Thursday, November 15, 2018

Trump, tariffs, and trade barriers to U.S. wine in France: the real facts

Annoyed by French President Emmanuel Macron's ability to stand in the rain and honor World War I dead, our own President Donald Trump tweeted about unfair trade barriers that have prevented French people from drinking more U.S. wines:
A clutch of Francophiles hit social media in the aftermath because they hate Trump and assume he's wrong about everything. But he's not. He's a little off base, because tariffs are not the issue, but this is not a bad tweet by Trump's standards. Let's look at the real facts.

1. Trump starts off absolutely correct. France does make excellent wine, and so does the U.S. Don't lose sight of that.

2. French people would drink U.S. wine if it were cheap enough -- at the low end. Don't kid yourself about the glories of Burgundy and the Jura blah blah blah. French farmers have been overturning tanker trucks bringing cheap bulk wine from Spain because that wine has been taking away their market.


Monday, October 22, 2018

Endorsements for the November 2018 election in San Francisco


This might be the most pivotal election in the U.S. since the Civil War, but locally it's all about school boards and ballot propositions.

I have read the endorsements of the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Bay Guardian, Los Angeles Times and Sacramento Bee. I have also read the candidates' statements on Smart Voter (which I highly recommend visiting because you can see your specific ballot.) I want to commend Tim Richmond for keeping the Guardian's endorsements alive even after the death of the print publication. He interviews all the candidates and that's a lot of work. I also want to commend the Chronicle, which has done a better job than ever before of endorsing in many races and putting all its endorsements in one easily accessed site that is open to non-subscribers.

If you are outside of San Francisco, please vote Democrat for Congress this time regardless of your political beliefs. We need the balance in the system to prevent a slide into autocracy, and it's obvious the GOP isn't going to do it. The rest of this post is for Californians.

US Senator

Kevin DeLeon

I recently read "Season of the Witch" and gained an appreciation for how earnest, politically centrist Dianne Feinstein helped rebuild San Francisco as appointed mayor after the assassinations of George Moscone and Harvey Milk.* I thank her for her many years of public service. But "politically centrist" is not what California needs in a Senator right now. If the Democrats pull off an upset in the Senate, Feinstein's seniority will get her some committee chairs, but Democrats need committee chairs who don't have a lifelong record of accommodating the GOP. Moreover, everybody is tiptoeing around this issue because they don't want to sound ageist, but I'm gonna say it. Feinstein is 85 years old. If she is re-elected, and doesn't die in office, she will serve through her 91st birthday. That's too old. DeLeon was good as state Senate president and is as qualified as any of our state politicians for this job.

(* She is not the witch. It's a song title. The book is about rougher times than these in San Francisco. Highly recommended.)

District 12, House of Representatives

Nancy Pelosi

Like we have a choice. But to be fair, Pelosi represents current Democratic values way more than Feinstein.

Governor


Newsom. Courtesy San Francisco Chronicle
Gavin Newsom

Newsom had some serious opposition in the primary, but now his opponent is a businessman endorsed by Donald Trump who is pro-border wall and doesn't believe in climate change. I'm done here.

Lt. Governor

Ed Hernandez

Real estate developer Eleni Kounalakis used her family's wealth to buy a spot in this race despite never having won political office before. If you're going to buy an office, this is a good place to start, a heartbeat from the governor's chair (which I have sat in!) Hernandez has been in the state legislature for 12 years. He's not the most exciting candidate, but it's not the most exciting job, and he is more qualified than Kounalakis.


Endorsements continue after the jump

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

My guilty pleasure wine: admitting my youthful transgression

Opening ceremony for a wine competition. I think they're supposed to be ... pollinated?

This story is about one of my guilty pleasures: a transgression of my early drinking days.

It's about a wine I would never have the courage to praise to a professional crowd: a cheap, sweet, mass-produced wine, screwcapped before that was cool, and I didn't even believe it was made from grapes. I liked it and was ashamed to say it.

The one on the right is better; sealed with a synthetic cork
Here is the wine in question: Kuei Hua Chen Chiew. It's made in China by Beijing Dragon Seal Wine Co., and until last month I didn't realize that's a government-owned winery.

When I lived in Tokyo we used to eat sometimes in a southeast Asian restaurant that served spicy food, and their drink menu was limited. I don't like beer, so this is how I discovered Kuei Hua Chen Chiew (I believe it's pronounced Qwee Wa Shen Shew, but I could be wrong.)

For decades, I thought this was plum liquor. The bottle doesn't say -- I think. My then-girlfriend, now my wife, reads Mandarin, and she couldn't glean any information from the bottle.

But she has a sweet tooth and she loooooved Kuei Hua Chen Chiew, which she thought was a cheap, industrial Chinese version of umeshu (people call umeshu Japanese plum "wine," but it's actually made by infusing plums in shochu, which is a distilled spirit.) Kuei Hua Chen Chiew cost about $5 US per bottle in Tokyo and you couldn't get a bottle of anything else that cheap, other than the lowest-grade shochu.

I was young. We drank cheap. 


Thursday, September 6, 2018

An ancient, rare wine that can be beautiful, or smell like old lady's perfume: Lacrima di Morro d'Alba

Lacrima di Morro d'Alba grapes will cry for you -- see below
Even among niche wine lovers, Lacrima di Morro d'Alba is polarizing. When I searched for more info about the grape, one of the highest ranked items I found was Stevie Stacionis' piece "The First Wine I Ever Hated."

The good news is the wine is ancient and really interesting: the King of Burgundy (!) praised it in the year 1167 after conquering the region. It faced extinction in the 20th century, but has been revived as Italy has concentrated on rediscovering its indigenous wines.

Stacionis complains that the wine smells like her great aunt's perfume, and I can see that. It's an unusual category of grape: an aromatic red. Its best qualities are usually all in the nose, and if there were no exceptions to that, I wouldn't be writing this. Fortunately, I found two reasons to drink a really weird and unique varietal.

Lacrima di Morro d'Alba smells like gingerbread, anise, dried flowers and plums -- like some sort of European Christmas hot beverage. It's not shy: the aromas jump out of the glass. But for most of the wines, the flavors are underwhelming. It's a light-bodied wine and without sufficient fruit on the palate, those aromas quickly shift from intriguing to cloying. There's often also a balance problem, as producers do one thing wrong and try to fix it by doing something else wrong.

There are a couple of exceptions: the wines of Stefano Mancinelli and Marotti Campi. Of seven Lacrima di Morro d'Alba wines I tasted at a seminar in Marche, Italy, these are the only ones I want to drink.

Because only about 30 producers make only about 80,000 total cases, it's possible these are the best Lacrima di Morro d'Alba wines that have ever been made in the history of the world.


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: