Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Robot Chicken vs. white wine (if you like being offended, Merry Christmas!)

I can't believe it took me five years to see Robot Chicken take on white wine. What was I doing with my life?

Better late than never. If I hadn't seen it, maybe you haven't either. Presented without permission from Cartoon Network or the creators of the stop-action animated show, here are the three "White Wine" vignettes from the Robot Chicken episode "Hurtled from a Helicopter into a Speeding Train," which first aired in 2012.

They are best enjoyed in order. On the show -- which is always a series of smartass vignettes -- they appear in this order, broken up by other short visual jokes.

And then ...

And finally ...

I should probably defend white wine and express my shock and outrage but, well, fuck it. Robot Chicken rules. Honey, would you pass the white wine?

If you want to see more, here's Robot Chicken's official site.

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

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

I told a winemaker his wine has too much alcohol -- without tasting it

This post is a confession. I had an uncomfortable email exchange last weekend, so naturally I'm sharing it with the wider wine world. I know a number of winemakers will read this and they won't like it. I'm not sure I handled it correctly. Should I have said anything? You be the judge.

UPDATE: I had a pleasant phone conversation with the winemaker about this wine, and I have added his comments at the end of the post.

First, I got a press release from a California winery that is releasing a single-variety wine of a grape I hadn't heard of, Saint-Macaire, about which the encyclopedic book "Wine Grapes"*, which seems to know everything about every grape, says, "Little is known about the history of this obscure Bordeaux variety ... commonly grown in the Gironde in the nineteenth century ... Saint-Macaire has more or less disappeared from its Bordeaux homeland."

* (This is my favorite wine reference book and would make a great holiday gift.)

Saint-Macaire is so rare, the winery pointed out in its press release, that it does not appear in  California Department of Agriculture listings. This winery planted 600 vines in 2012 and now it has its first crop.

Enophile alert! Rare wine grape rescued from near-extinction! I love this kind of wine and this kind of story. But here's the catch:

Retail price: $68
Cases produced: 124
16.0% alcohol by volume
Aged: 19 months in barrel, new French oak

Damn. I was curious to taste Saint-Macaire, but when picked at that ripeness, how could I tell the difference between it and Merlot? Or Zinfandel, for that matter?

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Bordeaux fake wine crime proves Bordeaux AOC still has value. But why?

Most stories about fake Bordeaux are about counterfeit versions of really expensive bottles, 1947 Château Pompeux or a rare double magnum of 1961 Château Prétentieux, or whatever.

A story that broke this week in the French publication Vitisphere is completely different (here is an English-language report on that story). French customs authorities are investigating the possibility that an unnamed négociant bought 420,000 liters of wine from Languedoc -- enough for 560,000 bottles -- and sold that wine to global distributors as Bordeaux.

For some of that workmanlike Languedoc bulk wine, there was clearly going to be value added. The negociant claimed that 93,000 bottles worth were Pomerol, 80,000 bottles were Margaux and 47,000 bottles were Pauillac. Though illegal and immoral, etc., that's alchemy I can understand. The idea was to turn $12 bottles of wine into $50 bottles of wine. That crime would pay.

What surprised me was that the négociant tried to pass off more than 1/3 of his bulk Languedoc wine -- 190,000 bottles -- as entry-level Bordeaux AOC wine, and another 93,000 bottles as Bordeaux Superieur AOC (in this case "Superieur" is a region and not a quality designation, though I didn't know that when I first started drinking wine and I'll bet not many people know it now.)

I don't know about you, but I would rather buy a Languedoc wine than a Bordeaux AOC wine.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The perils of cheap Pinot Noir: notes from PinotFest

Ross Cobb makes some of the most elegant Pinots in California
PinotFest is one of the best annual wine tastings in San Francisco, with current-release Pinots Noir from throughout the West Coast, but usually I don't take a lot of notes. I'm too easily distracted: too many people I want to talk to. Usually I taste some Pinots I'm interested in, chat with a few folks, eat some duck gizzards (?? every year they serve these) and go on my way.

This year, after I had tasted about a half-dozen Pinots, I was thinking, wow, the West Coast is really doing great things with this grape. These are outstanding, terroir-driven, lively, pretty, not overdone wines that I wish I could spend an entire evening with.

Then I ran into a sommelier and wine instructor I have known for years, and she was shaking her head. "These wines are depressing," she said. "So much oak. So over the top."

How could we differ so completely?

It turns out to be a class issue, and a conundrum in talking about California and Oregon Pinot Noir.

Friday, December 1, 2017

NIMBY wine wars erupt over a funeral at a California winery

The Disunited States sucks right now. I'm saying this as a guy who wrote my Thanksgiving wine column for Palate Press about how we should all just get along.

Then I took a look at the comments on this story about a winemaker's funeral in Santa Barbara County. There's something really wrong with this country, and this story and the comments encapsulate it.

First, the setup. Winemaker Seth Kunin died unexpectedly last month of a heart attack at age 50. Patrick Comiskey wrote a nice obit of Kunin for the LA Times. Kunin was a beloved guy in the chummy Santa Barbara winemaking scene.

Naturally, people who worked with him wanted to hold a memorial service. Larner Vineyard offered to host it. This was a great location because Larner Vineyard has for years sold its grapes to young winemakers just starting out, thus helping to foster that community.

Larner Vineyard had fought with neighbors when it wanted to open a winery and tasting room. I am not taking a position on this. Santa Barbara County can be very NIMBY*, but I have driven on Ballard Canyon Road to Larner Vineyard and it does require attentiveness. That said, the permit was issued; the vineyard and winery are open (albeit not for drop-in tasting). And earlier this month, more than a year after the zoning decision, the memorial service was scheduled.

(* Not In My Back Yard; people who don't generally oppose development but don't want it next to them)

Knowing how popular Kunin was, the Larners hired traffic attendants to staff the memorial service. The service was popular enough that the parking lot filled and about a dozen cars had to park out on the road. Not an ideal situation on Ballard Canyon Road, but there were parking attendants, and it was not exactly a wine-release party.

Someone anonymously filed a complaint with the county, claiming the Larners violated their winery permit by hosting a big event that caused traffic disruptions. The Larners counter that it wasn't an event for commercial purposes. The county will investigate.

Why I'm writing this blog post: the aggressive, nasty tone of the comments from one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. People who live in Santa Ynez Valley, in or around Ballard Canyon, they live in paradise. And they're in California: they should be doing yoga, smoking soon-to-be legal weed and coexisting.

Instead, here are a few snippets:

"I am disgusted that this HAG would stoop so low."