Schloss Leader: A Business Strategy?

Wolfsburg_VW-WerkHaving worked in Wolfsburg for a number of years, I can tell you that whereas I respect the technological traditions and cultural chutzpah of Germany—which, incidentally, was cool enough to name a major city after me—there is still a certain undead spirit of annoying superiority hovering over the people.

So annoying, in fact, that I frequently had to remind know-it-all engineers at Volkswagen where we stood in terms of the score:

Two to nothing.

Schloss Sauce Bears a Cross

Rheingau vineyards

Rheingau vineyards

As much as I joke about the Aryan race, though, I do take their wine seriously.  The lengths that this frosty fraternity of frenetic Franks has gone to grow grapes amid the Rhine Valley’s shivery shale is astounding.  And they’ve been improving it for millennia, to the point where it is often (and erroneously) said that Germans make only one kind of wine, but they do it better than anyone else.

For sure, they do riesling better than anybody else, and considering that they make two-thirds of the world’s supply, they should.  I might entertain argument from people who do not have German metropoli named after them who are fans of riesling from Alsace, but I’d counter it by saying that Alsace is, in fact, part of Germany depending on which way the wind is blowing.

Australia’s Grosset, Finger Lakes’ Hermann J Wiemer Vineyards, the Wachau’s F. X. Pichler and of course, my Northern Michigan buddies produce some class product, no question.  But, alas, not really in the same league as Rheingau’s Robert Weil or Nahe’s Doennhoff.

So whenever a German winemaker finds that the egg in the fining is now on his face, it is a sad day in Vintopia—especially when it is a hallowed estate like Schloss Schönborn, which has been making wine since 1349.

Last year, the German equivalent of the BATF discovered a couple of problems with Schönborn product—namely, a suspicious alcohol level in the Rheingau estate wines (potentially from illegal must concentrations; cryo-extraction, in other words) and a blend of reds from different regions, known under Verband Deutscher Prädikats (VDP) law as Übergebietlicher Verschnitt.

Both are verboten.

Tabula Rasa

Peter Barth, pre-exile

Peter Barth, pre-exile

The Germans have refined their methodology for dealing with those who would upset the grape cart, but shamed former Director of Wine Peter Barth learned that if you work for the SS, whether it is the Schutzstaffel or Schloss Schönborn, you need to keep your nose very, very clean.  ‘Tabula Rasa’ does not mean ‘Master Race’, but it does mean ‘blank slate’ and has nothing to do with the legendary blue-gray soils of the region.  It has to do with the purge of personnel that followed the revelations.

Protecting nearly seven centuries of reputation, the Count of Schönborn dumped 20,000 unsold bottles, offered to buy back every potentially ‘manipulated’ wine and exiled Barth—who had won the Garth Millau ‘Wine Director of The Year’ award in 2009—to Bad Dürkheim, where he now Cellar Master at Fitz-Ritter.

Rockin’ Röll

Another German tradition that has not yet caught on in the United States is the sort of unwritten rule that a new hire never bad mouth the reputation of his predecessor, unless you happen to the POTUS.  Schönborn’s new wine director Steffen Röll was immediately on a röll, hatin’ on Barth with his head-shaking and tsk tsking:  “What he did was absolutely not okay and I still can’t understand what his motive was…”

'I've got my eye on you, Röll.'

‘I’ve got my eye on you, Röll.’

I suspect that Röll knows exactly what Barth’s motive was, and will make very sure not to fall into the same temptation lest he find himself in a work cellar on the Eastern Front.

Meanwhile, I will continue to monitor the situation of these dirty rascals from my position on high as King of the Kassel.

Posted in GERMANY | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

And What Is So Rare As A Red Alsace?


‘And what is so rare as a red Alsace?

Then, if ever, come redolent ripe

Pinot noir from clay and loess.

Too little is made for media hype.

Whether we slurp, or whether we guzzle,

It’s Rouge d’Ottrott we pour down our muzzle.’

– Apologies to James Russell Lowell


'Which way to Strasbourg?'

‘Which way to Strasbourg?’

Demographically, Alsace is about 90% white, with the rest of the population made up primarily of immigrants from the Maghreb and Turkey.  Vinographically, it’s about 90% white, too, with the rest of the portfolio being made up primarily of light, lyrical, lazy-day and somewhat anemic rosés made from pinot noir.

And then there is Ottrott.  A tiny commune in the department of Bas-Rhin, about twenty miles southwest of Strasbourg, two things about it stand out as remarkable: First, its population is the same in 2013 as it was in 1813, and second, it is among the only spots in Alsace that produces red wine that is not pink wine.

View from Mont Sainte Odile Ottrott

View from Mont Sainte Odile Ottrott

Now, one of the first rules a budding vinographer learns about pinot noir is that the color does not necessarily reflect the intensity of the wine.  The next lesson a fledgling francophile learns about pinot noir is that a lot of the times, the color is a pretty good indicator of the intensity of the wine.  For the most part, Alsace’s pinot noir are overly-extracted or under-ripe, occasionally thin and sometimes gamey, and despite having begun the push the development of serious red wine in the 1980s, the region has not reliably kept pace with Germany’s spätburgunder reformation.

And then there is Ottrott.   The deep red, très rare wine of the commune is grown on about 85 acres of vineyards and dates to the Middle Ages.  Around 1109, the Benedictines of Cluny came to town bringing soil and pinot noir seedlings in barrels and planted them on the walled and terraced slopes of Mont Sainte Odile Ottrott.  The red wine d’Ottrott was mentioned many times throughout antiquity, by Popes (Alexander IV) and Emperors (Karl Friedrich) alike; always with praise of the highest order.

bottleWe lesser mortals would be praising it to the highest order too, especially if we could order it in order to praise it.  But we can’t—the Alsacanese keep it for themselves or flog it to fellow Frenchmen.  I lucked into a bottle of Klipfel 2011, and underwent the surprise and delight so coveted by corporate marketing mokes—the wine was full-on ruby red and rich with raspberry and cherry flavors; lightly herbaceous on the nose, but not offensively so.  Nothing to compete with a Côte d’Nuit, of course, but well within the range of a pinot noir that Alsace could proudly parade.

And that’s as rare as a day in June in the middle of August.

Posted in Alsace, FRANCE, Klipfel | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

TAZ Pizzazz and Associated Razzamatazz

Considering that their current vintage is 2010, I figure that TAZ had a brain spaz and sent me a review bottle of 2004 pinot gris by mistake.  If so, I’m glad they did: The Taz bin was anything but a has been.

Miles and St. Babs

Miles and St. Babs

In fact, it almost made up for ‘Sideways’.

I know, I know; I was supposed to hyperventilate over that flick because it was about wine geeks, but I have a stubborn streak and I tend to not like stuff I’m supposed to like.  As you may (or may not) recall, the film was about two men much, much older than moi taking a last-hurrah wine tour of Santa Barbara—Taz country, and home to this nicely burnished, slightly smoky, age-softened pinot gris.

Ba Ba Ba, Ba Barbara Wine…

Chert alert

Chert alert

The first thing that you notice about Santa Barbara County AVA is that it is, in fact, sideways.  By which I mean that the big valleys run east /west due to the transverse orientation of the coastal Santa Ynez Mountain range and the interior San Rafael range.  In part, this allows for a remarkable diversity of microclimates dominated by a variety of soils including beach sand, limestone, powdery silica and something called ‘chert’—which doesn’t hurt.  Petrologists describe chert as  cryptocrystalline, microfibrous quartz which often contains fossils, and as a component of vine soil, chert is off the chart.

This mixed bag of dirt, exposure and elevation nurtures a hundred wineries—many small and rustic, others managed by some of the state’s largest producers—who take advantage of the proximity to the ocean and nightly drop of forty degrees, making Burgundy varietals the predominant grapes grown.  Chardonnay accounts for the lion’s share, with 7000 + acres and pinot noir, about half that.  According to the 2012 California Grape Acreage Report, Santa Barbara has a scant 50 acres planted to pinot gris, ten times less than merlot, which would curdle poor Miles’ fictitious blood.

Taz, St. Babs and All that Nickname Jazz

Bob Steinhauer

Bob Steinhauer

Good thing that Bob ‘Taz’ Steinhauer didn’t show a penchant for kissing female skunks or his wine might be called ‘Le Pew’.  Instead, his frenetic energy reminded friends of that other Chuck Jones anthropomorphic, the Tasmanian Devil.   In Napa, he forged a reputation as a dedicated and tireless grower casting a constant dragnet for quality—quality he was ultimately convinced could be found in Santa Barbara County.  For his pinot gris, he found conditions particularly favorable in the Cat Canyon Annex Vineyard in the Los Alamos region, which has not yet achieved AVA status.  2002, his first pinot gris release under the TAZ label, met with considerable critical success, being variously described as ‘fine textured and mouth-filling’, ‘firm and lush’ and ‘more lively and fruity than any bare-boned Pinot Gris from Oregon’.

Pretty hefty praise for wine from vines only a few years old.

Two years later, Taz vinified under a set of vintage conditions that Californian’s still remember: A warm spring and mild summer was followed by a late and significant heat wave that led to one of the earliest harvests in state history.  Yields were light, but most Southern California wineries reported a crush of excellent quality and Jeff Lyon of E. & J. Gallo maintained, ‘We are anticipating some memorable wines…’

I guess 'Pinot Lehigh Valley Cornell Red' was too long.

I guess ‘Pinot Lehigh Valley Cornell Red’ was too long.

Other reviews pointed out that Taz was shooting for a ‘European-style’ wine with his 2002 pinot gris, and I see no reason to suppose that 2004 took any rakehell turns in his concepts.  By European-style, they no doubt meant Alsace, where pinot gris (formerly known as Tokay d’Alsace) reaches heights of splendor not seen elsewhere.  It’s prone to rot, and so, in France, performs best in Grands Crus Pfingstberg (Orschwihr) and Gloeckelberg (Rodern).

One of the hallmarks of Alsace pinot gris, of course, is its ability to age with grace and develop complexity as it does.  So, the 2004 Taz Vineyards Pinot Gris that lightened my door was a great chance to see if Steinhauer was able to capture this essence—among the most vital—in this fascinating variety.

And to a great extent, he did.  The big floral and fruit of younger pinot gris, especially the unmistakable notes of ripe melon and pear, had faded, but this allowed a richer, more enigmatic wash of pepper, arugula and slightly browned apple to emerge.  The butterscotch from the oak, in which about half the wine was fermented, was prominent, and the citrus remained intact, although much of the acid was AWOL.

high noteWhere by hook, crook or some schnook in shipping/receiving, I was delighted to have the chance to see what Taz pinot gris could offer after they’d been around the block a few times.  Eleven year old whites from Santa Barbara are not easy to come by; if this keeps up, I may find myself with a Chuck Jones nickname myself:  High Note, from the 1960 Warner Brothers animated short.

Posted in CALIFORNIA, Central Valley | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

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:

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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.

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