman hearing as a result of having been born with bionic tympanic membranes.  Those children were retained strictly for purposes of entertainment since they could pick up Jamaican radio waves in their supraorbital foramen facial bones, and the researchers used them to listen to reggae music.

The study concluded that drinking a glass of wine per day both before and after oven-bunning not only causes no lasting damage on the wee motor neurons of our little linoleum larvae, but is actually associated with better performance in static balance.

drugsUnfortunately, the study offered little hope for grown-up children who turned in the static balance get-out-of-jail-free card the day they signed up for AARP.  Balance is, to us, getting correct portions from each of the Five Daily Recommended Drug Groups—per the FDA.

mom defectMy mother, God rest her soul, passed away in her early fifties, the result of having eight auxiliary gall bladders, but alas, only one kidney.  I am pleased to report, however, that her identical Siamese twin sister is still alive in what medical science believes is a first.  From these two circus freaks, one living, one not, I believe I inherited my supplemental, superfluous, wholly supernatural sense of the ‘silly’, as Mother’s epitaph, which I wrote myself and chiseled into her gravestone above an empty coffin (as she is still attached at the hip to Aunt La’Quishraniqua) must demonstrate:

‘Now although dear Ma grows rotten,

She is gone, but not forgotten.’

 To sum it all up, in this crazy ol’ world, eager expectant estrogen-excreters, eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we todo gran comienzo se inicia soñandolo  give birth.

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Cork Dork Laments, ‘Why Didn’t I Think Of It First?’

Because you are a dolt and a doofus as well as a dork.  Hey, so kill the messenger already.  Rest easy: None of us thought of it either.

Consider these vignettes, transfused with varying volumes of veracity:

The sail was invented in 3200 BC by Egyptians in reed boats trying to travel against the Nile’s current.  For some ineffable effin’ reason, it was not until 1961 that Pierre-Marcel Lemoignet  thought to flip a sail on its side, thus inventing the parasail.

printing pressAlexander Bain patented a fax process 1843,  33 years before the telephone was invented and a hundred twenty-one years before the first fax machine hit the market.  Somewhat after Bain’s demise, we presume.

Gutenberg had originally intended to showcase his printing press at fifteenth century World’s Fair and spent every nickel he had to travel to it.  So screwy was communication in those pre-printed poster days that he got the date wrong and wound up showing up an entire year late.  Only an infusion of cash from a pitying patron saved the printing press from the trash heap of history.

Brazil nuts

Brazil nuts

George Washington Carver invented the peanut as a substitute for brazil nuts, which were then known by a horrible racial epithet.  In fact, Stan Laurel can be seen selling them under this childish and offensive name in ‘The Pest’.  Google it if you are so inclined; ‘Brazil Nut’ under ‘nomenclature’.

Helix the Cork, The Wonder, Wonderful Cork…

I may not have invented Helix, but I did invent their theme song.  What do you have to show for it, Einstein?  All you invented was the rice bra, sleeping bag pants and a hairnet for the shower that doubles as a beekeeper’s helmet.



In Bordeaux, apparently, l’homme de l’heure is Antonio Amorim, Chairman and CEO of the world’s largest manufacturer of cork stoppers, who  (in conjunction with Illinois’ own bottling giant, O-I) has introduced a ‘re-renewable and modern product that meets consumers’ growing desire for sustainability and quality, while delivering the brand building and premium image packaging wineries rely upon.’

Amorim mouthed this mouthful of marketing mumbo-jumbo at Vinexpo,  where his bottle stopper brainchild was unveiled.  Were I there at the Bordeaux Parc des Expositions Exhibition Centre, of course, my mouthfuls would be re-restricted to vintage Premier Cru, but then again, I do not have a brand new cork idea to share with the world.

helix-cork-10Neither does Amorim, of course—twist-off, re-resealable, re-renewable, sustainable, quality corks have been used and re-used in high-end whiskey and low-end Port for eons.

The ‘invention’ has been causing a big stir nonetheless, with everyone and their brother weighing in.

Since I have no brother, I guess it’s me.

My kinda archangel, baby

My kinda archangel, baby

Food and Wine’s Gabriel Bell begins his column A New Era Dawns With The Invention Of The Twist-Off Wine Cork with this modest declaration:

‘You’ll always remember this moment—sitting in front of your computer, right here, right now—when you first heard of the twist-off wine cork.’

Bell is so damned excited about playing the archangel Gabriel bringing us tidings of great joy that I don’t have the heart to tell him that I read fifteen articles about Helix before I got to his.

And I’m not on a computer, Gabe—I’m on an iPhone.


Dan'l Bane and his bane companion Mingo

Dan’l Bane and his bane companion Mingo

The Inquisitr [sic] opines”

‘One of the biggest boons to the wine industry has been that once the cork came out, there was no putting it back in…’

‘Boons’?  Potentially le auteur means ‘one of the banes’?  Let me talk to the editor, stat.  Tell him/her that it is Daniel Bane on the line—a bane companion.


According to gizmag:

‘Since the Helix cork is formed by pressing cork fragments in a mold rather than cut straight from the cork tree bark, four years of development and testing by Amorim and O-I was undertaken before they had a stopper that could not only screw in and out, but would also do the job of a traditional cork.’

Except that, as you recall, the original problem with corks was not that you might forget how to use your corkscrew, but that the natural bark is susceptible to the chemical compound trichloroanisole.  Right?  Did the four years of research come up with something, anything in the pressing-cork-fragments-together-process that eliminates TCA?

None of the articles seem to think it is important enough to mention.


Clipboard dnaSo, for me—despite Gabriel’s angelic bell-ringing from the bell-tower—like Paul Revere shouting, ‘The Helix is coming, the Helix is coming’ and Scientific American predicting that just as Watson/Crick won a Nobel Prize in Physiology for discovering the double-helix of DNA, Antonio Amorim is a shoo-in this year for discovering the single-helix cork—I am far too busy with more important matters to concern myself.

Busy With What?

So glad you asked.  I am busy putting the clear coat on my own set of wine industry inventions in lieu of next year’s Vinexpo.

I have, dear readers, come up with the following gizmotic gimmicks for the grape guru who has everything.


1735-shipwreck-bottles-10002553A Fully Submersible, Pool-Ready Wine Cellar meant to replicate the deep sea conditions that preserved a few of the bottles of 1735 Mosel discovered in the wreckage of the sunken Vleigan Herd.  Granted, most of that wine was bad, but those that survived fetched upwards of $5 large at auction, so the waterproof wine cellar will pay for itself in only a few decades.

tqweet paperWaterproof Toilet Paper printed with wine-related feeds from Twitter; perfect for the wine-loving scuba diver who desperately needs to take a shit but cannot surface without risking decompression sickness.

Waterproof Wine-Flavored Floss:  Fully-biodegradable and dishwasher-safe dental floss flavored to suit whatever wine you enjoyed with your meal that evening.  Currently being produced in cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, alvarelhão, gaglioppo, sauvignon blanc, magyarfrankos and öküzgözü—the later a favorite of my brother from another mother, Kevin Karl.

Wine-Scented ‘Soap-On-A-Rope’: Large, long lasting, very fragrant bar of triple-milled, translucent glycerin soap on a nylon rope with the following grape aromatics:  Merlot, pinot noir, refošk, muscat, usakhelauri, crljenak kaštelanski and Thompson Seedless.  Also available on a hemp rope (for your ‘green’ friends and lovers) under the alternate name ‘Dope-On-A-Rope’.   Guaranteed impermeable to moisture and caustic acids.

Clipboard underwearLeakproof  Château d’Yquem ‘Funderwear’:  His-and-her skivvies with the logo of the famous sugarplum Château silkscreened on the crotch area without the slightest authorization!  Let ‘em strip search you, the pervs!

Realistic urine stains are actually youthful d’Yquem-infused polyfibers woven into the fabric; fecal-colored stains are from vintages at least fifty years old.

As you can see, I’m loaded, ready for bear, and set for Vinexpo 2014!

Or maybe I’ll pull a Gutenberg and show up a year late.

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Cure For The Summertime Blues? Whites!

Annbjørg holding Pummy's paw paw

Annbjørg holding Pummy’s paw paw

I reserve a sort of parallel pity for people professing, ‘ I only drink red wine,’ as I do for those picky pisshaps who propound, ‘I only date Nordic meconologists with silicone hooters and poodles named ‘Pummy Paw-Paws.’

Yoda reminds you: An entire world it is that you are missing.

White Pride World Wide

white prideWhen the temperature treks into Tartarus territory, all but the most bromidic and boring among us are willing to do a little exploring, so so long as it doesn’t involve getting off our asses.  Therefore, while you are canting on the couch, here are a couple of interesting white wines for your cogitation, consideration, and categorical consumption:

Mazzoni Pinot Grigio, 2011, around $20

I know, I know:  Pinot grigio is the antithesis of experimental enology… Except that this one is from Tuscany.

Italy MaremmaUnder the Tuscan sun, red wine grapes proliferate:  80% of the vines in Italy’s third most planted region (after Sicily and Apuglia) are red.  Sangiovese (meaning ‘Blood of Jove’) is the all-star, followed by cabernet sauvignon, merlot and canaiolo, especially in Chianti.  Whites are for the most part limited to forgettable blending grapes like the often overly-acidic trebbiano, Vin Santo ingredients like malvasia—although vernaccia, Tuscany’s only DOCG may be the exception to prove the rule.

As far as I know, however, Mazzoni’s is the only 100% pinot grigio from the Maremma zone imported to the United States, and it is somewhat unique in its flavor profile, due in part to Tuscany’s legendary lousy soil and a climate which, unlike Friuli, is not subject to breezes from the Adriatic.  Friuli has long been heralded as benchmark pinot grigio territory, which often show delicacy and bold concentration in the same glass.  These wines emphasize the peach profile of the grape along with light, almost chalky almond and floral notes.

lable mazzoniMazzoni Pinot Grigio offers a vibrant and lush cornucopia of tropical flavors—pineapple,  mango and a hint of banana along with shivery acidity, pronounced minerality and a rich, fruit-filled finish.

Coastal Maremma, of course, is home to the formerly-known-as ‘Super Tuscans’ Sassicaia and Ornellaia, and more than one critic refers to Mazzoni Pinot Grigio as a ‘White Super Tuscan’.  Not sure that the reputation is yet fully forged, but the wine is a remarkable incarnation of the grape.

Chimney Rock ‘Elevage Blanc’, Napa Valley, 2008, about $30

Otherwise, should you oenologists optate for a uveous option with oodles of oomph and oozing with über-uppitiness, you ought to undulate from the ottoman and sashay over to Chimney Rock for a snooker of ‘Elevage Blanc’—a unique proprietary blend of sauvignon blanc and pinot gris.

bottle elevageI say ‘unique’ not merely because the word begins with a ‘u’, but because in the Northern Hemisphere these 70% – 30% type blends are generally associated with low-quality, mass production wines, rarely with an AVA attached.  Chimney Rock’s version is high-quality, low production, in part because Napa Valley simply does not put too much of either one on the market.  Around 2000 Napa acres are planted to sauvignon blanc; less than chardonnay, cabernet, merlot and pinot noir, and the 223 acres (total) of pinot gris—much of which is released as ‘pinot grigio’—barely registers on the vinous Richter Scale.

I would confess a bit of ‘huh?’ when ponderizing the various reasons that Chimney Rock might have had to produce this wine, but less upon sampling it.  It’s a full-blown, barrel-fermented blend, aged on lees and lush with lactic acids.  Stone fruit—especially apricot—and honeysuckle predominate, with some green apple, fennel and grapefruit citrus, no doubt a contribution of sauvignon blanc.  Overall wine weight, relatively high alcohol (14.2 % ABV) and Bosc pear notes are pinot gris’ housewarming gift to the bottle.

Both above wines are part of the Terlato family collection; the Tuscan pinot grigio is produced via a partnership with Franceschi.  Chimney Rock as been solely owned by Terlato since 2004.  Although, like Tuscany, known primarily for red wine, especially cabernet sauvignon, tis the season to be chillin’.

red_white_rose_grapesx300Ad Concludendum…

If your reds are giving you the blues, try these whites; a color scheme and palate palette perfect for the Fourth.

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Chew Chew Charlie Was A Racketeer? Say It Isn’t So, Feds!

Of the many strange pearls of advice my father offered me, this one stuck:

 ‘Never trust anyone whose name can be translated as ‘Vietcong Pig’s Feet’.

puleI once—once—had dinner at Chuck E. Fromage—Charlie Trotter’s eponymous, over-priced, upscale pizzeria on W. Augusta Blvd. in Chicago, where I ordered a deep-dish Ukrainian pizza topped with pule (smoked donkey cheese from the Zasavica Reserve north of Belgrade; $616 per gram).

Alas, I was never able to secure reservations at his flagship restaurant Charlie Trotter’s, considered one of the world’s top and most modestly-named restaurants up until 2009, when it closed its doors forever under accusations that its signature dish—Pig Trotters with Smoked Coconut, Clotted Spring Onion, Venezuelan Chocolate, Cumin Scented Apple Chutney, Saskatchewan Chanterelle Mushroom, Curried and Clotted Sunchoke, New Zealand Spinach and Chambord Clotted Curd—was made with feet from pigs previously used in invasive surgical training exercises by the US military.

After his ignominious departure from Shytown, having landed on his pig’s feet,Trotter opened a joint called ‘C’ in Guantanamo, Cuba, which closed in 2010 after the Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular finally translated the restaurant’s signature dish: Waterboarded Terrorist Spleens with Gitmo Bay Mussels, Clotted Quinoa, Sweet and Sour English Cucumber, Marinated Hamachi in Green Tomato Juice, Kalamata Olives and Avocado Clotted Cream.

'I want YOU to buy my knock-off Burgundy'

‘I want YOU to buy my knock-off Burgundy’

At that point, Mr. Trotter sort of fell off the edge of the culinary map, and it was not until yesterday, June 13, 2013 that his name again made headlines.

It seems that in his effort to liquidate his liquid assets prior to border-hopping, Mr. Trotter sold a counterfeit magnum of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 1945 to a pair of Manhattan wine collectors for $46,000—roughly the same price as a black-market kidney from a waterboarded Guantanamo Bay terrorist goes for.

Does the story have ‘legs’, as journalists say?  Or does it have ‘pig’s feet’, as we anti-journalists say?  That is, in part, an open-ended question to be debated by those above my pay grade in Frrokaj et al v. CHT Corp et al, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, No. 13-04376.

P.J. Huffstutter

P.J. Huffstutter

My initial cynicism about the whole story arises from an article in Reuters by anti-research journalist P.J. Huffstutter (is this a name or a character from Nicholas Nickelby?) who claims, ‘Trotter made plans to sell thousands of bottles from his restaurant’s wine collection, drawing interest from wine aficionados who admired the restaurant’s collection of Bordeaux and cabernets.’

Caveat Emptor

The offending bouteille

The offending chef  and the offending bouteille…

Now, you would think that a bonafide wine aficionado would know that DRC is neither a Bordeaux nor a cabernet, just as you would imagine that they would have recognized that the spelling on the bogus label—‘Domaine du la Romani-Contée—was a bit suspect.  Considering that 1945 was not the same volume-vintage in Burgundy as it was in Bordeaux, a pro might also realize that the chance of an estate like DRC, whose .750s from that year sell for considerably more than $100,000, having actually bottled any magnums is slim to none—roughly the same odds as getting a fair trial in a Cuban detention facility.

Maureen Downey

Maureen Downey

So, before I trotter out any personal accusations, I will consult my buddy Maureen Downey, whose political upchucks make me upchuck, but whose expertise in spotting counterfeit wine is unparalleled.

My question is basic, Mo baby:

Did the Michelin three-star chef, 2013 Culinary Hall of Fame®  inductee, author of 14 cookbooks and the TV host of the nationally aired PBS cooking series The Kitchen Sessions with Charlie Trotter recognize immediately that he was getting hoodwinked on his hootch?  Or, was this just a mistake that quite a few collectors and restaurant owners have made?

Suppertime at Gitmo

Suppertime at Gitmo

As a 2013 inductee to the Crunk-Crazed Critics of Craft-Free Creativity Hall of Fame®, I like to think that the last scenario makes more sense.  See, as you may have noticed, I am not the world’s biggest fan of Chef Chuck, who by all accounts is a slave-driving, loudmouthed, narcissistic hosebanger possessing far less talent than his drooling sycophants would have you believe.  Therefore, I would much rather think of him not as a supremely diabolical mastermind in the counterfeit underworld, but as a dumb shit.

And I do think precisely that:  Otherwise, why—when preparing then-President George W. Bush Bahía de Guantánamo Mohammed al-Qahtani Appendix with Waterboard Cress Curd, Gitmo Iguana Semen, Rapefruit, Better-Red-Than-Dead Curry, Detainee 063 Testicles and Toasted Tobacco Leaves in Detainee 635 Menstrual Blood-Orange Sorbet—he didn’t realize that, here in the States, Cuban tobacco is illegal?

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French To Take Some Canned Heat at Vinexpo 2013

I’m going, I’m going,

Where the water tastes like wine;

We can jump in the water,

Stay drunk all the time.

– ‘Going Up The Country’; Canned Heat, 1968

Next week at Vinexpo in Bordeaux, Winestar will introduce a line of canned wine from Le Château de l’Ille in the AOC Corbières.  Quoting directly from ‘L.A. Times: Daily Dish—The Inside Scoop on Food in Los Angeles’:

‘Will Winestar’s single-serving cans create a riot in the hallowed halls of the international wine and spirits fair?  Maybe not.

The Paris-based company isn’t dealing in the generic swill those adorable single-serving bottles typically hold.’

L.: Irene Virbila R.: Marcus Gavius Apicius

L.: Irene Virbila
R.: Marcus Gavius Apicius


The piece was written by columnist Irene Virbila, who is not only the most physically repulsive food writer since Marcus Gavius ‘The Hounds Chewed My Nose Off’ Apicius in 1 AD, but a complete and utter hosbian hagatha to boot—so mean-spirited that restrauteurs like Noah Ellis of the recently opened Red Medicine in Beverly Hills, refuse to serve her.

Wilfred Wong

Wilfred Wong

I would assume that Francis Ford and Sofia Coppola—who I wrote about earlier this week—agree with this overall assessment of assinity, and I’m sure that Barokes Wines of Australia does. The latter trademarked Vinsafe™, a system which allows premium wine to be canned with stability, although it is still Not Vinsafe™ For Work: Barokes’ canned Cabernet Shiraz Merlot (Bin 121) took a platinum medal at last year’s Consumer Wine Awards in Lodi, CA, while Coppola’s canned, sparkling Sofia Blanc de Blancs received 90 points from Wilfred Wong who is always right—despite being always wong.

TotoIf old butterface scuffin-muffin, brains-of-a-puffin believes these wines are ‘generic swill’, she’s stuck a fork in her already questionably credibootie once and for all.

Begone, Virbilious, and your little dog, too.  Oh, that’s Russ Parsons?

Winestar Creator Cédric Segal Insists that Canned Wine is ‘Classy’…

That may be the case, Céd, but you know which other creators think their creations are classy?

Frank Stallone and Carrot Top

Frank Stallone and Carrot Top

Jackie Stallone, Dina Lohan and Lynne Spears.

The difference?  A twenty-four-pack of Winestar cost $78, and you could probably book Frank Stallone for half that.

Segal’s professed goal is to target young people who have stopped taking wine on picnics, or when they travel or during marathon bath salts sessions, claiming that he wants a a product that ‘gets away from the bad reputation of boxed wine’—although, ironically, bag-in-the-boxes like R. Müller Riesling and Pepperwood Grove Old Vine Zinfandel are far further along the ‘classy’ trail than tinned, low-alcohol Aventura Strawberry MoscatoSpirit Airlines spiritless spirit specialty.

Another irony?  Cédric would like his Winestar cans to become the Nespresso of Wine, saying, “What Nespresso did for the coffee market with single servings of high-quality coffee, we want to achieve for the wine market.”

Clipboard pukeI say ‘ironic’ because Nespresso—pre-apportioned, single-use capsules containing ground coffee and flavorings and requiring a product-specific, two hundred dollar Nespresso machine—has been around since 1976; it languished for years and years on the ‘who gives a shite’ marketing back-burner: Not my first choice for a business model.   That said, Nespresso is a good—even great product—especially for the novice caffeine addict without a bourgeois background in baristology, because it is very hard to screw up a homemade espresso if you follow Nesdirections.  But to me, the name draws to mind (and alas, palate) that genuinely awful coffee powder Nescafé, precursor to nearly-as-awful freeze-dried coffee ‘crystals’.

And indeed, both Nespresso and Nescafé are sons of the same father, the Nestlé Group of Lausanne, Switzerland.

But, that’s neither here nor there nor Tiananmen Square; it will all come down on June 16 – 30 in Booth KL41 at Vinexpo, where Cédric will set up shop to extol the virtues of plastic-lined aluminium (as the Canucks say) wine cans:

“We worked with Ball Packaging—among the world’s leaders in the manufacture of sealed packaging—to develop a can liner designed specifically for wine, impervious to oxygen or light. It preserves its quality without altering the taste and without oxidation’.

bpaIt is not clear how conventional, sealed, un-linered cans are pervious to oxygen and/or light, nor does it suggest how Winestar liners differ from the standard coating that nearly all aluminum cans already require in order to prevent the acids in low pH products (like wine) from degrading the metal.  But, more to the point, he will likely not discuss Bisphenol A, a plastic can liner additive that doubles as an endocrine disruptor which numerous studies have found to have negative health effects on humans; particularly, pregnant female humans.

But, That’s Neither Here Nor There Nor Intensive Care… 

Of course, if you do manage to get a Winestar rep to discuss BPA, monsieur or madame will no doubt insist that the FDA has not established a significant health risk of Bisphenol A through exposure from aluminum cans.

To which you will reply:

monsantomilkman3Really!?  The same FDA who approved Monsanto’s genetically engineered cattle drug rBGH, which failed to gain approval in either Europe or Canada despite intense lobbying?

“The same FDA who an insider, in a White House ‘certified’ letter to President Obama, claims is riddled with politics, conflicts of interest and outright corruption, and is, as the letter says, ‘fundamentally broken’?

“The same FDA who now employs Michael R. Taylor as  Senior Advisor to the Commissioner who is the same Michael R. Taylor who was a Monsanto lawyer prior to becoming a Monsanto VP, and who wrote the FDA’s rBGH labeling guidelines?”

If that doesn’t doesn’t quell the quips and quotes, let me know—I’ll have the Vinexpo sound engineer cue the canned laughter.

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No Honor-Roll Among Thieves: Balmy & Clod Rob Château d’Yquem

Granted, when Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker began their cigar-chompin’ shitstorm in 1932, the dessert wine industry had not really taken hold in the Midwest.  So, they are to be forgiven for targeting banks and gas stations rather than hundred-point châteaux on the Garonne, which, in all fairness, would have been five thousand miles away from their comfort zone.

d'Yquem in d'Autumn

d’Yquem in d’Autumn

These days, however, our globe has shrunk.  Distance is less of a concern to such theatrical thieves and thick-headed thugs.  And so, when person or persons unknown broke into the warehouse of Château d’Yquem last Sunday and stole 380 bottles of prestigious, overpriced wine, it is quite possible that the crooks shared some DNA with the notorious Texas lovebirds.

Why would I suggest such a far-fetched theory?  Because, like the cretinous couple who terrorized law enforcement during the Great Depression, whoever ganked Graves’ grapey goodies were, apparently, not the sharpest shivs in the rucksack.

Luckless Lucksters

Top: Toilet paper Bottom: Stuffed possum

Top: Toilet paper
Bottom: Stuffed possum

Let’s first take a respectful glance at the inbred, dyed-in-wool, redneck stupidity of Bonnie ‘There’s Page Numbers On Our Toilet Paper’ Parker and Clyde ‘We Own Five Stuffed Possums’ Barrow:

  • In 1933, police still relied on sketches to track down public enemies.  No need in this case, as B&C left a bunch of photographs of themselves in an abandoned Missouri hide-out—including the famous one of Bonnie smoking a stogie.
  • On January 6, 1933, the Barrow gang wandered into a trap that had been set for another criminal.  They only escaped after blowing away the deputy sheriff, turning a charge of car theft into one of capital murder.
  • bonnie with cigarOn April 15 of that same year, Barrow accidentally fired his Browning Automatic while cleaning it, alerting police, who sent a five-man team to apprehend them.  With more experience in shoot-outs than the cops, Clyde killed two of them, and the gang escaped—leaving behind a camera filled with updated photos.
  • Bonnie_Clyde_CarOn June 10, 1933, Barrow ignored a ‘bridge out’ sign and flipped the gang’s getaway car into a ravine where it burst into flames, causing such severe burns to old ‘Flake ‘n’ Bake’ Bonnie’s left leg that she hopped or was carried until the day she died.
  • Speaking of the day she died (May 23, 1934),  even knowing that they were the subject of a national manhunt, they drove around in broad daylight and directly to the location where the posse suspected they’d be heading: A family reunion in Bienville Parish, Louisiana.  Bonnie was shot twenty-six times; Clyde, seventeen.

Now, Compare and Contrast…

On June 10, 2013, thieves broke into the fabled Premier Cru Supérieur Château d’Yquem, having forgotten to disable the alarm system.  The Police Municipale were alerted immediately, and claim that the nectar noobs only escaped by seconds—and with a lot less loot than you assume they wanted considering that they only wound up with 32 cases of half-bottles: Pretty piss-poor pickings with 65,000 bottles (5417 cases) having been produced.

That’s right, they stole 380 half-bottles; .375 ml. per.

Not being a seasoned criminal, but yet possessed of a criminal mindset, I would imagine that were I to break into the only Superior First Growth white wine estate in Bordeaux, my ‘going-in’ plan would be to steal full bottles (right after I ripped the Groupe Spécial Mobile out of main alarm panel), just as, if I was robbing a bank, I would take the twenties, fifties and hundreds before I took the ones and fives.  Likewise, if I burglarized Home Depot I’d go for the Hilti SID 18-volt Impact Drivers before the drywall screws.  At Payless ShoesSalvatore Ferragamo python-skin loafers first, shoe horns second.

d'yquem labelAnd, thinking out loud, I would probably have gone for a better vintage too.  Figure that 2010 was an average-to-good harvest, but nothing to write home about. And whereas these bottles of wine may sell for around $170 (according to, had the vino villains opted to yoink full .750s from 2009, they’d have had bottles worth in excess of $900 each.  Total take, therefore, was around $65 k when it could have been nearly half a million.

Well, there is book smart and street smart, but apparently there is also Sauternes smart, and Bon Nuit & Claude were, evidently, not the ripest grapes in the harvest basket.  The only way these French felons will not be popped is if the entire gendarmerie turns out to be cut from Inspector Clouseau cloth.

In which case, they are probably discussing the jack over a half-bottle of black market 2010 d’Yquem as we speak.  Potentially leading to the following hilarity:

113840284_Herbert_L_340401b“Chief Inspector Dreyfus, please hand me ze win key.”

“Winkey??  Clouseau, you just said winkey!!”

“Yes, to open ze bottle of win, s’il vous plaît?  Ze Le Creuset win key.”

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