Tuesday, August 14, 2018

How to buy sake at a Japanese grocery store: a pictorial guide

A Japanese grocery store is generally a terrific place to buy sake for selection, price and freshness -- which is very important. However, I have never seen anyone get useful advice from store staff. In making a choice, you're generally on your own.

I took some photos at Nijiya in San Francisco to help you out. The Japanese grocery store in your city may have a different selection, but the buying principles will still apply.

1) Most (not all) of the good sakes will be in the refrigerated section


Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Can you bring cheese into the U.S. from Europe? YES YOU CAN!

Raw-milk Reblochon is my favorite of the cheeses sold in French duty-free
First, the short answer: if you are flying home from Europe or elsewhere, you can bring cheese into the U.S. for personal consumption.

I'm writing this post to counter persistent misinformation, even from what one would think are reliable sources.

I hope that some editor at USA Today sees this blog post and corrects this completely wrong story. This was the No. 1 result when we searched for an answer to the question last month in France. Yo Google, help me out here -- make my post with the correct information No. 1 please.

(Before I go further, here is the correct information from the official U.S. Customs and Border Protection site. I'll get into it in detail in a moment.)

Last month I had a long and frustrating argument at a duty-free shop in Lyon, France. I wanted to buy three raw-milk cheeses: a Roquefort, a Reblochon and a hunk of Beaufort. The clerk refused to sell them to me. She said I could not bring them into the U.S.

After insisting first that I was right, and second that the risk was mine not hers, I asked to speak to her supervisor. She also refused to sell me the cheese.

Most people would have given up. The supervisor in the duty-free shop must know U.S. law, right?


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The most arrogant comment I have ever received

I have been writing for a while and have received all manner of rude comments, because that's the world we live in. But this complaint, sent to my editor at Wine Searcher, is breathtaking in its hubris.

Here is the original article. You can note from the comments that it made a lot of people unhappy, although I think they (and the commenter below) are mostly upset about the confusing skein of often conflicting liquor laws in the United States.

My editor forwarded me the email below and asked if I wanted to respond. I said he could tell the person to jump to his conclusion, and "Mr. Gray says his life and yours would both be better if you read other stories you deem more worthy."

The more I looked at this email, the more I wanted to share it. I especially like the law quiz he wants me to administer to the beverage law attorney. But there are plenty of gems here; the emphasis at the end is mine. Please share my amusement.

"Unfortunately, with the latest article on Wine-Searcher Mr. W. Blake Gray fell below ground level in his journalistic ethics and professionalism.

In case he would be willing to rehabilitate himself in our eyes, please be kind and pass him to do the following:


Monday, July 30, 2018

Which is better: the $90 Scotch or the $690 Scotch?

Glenmorangie is one of my favorite Scotch producers because I like their main bottling, the 10-year, which is great value at about $40.

But Scotch producers don't rest anymore on their flagships. Instead, they release an ever-expanding group of special bottlings, many of which are aged for less time but cost more money than the main releases.

It's hard to keep up with all the bottles now in duty free, but I was excited to try two Glenmorangie special releases: Spios, which is aged in rye casks from Kentucky, and Grand Vintage 1989, for which some of the spirit was aged in used Côte-Rôtie barrels (the rest was aged in ex-Oloroso Sherry casks and, like many Scotches, ex-Bourbon casks.)

It will be obvious to readers which one costs more: Grand Vintage 1989, because it's 29 years old, whereas Spios has no age statement. The question is, does Grand Vintage taste $600 better? I like it when the cheaper spirit tastes better. I poured some of both into white wine glasses and had a taste off.


Friday, July 27, 2018

Thoughts on deleting my Twitter archive

Last week I had about 9000 tweets. Right now, that number is 8.

I'm not a TV star or Hollywood director. I'm not an obvious target for the trolls on either side of our political divide. Nonetheless, the idea that something I might have tweeted in 2009, when I started on Twitter, would lead to punishment in 2018 bothered me, enough that I decided to erase everything.

I'm not the only one doing this; just the least famous. Before I give my own overlong explanation, I'd like to quote a writer I don't know named Cheryl Lynn Eaton, who said everything I actually need to say in a couple of tweets:





Nothing is ever really gone, of course. I'm sure my tweets still exist somewhere and if I was important somebody could find and read them. Because I had to manually delete the first 2500 tweets I ever wrote, I have a good idea of what you're going to see.


Monday, July 23, 2018

W. Blake Gray shortlisted for another Roederer Award!

Celebrating the shortlisting with Roederer Anderson Valley NV Brut
One of my proudest achievements in wine writing is winning the Roederer Award in 2013 for Best Blogger/Online Wine Writer. It's still right there in my blog's masthead.

The night I won, while my wife and I were deeply into a bottle of sparkling wine, she suggested that I put the award on my business cards. That sounded like a fine idea.

I went right to a design-your-own site, downloaded a generic photo of wine grapes as art, and ordered a batch. I thought the minimum order was excessive: 1000 cards, for a business card I could only use for a year until somebody else won the award. But what the hell, I figured: the night before the next person won, I could just stand in the street and hand them out.

However, I got unbelievably lucky. They renamed the award! It's now called the Ramos Pinto Online Communicator Award.

This is not just a renaming: it's a new category, right? This is my logic as, five years later, I still use those drunkenly composed business cards.

I have been resting on my laurels, but this year, my editor at Wine-Searcher, Don Kavanagh, urged me to apply for Best Online Communicator. He has to read all my stories for that site and he thought I had a good year.

Last week I learned I made the shortlist! It's an extremely intimidating group, and I'm glad that, as my friend Alder Yarrow pointed out, it's not the Roederer Award for Wine Knowledge.

The short list:
Sarah Abbott MW
Tim Atkin MW
Andrea Frost
Jamie Goode
W. Blake Gray
Kelli White

That is some serious company. I'm delighted, honored and humbled to be included.

Here are the articles I submitted:

Sex, Love and the $1000 Breakfast Wine

Please Do Not Buy These Wines

Napa Vineyard Sale's Knock-On Price Effect

I don't know if I'm going to win, but I'm proud of that work.

I hope you'll excuse the lack of humility in this post. I'm just so pleased to have a shot at this award -- even though it would probably mean I would have to order new business cards.

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

Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Master Sommelier-run winery that stays under the radar

In the slow summer months before harvest, Greg Harrington's to-do list is short
Why isn't Gramercy Cellars more famous? I can't understand it. Look at all the boxes it checks:

🍷 Founded by a Master Sommelier, Greg Harrington, who ran wine programs in famous restaurants for Emeril Lagasse and Wolfgang Puck

🍷 Well-reviewed, food-friendly wines that usually make "state's best" lists

🍷 Almost no new oak, so the fruit shines, and not too high in alcohol

🍷 8000 cases a year, so the wines are widely available

🍷 Only two wines are over $60

When I visited Walla Walla, Washington in June I didn't think there was much need for a Gramercy Cellars story. I figured everyone knew already: Some of the most sommelier-friendly Rhone-style wines made in the U.S.

Then I started poking around the Internet and discovered that, while the wines keep getting favorable reviews, little else has been written about the winery since just after it opened. This story has been hiding in plain sight.

In 1996, Harrington became the youngest American to pass the Master Sommelier exam, at the age of 26. He founded Gramercy Cellars in 2005. He says that four years ago, tasting his older vintages encouraged him to change some of his winemaking techniques.