Yesterday’s Wine: Merle Haggard

Your presence is welcome with me and my friend here.
This is a hangout of mine.
We come here quite often and listen to music
Partaking of yesterday’s wine.

(from “Yesterday’s Wine,” written by Willie Nelson, performed by George Jones and Merle Haggard as a duet, and by Willie Nelson)

Above: The inimitable Merle Haggard at the Austin Music Hall on Wednesday night. Tracie B surprised me with tickets!

With the awesome show we saw on Wednesday night in Austin, Tracie B and I have fulfilled two panels in our “Yesterday’s Wine” triptych, Willie Nelson, George Jones, and Merle Haggard (we saw Willie in October and so we’re just missing George Jones now). We had a blast: he played a lot of the hits, including “Okie from Muskogee,” “I Think I’ll Just Sit Here and Drink,” “If We Make It through December,” and “Are the Good Times Really Over.” It was amazing to think about how apropos the latter two are today, with the economy in tatters and the future uncertain:

    I wish coke was still cola,
    And a joint was a bad place to be.
    And it was back before Nixon lied to us all on TV.
    Before microwave ovens,
    When a girl could still cook and still would.
    Is the best of the free life behind us now?
    Are the good times really over for good?

    Are we rolling down hill like a snowball headed for hell?
    With no kind of chance for the Flag or the Liberty bell.

Above: Isn’t she a doll?

In other news…

I had some of the best ragù (not counting Tracie B’s) I’ve had in a long time at Samson’s in McKinney (north Dallas) where I was traveling for work. Served over potato gnocchi, it had just the right consistency and balance of sweet, savory, and fatty flavors. Chefs and brothers Samuele Minin (who makes the gnocchi) and Germano Minin (who makes the ragù) are from Udine (Friuli) and they really know what they’re doing. Paired wonderfully with 2006 Langhe Nebbiolo by Produttori del Barbaresco, which is simply singing right now. Life could be worse… especially when you’re on the company dime!

Dorothy, here you come again

Half-jokingly, a wine publicist and good friend recently remarked to me: “I mean, come on, let’s face it. No offense, but how many people read your blog anyway?” As much personal satisfaction that my blog gives me, I recognize that I’m no Eric, Alder, Tyler, or Franco.

But that’s partly what makes me all the more angry (and I promise this is my last rant for the week) when one of the truly influential sources of food and wine journalism publishes disinformation, like Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher’s supercilious take on 2004 Barolo, published last week in The Wall Street Journal, or their truly offensive and imbecilic “10 Ways to Save Money Ordering Wine,” published on Saturday. (I apologize in advance to my friend J, a WSJ editor and writer I admire greatly for this second harangue about his colleagues: the poorly delivered humor in my post about the 2004 Barolo piece was simply that — poorly delivered.) Especially in this day and “age of responsibility,” when many of our nation’s restaurateurs find themselves gripped in a day-to-day battle for survival, Dorothy and John’s tips for not being “hosed” by restaurateurs (they actually use the word hose! in the WSJ!) and the accusatory, paranoid tone or their article are no less than nefarious. It’s important to acknowledge that restaurant-going consumers are feeling the financial pinch these days as well: Dorothy and John’s readers would have been better served by “tips on how to find value on the list at your favorite restaurant.”

Here are some highlights from their piece…

1. Skip wine by the glass.

I studied Italian literature at university but it doesn’t take a Ph.D. to figure out that a glass of wine costs less than a bottle. Wine by the glass is one of the ways that we find new wines we like without having to pay for the bottle. Better advice would be: when ordering a wine by the glass, ask your server if you have the option to purchase the whole bottle at the bottle price if you like the wine.

3. Bypass the second-cheapest wine on the list.

A generalization like this is simply stupid, irrelevant, and inappropriate. Honest restaurateurs (and most of them are honest) price their wines in accordance with the prices they are charged by wholesalers. Better advice: figure out what you want to spend and ask your server or sommelier which wines in that price point meet your expectations in terms of style, aromas and flavors, and desired pairing.

6. Never order Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio.

Even Eric and Charles — two palates who really do know something about Italian wine — liked Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio when they tasted it blind in a New York Times tasting panel. Dorothy and John, come on: this is insulting. Better advice: order what you like and enjoy when you go to a restaurant. Whether you like Pinot Grigio by Santa Margherita, white Zinfandel by Beringer, or first-growth Bordeaux (wines many would consider over-priced but coveted and thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless), then go for it. You go to a restaurant to have fun… not to be scared of being ripped off!

9. BYOB.

Dorothy and John, I hate to break it to you but bring-your-own-bottle is appropriate in two cases: 1) when a restaurant doesn’t have a beer and/or wine license; 2) when you bring an illustrious and expensive bottle that doesn’t appear on the restaurant’s list. And remember: whenever you bring your own bottle to a restaurant, be sure to order a bottle of equivalent value. Thrift, Dorothy and John, is no excuse for rude behavior or bad tipping.

Here you come again, Dorothy and John, Just when I’m about to make it work without you.

Banfi manufactures consent

The strangest post found its way to my inbox yesterday. In it, someone who calls her/himself WineCentric reports that last year the Banfi winery “came under fire from Italian authorities who claimed that varietals other than Sangiovese were being blended into Brunello di Montalcino” and she/he claims that the winery “has emerged sagacious and smelling as sweet as the rose petal and raspberry bouquet found in their Rosa Regale sparkler… Lab tests eventually cleared Banfi of any impropriety.”

Sagacious? Smelling sweet as rose petal?

Reports by leading Italian news outlets don’t jive with such claims. According to L’Espresso, for example, wineries like Banfi had to declassify considerable amounts of Brunello in order for their products to be allowed back on the market.

I wrote to Winecentric but received no response.

I’m sorry, Banfi: you still stink… Me? I’m just trying to keep the world safe for Italian wine.

Fight the power…

Bite your tongue, Dorothy

tongueMy Google Reader overflows with feeds these days. It’s hard to keep up with them all and I regret that it took me a few days to catch up to Alice’s post on Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher’s article “A Waning Affair with Barolo”. In their piece, the wife-and-husband team priggishly express their disappointment with the 2004 vintage of Barolo. (I read The New York Times daily. It’s my tie to the Big Apple. And I dogmatically avoid The Wall Street Journal — required reading for the rich, a manifesto and manual for capitalist subjugation of the proletariat. As a result, I was unaware of the piece.)

They say they set out to find 50 bottles under $70 so it’s not clear how many they actually tasted. But their unwarranted, superfluous, and supercilious take on the 2004 vintage is decidedly negative. The wines, they write, “really just weren’t that impressive. You can’t imagine our shock and disappointment. Flight after flight left us cold. They weren’t bad. They were pleasant enough. But with wine after wine, we used a word that should never be used to describe Barolo: simple.” Pleasant enough? Simple?

In another one of her excellent posts wherein she continues her struggle (la lotta continua) to defend the world from Parkerization (and here I take her concept of Parkerization as it relates to the arrogant, chauvinist attitude that his followers — more so than he — exude), Alice rightly laments: “I have a hard time when writers smack down vintage. In this case, especially as they really don’t seem to be experienced when interpreting young vintages, it seems irresponsible.”

It is more than irresponsible. In fact, it’s reprehensible.

When you taste a great wine (like Barolo) in its youth from a great vintage (and it certainly will prove to be an excellent vintage, if not a great one), you don’t look for greatness in the wine. You look for the potential for greatness in the wine. Beyond its tannic structure (dominant in this phase of the wine’s evolution), you look for the presence of defects. In their absence, you can begin to assess the wine’s potential for development. You also ask growers and winemakers what they think of the vintage (they know better than any) and you do your homework by reading your colleagues’s assessment of a given wine.

I looked up Franco’s post on a tasting of 57 bottlings of 2004 Barolo in September 2007 with Roy Richards, Nicolas Belfrage, David Berry Green, and Stuart George. (Dorothy and John, if you don’t know who these guys are, please add them to your reading list. They seem to know something about Italian wine.) According to Franco, Barolo 2004 was “classic vintage.” He noted that “2004 seems to be a great vintage and there are many wines worth buying and cellaring — with all likelihood, wines that will get greater over the years… [In 2004], Nebbiolo triumphed with its elegance and its singularity… One thing is certain, 2004 Barolo is a great wine and it deserves our attention, our trust, and the consensus of all lovers of great wine. In English, you would call these wines fine wines: they are elegant, refined, complex, and nothing less.”

Arrogance, hubris, chauvinism, superciliousness, ignorance, disinformation: these are words come to mind as I ponder Dorothy and John’s irresponsible and reprehensible journalism. Once again, the haughty American attitude shows its ugly head. Once again, American wine writers haven’t considered the most important elements in any wine: the people who made it and the place where they live and work. Bite your tongues, Dorothy and John.

It’s sgroppino time (I wish it were)

Man, it’s been a long week… and it’s only Thursday. I’m on the road again today and am looking forward to some relaxing (and gastronomic-literary pursuits) this weekend. I sure wish it were sgroppino time!

A sgroppino is made from sherbet (usually lemon) and Prosecco (and sometimes a shot of vodka). It is served at the end of the meal to aid in digestion. The word itself, from the Italian groppo or knot (akin to the English crop; see below), means “a little helper in pushing out a knot in the — ahem — digestion.”

A sgroppino was mandatory after our horse meat dinner (left) last April in Legnaro (Padua, Veneto).

And a sgroppino (below) really hit the spot after dinner at the osteria of the famous restaurant and inn on the Slovenian border La Subida (Cormons, Friuli), also last April after NN+ played at Movia.

Be sure to check out the Miller Time commercial below. That’s just about how I feel right now!

From the Oxford English Dictionary Online Edition:

[OE. crop(p = OLG. *crop(p, MDu. crop(p, MLG., LG. and Du. krop, OHG. chropf, MHG., Ger. kropf, ‘swelling in the neck, wen, craw of a bird’, in ON. kroppr hump or bunch on the body, Sw. kropp the body, Da. krop swelling under the throat. These various applications indicate a primitive sense of ‘swollen protuberance or excrescence, bunch’. The word has passed from German into Romanic as F. croupe, and It. groppo, F. groupe: see CROUP, GROUP. OE. had only sense 1, ‘craw of a bird’, and 3, ‘rounded head or top of a herb’; the latter is found also in High German dialects (Grimm, Kropf 4c); the further developments of ‘head or top’ generally, and of ‘produce of the field, etc.’, appear to be exclusively English. The senses under IV are new formations from the verb, and might be treated as a distinct word.]

I. A round protuberance or swelling, the craw.

1. a. A pouch-like enlargement of the {oe}sophagus or gullet in many birds, in which the food undergoes a partial preparation for digestion before passing on to the true stomach; the craw.

2. transf. and fig. The stomach or maw; also the throat. Now Sc. and dial. Cf. GIZZARD.

If you’ve got the time, we’ve got the sgroppino:

O tempora, o Nebbiolo

O tempora, o mores, to borrow a phrase from Cicero. Times are tough all around and these days I’m slinging a wine bag on my back and hitting the streets, hawking wine. I’m a traveling salesman like my maternal grandfather Maurice (poppa, we used to call him; my paternal grandfather was a rabbi, our zaidi — Yiddish for grand-père — but that’s another story). But as fate would have it, I consider myself lucky inasmuch I get to sell a lot of wines that I genuinely love (my new gig is with the Austin-based Mosaic Wine Group; check out the new blog we launched here). The other day I got to pour multiple vintages of one of my favorite wines (as anybody who follows my blog knows so well), Produttori del Barbaresco: I led a guided tasting of the 2004 and 2005 Barbaresco and 2006 Langhe Nebbiolo the other night at The Austin Wine Merchant in downtown Austin, Texas.

I didn’t get to participate in the Piedmont edition of Wine Blogger Wednesday, orchestrated smashingly by David McDuff at his excellent blog McDuff’s Food and Wine Trail, and so he graciously honored me with a guest blogger spot writing about Produttori del Barbaresco and my recent tasting notes at his kick-ass web log (one of my daily reads).

To read my tasting notes (including my translation of the winery’s 2006 vintage notes), click here.

In other news…

As my friend and dissertation adviser Luigi Ballerini used to say whenever we ate Japanese: oh tempura, oh soy sauce!

American Squirrel Wine Blog Awards Announced

One of our favorite non-wine blogs, Las Flores View Point Squirrel Colony, is proud to announce the winners of the first-ever American Squirrel Wine Blog Awards. It seems the Critter-Critic has taken it on himself to break from the pack and Award some very deserving blogs for their service to the community and the blogosphere in general. Seeing as it is the end of a very busy week and we have too much to do, we will ask that you focus your attention on the Los Flores Blog to read more about these most important Wine Blog Awards.

—Starsky and Hutch