Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Novus Ordo

Your Faithful Correspondent is back after a prolonged absence to regroup and reinvent. The new wave around here is independence, traveling light, destocking (not sure I really like that word though).

To destock in advance, there is no wine store in my immediate future, thus no stock to acquire and manage. But I still have a large inventory of words on hand and they need to be (re)capitalized. Having discovered some ability to write coherently in English, I have revived an idea and become a freelance translator. Since I like to solve puzzles, especially ones that I must dive very deeply into, it is very satisfying to analyze a sentence and surface victorious at the end.

So far, I am a generalist. My fields of specialist knowledge have not been called upon much, but I have enjoyed the variety of topics to translate. They have ranged from yoga (available now on an iPhone app near you) to coffins, grape-growing to philosophy. Nothing about food, my usual topic here, but cocktails (proofreading another app) did come up.

More soon. Really.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Future Of Service?

My friends,

Are you tired of human interaction?  Do you want to avoid talking to a waiter when you get a drink?  Then what you need is a wine dispenser in your local tavern or restaurant.  Just swipe your "prepaid, debit-style, smart card" and this beauty will fill your glass with your choice of, well, whatever is in the machine.

This remarkable apparatus was designed to "maximize portions and profits per bottle."  Any right-thinking publican will see how eliminating those mis-pouring employees can only help the bottom line, and after all, isn't that what their loyal customers are looking to do too? They're already used to getting money out of the wall. They have the opportunity to scan and pack their own groceries. Why should they want to be waited on?  If those waiters want to make a living, they should retrain as vending machine technicians.

The manufacturer claims to have "revolutionized the wine industry by bringing wine hospitality to the next level and to new and unexpected business environments."  I now expect to see a wine dispenser at the laundromat, next to the miniature boxes of soap.  In fact, I'm really looking forward to it.  Laundry day will be so much more pleasant.

I assume that humans or trained monkeys are still needed to open and install new bottles in the dispenser at this point.  Maybe that job will be done automatically by Wine Dispenser Mark II, which will also clean the empty glass after the monkey snatches it from your hand and shows you the door.

On the other hand, if you believe that a social environment with the enjoyment of wine and food is by humans, for humans, this is going in the wrong direction.  Nothing says hospitality like self-service, or maybe self-service says "nothing like hospitality."

Monday, February 9, 2009

Snark and Run

I was so annoyed by this article saying that wine is an unnecessary luxury that I had to object strenuously. Luxury, my eye. When the economy is weak, we need to watch more carefully for value, not just give up.

However, I must apologize for maligning the Puritans. With further research, I found that that their objection was to drunkenness rather than to drink, and indeed
there was more beer than water loaded aboard the Mayflower.

Any further insults will be reserved for prohibitionists, separatists and the self-righteous.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Identity Question

Is it what it says? This is not a Clintonian fudge. My question is: Is this wine what it claims to be? Here are a couple of wines that, shall we say, did not represent themselves accurately.

The Princess, our friend and I took a junket to a winery that shall remain nameless. It has a spectacular setting high in the mountains, with an elaborate and fantastical villa that must have cost a great deal of money (this point is important). The other guests on this open tasting day were living the high life, with the type of beautiful view that Mad King Ludwig would have enjoyed if he were in California rather than Bavaria. I expected some of them to break out cigars as they sat on the patio, but we were spared that.

Too bad the wine did not live up to the surroundings. The various Pinot noirs, this winery's alleged specialty, were unfocused and showed no prospect of developing into anything interesting, nor of tasting like Pinot. The Cabernet sauvignon was uninspiring. Their Merlot was tasty, with enough stuffing to show it would be even better in 3-5 years. It was worth buying at 40% off, so we did so.

One worthwhile wine out of three seems to be about average these days. So is Pinot noir with no finesse or delicacy. The thing that really bugged us was the $40-50 price range on these wines. They were not worth the money to any of our party. The only possible explanation for the pricing, we felt, is the need to pay off the villa quickly. This may be a valid pricing strategy, as long as your customers are not aware of what else they could get for the money. That is ... unlikely. I have expectations of a $40 wine, and nothing we tasted here met them.

Now for the next impostor:

A well-established restaurant boasting a Wine Spec award-winning list should be a safe bet for a good glass of wine. The food was good enough, the wine list broad enough in California if not other regions.

Tonight we were didn't want a whole bottle due to the long drive home. So we looked over the token by-the-glass list. Are we not worth looking out for unless we buy a whole bottle? Apparently not.

I decided to try a Pinot since it would match our dinner best. Color: opaque and thick, not typical for Pinot. Taste ... well, it's wine of some sort. Our kind waitress goes back to the bar and verifies that, yes, the bottle is labeled "Pinot noir".

Maybe this bottle has been open too long? Our
very kind waitress brings a glass from a fresh bottle. It tastes the same. Feh. I give up and get a Louis Martini Cabernet, which is basic but tastes like Cabernet.

Back home, I research the Pinot and find it has 20% Syrah. No wonder it doesn't taste like Pinot! This is not a case of blending to achieve more complex flavors - this is blending to achieve nothingness.

Castle Rock Winery, I will avoid your wines from now on. And Unnamed Restaurant in Carmel, you should be ashamed of yourselves for trumpeting an award-winning bottle list while foisting off a mediocre glass list on us. That's disrespect to your customers.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

La Vierge de Bordeaux

We were in the mood for lamb chops and suitable accompaniments. Our usual Saratoga chops; asparagus, with aïoli of course. I doctored a bag of Trader Joe's insta-lentils with some sautéed onions, roasted red peppers, garlic, olive oil and fresh thyme. It was time to break out some Bordeaux.

The Princess was intrigued by the idea, having not yet been exposed to a really fine Bordeaux. I explained the Classed Growth system: in 1855 the wine brokers of France, at the request of Napoléon III, made a ranking of Bordeaux wines based on their price and reputation at the time. Although there have been many changes in vineyard ownership and actual quality since then, the assignments of properties into "first-growth" through "fifth-growth" have pretty much been set in stone.

The cellar held a 1997 Château Langoa-Barton (third growth), so we would have the double treat of something non-California (varietas vincit omnia) and some maturity, accelerated by being in half-bottle. I decanted and found a bit of fine sediment, and in the glass saw the slightest browning at the edge. This promised a different experience.

Now for the nose: wow.

Profound. (pause here for several minutes nose-in-glass as dinner cools dangerously)

Roasted meats, blackberries, smoke, black peppercorns and more spectres of umami swirled in our heads. When we finally tasted, the balance was perfect, everything in its place. I have paid more attention lately to balance and alcohol, and believe the modest 12.5% is helpful. A half bottle of this was really not enough. I never wanted to see it end.

The Princess pronounced it "intoxicating, earthy, rustic" and noted that fruitiness was not really in the picture, compared to our typical New World wines. She admitted that she "would like to try another Bordeaux sometime - maybe a second growth?"

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Not quite around the corner

We arrived for dinner around 20.30, when only tourists are eating in Buenos Aires. The restaurant was almost deserted; another party of two (yes, tourists) was a few tables away. As it filled up, the service never slackened and the maître d' continued to dote on us as if we were the only table.

I don't recall what we ate or drank, except that it was delicious, but I will never forget the service. Example: My water glass was a little low, so I took the bottle of "con gas" from the service table. As I was about to pour, the maître d' flew across the room to pour it for me, apologizing profusely. Our waiter was only two seconds behind him and experienced his quiet wrath.

If only it were closer to home ...
Lola restaurant in Buenos Aires.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Poisson avec passion

We dined the other night at Passionfish in Pacific Grove, where they have a very civilized wine pricing policy. This lets us try more (and more interesting) wines without breaking the budget. For us, it is mandatory to start with the fried oyster and arugula salad. My dinner was scallops with tomato truffle butter and thyme risotto; the Princess had sea bass with tomato aïoli and niçoise style vegetables.

I ordered the wine because it was a rarity: Tokaji Furmint 2005 from Gróf Degenfeld. How often do you see a Tokaji, let alone a dry one? It was crisp and somewhat aromatic; we smelled peaches and apricots. Happily we had enough to take home.

Next day: I felt like having something truffly again, so I did pasta with truffle oil. No recipe, just feeling my way through it. Soaked some dried morels in a little warm water, sliced them, strained the soak water and added to the pasta water. Whole wheat penne, butter, black truffle oil, shavings of Parmesan. At the table, we decided the truffleness was lacking, so rather than getting up for more oil, we grated more cheese on top. That did the job - the extra salt amplified the flavors.

The remaining Furmint was ... yum.