@EvanDawson on corkage @PalatePress @SottoLA (& note on Ah So)

Above: We may never know the true etymon of the brand name “Ah So” but I’m working on it! See below (image via Bonanza).

My good friend and super cool dude Evan Dawson gave me and Sotto (the Los Angeles restaurant where I curate the wine list) a shout out today in his excellent post on corkage for Palate Press.

Corkage is such a delicate and often emotionally charged issue in our country. That may sound like an overstatement but it’s really true. As Evan notes in his piece, when someone brings in a bottle of Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino to Sotto, shows it to me or Rory, and asks us (with an air of condescension, of course) if we are “familiar” with this wine, it’s like a punch to the gut. Does it not occur to them that our heart and soul has gone into the selection of wines to pair best with the chefs’ food? Of course, we just smile and open their shitty, overpriced barriqued wine for them. They might as well be drinking KJ (and they often do). But it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt. It just means that we’re professionals.

Check out Evan’s piece here.

In other news…

Image via kooky kitsch.

I’ve been working on a magazine piece on Italian wine basics, including a note on corkscrews. The gig led me back to an etymological conundrum that I have yet to resolve: the origin of the name “Ah So.”

In my research over the weekend, I discovered that the reason why we call pronged corkscrews Ah So in this country is that the “butler’s friend” (as it is often called) was first marketed in the U.S. by a German company, Monopol, who called it the Ah So. The Ah So was one of many names used by Monopol, who had also called it the “Ah-Ha.” Another German company in the 1930s had called it the “So So.” And the Atelier Saint-Germain had marketed another version around the same time as “A.S.”

It just so happens (sorry for the paronomasia) that the Monopol was the one that became so popular in the U.S. The earliest mention I’ve discovered is in a November 1970 issue of The New Yorker, where it is referred to as a new product in the U.S., used by European sommeliers.

My philological hunch tells me that Monopol was trying to imitate the proprietary name of another successful marketer of the device.

My dissertation advisor didn’t call me the bloodhound for nothing!

Corkage and Racism

Corkage and racism… These aren’t two words you’d expect to find in a binomial expression. But they are the words that flashed like burning embers in my mind the other night at Sotto in Los Angeles when two couples (right out of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, facelifts, fake tans, shiny teeth and all) sat down and plopped a magnum of a wine that rhymes with joke (you know what I’m talking about), a Brunello I’ve never heard of, and a pack of Marlboro Lights on the table (no joke).

Before I get to explaining my thought process, let’s begin by revealing how offensive it is when restaurant goers do not follow the etiquette of proper corkage.

Lettie Teague wrote this excellent corkage guide a few years ago. And I also really like this guide by Jack Everitt on his site Fork and Bottle.

When it comes to corkage, there are three things that everyone seems to agree on: 1) find out what the corkage policy is before you visit the restaurant; 2) bring something truly special and ideally rare (not something readily available) and offer the sommelier a taste; and 3) order a bottle comparable in value from the list (and leave a generous tip for your server who’s check is reduced as a result of the corkage).

The couples that came the other night already knew that we have a two-bottle limit. They thought that they could get around this by bringing a magnum (two bottles in one) and a 750ml. (It reminded me of a story about an undertaker who got a ticket for using the carpool lane with just him and a cadaver in the van.) It was as if they were saying (and in fact, they were shouting at the top of their lungs): we love the food (and the A-list celebrities) here but we think the wine list sucks and we can’t drink your crappy wine…

And here’s the part where their attitude became racist in my view.

Our wine captain informed them that the magnum counted as their two bottles of wine and so they were forced to order something from our list. Otherwise, how could they get their drink on between smoke breaks?

A server brought them the list and I approached the table and asked the hair-plugged gentleman who seemed to be in charge of alcohol consumption, very politely, “may I answer any questions about the wine list for you, sir?”

He looked up at me and said dismissively, “no, I think we’ve got that covered.”

He ordered a glass (yes, just a glass!) of Lioco 2009 Indica (Carignan and Grenache blend from Mendocino by one of my favorite Californian winemakers, Kevin Kelley).

It was then that I realized that his fear of “the Other” — in this case, southern Italian wine — overwhelmed any ounce of civility that his parents may have imparted to him during child rearing.* (In case you’re not familiar with the concept behind our wine program at Sotto, it’s devoted to southern Italian wine, with a short list of Natural wines from California.)

On the one hand, here was this slick angeleno, with his trophy wife and his Santa Rita Pinot Noir. On the other hand, our wine list must have conjured every southern Italian stereotype in the western canon.

Granted, our list is esoteric by any measure. Even Italian wine professionals will tell me that they don’t recognize many of the wines I have sourced for the list.

But his gesture was a sweeping dismissal: it was abundantly clear to me that in his view, there was no wine from southern Italy that he could possibly drink.

And that, my friends, is racism in flagrante delicto.

When you work in a restaurant, you have to de-sensitize yourself to rudeness. It’s part of the deal. But this is where I draw the line…

Thanks for reading and please treat your servers and sommeliers well!

Hegel was among the first to introduce the idea of the other as constituent in self-consciousness. He wrote of pre-selfconscious Man: “Each consciousness pursues the death of the other”, meaning that in seeing a separateness between you and another, a feeling of alienation is created, which you try to resolve by synthesis. The resolution is depicted in Hegel’s famous parable of the master-slave dialectic. (Wikipedia)

2003 Oddero Barolo in magnum: that’s what friends are for

Above: Giacomo Oddero 2003 Barolo in magnum was fantastic last night.

What can I say? Being a wine blogger has its perks. My buddy John Rikkers (whom I met through wine blogging) brought in a bottle of 2003 Barolo by Giacomo Oddero (one of my favorite traditionalist producers) to drink last night at Jaynes Gastropub following the Mamma Mia! tasting at the restaurant.

NOTA BENE: Jaynes does allow corkage. For a great guide on corkage, check out Lettie Teague’s article from a few years back, “Corkage for Dummies.” It’s a great set of rules-of-thumb for bringing your own bottle.

Above: John (right) and I met online through wine blogging and we always have a blast tasting together.

The 03 Oddero was simply singing last night: tar, goudron nose… earthy manure on the palate… mushroomy and elegantly tannic… Let me just go ahead and say it: cow shit in a glass and I loved it…

It’s a great example of how a lot of great wine was made in 2003, despite the challenging vintage, especially by those who take a traditional approach to Nebbiolo. It’s also a great example of how 2003 — an aggressively warm vintage — is drinking wonderfully right now. (I recently tasted 2003 Barbaresco by Produttori del Barbaresco and again, showing great right now.)

A propos wine blogging and folks I’ve met through the wine blogger community, check out this superb post by Gary Chevsky on his dinner with Mariacristina Oddero of Giacomo Oddero the other night at Donato Enoteca in Redwood, CA (a restaurant, I’m DYING to check out btw). Gary gives a great profile of the producer and the wines, definitely working checking out…

Thanks again, John. The 03 Oddero blew me away last night and was an awesome pairing for my Bangers and Mash. You R O C K!