Wednesday, October 31, 2012

WAR and wine ratings

This is the year I stopped paying attention to statistical baseball analysts, aka sabermetricians. And it got me to thinking about how individual wine lovers decide that wine ratings are meaningless for them.

Long ago I realized Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator couldn't tell me if I would personally like a wine. Nothing against the idea of a 100-point rating; it's just a subjective measure from somebody with different tastes.

But advanced baseball stats were different. I was an early adopter of VORP and OPS+, and I figured that if the methods of calculation of FRAA were over my head, that was my fault, not the statisticians'.

A stat called xFIP first raised doubts for me. xFIP became my equivalent of an overripe, undrinkable 98-point wine -- it taught me to doubt.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Wine Spectator takes step toward younger audience

Talia Baiocchi, from
In danger of becoming increasingly irrelevant, Wine Spectator took a step toward attracting younger readers this week by hiring Talia Baiocchi to write blog posts and Katherine Cole to write features on a freelance basis.

(Update: Cole emailed me to clarify that she has no specified relationship with Spectator, unlike Baiocchi, who will be blogging regularly.)

It's an interesting move for the Spectator, which has maintained a nearly constant staff of critics for the last two decades even as the wine world has changed immensely. Philosophically, it's a huge shift, as Baiocchi -- also the national wine editor for the Eater website -- is young and represents the new Brooklyn aesthetic, whereas the Spectator has calcified over the years into a gated retirement community aesthetic. 

Let's not overstate its importance: Baiocchi will be writing blog posts, not replacing James Laube as California wine critic. That would be huge; this is tentative.

Monday, October 29, 2012

My latest (greatest?) hits

Sparkling wine tastes better when drunk in the street
First things first: Go Giants! If you're in northern California and you're not shaking off a hangover today, where were you?

Since I was busy watching baseball when I could have been blogging -- my priorities are in order -- it's a good Monday for a greatest hits post. Normally I like to post something here tipping off readers to some of the work I publish elsewhere. While I was gone, a few items ran that I think you'll enjoy.

Schloss Vollrads winemaker Rowald Hepp
Just before I left dive paradise for home, I got an email from Wine Review Online editor Michael Franz saying he'd lost my column, and did I have another copy? Oh no, Michael, that was a great one!

But turns out he looked behind the refrigerator or something and resurrected the story of how the world's oldest winery has rebounded from times so perilous 15 years ago that its owner shot himself in the head.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Endorsements for the Nov. 2012 election: San Francisco

One of this country's biggest problems is that we don't talk enough about politics, particularly local politics.

We only talk with people we agree with, and we only talk about the Presidential race. That's why we get dysfunctional government entities like San Francisco's Community College Board, which bickers about doctrine while risking bankruptcy and possibly losing the school's accreditation.

So here's who I'm voting for and why. I read all the endorsements and interviews in the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Bay Guardian and Los Angeles Times and the candidates' stated positions on The Guardian as usual did the most and best work, interviewing almost every candidate, but it's too dogmatically far left for my taste, so I have to parse its opinions carefully.

It's a tradition now at The Gray Report to do these endorsements because we need more discussion and analysis. The Chronicle has probably had 10,000 articles on the Presidential race, which you can read about anywhere, and zero on the local community college race. As you'll see if you read the whole thing, I'm a registered Democrat but an independent thinker. No matter where you stand politically, you'll find some position of mine to disagree with. Which is fine, that's why we should talk more about politics. No name-calling please. And don't obsess on the top of the ballot choice; there are 10,000 other places to talk about that.

Barack Obama
I'm not going to waste space trying to convince you; most people are set. I think Mitt Romney could be a good President; we don't know, because he has been evasive about his plans. What we do know is that he and Paul Ryan have run a campaign mocking the importance of facts, and if they win, no future Presidential candidate will feel the need to tell the truth or apologize for outright lies. Maybe we're there already in a world where 56% of Republicans believe Obama was born abroad.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

What writers really say about wines we don't like

Writers usually only publish reviews of wines we like. But we taste so many more wines, and have strong opinions even if you don't normally read them.

I was rooting around in some old notebooks yesterday and found these tasting notes from a session -- most likely multiple sessions -- with Jon Bonné during my time at the San Francisco Chronicle. I don't remember what all we tasted; I must have kept the actual notes in a different notebook. And I don't remember who said what. So with apologies/thanks to Jon, here's what I have written down:

This is what lemonade would taste like if it were made by Satan.

It's like a Dunkin Donuts strawberry cream donut in a puddle.

(Wine number) 10 smells like a rat trap -- 11 is the rat trap that worked.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Cougar Town turns wine into beer

Cougar Town claims to be a TV show "about friends and wine, but not in that order." I've never seen the show, but as a serious baseball fan*, I saw about 1,700 promos for it on TBS during the playoffs.

So here are some thoughts about what Cougar Town's promos say about America's wine culture.

* There's no food in these ads, and wine is chugged in a drinking game, gulped down in a speed test and drunk from the bottle with a straw. Yay! Wine! It's like beer, only red!

* Why is it red? Isn't buttery Chardonnay officially known as Cougar Juice?

Monday, October 22, 2012

I brought a Lodi wine to French Polynesia

The hardest decision in packing for my diving vacation was which wines to bring.

I wanted delicious wines, of course. But I also wanted wines that were symbolic and appropriate. I wasn't trying to bring wines just to save money: I wanted to make a statement.

Baggage on French Polynesia domestic flights is limited by weight, and we decided we had room for about 2 liters -- not coincidentally, the legal limit for one person.

French Polynesia is part of France, sort of. The official language is French; people eat baguettes. Most imported food products are French. Wine, with the exception of Vin de Tahiti, is almost exclusively French.

On my previous visit, some French divemasters expressed astonishment that anyone outside France could try to make a living writing about wine. "I heard that other countries make wine, but ..." one said.

I wanted to wave the vinous Stars and Stripes. But how?

Here were my conditions:

* White wine. It's hot in French Polynesia and we ate fish every day.
* Couldn't be too old, too expensive, or too irreplaceable as it could get cooked in transit or in our rooms if we had no refrigerator.
* Something representative of the USA that I couldn't get from a French winery. Instead of bringing Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, I should buy Burgundy or a Loire white on site.
* Something special.
* Something I could proudly explain, and offer a sample of, to any French hotelier who asked. A wine to make me proud.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Gray Report swims with the fishes

Photo courtesy Under Water Hangover
This blog is on hiatus until Oct. 22, as I'm taking a French-style 3-week vacation to French Polynesia. I could set up some wine and food posts to auto-publish, but a blog is a conversation, not a lecture.

I love scuba diving, but rarely go in California because the water is too cold here. French Polynesia has the best diving I've experienced, plus the food is reasonably good because they don't call it American Polynesia. Unlike in Micronesia, we didn't get Spam for breakfast OR dinner.

You go for the visibility and warm water and abundant fish life and colorful soft corals, but I had two of my most memorable dives there because of encounters with big critters.