Monday, July 21, 2014

Suddenly, more wines contain cobalt

Cobalt. Image courtesy
An increasing number of wines have cobalt in them, according to a member of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario. And some even contain lead.

The wine buyer made the statement from the audience Friday at a seminar at the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Symposium in Niagara, Ontario.

The LCBO tests every wine submitted for sale in Ontario for a variety of faults, including residues of pesticides and herbicides. It does not make its results public, and the buyer told me afterward that it cannot, for fear of being sued. He did not name any of the wines containing cobalt or lead, or their country of origin.

But the public comment is provocative, because if anyone has previously reported cobalt being found in wine, I haven't seen it.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A is for Absinthe: Childrens' book for bartenders' kids

My first favorite book was The Blueberry Pie Elf. In some ways it represented the adult I have become, because its titular character was a discriminating eater (or, if you prefer, a pie snob). He was not satisfied by cherry pie or apple pie; he wanted the dark, ripe fruit character that only blueberry pie could deliver. The Blueberry Pie Elf was an unabashed New World pie eater.

The fact that the elf was willing to clean a family's entire kitchen on spec in hopes of maybe getting a blueberry pie in the future, well, actually, freelance writing is kind of like that. Oops, too late for a spoiler alert. Dammit! Now what's left to enjoy when HBO does The Blueberry Pie Elf in 10 parts, preferably with torture and sexposition?

I don't know what HBO would do with Lara Nixon's book "A is for Absinthe." But for parents who work in the booze industry, this book is probably a better gift than the modern classic "Go The Fuck to Sleep." It's not funny, but on the plus side, it is actually designed to be read by your toddler.

Monday, July 14, 2014

You, Sir, Are A Wine Snob! Slap!

I've been called a "wine snob" before, but the intended insult came from a surprising source on Saturday: Eric Levine, the founder of CellarTracker, which is a website where people review and rate wines.

Bizarre, right? I know people love a good Twitter fight, it's like watching an ugly person sing bad karaoke in spangles on Youtube, so let's get right to it.

First, the prologue. I tweeted this on Tuesday:

Just after noon on Saturday, Levine finally got to the item marked "Insult Winesnob Blake Gray" on his to-do list.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Let's Name Names: Restaurants where sommeliers recommend bad wines

"Natural wine" is one of vino's most popular punching bags. Even Newsweek took a shot at it yesterday, with a headline saying it "tastes worse than putrid cider." When a wine story hits Newsweek, you know it's mainstream.

While some of these wines exist, we're not talking only about natural wine anymore. We're talking about, generically, wines we don't like. And the "hipster sommeliers" who recommend them.

Is there a more pejorative word you can print in the newspaper than "hipster?" I've heard people call themselves a punk, redneck, drama queen, bitch, queer, nigg ... I could go on and get booted from Google's search results. But I've never heard anyone describe themselves as a "hipster."

So let's forget the pejoratives and get to the main question:

At which restaurants do sommeliers recommend bad wine?


Thursday, July 3, 2014

On wine criticism, "The Purge" and situational quality

On Tuesday night I was in a bleak mood after the U.S. defeat in the World Cup. A few days earlier I had nightmares, literally, of Portugal's tying goal. I decided to give myself some other nightmare options so I cracked open a bottle of Eberle Côtes-du-Rôbles Blanc and turned on the 2013 horror movie "The Purge."

Both seemed right for the situation. The wine I chose because my wife had steamed some kohlrabi to accompany miso-grilled salmon. I wanted something with some heft that could handle the vegetal flavors. I also wanted something comforting (not a nightmare source) that I could drink without analyzing, which is ironic because here I am writing this blog post.

"The Purge" was exactly what I needed: fast-paced (a crisp 85 minutes), brutal, fairly abrupt unhappy ending. Just like the game, except with more killing.

I enjoy reading movie reviews after I see a film, because I hate spoilers. "The Purge" was very divisive. Amazon users gave it a mediocre 5.5 composite, but the standard deviation was high. View Auckland's Matthew Turner gave it 4 stars of 5, calling it an "engaging, nail-bitingly tense thriller with an intriguing premise." TV Guide's Perry Seibert gave it 1 star, blaming its "ridiculous premise, ugly cinematography, one-dimensional characters and indecipherable editing."

Monday, June 30, 2014

Robert Parker launches another cowardly attack on sommeliers whose tastes differ

I feel sorry for Robert Parker. He's plagued by chronic spinal pain, had an 8-1/2 hour surgery to rebuild five discs, and can only exercise by walking 2 miles an hour on a treadmill in a pool.

I know this because he consented to an interview with the fanzine author R.H. Drexel, run by Hawk Wakawaka on her blog. Like most of Drexel's work, it's intensely personal and interesting.

It's also the only interview that Parker has granted the "media" this year that I'm aware of. Drexel is not a journalist, but still, Parker wouldn't even grant the interview to Wakawaka, whose expressions of gratitude on her blog to people who talk with her sometimes border on obsequious.

In the wine world we have become accustomed to accepting that Parker doesn't want to face questions about why he gives so many more 100 point scores than he used to, even though other critics would give an answer.

Parker, who is arguably a member of the media himself, might protest that he is like a Hollywood celebrity. Their agents frequently dictate terms for how interviews with them can be conducted -- although once the interview starts, journalists often ask the questions they want to anyway.

Parker has taken the kind of heat from the wine media that Hollywood stars do from the tabloids. I understand why he wants to answer only softball questions.

But in the paragraph immediately after detailing his physical ailments, Parker blows yet another broadside at people who don't share his tastes, saying,

"It’s funny that in the beer world, it seems like bigger and richer is what everyone wants, whereas in the wine world you have a group of hipster sommeliers who are basically advocating weird, undrinkable and deeply flawed wines."

Friday, June 27, 2014

Bad news update: Oakland A's dump wine for poorly made mixed drinks

In April I was astounded to find the best stadium wine list ever at the Oakland Coliseum, which has almost no edible food for fans and is best known nationally for occasionally flooding the players' locker rooms with sewage.

Unfortunately that miracle has ended. We went to last Friday's game and discovered that the A's have eliminated the wine booth entirely, replacing it with a booth selling $12 purportedly artisan cocktails.

Like the A's themselves, who boast 4 switch-hitters and sometimes use a 3-catcher offense, I tried to adapt to the game situation in front of me. But I walked away thirsty because they were out of ingredients for 2 of the 8 cocktails on offer, and, how can I put this politely, Oakland's stadium concessionaire doesn't hire UC Berkeley graduates (or even Cal State Hayward graduates).

It's easy to see why the concessionaire would want cocktails instead of wine: they're easier to sell. But it turns out to be easier to pour Cabernet in a plastic cup than to muddle mint or measure Bourbon. They'll be back to Bud Light in that space by ... hmm, late October?

But on a personal note, while I'll be drinking water for the rest of the baseball season, the moment that my wife and I have anticipated since the day in June 2011, when the A's drafted Sonny Gray in the 1st round, has finally arrived, with the production (at last) of official Athletics Sonny Gray t-shirts. We may not drink well at A's games anymore, but we will not be sartorially surpassed.

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.