Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Democrat or Republican? The politics of California wine country

Very few people in the wine business want to talk about politics. It's bad business, because they want to sell wine to both Republicans and Democrats.

I love to talk about politics, and I've been talking to people in California wine country for a long time. But I'm not about to bust anybody for conversations they may have thought were off the record. People could get fired if their name were to show up in a blog post supporting a candidate -- any candidate. I'm not Donald Trump; I don't wake up in the morning hoping to say, "You're fired."

So this post is about generalities, not specific people.


The wine industry cares more about immigration than most, and on the whole is very pro-immigration. The industry cares about environmental regulations, but there is no unified stance: plenty of people are disdainful of the government's ability to write sensible laws. Everybody would come together to fight more sin taxes on alcohol, but the powerful distribution arm of the wine industry likes red-tape regulations on distribution and sales, and so do some of the largest wineries because they realize it gives them an advantage.


The overwhelming majority of winemakers in California are Democrats. This makes sense, as they are scientists. Because of this, the media and to a lesser extent the public gets the sense that the California wine industry is strongly Democratic -- something Napa Valley Vintners would not like you to believe, as Republicans buy a lot of expensive Cabernet. In the media, we exalt winemakers, often too much (yes, me too.) Statistically, winemakers don't have that many votes, nor do they donate much money. Maybe the wine industry does lean Democratic, because California does in general, but it's not a landslide. Read on.


This is the most complicated and interesting category.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

How I order wine/How most people order wine

How I order wine:

First I try to determine how many bottles of wine we'll drink as a group. If it's just my wife and myself, it's either one bottle or wines by the glass. But in a group of four, it's probably at least two bottles, unless one of us is a teetotaller like the Republican Presidential ticket. In that case we just drink the Kool-Aid.

But seriously: when dining with most people, we get about one bottle per two diners. I don't think about ordering duplicate bottles unless it's a group of more than six.

I read the wine list and wait until the table has decided what food we're having. I ask for the sommelier. I wait 10 minutes. If it's any longer than that, I just order.

The sommelier arrives and says, "Do you have any questions about the wine list?" Every fucking time. Every single motherfucking time. But usually no, I don't have any questions about the wine list. I mean, I'd like to know what your markup is. Maybe what font it's printed in. Did you type it yourself or cut and paste? Maybe in sommelier school they tell them to open with that inane question. Am I missing something? Do lots of people have questions about the wine list? Like, "What was your inspiration for the Pinot Grigios on page 3?"

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Wine-pairing challenge: Chicago dogs

I don't usually like absurd food-wine pairing stories (what wine goes with ramen? what wine goes with Swedish fish?) but this actually happened this week: I was offered a wine-pairing challenge, and I accepted.

My friend Liz lives in Oakland near Berkeley. But she sides with the Berkeleyites: she doesn't have a TV. And naturally she's not from Berkeley; nobody is. She's a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, which means this is her best year ever.

Seriously, Cubs fans, who even needs television? Since its debut at the 1939 New York World's Fair, television has not shown the Cubs celebrating a championship. Bad TV! In fact, radio, which goes back to 1916, hasn't handled one either. The last Cubs title was announced, literally, by men climbing tall buildings holding signs.

But Liz wanted a TV this week because she wanted to watch the All-Star Game, with the National League fielding an all-Cubs infield. Rather than fly to San Diego, which she considered, or buy a set and hook it up to Dish Network, she opted for the cheaper alternative of coming to my house with a Chicago dog assembly kit she ordered from Vienna Beef in Chicago.

An ordinary hot dog is not a difficult wine pairing. It's sausage: wine goes with sausage. Mustard and onions, no problem. (Adults should not put ketchup on a hot dog.) Cheese and chili, fine. Sauerkraut -- I was recently in Alsace, we can work with that.

But a Chicago dog is a Level 5 Wine Pairing Catastrophe.

Monday, July 11, 2016

New Lewis-Clark Valley AVA in Idaho and Washington: A voyage of discovery

Frost-damaged vineyard in the middle of a wheat field under the big sky in Idaho's Lewis-Clark Valley
I had two invitations in late June. I could go to Italy to taste wines from a couple regions I really enjoy. Or I could go to northwest Idaho to visit a brand-new AVA and taste wines from just five wineries, none with any tradition.

Naturally I picked Idaho. Mi dispiace, Italia!

I have a fascination with Idaho wines. The climate and soils are, in many places, similar to Washington wine country: conducive to good grape growing. Global warming might reduce the frost risk, the biggest hazard in Idaho. There's little wine culture yet, but it's one of the most promising states for the future.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

10 questions to ask about any wine appellation

Last weekend I had an email from a longtime correspondent who asked, for unstated reasons of his own, what 10 important questions I would ask about any wine appellation, and what one question is unimportant.

My first response: now there's a blog post. Visiting appellations and trying to tell their stories is the second best part of writing about wine. (No. 1: drinking all the great wine.) But I had never codified exactly what I'm looking for. So here goes.

1. History

The key to the narrative in most good appellation stories.

2. Climate

Not only does it tell a significant part of the story, it's also an easy part of the story to retell. "Cool summer nights enable the grapes to retain their acidity," for example.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

"The Spirituality of Wine": a thoughtful, moving book

When Jesus performed his first miracle, he didn't multiply the loaves and fishes to feed 5000 hungry people. He didn't heal the sick or raise a man from the dead.

Jesus was at a wedding feast in Cana where the hosts ran out of wine. The guests must have been buzzed, as they'd consumed all the wine in the house already. Jesus could have just gone home and let the party break up. Instead, he transformed water into wine, and not just any old plonk, but excellent wine. "It was of such high quality that the sommelier responsible for wine at that that party commented to the groom about its quality -- completely astonished by it," writes Gisela H. Kreglinger, in her new book "The Spirituality of Wine."

Kreglinger returns repeatedly to the story of the feast of Cana in her thoughtful book, which I, an unbeliever, guzzled like a man thirsting for meaning. Kreglinger, a native of Germany's Franconia wine region, was raised in a family of vintners, holds a PhD in historical theology and taught Christian spirituality for four years. Her book weaves together many issues of the modern wine world, debates you will recognize, with the wisdom of the past.

I began reading it to learn more about wine in the Bible, but I ended up feeling inspired, thirsty for a glass of wine that represents a vintner's commitment to the land. (I slaked that with one of Grant Burge's single-vineyard Shirazes from Barossa Valley, proving that God does work in mysterious ways.)

What the miracle of Cana teaches us is the Bible's most important lesson about wine, yet one that too many American Christian sects have forgotten: wine is supposed to make us joyful. It is God's gift for our happiness. Kreglinger writes, "Wine is a gift from God and enhances our festive play before God. The accusation that Christians have no joy is a terrible one because joy should lie at the heart of the Christian life."

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Noncontroversial wine stories! (Unless you're Riedel)

Hey folks, would you give me a nickel? I promise I won't spend it on drugs.

I have written several columns for Wine Fix, a website for wine beginners. They're all outstanding examples of the dying use of words to say things (when am I going to learn to write a wine column in emoji?) And I get a nickel for every click.

Here are the links and some of the sentences you won't find when you read the columns:

A Crash Course in Dessert Wines

Whether you're trying to forcefeed a diabetic spouse you've tired of, or simply want a sweet ending to a meal, here's what you need to know!

How Many Types of Wine Glasses Do You Really Need?

Do you know how many pairs of eyeglasses I have? I know what you're thinking, punk, did he have six pairs of eyeglasses or only five. Well let me tell you I don't remember myself. But seeing as this is a 44 Magnum, the most powerful gun in the world ... oh, sorry, wrong movie. You know those Riedel people? Fun is made of them here. I also use the word "Poppycock."

Screwcaps vs. Corks: What's the Deal?

The first comment on this post is very flattering. Have you written anything nice on a blog post lately? No? Well you don't have to on this one, because it's already there.

11 Expensive Wine Myths Debunked

Now that I look at the title, are these expensive myths, or myths about expensive wines? Either makes sense. If I could get this column in front of wine beginners I'd be really happy, but again, it's all written in words so nobody in the year 2050 will be able to read it. Unhappy face.

Click on all 4 and I get 20 cents! Tell your friends! My auto insurance payment is due. Thanks!

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