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Archive for April, 2010

Genetically Modified

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Posted by Burke Morton On April - 18 - 2010

I'm a coach for my son's soccer team, and we just returned from a game against some genetically modified 8- and 9-year-old kids. My children go to a public Montessori school (in case you were wondering, no it's not easy to reconcile public Montessori with No Child Left Behind...), and today's opponents were from our traditional neighborhood public school. Said school is only nominally larger than my son's school, so I'm dying to know why there was such a size disparity.

We got stomped.

It was not really a fun game, and the other team's coach made it even worse. He was the kind of guy that you know actually exists, but you are still surprised when you meet him. He is an INTENSE DUDE. Now if I'm saying that, then he must have been insufferable. The guy even yelled--inexplicably--at us (the three opposing coaches). As it happened, I know the assistant coach of the other team, and I got the sense from our brief discussion today that he is there to inject a little joy to their practices.

Last night I drank the 2005 Mollydooker Carnival of Love Shiraz (from grapes grown in McLaren Vale), apparently in unwitting preparation for that genetically modified opposing team. The wine was so much more than "too much" that even "genetically modified" seems tame. Good flavors? Sure, though they had a roasted quality that didn't appeal to me. Overwhelming in that Aussie sort of way? Sure--if the wine were a person it would have been the life of a party (no one else would have gotten to talk, but still). Hedonistic? So I've read, but it strikes me more as masochistic. Apparently it has a very high Marquis Fruit Weight™, and I can only imagine what kind of unnatural manipulation was required to achieve this. I did find myself hoping it might inject a little joy into my glass, but really it tasted like an effete state of BS. If you keep assaulting your tongue with this stuff, pretty soon you'll be numb and miss out on not just the rest of the wine, but LOTS of other things.

Like your dinner.

I had been putting off drinking the wine because I couldn't imagine what the heck I would eat with it other than pancakes (on which it would seriously have made great syrup), and this is not the sort of wine I want to drink all by itself. The wine was a gift, which is really a shame, because this kind of wine, which was a 99 or 96 pointer (and no doubt bought because of that), represents everything I DON'T want in wine. My menu options were few, so I had ribs. I made the Best Ribs In The Universe, which calls for my least favorite BBQ sauce (KC Masterpiece) to be SWEETENED EVEN FURTHER with honey. Well, I've made it a few times before, and the ribs are indeed great, so I held out some hope that the wine wouldn't overwhelm the ribs. I fired up my Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker and smoke-cooked them with some Canadian maple as the smoke wood. Mmm...Good! Too bad the wine was still too much for my hyper-flavored ribs!!!

Okay, so apparently genetically modified crops are better for the environment. I'm skeptical, but open minded. Wines like the Mollydooker, which aren't technically genetically modified, are apparently better (than their peers) according the point-scores ascribed to them. I'm skeptical but NOT open minded. I mean, IT OVERPOWERED MY RIBS!!!!! In fact, I'm more than skeptical...it's just plain wrong.

So what the heck is the purpose of such a wine anyway? Knowing a bit about what I'm tasting, I understand how one arrives at this style, but shouldn't wine aspire to be about something bigger than the Mt. Everest of Wines? I realize that I'm a wine professional and all, but it's just a drink. The "Mt. Everest of Wines" seems like a pretty low and unimportant peak.

Of course, I want a wine to have a use beyond pouring it on a waffle (or a lover...titillating and tasty as that might be). And for God's sake, working with some baby back ribs shouldn't be too much to ask, even for the most self-conscious of wines. In my view, food, which is my main sustenance (in spite of the fact that I write multiple wine blogs), shouldn't be subservient to wine. Any wine that is so self-sufficient that the only thing that might go with it is Dinuguan (a delicious classic of the Philippines, though my wife--a Filipina--won't eat it), is practically worthless.

As if to underscore this, I went back downstairs and fished out a different Australian Shiraz--Hewitson Mad Hatter (also from McLaren Vale)--and it was so good with the ribs that I wanted to write a song about it.

But, as the missus is OOT and I had to wrestle the kids into bed alone...I fell asleep early and didn't get to it.

Sorry.

Popularity: 6% [?]

A Pinot Gris at 15

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Posted by Burke Morton On April - 16 - 2010

I decided I'd have an easier time adjusting to the missing finger if I was consuming wine while writing (after all, the old writer's adage is "write drunk, edit sober"), so on this beautiful, warm Spring day I pulled out a bottle of 15 year-old Pinot Gris from Alsace: the 1995 Clos Windsbuhl Pinot Gris from Zind-Humbrecht.

In the end I didn't drink enough to even get a buzz, because this is the kind of wine you want to stay sober for! Those of you who are surprised that a Pinot Gris lasted this long, I hope you'll revise your thinking, as this is not uncommon from the great sites in Alsace. Clos Windsbuhl is a single vineyard in Alsace that, for a variety of reasons (which I'll spare you unless someone asks about it) yields wines that generally age well, and are often very tense when young.

Since I was an insufferable newbie AND somehow also a know-it-all when I bought this wine back in 1997 (I was insecure and had a huge ego that was completely in the way of any sensory reception at the tasting I went to. To the extent that you care, we can thank maturity and my wife for feeding me the humble pie.), I have absolutely no recollection of what this wine tasted like back then. However, based on my unusually broad knowledge (umm...where's that humble pie?) of Alsace wine, I imagine that there was some residual sugar that was prominent. If so, this is no longer a principal feature, but has absorbed into the wine as a whole. This is not uncommon in wines this powerful as they age. Think of it this way: this wine was made for a long life, so it's sweetness and acids were not communing very well early on, whereas in some of the very, very popular Chardonnays from Napa Valley and Sonoma Coast--those that many people think are actually dry--are made to co-mingle this sugar and acidity more precociously.

A Pinot Gris like this would be a mind-bending alternative to fans of such wines. The Pinot Gris was fresh, didn't taste "old" at all, and had marvelously vivid stone fruit qualities to go with similar but significantly more suggestive aromas. It was hard to stop smelling this one.

Zind-Humbrecht wines are not inexpensive, but this estate makes some of the greatest wines you can buy. I paid $45 for this wine (at a time when this kind of price made my head swim). That $45 has paid huge dividends for me so far, and I don't doubt that it will continue to do so for the rest of the day (and tomorrow). Strangely, these wines are not as in-demand as they should be. I've known many people who buy those aforementioned Chardonnays--which shall go unnamed (to protect the innocent, since this article is not meant to deride them...maybe I'll write one of those later)--by the case and put them in their cellar, but then they don't drink them all within three years. Naturally they complain that the wines don't taste like they did or--my favorite descriptor--"should." I can only offer commiseration and a new buying strategy. The Clos Windsbuld Pinot Gris currently sells for about $65, equivalent to many of those California Chards, but this wine has no trouble lasting 15 years. Is it any wonder I still can't fathom the relative stagnance of Alsace wine sales at the upper end?

Oh well, I'll just go back to my glass and enjoy it. If I can't get other people to buy these wines, then that'll just leave more for me. But I like sharing, so I'm afraid you'll be in for a continued assault.

Popularity: 4% [?]

Worming into Wine

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Posted by Burke Morton On April - 13 - 2010


A plucky caterpillar goes after the picnic wine.

Popularity: 3% [?]

Grenache of More than One Hue

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Posted by Burke Morton On April - 9 - 2010

Cincinnati MagazineI have a new article in the April issue of Cincinnati Magazine. This month's topic is Grenache of multiple colors, expressly Grenache (the original Noir) and Grenache Blanc. You can find a link to the article by clicking on the magazine's logo to the left, or by clicking here.

In the article, I barely mentioned the most fascinating of the three varieties, Grenache Gris. If you can lay your hands on some, you'd be lucky. Le Roc des Anges, an estate in Roussillon in southern France, makes an old vine white that is 90% Grenache Gris, and gives off such a seductive aroma that you'll wonder where it has been all your life...or maybe not, but I did!

Popularity: 5% [?]

The Politics of Three Tiers

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Posted by Burke Morton On April - 8 - 2010

I'm politically infuriating to partisans because I don't have knee-jerk reactions to most political issues, simply because they are too complicated. For this reason, I do have knee-jerk reactions to partisans of all political persuasions. So here's a knee-jerk reaction for you: what in God's name could Sarah Palin POSSIBLY have to say to the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America? No doubt her message of deregulation at their annual convention was well-received by the Three Tier System advocates at WSWA. If her intention was actually to stir the pot, well, then she deserves some credit.

Three Levels of Bureaucracy to Get You Your Wine
If you don't know what the Three Tier System is: tier one is the supplier (whether winery or importer), tier two is the wholesaler that creates a portfolio of wines to sell to tier three, which is the retailer or restaurant that gets the wine to you. In some states a wholesaler is required to distribute wine to retailers, in others you can buy directly from the supplier, if they are willing to ship it to you. The system is also a flashpoint for many people, in part because there are some very large wholesalers who have been known to abuse their dominant positions within the distribution networks.

An Argument that Would Be Better off Dormant
But that explanation isn't the principal purpose of this missive, really. Nor am I suggesting that Palin's presence at the convention was for no other purpose than to drive attendance (perhaps it was, but I really couldn't care less). All these things do dovetail together, actually, as I am reacting to an old argument I heard again this past Monday: apparently many, many, many people still like to decry the Three Tier System and the way it costs us--wine consumers--more money, blah, blah, blah. Yeah, yeah--the wineries aren't going to sell a wine for any less than it would retail for on the shelf at your local shop. If the argument were that wineries will make more money, and that's good...then I'm with you! Most wineries have a tough time given the costs of not only making wine, but selling it. The old saw goes like this: "How do you make a small fortune making wine? Start with a large one."

It is a fallacy to assume that wineries will sell their wine to consumers for the same price for which they sell it to wholesalers. It is economic common sense: if the wine is selling for $50 on the shelf, why would a winery be satisfied with selling it to a customer already willing to pay full price? If you go to a winery, you'll find that's what they already do. So what incentive do they have to sell it for the price at the next tier down, $33 (which is roughly the retailer's cost)? Of course there's no way they would sell it to the consumer for the $25 (roughly) that the wholesaler pays them. Pricing schemes won't change, with or without the Three Tier System.

Practicality Has No Peer
There are other more cogent issues that surround the Three Tier System, but they are long and boring (for an entertaining look at a Three-Tier Experience, click here.), and as I'm at a loss for a better alternative, here my little practical defense of it. If the regulations on alcohol sales are lifted, wholesalers will become much more vulnerable to the whims of the market and they may lose access to some wines. They are still, I submit, crucial to the business. As a professional with long-time experience as a wine buyer for both retail and restaurants, I was happy to work with as many as 20 wholesalers, because this small group was able to provide me with the selection of over 2,000 wines I carried as a retailer. I would not be happy to work with the over 1,500 sources I'd need in order to provide a similarly broad selection without wholesalers. As someone who has occasionally had difficulty with follow-through, why would I want to do that? Can you imagine the paperwork involved?

No thanks.

My thanks, however, go to Sarah Palin for providing me with a shameless use of her name as a search term. And I'll keep my wholesalers, regardless of whether I can mail order wines or not (I happen to live in a state where this is now legal), I'm only willing to pay for but so much shipping, and wholesalers, especially the good ones, make my job easier, and I hope I return the favor.

Nothing like a friendly, colleagial relationship with your sales rep to help get things done. Perhaps Congress will figure that one out before I cash it in....

Popularity: 5% [?]

Bringing Back the Forgotten

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Posted by Burke Morton On April - 2 - 2010

I just read on a pop culture site that Olivia Newton-John's former boyfriend has been found. Surely you remember that he vanished five years ago?!?! No? Well, I do, if only because I am apparently still holding a little Xanadu flame for ON-J. No, I'm not much of a disco fan, and yes Xanadu was a ridiculous movie (I haven't seen it in about twenty-five years, but I recall Gene Kelly (!) is in it, and ON-J is a Muse who inspires a guy to build a disco roller rink, and there's a whole mortal/immortal love thing, too...how did that movie get funding?), but it was the news story that got my attention in the first place. I realized that I had forgotten that her former boyfriend (one Patrick McDermott, 48) disappeared, and that I actually hadn't cared much. Since I'm a poster child for free-association, I began to wonder what else have I forgotten--and then what have we forgotten--that was once important to someone else. Coincidentally, I had in front of me a bottle of Henry Marionnet's 2003 Les Cépage Oubliés--the forgotten grapes.

There are a slew of forgotten grapes out there, and if we knew something about most of them, we'd probably thank God that we don't have to suffer through a glass of whatever dreck they perpetrate. But you know, these grapes were at one time important to someone, some region, some cuisine. They undoubtedly complimented the cuisine of the region beautifully, but other grape varieties came along that were better (better for whom?). What did we lose? Surely there are some varieties that had some charm, but have been victims of economic viability. Reestablishing some of these has really paid dividends in today's overheated wine market, which is why we can find wines made with grapes like two arcane varieties from Champagne, Arbanne and Petit Meslier; one of the old great rosé varieties from Provence, Tibouren; and the one in the Marionnet wine, Gamay de Bouze.

Gamay de Bouze is a very cool grape, because it has RED FLESH underneath its skin (part of a class of grapes called teinturiers). Most red wine grapes have white flesh and white juice, but Gamay de Bouze has naturally pink juice. Both red and white fleshed grapes depend on the grape skins to become dark red. The wine from Gamay de Bouze is more rustic than the FAR more common Gamay Noir that you'd find in Beaujolais. It's flavors don't suggest a reason for it's obscurity other than a relative lack of refinement. At first sniff I wondered if the vine had taken a bath in apple pie spices, and I loved the wine's intensely dark fruit flavor. These qualities are so ingrained in this wine...it's as though some regular Gamay Noir got tattooed with cinnamon and then tarred and feathered with black plums and wild blueberries. Those feathers give it an unbridled, flyaway notion too, both in the aroma and even more so in the mouth--a slightly churlish expression. This fleshy wine might actually be a good Gamay for meat (there are others, but I don't want to crack that encyc-lobe-edia right now), including a seared rare duck breast and even a filet.

So this Patrick McDermott guy apparently doesn't want to be found. Dodging some debts, it would seem. It's arguable that we wanted to find him (although Dateline NBC apparently thought we cared...maybe they should've done a focus group on that one). At least he had an insurance settlement, fraudulent though it may have been, to go to his offspring to cover his encumbrances. No matter how it turns out for him, there's no doubt that we'll be happier ignoring him while more grape varieties rebound, eventually finding a refuge in our glasses.

At least the FBI won't get involved with that...unless we invite them in for a drink.

Popularity: 5% [?]

Video Today


You don't need to speak French to know that the iPad can double as a Champagne Sabre.... Happy New Year!

Popularity: 64% [?]

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