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."

Monday, December 22, 2014

Can a great wine be made with alcohol reduction?

It may be a cliche, but I believe great wine must be made in the vineyard. Saxum's James Berry Vineyard, Paso Robles
ConeTech stirred up the world of California wine detractors when its VP claimed at the World Bulk Wine Exhibition in Amsterdam that it reduces the alcohol of 1/4 of all California Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.

There was a tiny media reaction, at left, and a blogger overreaction to a single tweet, on which I got involved commenting. With all due love and respect to Charlie Olken, I want to explore the topic in greater detail on my own home cyberturf.

First, I'm a realist about the business of wine. If a batch of product needs heroic means of rescue so it can be sold, so be it. Wineries need to make a living like anyone else selling goods. Please don't take anything I'm going to write here as a negation of the previous sentence.

Adam Lee has questioned ConeTech's numbers, and he might be right -- Adam often is -- but that isn't the point. Nobody questions that alcohol reduction is widely used on California wine. The question I want to explore is, why?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Klingon Bloodwine proves it's really hard today to buy bad California wine

Klingon Bloodwine is the coolest gimmick wine I've ever seen.

I'm not a Trekkie. I liked "Star Trek," but am not a big enough fan to have seen Klingon Bloodwine on TV. But still. Much of the wine in supermarkets today is just bulk juice with a catchy name: Middle Sister or Running with Scissors (I love that one). Or Yellow Tail or Little Penguin.

Klingon Bloodwine not only has a name; it has a mythology. It's made from blood. Klingons drink it! MagQa'. (That's "well done!" in Klingon.)

And it's from Paso Robles, which makes all kinds of sense. Klingon Bloodwine is known to be highly intoxicating; so is Paso wine. If I was going to make something to sell as Klingon Bloodwine, and I wanted it to be good, of everywhere in the world, Paso's where I'd look. You want super ripe, rich, inky dark, powerful wine that's still pretty good, and you don't want to pay $75 for it, Paso's your source.

But does Klingon Bloodwine need to be good?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Day Wine Tasted Bad

Last Thursday, as the Pineapple Express storm howled outside our windows, I prepared a comfort food: bacon-cheeseburgers. I had all the ingredients for an oeonophile version: Benton's super smokey bacon, English raw-milk aged cheddar, and grass-fed, grain-finished ground beef. All I needed was the right bottle of wine.

I thought I was in the mood for a comfort wine: a ripe, rich red. I get dozens of this kind of wine as samples but don't have the desire for them often enough. What an opportunity! I opened a Cabernet I'd been wanting to try, and found it short, hollow and unappetizing. Well, not to worry, I had plenty more to choose from. I opened five more red wines, and disliked them all.

This happens, as anyone who tastes wine professionally can tell you. It doesn't matter if they're expensive; sometimes you just don't like the wines. You can get yourself into a quandary if you have to rate them and you admire but dislike them: Zinfandels over 15.5 percent alcohol, for example, do that to me. But that's not what I was opening here. All were wines that, for one reason or another, I expected to like.

Still, no problem, there's always more wine around my home. I opened more bottles.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

10 great books for Christmas gifts

Ask Santa for anything but a share of his cookies
Last year I recommended 9 great, fun to read wine books that weren't necessarily new. This year I'm going to expand the concept past wine books.

I can't compete with the New York Times' best 10 books of the year list because I don't read enough; their editors speed through hundreds of books in a year, while I probably read a couple of dozen. I'm not going to try to compete with Keith Law's 100 best novels of all time, either.

These aren't the 10 best books I've ever read, or my 10 favorite books. They're just 10 great books I really enjoyed. By limiting the ambition of the list, I don't have to include Great Expectations, and I might tip you off to some fun reading you otherwise might have missed.

A History of God  

Author Karen Armstrong is a former Catholic nun who has taught Jewish history to rabbinical students and lectured about Islam to Muslims. This book covers the creation and evolution of the three major Western religions; it's interesting how much they borrow from each other. She shows how all three have been affected by the same internal movements towards extremism, and why this follows from less mystical and more literal readings of the Bible and the Koran. You'll have a better understanding of all three religions, even your own, after reading this.

All She Was Worth

Japan has an interesting tradition of noir detective fiction, very little of which is translated into English. This is one of the best, a 1992 tale of a detective hired to track down his nephew's fiancee, who disappeared after the nephew learned she had a bad credit history. The credit card was relatively new to widespread use in Japan in the 1990s, and the Japanese don't take shame well. But no spoilers here, and if you're intrigued, don't read any longer reviews, just buy it.

Friday, December 5, 2014

What they're drinking on The Flash

I'm always interested in what TV characters drink. Earlier this year, I learned a terrific wine pairing for sashimi from Hannibal Lecter.

"The Flash," on the CW network, hasn't ventured far into gastrophilia, even though we've learned Barry Allen needs to eat constantly because he burns a lot of calories running around Central City at 400 mph.

We've heard them eat at Big Belly Burger (a DC Comics staple, like Quentin Tarantino's Big Kahuna Burger). But the main gastronomic highlight came recently when one of the Flash's support team wrote an equation to estimate how many bugs he consumes if he runs with his mouth open, a concept I'm not sure they have explored in the DC comic.

I haven't seen a lot of wine in The Flash, but I did take this screen grab of a bottle of whiskey.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Wine critic Antonio Galloni has hidden investors

Antonio Galloni
What does it mean if a wine critic has hidden investors? Possibly nothing, but what if those investors are, say, a winery owner or wine importer?

Antonio Galloni was in the news recently when he acquired Steven Tanzer's International Wine Cellar. The move was universally lauded by the wine press (here's my own analysis column), as it gives Galloni a 30-year library of wine reviews from a critic perhaps even more respected than himself. To my knowledge nobody has ever publicly questioned Galloni's independence, or Tanzer's.

However, the money to acquire the IWC had to come from somewhere. Galloni's spokesman would not respond when I asked where his funding was from, and said he was not available for an interview.

It's a shame, because Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) documents aren't really my strong suit, nor that of the two business journalists I asked to look at this one. And I would love for Galloni to explain it from his perspective.

Monday, December 1, 2014

I, The Jury: The Case of the Library Urinator

Juror No. 11, Mr. Gray
I've always wanted to sit on a criminal jury. I think I'd be the perfect juror: skeptical of everyone, willing to consider all possibilities, but not hesitant to convict. Prosecutors always disagree, which is why until last week, though I've been called to serve many times, I never made it to the final 12.

In the case of the People vs. Aton Cole, I finally got my chance to serve as Justice, Personified. I was Juror No. 11, a terrific seat in the San Francisco Superior Court Room 321, because it's right in line with both attorney's desks. I got chills in my spine with the legal tableaux right in front of me: the prosecutor, the defense attorney, the defendant, lined up, looking right next to me, judging the reactions of a potential fellow juror.

Yes, I was in the best seat possible for The Case of the Library Urinator.