Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Tasting the world's most expensive chocolate

The shocking thing about the world's most expensive chocolate bar is that, even at $260 for 5 ounces, the producer doesn't expect to make money.

Jerry Toth, co-founder of To'ak Chocolate, is a leftist do-gooder. It's weird for him to be peddling a $260 bar of chocolate, but maybe philosophically it's better that it almost certainly will not be profitable.

Yet per ounce, To'ak is more expensive than Harlan Estate or Screaming Eagle. 

I met Jerry at Dolores Park Cafe in my neighborhood in San Francisco. I'm spoiled: winemakers of wines much cheaper than Jerry's chocolate take me to expensive dinners all the time. Jerry didn't even spring for a coffee. But that was OK, I was there to taste and didn't want to screw up my palate.

Because I know what everybody reading this is thinking: How the fuck can a 5-ounce bar of chocolate be worth $260?

There are three ways to answer that.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

I've been drinking a box wine for a month!

I often tell everyday wine drinkers they should drink more box wine. For the last few weeks, I put my mouth where ... well, I put some box wine in it. A lot of box wine.

There are a number of great things about box wine:

* It's actually in a plastic pouch inside the box that deflates as you take wine from it, so the wine isn't exposed to oxygen. An open box of wine in your fridge might stay good for a month.

* A 3-liter box contains the equivalent of 4 bottles of wine, and is much cheaper per ounce.

* Glass is heavy, so shipping a box of wine from France takes less fuel and is better for the environment.

Box wine hasn't caught on in this country because a lot of indifferent wine is sold in boxes, and people blame the medium for the message. New York Times political columnist Gail Collins once published a book that called wine in a box one of the Ten Worst Ideas of the Millennium, a list that also included foot binding and trench warfare. This is the problem for box wine: ignorant know-it-alls.

The heavy wooden box of Ch√Ęteau Tassin Bordeaux blanc showed up at my door mysteriously, in a container with an unrelated bottle of red Bordeaux. I get a lot of unsolicited wine bottles but boxes are rare (confidential to trade: I don't want more!). This box, as you can see, is striking. I like Bordeaux white, it's one of the world's most underrated wine values. You wouldn't believe the backlog of untasted wine samples at my home. But even though we needed refrigerator space -- we were expecting a $400 hunk of meat any minute! (that's another story) -- I put this in there to test it.

My wife grumbled about space priorities so I tasted it that night, and then we shifted from tasting to drinking.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Update: Charles Smith dropped his lawsuit against my readers

In 2010 Washington winemaker Charles Smith sued some of my blog readers. There were some anonymous comments on my site that he didn't like, and he sued the people who wrote them.

I was not a party to the suit. I found out about it because Google got a subpoena for the IP addresses of the commenters, and Google, which has more money than God, asked me if I wanted to hire a lawyer to fight it.

Smith never told me why he filed the suit, but I found out about 3 weeks later, when a Utah wine lover named Jason Vance got an explanation from the winery saying, "We believe that the anonymous commenter is someone who had a mutual non-disparagement agreement with the winery and unfortunately something that should have been kept private was made public."

Because I wasn't in the suit, I didn't learn about the progress of it, and I always wondered. Last week I was in Seattle and I went to the courthouse to find out.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Wine people like vs. wine for oenophiles, Rombauer edition

I have a feature on Rombauer up right now on Wine Searcher, from my gig as the site's California Editor. I quite enjoyed reporting it, had a great time tasting with winemaker Richie Allen and KR Rombauer, and brought home a simply outstanding Rombauer Chardonnay to have with dinner.

I thought it was outstanding, but it wasn't something a modern Rombauer Chardonnay fan would recognize. It was a 1985 wine from French Vineyard made by Bob Levy, who now makes wine at Harlan Estate.

We talked about this wine in the article. KR Rombauer called it "very austere. A beautiful wine that 2 percent of our customers liked."

I'm in that 2%. I don't know what it tasted like 29 years ago, but terrific acidity still carried it. Look at that alcohol level: 12.9%. It wasn't fruit-driven: it was earthy and soulful and every sip seemed different. If I put it in a tasting with top Burgundies from 1985, it would have held its own.

KR Rombauer didn't like it. He mixed it with the 1986, which was oxidized yet fruitier, and I have to admit I also tried that blend and liked it, but that was because of the vibrant backbone of the '85.

I also brought home the entire lineup of current release Rombauer Chardonnays, to have with Dungeness crab. They sell 100,000 cases of very rich, super-ripe Chardonnay a year to people who love it, know what it tastes like, and buy it because that's exactly what they want.

I'm on the record as being a big fan of the current release of Rombauer Merlot, which was one of 11 I picked out from a blind tasting. Rombauer being synonymous with generosity, KR also sent me home with a '96 Rombauer Merlot, which I served to friends the day after Christmas, and it was stellar.

So here's the thing: does it matter what I thought of the current-release Rombauer Chardonnays?

Monday, January 5, 2015

Photos of a disappearing world: Fox Glacier, New Zealand

The furthest inland point on Fox Glacier in December 2009. It has retreated far back since then.
Fox Glacier on the south island of New Zealand can no longer be reached by a hiking trail. Global warming has caused the glacier to retreat, and if you want to see it now, you have to take a helicopter.

In 2009, my wife and I vacationed on the south island and visited Fox Glacier. We borrowed crampons for some difficult parts, but most of the day's walk we did in our regular winter clothes, bearing just a walking stick with a nail in one end.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Korbel winemaker lies on TV about Champagne and sparkling wine

What's the difference between Champagne and sparkling wine? How would you answer that question?

The correct answer is "Champagne is a kind of sparkling wine that comes from the Champagne region in France." But that's not what the head winemaker from Korbel said on the San Francisco Fox affiliate, KTVU, on the morning news on Saturday.

The U.S. government has fought Europe for years for Korbel to have the right to keep calling its sparkling wine "Champagne," so it's not surprising that Paul Ahvenainen says his company's product is something it's not.

What is surprising is that Korbel director of winemaking Paul Ahvenainen pissed all over J, Schramsberg, Gloria Ferrer, Domaine Chandon, Domaine Carneros, Roederer Estate, and every other maker of quality bubbly who follows international law and actually calls their product "sparkling wine."

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Vote for the face of Champagne!

Candidate # 1: Biff Tannen, a great wine name from Back to the Future
The Champagne Bureau is trying to sue an Australian wine educator into bankruptcy.

I was thinking about trying to organize a Champagne boycott this New Year's Eve, but that's no fun to talk about two days before Christmas. So let's have a little fun. There's a poll at the bottom; you can vote for the right face for Champagne!*
Candidate # 2, from Randall Grahm: Brut-o

Why? The Champagne Bureau (CIVC) is suing Jayne Powell, who calls herself "Champagne Jayne," because among her enthusiastic classes and tweets promoting Champagne, she also sometimes mentions other sparkling wines. Really. That's the CIVC's whole case. I thought Champagne producers were classy, but they're like abusive townie boyfriends who don't want her to even look at another wine. Jim Budd has done the best job covering the trial and here's his most recent post on it.

I am a longtime supporter of the Champagne Bureau's fight to keep other sparkling wines from calling themselves "Champagne." That's reasonable, and it's terrible that the U.S. government keeps letting Korbel and Gallo confuse consumers about what Champagne is.

However, there is no way somebody would look at an Australian woman and say, "Wow, so THAT's what Champagne is."