Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Boom times for wine media! Now if only we have something to say

In many ways, wine writing is better now than ever. There are fewer paid newspaper columns than 20 years ago, and for writers that's a bad thing, but most of those columns were myopic like a blind man touching an elephant: look, I discovered Port! Hey, Sauvignon Blanc exists and New Zealand makes it, here's one I tried!

Writing on the Internet is better because it has to be. You don't need to know what your local wine importer/part-time columnist thinks about Spanish red wines because you can quickly search for the opinions of an expert, a passionate newcomer, a local, a blogger who got a press trip ... whatever. You, the reader, have options.

But we writers went through a bad period of nearly a decade where we haven't had many options, not if we wanted to get paid. In the past week, though, I have learned of THREE new publications about wine scheduled for the next year. Three! In a week! It's like a lawyer learning a busload of tourists just got rammed by a drunk truck driver outside his office. Surely there's more work to be had!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Overwhelmed by wine education; I just want to drink wine

This is the way I like to learn about wine
Recently I attended an "educational" tasting of single-vineyard Barolo and Barbarescos. It left me feeling overwhelmed. Perhaps I experienced again what beginning wine drinkers face.

I went because I think I like Barolo and Barbaresco, and I wanted to taste some good Barolos and Barbarescos. I really am that simple.

As we know, wine is not that simple. It turns out that Barolos are not only different by which part of the Barolo region they come from: they're different depending on which part of the vineyard they come from. This wine tastes like this because it comes from a south-facing part of the vineyard on clay, whereas that one is from an elevated part of the same vineyard on sandy soil.

I despair. How can I keep track? I left that seminar feeling less confident in my ability to order a Barolo I like than before I got educated.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Why vineyards and other farms hire illegal immigrants

Last week I covered a Napa Valley Grapegrowers conference and wrote a news story about one of the topics covered: whether or not the county's wineries should consider marketing their above-average treatment of immigrant farmworkers.

Naturally, some readers took offense. You can't write about anything remotely political in this country without people taking offense. Commenters also made assumptions about my personal beliefs on immigration that aren't true, but some people aren't good readers.

I have always been very pro-immigration. I am not, however, a supporter of illegal immigration. I have been a legal immigrant myself in other countries. My wife is a legal immigrant here. For years it has bothered me that large news organizations in this country don't pay attention to the concerns of legal immigrants while writing sob stories about illegal immigrants who "made one mistake." I have pestered newspaper immigration reporters to pay more attention to legal immigration, and been ignored. There's a huge backup right now on processing green-card applications, and legal immigrants are worried, but nobody's writing about it.

However ...

The way the messed-up immigration system in this country works right now, it's impossible for farmers to keep feeding the nation without labor from illegal immigrants.

Monday, March 6, 2017

How I didn't get sued (yet): the bitter tale of ArKay alcohol-free whiskey

Update: I got a threatening email and Facebook post after writing this post. I'll post them below.

On Saturday I got a strange post on The Gray Report Facebook page announcing, "ArKay Beverages Ltd sues The Huffington Post, CultMoo and Amazon for deceptive advertising and unfair competition."

The company paid for a press release the day before but apparently nobody noticed; hence the Facebook nudge. ArKay makes alcohol-free imitation booze. I reviewed ArKay's certified Halal whisky-flavored drink in 2012, publishing my post just one day before the Huffington Post. The Huffington Post got sued* and I didn't.

* More accurately, the Huffington Post was announced as a lawsuit target and I wasn't. While the press release claims, "ArKay Beverages Ltd Grand Caymans Cayman Islands is filing a law suit against Huffington Post, CultMoo and Amazon and is seeking hundred on millions of dollars [sic] in damages," it doesn't say in what court the suit will be filed.

I hope that this suit is filed in a U.S. court because any good First Amendment lawyer will squash it like a bug. But you never know: Maybe ArKay will file in the Cayman Islands, where Amazon at least probably does business. I don't know about Cayman Islands' laws but it would be a shame if I could never again go scuba diving there.
But of course, as of right now I'm not one of ArKay's targets.

I spent part of my weekend following this weird story, even though there is some risk in writing this post because as I told one of the proprietors of Cultmoo by email, "it sucks to get sued." I suppose this is a relatively benign preview of the chilling effect our new administration would like to give journalists. So here's what I know.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The best 9, er, 4 current-release Tuscan white wines from San Gimignano

Random street, San Gimignano
It's tough to be a white wine in Tuscany. Red wines are king in this part of northern Italy, and no wonder, as Tuscany is home to the world's best Sangiovese. Unfortunately, the region's main white grape is nearly flavorless Trebbiano, which is why you don't see any Tuscan white wines on wine lists that are packed with the region's best reds, Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino.

One small pocket of Tuscany specializes in white wine: the beautiful walled medieval town of San Gimignano and its environs, where they grow Vernaccia.

Vernaccia was mentioned as a quality grape as far back as the year 1276, and the San Gimignano region was awarded Italy's first DOC, in 1966. Nobody doubts that Vernaccia di San Gimignano is the best white wine from Tuscany. But it does not achieve the greatness of the best Tuscan reds. Fortunately, it doesn't achieve the same prices either.

And greatness, in a white wine, is a mixed blessing. I don't know about you, but I can't drink two full glasses of some top-rated white wines from certain wine critics. What I'm looking for in a white wine is a tasty wine that goes well with dinner. I get the wine critics' dilemma, though, because if you say a wine's not awesome, who cares what you write about it?

So let's just say that the best 9 Vernaccias di San Gimignano are awesome enough. I picked them out of a blind tasting of all the region's current-release bottlings. Unfortunately they were so current when I tasted them that only one is in the US yet. And I had a bigger problem for blogging: 5 of the 9 wines I liked don't appear to be in the US at all. What to do?

Here are the 9, no, sorry, 4, best current releases of Vernaccia di San Gimignano.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Tasting the world's rarest wine grape

Is the sun setting on Roussin de Morgex?
I hate this kind of wine story: I tasted something so rare that you can't have it. But in this case, it's not because the wine is super-expensive or highly rated or even sought after at all.

I tasted wine made from a northern Italian grape that is even more rare than a grape called "almost extinct" in José Vouillamoz's definitive tome Wine Grapes. Ian D'Agata, author of Native Wine Grapes of Italy, said, "This wine didn't exist. It still doesn't exist." But we tasted it.

The grape is called Roussin de Morgex. It's not actually related to the nearly extinct grape Roussin, which is cultivated in just one vineyard in Valle d'Aosta. That is one more vineyard than Roussin de Morgex, which is from the same region but is not cultivated at all.

"Not cultivated and extinct are not the same thing," D'Agata told me by email.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

US made much more whiskey last year, but bartenders still recommend the biggest brands

Bartenders' most recommended spirit
Here are two unrelated bits of whiskey news, one surprising and one kind of depressing.

First, the TTB, the federal agency that oversees alcohol, released its 2016 statistics last week. A number that jumped out at me is the amount of whiskey produced in the U.S.: 166 million gallons, compared to 147.9 million gallons last year, a 12% increase.

To give you an idea of how huge an 18.1 million gallon increase is, last year the U.S. produced only 6.6 million gallons of vodka, gin and rum combined.

Now, that's production and not bottling, which means most of this whiskey is not going to be on the market soon. In fact, the amount of whiskey bottled last year went down slightly from 2015, and was less than half of the amount of whiskey produced. This is good news; hopefully that huge new batch of 2016 whiskey will spend some years in barrels.