Thursday, July 31, 2014

Moonshine: The Book

Moonshine is having a moment. It's painful how hip it is. It's even made in Brooklyn now, and the distillery there charges about double what good 12-year-old Scotch costs.

One such modern moonshine producer credits the 2008 financial crisis. "People were really getting back to basics," he said. "Instead of getting a triple infused apple martini at a high-end lounge, they were going to a local pub and buying a Jäger bomb and a beer."

Even more basic is moonshine, which is simply slang for clear, unaged whiskey.

Jaime Joyce's book "Moonshine: A Cultural History of America's Infamous Liquor" comes at a great time: it's either the crest of a movement, or the beginning of a bigger wave. It's an an entertaining history with the crisp pacing you'd expect from an editor at Time Inc. (Joyce's day job).

The urban hipness of moonshine is a huge shift from the entire history of the spirit, which was made for poor people who wanted cheaper hooch than what could be sold after federal tax was collected.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Overwhelmed by trying to open a bottle of Lambrusco

Last week I couldn't figure out how to open a wine bottle.

It has a metal clamp over the cork that doesn't pull or twist off. I went to Twitter for help, but nobody gave me advice.

I searched the Internet, and the best I could find was another writer (the Wine Curmudgeon) who had pried the bottle open with a screwdriver.

The bottle in question was a fine summer wine, a dry Lambrusco, with a name as unnecessarily difficult as its closure. Here it is in full, according to Wine-Searcher: Cleto Chiarli Vigneto Enrico Cialdini Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro Secco. It's from Emilia-Romagna, and it's about $15 a bottle.

Struggling with this bottle made me think about the 19% of U.S. wine drinkers described as Overwhelmed in Constellation Brands' latest consumer survey. My wife is waiting with dinner, and I can't even figure out how to open the bottle.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What does "manipulation" of wine mean to you?

Does wine really taste like the vineyard?
What does wine most taste like: the vineyard? The soil? The weather? The yeast? The barrels? The additives?

We talked about "manipulation" of wine at the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration -- the perfect varietal for the topic.

And I discovered my palate isn't as purist as I might have thought.

Chardonnay is the greatest white grape in the world, depending on how you feel about Riesling. There aren't any other serious candidates. But wine lovers rarely speak of Chardonnay with the respect it deserves, even though we acknowledge the heights it can reach in Burgundy and Champagne and the Sonoma Coast and elsewhere.

That sense of manipulation is part of the reason. We expect other great grapes -- Pinot Noir and Syrah, for example -- to taste "varietally correct." But we don't have a real sense of what great Chardonnay is supposed to taste like.

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."