Friday, December 30, 2016

Good news: Google decides I'm no longer a fraud

Recently I went public with something that had been bothering me for 6 years: that Google had determined my blog to be a fraud.

Shortly afterward, a civilian on a Google help board suggested I use Google's appeals process to re-appeal my case: to try again to prove I am innocent of charges I never even understood. (There's a book on this topic.)

So I did. Unlike my first appeal in 2010, after Google declared me a "risk of generating invalid activity," I mentioned some of the awards I have won from blogging. I also wrote that I was re-appealing after learning about the fake news peddlers who Google is paying tens of thousands of dollars. "I tell the truth at The Gray Report. Go and look," I wrote.

Cheeky, huh?

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Restaurant secret: Guess what they're adding to your Champagne?

These numbers are before adding sugar. Courtesy Wine Folly
Do you ever order a glass of Champagne in restaurants? I do. You know what they might be adding to it?

A pinch of sugar.

I learned this recently from someone who has been spending a lot of time working with restaurants on their wine by-the-glass programs in more than one part of the country, though that person believes New York is the epicenter of it.

The reason is this: very few restaurants have a good preservation system for Champagne. A bottle opened at 6 pm might not appear to have much fizz left at 8:30 pm.

Adding a touch of sugar just before serving -- less than the size of the packets used for coffee -- causes the Champagne to fizz up. It looks festive, and the customer can't complain that the wine has gone flat, no matter how it tastes. Try it at home: it works.

There's a reason no news organization has done an investigation of this practice, which is widely known among restaurant people: it's not harmful. Almost all sparkling wine has residual sugar anyway, so it's not a case where a diabetic would unknowingly face a health risk. A packet of sugar contains about 4 grams of sugar, for about 16 calories.

The only thing at risk is the taste of the Champagne. A glass of Brut Champagne might have, on average, about 2 grams of residual sugar. Adding half a packet of sugar to freshen up the bubbles doubles the sugar content, making it sweeter than a glass of Extra Dry Champagne. The 2 extra grams of sugar won't kill you: try asking the chef how much butter and salt is in your appetizer.

But if you ever thought the Champagne you ordered tasted a little sweeter than you expected, now you know why.

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

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

If natural wine were food: review of Bar Tartine alumnus Nick Balla's popup Motze

The menu comes on a tile, apparently to save paper
If chefs are today's rock stars, Motze is Nick Balla's experimental noise album. It is like a natural wine you can eat. And it is still looking for an audience.

Balla is leaving San Francisco's Bar Tartine after five years to open his own restaurant. In the interim, he has a year-and-a-half lease on a spot just down Valencia Street, and has used it to open what he calls a popup, Motze. At least at first, Balla is relying on local ingredients that come in the door that day.

It's possible that Motze might not make it halfway through 2017, though: the Yelp reviews are not very good, and on the Tuesday night we visited, the restaurant was less than 1/4 full even in prime time.

So if you're curious about what one of San Francisco's most influential chefs (read this laudatory SF Chronicle profile) is doing in his experimental noise album phase, you better get there quickly. New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov has called Bar Tartine his favorite SF restaurant. Eric, you better book Motze soon. Does that mean I'm recommending a visit for everyone? Well, maybe, with some caveats. Despite everything written below, we might go back (though I'll wear a false nose or something.)

Friday, December 23, 2016

Trump winery needs Mexican farmworkers: Hot takes and realistic takes

News item: Trump Vineyard Estates has applied for six seasonal foreign-worker visas, hoping to underpay Mexicans for the skilled job of pruning grapevines.

Hot take: Trump sends jobs to Mexico!

Realistic take: Tending grapevines is skilled labor, and there aren't enough Americans who do it.

In 2014, one Mendocino County winery began using prison labor to harvest grapes because of the shortage of farmworkers. And grape picking requires less skill and experience than pruning.

Hopefully Trump's personal experience with his namesake winery will encourage him to support more temporary farmworker visas. We can't feed America without the help of our neighbors in Mexico.

Hot take: Trump winery pays only $10.72 an hour for grape pruners. If the job paid better, more Americans would do it!

Realistic take: That will be true if the US goes into another great depression, but until then, not likely.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Dear Google: I am not a fraud

In 2010, Google declared my blog a fraud.

This has been bothering me for six years. I have been called a lot of things, but few stung like this: the most powerful company in the world called me a fraud.

Meanwhile, Google has been paying people who write posts like "Pope Endorses Trump" tens of thousands of dollars.

Until the November election, I thought this was just a mistake by Google: an algorithm that somehow mischaracterized me. But now I realize I'm a flyspeck in a large pattern.

The major sources of news on the Internet, Google and Facebook, have created an information reward structure that enriches people who invent blatant lies, the more outrageous the better. As for someone like me, who tries to provide original content that is actually true ... well, let me tell you about my reward.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

In EU wine, the rich countries get the government subsidies

Smithers, are the Greeks at the door again? Release the hounds.
European wine producers receive government support, and I'm all for that. I wish American wine producers got more support from our government, rather than all our agricultural subsidies going to rich landholders to not grow grain.

However, the question is, which countries should get the most EU support?

My guess would have been three countries that make great wine but have been in economic crisis for years: Greece, Portugal and Spain. Wrong.

A new study published in the Journal of Wine Economics shows that just as in the US, the rich EU countries get the subsidies. Of course they do.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

American wine consumers still don't care about what sommeliers like

Wine Purchase Decision Making by percentage of respondents
If you ask a sommelier what's most important about wine, in order, she'll probably tell you region, then producer, then grape.

For average American wine consumers, it's almost backwards.

Sonoma State University released its third annual American Wine Consumer Survey this week. It's based on 1081 consumers, and ends thus: "Caveat: Since this survey is based on a representative sample of American wine consumers, and not a random sample, it cannot be generalized to all wine consumers." This begs the question, "Why bother?" But I'll report some of its findings anyway because what the hell, we're in the post-fact era, and only liberals worry about truthiness.

The survey asked what factors are most important in buying a wine. Price is No. 1, of course. But after that, it's brand, varietal and country.

I get that: people outside the gourmet bubble ask me what I think of French wines, or Spanish wines, not what I think about St-Joseph wines or Rias Baixas wines.