Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Bouncing back from receivership, Cameron Hughes discounts Napa Valley for you

Cameron Hughes never tells me where he gets his wine from, and I don't ask him to break his non-disclosure contracts. So when I tell you I tasted a 6-pack that came from Harlan Estate or one of its offshoots, understand that I learned the provenance elsewhere*, and Hughes refused to confirm or deny it.

Looks like Harlan, right?
* Thanks to some background work from the Wine Berserkers bulletin board, confirmed by the Harlan font on the corks.

I dropped by Hughes' San Francisco office yesterday because I wanted to taste what he calls the best deal of his career -- hell of a statement, for a 6-pack of wine that costs $400 -- and to find out how he's recovering from his business being placed into receivership early this year.

There's obviously a connection. If the officer appointed by the court to oversee his business doesn't believe Cameron Hughes wine has a future, he wouldn't be able to write a check to Bill Harlan for 2000 6-packs of wines Harlan wants to unload under somebody else's name.

What do you want to hear first: How was the declassified Harlan? How's Hughes' business coming along? And what's the terrific Oakville, Napa Valley red wine for under $14! I can recommend because I asked Hughes to pour me something non-Harlany?

Let's go in that order.

Monday, November 23, 2015

It's a new era in wine: Thoughts on Pinot Noir, Robert Parker and the mainstream food media

In wine, the counterculture is the culture now.

In 1992, Bill Clinton became the first admitted marijuana smoker to be elected President. That used to be a litmus test, so much so that Clinton, the most famous equivocator in the White House, claimed, "I didn't inhale." Now, a black man can say he used a little cocaine and be elected President. The world is different now and people paying attention could see it in 1992.

Friday was such a day for me. In three different events, I noticed that changes many people have been predicting have all happened already. Individually they are not news, but the fact that we have actually entered a new era is worth noting.

Point 1: I went to PinotFest, an annual tasting in San Francisco of only west coast Pinot Noir, for the 10th time. When I went to this event for the first time the full-bodied style of Pinot Noir was the most common. You could find leaner styles, and sommeliers gathered around those tables, but they were the minority.

Not anymore.

Friday, November 20, 2015

I don't agree with Robert Parker's wine ratings

I don't agree with Robert Parker's wine ratings.

I think he gives too many ratings that are too high. Not that many wines can be perfect.

I think his ratings reward only power and not balance and elegance.

I think his ratings are biased beyond his control because he doesn't taste blind.

Most of all, my taste is not the same as his. I don't like the kinds of wine that he does so his ratings do not have predictive value for me.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

3 bad translations that lead sommeliers and drinkers to the wrong sakes

Yes, I'm drinking sake in a yukata with Suehiro president Inokichi Shinjo
Sake appreciation is held back in the U.S. by a number of factors, not least of which is difficult language. This is partly why inferior U.S. sakes have so much of our market; they're not just cheaper, they're also easier to understand.

Translation is not a problem for European wines because English and other European languages are related. French used to say "terroir" doesn't translate well, but there are reams of English written about "terroir," and most of us get it.

But Japanese doesn't share any European roots and is prone to terrible and sometimes funny translations, as anyone who has ever rented a car or used a public toilet in Japan knows. I have a sweatshirt that reads "Relax body We are all prostitutes," and even though I speak Japanese I'm not sure what the original sentiment was there.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Georgian wines: an interesting pawn in U.S. geopolitics

Quick quiz: can you name the country whose wines get financial support from the U.S. State Department?

If you said the United States of America, nice try. The U.S. government's idea of supporting its own country's wine is to keep the beer & wine distributors who heavily contribute to political campaigns happy. It's not like the European Union, where wine producers get all sorts of government  support.

No, the answer is a country that is in Europe, but not in the E.U., and therefore not able to balance its budget with money from Germany. It's Georgia: "the country, not the state," as you have to tell everyone whenever you talk about Georgian wine.

Why is the U.S. government supporting Georgian wine?

"Because they want Georgia to stay focused on the west instead of their big neighbor to the north," says Lisa Granik, an MW who presented a tasting of Georgian wines recently in San Francisco.

Georgia's economy is a mess. Part of its territory is occupied by Russia, which cut off imports of its wines in 2006, leading to a financial crisis. Believe it or not, its number one export is now used cars. People are selling off whatever they have to feed themselves.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Esquire TV's "Uncorked:" Annoying minor-league sommelier students strike out

"Uncorked" is only watchable when the actual Master Sommeliers, seated, are on the screen.
Which do you prefer watching: minor-league baseball or Major League Baseball?

The analogy occurred to me while I slogged through the first episode of Esquire TV's new show "Uncorked," which premiers Nov. 10. (You might have Esquire TV and not even know it; I do.)

It's basically a 10-hour version of the movie "Somm" and is inferior to "Somm" (which I enjoyed) in most ways. By the 17th minute of "Uncorked," I doubted that I could make it through an entire 45-minute episode.

But in the second half of the premier, suddenly it got a lot more watchable, and the flaw in these sommelier-student shows -- there's a sequel to "Somm" coming out -- became obvious.

Actual Master Sommeliers are, in my experience, really fun people to be around. More than just knowledgeable about wine, they're enthusiastic. They can discuss wine minutiae or generalities without being condescending. And their service training prevents them from being self-centered. You know you're dining with master somms when your fellow diners keep quietly refilling your water glass.

They are the major leaguers. They're graceful; they're a pleasure to watch. In contrast, master sommelier students are self-absorbed and awkward.