Saturday, December 25, 2010

…sealed off safely in their temperate darkness

“A drink, Miss Martin.”
“I don’t know.”
“Have one.”
“I really shouldn’t.”
“Bust out.”
“Full bodied sherry. A round maderia. Iced muscatel.”
Smith at the bottles. The long necks, the little, the fat. Green, brown, two red and twenty deep dark green. All gently cared for through the cold winter, sealed off safely in their temperate darkness.

A Singular Man. J. P. Donleavy. First published 1963. Atlantic Monthly Press edition 1989.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Keep your wine cellar cool

Uncle Edouard said, be always handsome witty and brave. To police and lawyers and many others too, my dear boy, make no sound that can be used against you. Try never to teach the world a lesson, for they will forget it within a week. Be honest till the temptation comes to tell the truth. Then dear boy it is time, believe me, to say nothing. Keep your wine cellar cool. The bowel clear. The foreskin clean. Use soap perfumed of the fern.

The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B. J. P. Donleavy. First published 1968. Atlantic Monthly Press edition 1988.

American Syrah - Cayuse

How do you decide what American Syrah wines are worthy of your money? For me its a hard decision because Syrah in the US is still finding its feet, its identity, its locale. You could buy numerous wines and still not have a thorough sampling. And would the expense be worth it? Over the last few years I have decided that I will focus on three very different wineries for my American Syrah so that I have a broad spectrum foundation. And then if I find other wines that are appealing I can add them as individual purchases.

Yesterday I received a shipment from one of my three core wineries. Cayuse of Walla, Walla, Washington. These are hard wines to source at wines shops, although that was my first experience with them. Putting your name down on the mailing list is the best way to go. I was accepted quite quickly after I applied sometime in Late 2005. And with the economy in the doldrums, now might be a good time to enquire. Current customer must be cutting back because this years offering was the first time I was successful in getting a pack (three bottles) of Bionic Frog. The Cayuse flagship Syrah. Those bottles won’t arrive until 2011. Yesterday. The two boxes contained packs of 2007 Armada, 2008 En Cerise and Cailloux. And the 2008 Cabernet, Merlot blend Camaspelo.

Why is Cayuse one of my core American Syrahs? Well the simple reason is because these are wines I liked from the first taste. They are single vineyard wines that are truly distinctive. To the point that they can be polarizing. They have a funkiness that can be of putting. To me it resembles Brett, to others its Terroir. But its really a display of character, individuality. Qualities that make these wines easily identifiable. And that is really what wine should be about, identity.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The allforonewine initiative or drink more Aussie wine

All For One Wine is all about Australians discovering incredible local wines, and celebrating the rich diversity and quality that exists in this country.

Ok, so it’s a little bit of self promotion but if Aussie winemakers don’t blow their own trumpet who will? Well Shiraz will.

The allforonewine pledge is to promise “to drink only local wines from Jan 1st, 2011 until Australia Day, January 26th.” That’s not too much of a burden seeing as we drink Aussie wine probably 70% of the time. Shiraz might even get around to doing the other bit of the pledge which is to “encourage people to share and talk about their favourite Australian wines through social media and to discuss the issues facing us as producers and drinkers.”

But you don’t have to wait for me, there is already a lively debate over on eBob about Aussie wines and their future. Of course the eBobers all have their own opinions as to what has happened to Aussie wine over the last few years and what the future holds, as do most winos I talk to. But a little bit of sanity can be found here and here.

.....its bouquet shrinking back into the glass

Announcing in sepulchral tones the year of vintage as he poured the decanted premier grand cru Margaux with its bouquet shrinking back into the glass from the cold.

Liela: Further in the life and destinies of Darcy Dancer, Gentleman. J. P. Donleavy. First published 1983. Atlantic Monthly Press edition 1990.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

..the boulevards of one's memories

Darcy Dancer sipping his sherry in the chill fireless library. Poured from the decanter in all its nut fragrant pale brown gleaming glory. Warming the innards
and the boulevards of one's memories............

Liela: Further in the life and destinies of Darcy Dancer, Gentleman. J. P. Donleavy. First published 1983. Atlantic Monthly Press edition 1990.

Friday, November 05, 2010

….a little more than enough to drink

Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need – a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing.

Three Men in a Boat; To say nothing of the dog. Jerome K. Jerome. First published 1889.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wine Labels and Alcohol Content

In previous posts to this blog I have noted that the alcohol content of a wine can be different from what is written on the label because there are tolerances of 1 % for wines containing more than 14 percent of alcohol by volume, and 1.5 % for wines containing 14 percent or less of alcohol by volume. That could mean that a wine of 13.9% on the label might be a 15.4%. Eric Asimov made a similar point in a recent article on Zinfandels in the New York Times but his article today contains a correction to that which notes that he had “misstated the provision of the federal labeling law on alcohol content. Wines listing an alcohol content of 14 percent or less by volume are permitted a 1.5 percentage-point margin of error, as long as the actual content does not exceed 14 percent, and wines listing an alcohol content above 14 percent are permitted a 1 percentage-point margin of error, as long as the actual content is more than 14 percent. In each case, the allowable margins of error do not apply on a plus/minus basis.”

That sounds pretty straightforward and means that Both Asimov and myself (and quite a few other individuals) have been incorrectly interpreting the law. But to be on the safe side I thought I would chase up the law anyway. Here it is, in all its clarity

§ 4.36 Alcoholic content.

(a) Alcoholic content shall be stated in
the case of wines containing more than 14 percent of alcohol by volume, and, in
the case of wine containing 14 percent or less of alcohol by volume, either the
type designation “table” wine (“light” wine) or the alcoholic content shall be
stated. Any statement of alcoholic content shall be made as prescribed in
paragraph (b) of this section.

(b) Alcoholic content shall be
stated in terms of percentage of alcohol by volume, and not otherwise, as
provided in either paragraph (b)(1) or (2) of this section:

“Alcohol __ % by volume,” or similar appropriate phrase; Provided, that if the
word “alcohol” and/or “volume” are abbreviated, they shall be shown as “alc.”
(alc) and/or “vol.” (vol), respectively. Except as provided in paragraph (c) of
this section, a tolerance of 1 percent, in the case of wines containing more
than 14 percent of alcohol by volume, and of 1.5 percent, in the case of wines
containing 14 percent or less of alcohol by volume, will be permitted either
above or below the stated percentage.

(2) “Alcohol __ % to __ % by
volume,” or similar appropriate phrase; Provided, that if the word “alcohol”
and/or “volume” are abbreviated, they shall be shown as “alc.” (alc) and/or
“vol.” (vol), respectively. Except as provided in paragraph (c) of this section,
a range of not more than 2 percent, in the case of wines containing more than 14
percent of alcohol by volume, and of not more than 3 percent, in the case of
wines containing 14 percent or less of alcohol by volume, will be permitted
between the minimum and maximum percentages stated, and no tolerances will be
permitted either below such minimum or above such maximum.

Regardless of the type of statement used and regardless of tolerances normally
permitted in direct statements and ranges normally permitted in maximum and
minimum statements, alcoholic content statements, whether required or optional,
shall definitely and correctly indicate the class, type and taxable grade of the
wine so labeled and nothing in this section shall be construed as authorizing
the appearance upon the labels of any wine of an alcoholic content statement in
terms of maximum and minimum percentages which overlaps a prescribed limitation
on the alcoholic content of any class, type, or taxable grade of wine, or a
direct statement of alcoholic content which indicates that the alcoholic content
of the wine is within such a limitation when in fact it is

[T.D. 6521, 25 FR 13835, Dec. 29, 1960, as amended by T.D.
ATF–275, 53 FR 27046, July 18, 1988]

Well I’m glad we have that cleared up! It also encouraging to know that even those engaged full-time in wine commentary know as much about the law as I do!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Getting Serious Alcohol Levels in Wine

I was amazed to learn recently that beer can be made with an alcohol by volume (ABV) of over 20%. The Samuel Adams Utopias weigh in at 27%. Impressive until you learn that BrewDogs Sink the Bismarck! checks in at 41%! That ABV is achieved because alcohol freezes at lower temperatures than water and so by freezing the beer you can selectively remove water (as ice) from the solution thereby increasing the alcohol concentration.

This would be an ideal way to get more alcohol into Barossa Shiraz - wouldn't that really upset the anti-high alcohol league! It also sounds like the perfect, completely unnatural, wine - that would tick-off even more people.

The easiest way to increase alcohol in any wine would be to freeze some until its slushy (in a container that won't break) and then just pour off the unfrozen liquid. That should be high in alcohol. I wouldn't try this at home, but there is no reason why you shouldn't!

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Mark Squires’ Bulletin Board now available only to subscribers

At the end of last month Mark Squires' Bulletin Board officially closed its doors to all but those who subscribe to This was met with various pronouncements and opinions on wine blogs like Vinography and Jamie Goode’s blog as well as other wine forums.

Like many I have been subject to the castigation by the all knowledgeable Mr. Squires; in the area of genetics which I am sure Mr Squires, a lawyer, is all knowing and all seeing while I, a PhD in Medicine, obviously know very little, even if I do have peer reviewed publications in the area. I have not posted on the MS Bulletin Board since although I did often visit the site, mostly to read posts on the Social Hall forum. As a paid-up subscriber of I will be able to continue to drop in to see how things are progressing and whether the pronouncements of others about the future of the bulletin board come to pass.

My own thoughts are that when the eBob forums were free they served as a highly visible format for those with a serious interest in wine and a vehicle to introduce When Robert Parker expanded his staff to include folks like Antonio Galloni, Neal Martin and others you needed an eBob subscription to access their forums. At that point the writing was on the wall. Through The Wine Advocate Robert Parker has made it clear that the content he generates is not free. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this as its how Parker and his staff derive income. Whether the closing of the bulletin board to the public is the result of significant questions that have been raised about the ethics at The Wine Advocate we will almost certainly never know. My own feeing is that the subscriber base has grown to such a level that its now feasible to make the bulletin board a pay-to-play venue.

So where do you go if you have an interest in wine but don’t fancy being an eBob subscriber? There are numerous other wine forums, some of which have been mentioned at Vinography and by Jamie Goode. My contribution is to provide a couple of links to forums that specialize in Australian wines. Both are run by wine etailers in Australia but don’t let that stop you signing up as there are no hard sales pitches. The AusWine Forum is more focused on Aussie wines than the Star Forum which has a more international flavor. Although both have their own clique of posters there is cross fertilization and more to the point very few Mark Squires! Plus the posters on both sites have considerably more knowledge of the local product than among eBob members (who unfortunately were limited in their exposure by Parker’s view of what Australian wine should be).

Wine By The Numbers

Its no secret to anyone who reads this (infrequent) blog that I am no fan of the anti-high alcohol league. The league is those individuals, like Randy Dunn, Darrell Corti, Elin McCoy, and Dan Berger, who rant and rave against wines with alcohol levels above 14% and their supposed lack of balance, and over-ripe, prune-laden character. Well it seems that their opinions have caught on with some as this article by Lettie Teague in The Wall Street Journal notes. Now I will confess that I am not a big fan of richly flavored Pinot Noir wines that don’t express their varietal character all that well. Some of these have alcohols above 14% and while I struggle to appreciate them as wines that I can identify by grape variety that does not mean that they are not tasty examples of the winemaker’s art. But it would be pure folly on my part to advocate that Pinot Noir with more than 14% alcohol not be made. It would also be very petty of me to state that such wines won’t find a place in my cellar. I’d be even more suspect if I was to use federal labeling laws, which dictate that 14% alcohol and below is table wine, to justify my position. But the real evidence of my foolishness would be for me to apply my 14% rule only as I saw fit. Then I would be showing my true biases and I am sure I would be called a wine snob.

And so to conclude this post we can now add Rajat Parr, wine director of the San Francisco-based Michael Mina restaurant group, to the list of the anti-high alcohol league members. Wine snobs, one and all.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Screwcap v Cork – the photographic evidence

What would happen if you bottled a Clare Valley Semillon under 14 different closures, including natural and synthetic corks and screwcap, and left them for 10 years? Would a simple photograph of unopened bottles tell a story? Certainly looks as though it does. The wine was made by Leasingham Estate and the study conducted by the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI). As the images show the wine under screwcap was the best preserved. But how did it taste? According to Peter Godden of AWRI "The wine under screw cap was classic aged Semillon and was wonderful to drink." Jamie Goode has blogged about the screwcap wine and the trial.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Screwcaps, corks and consumers

An interesting little study has been reported in ScienceNews from the spring meeting of the American Chemical Society. 2006 Pinot noir and Chardonnay from the Argyle Winery in Oregon were closed with natural cork, synthetic cork and three screw caps; the three screwcaps had a different lining. The chemical profile and dissolved oxygen content of the wine under each type of seal was examined at 6 month intervals over two years. In addition, volunteer tasters rated the flavor and aroma of the wines under the different closures. The conclusion? The synthetic cork and the cap lined with low-density polyethylene let in the most oxygen, but the tasters apparently could not detect any differences.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Nagari Visits Mornington Peninsula

In the 1970s I used to drool over the Bolwell Nagari and was truly disappointed when commercial production was axed; IIRC because the Bolwell brothers just didn’t have the money to pay for crash testing of their baby. Today things are a little different. The Bolwell Corporation has become so successful that the Nagari has been resurrected, albeit as a completely new design. Its first serious test has been a run through the vineyards of Mornington Peninsula. It’s a car that will turn heads as you roll up to any cellar door but I’m not sure how much wine you can fit into it. At $200K+AUD its even more out of my league now than the original Nagari was in the 1970s and anyway the new Nagari, as sophisticated as it is, just does not have the curves of the original, especially the coupe.

Just as a bit of wine trivia, the Wine Trails of Australia DVDs show footage of the winemaker at Katnook, Wayne Stehbens, tooling around in a powder blue Bolwell Nagari with a monster air intake over the engine, and the Bolly Blog is run by John Low from Kapunda, South Australia (at the northern end of the Barossa).

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Books, books, books

The nightstand beside my bed has a dozen or so unread or partially read books on wine. It’s a nightly reminder that I need to find the time to read more and also blog about what I read. So……

The books include Alice Feiring’s “The Battle for Wine and Love: or How I Saved the World from Parkerization” (Harcourt Inc., 2008) which I have been reading on and off (mostly off) for at least 18 months, although it seems like forever and I’m only at page 113 out of 262. Apart from being the most uninspiring book I have ever read, I cannot fathom the role of love in this attempt at autobiography. How can someone be so negative about wine and life? Maybe the ending is uplifting but I’m not sure I have the patience (or the life span!) to keep reading till then.

In contrast Benjamin Wallace’s “The Billionaire's Vinegar: The Mystery of the World's Most Expensive Bottle of Wine”(Crown Publishers, New York. 2008) is an outstanding work. Focusing on the infamous Hardy Rodenstock (aka Meinhard Goerke ) and his supposed discovery of bottles of Bordeaux wine bearing the inscription “Th.J.”, the initials of Thomas Jefferson; third President of the United States and arguably America’s first wine connoisseur. Wallace’s writing style highlights the intrigue that this story has engendered in wine collectors and those who like a good detective story. Even so, the final chapters of this saga have yet to be written from the lawsuits that billionaire Bill Koch has brought against those who sold him fake bottles of wine (see Dec. 15, 2009 issue of “Wine Spectator”). Perhaps the most famous example of “caveat emptor” (let the buyer beware), “The Billionaire’s Vinegar” might also be considered an example of “a fool and his money are soon parted”. And it seems there were (are still) lots of wine collectors who have spent extraordinary amounts of money to secure what must have appeared at the time to be true rarities in the world of wine and in the case of the “Th.J.” engraved bottles, American history. Unfortunately many such bottles have identified as fakes or have questionable provenance. But the real fools have to be Hardy Rodenstock (aka Meinhard Goerke ) and auctioneer Michael Broadbent of Christie’s. It pains me to paint Broadbent in this way as I have held him high regard for decades but his failures only exacerbated Rodenstock’s bravado; note: I do not believe that Broadbent colluded with Rodenstock only that he could have investigated the “Th.J.” bottles more thoroughly. Its possible that Rodenstock might have fooled everyone if those bottles had not been labeled so. But by highlighting the possibility that Jefferson owned them he picked on the wrong individual because it is well know that Jefferson recorded almost every moment of his life and especially his daily expenses. Thus it would have taken little effort for Broadbent (or Rodenstock!) to enquire as to the authenticity of these bottles from the researchers at Monticello (Jefferson’s estate located in Charlottesville, Virginia). As it was, a report (dated December 12, 1985) on that possibility was completed by Lucia Goodwin Stanton (then director of research at Monticello) only a week after the auction of the first of the “Th.J.” bottles on Dec. 5, 1985.

Stanton’s report examining whether a bottle of Chateau Lafite 1787 bearing the initials “Th.J” was the property of Thomas Jefferson has been produced without change as Appendix A (page 313) in James Gabler’s “An Evening with Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson: Dinner, Wine, and Conversation" (Bacchus Press, Palm Beach, Florida. 2006). Gabler himself discusses the “Th.J.” bottles with Jefferson himself (pages 125-131) in this imaginary dinner with Jefferson and Franklin using much of the information that Stanton obtained from Jefferson’s own recording of his life. The wealth of information available makes in highly unlikely that Jefferson ever purchased 1787 Lafite, let alone had the bottles engraved.

Gabler’s book itself in an instructive look at how two of the United States earliest aficionados of wine viewed wine and the world during their time. Admittedly the conversations recorded in the book are mostly from Gabler’s imagination but they are based on historical fact. The book can be hard going because it is one continuous discourse that lacks the relief that chapters would bring. In contrast his earlier book “Passions : The Wines and Travels of Thomas Jefferson” (Bacchus Press, Baltimore, Maryland. 1995) is an entertaining and enlightening account of Jefferson’s travels through Europe and especially France’s wine regions of Burgundy, Rhone Valley, Bordeaux and Champagne, among others. Also included in the book is a wonderful wine Glossary together with pronunciations (page 303). This is a book that I highly recommend if you want to glimpse one wine life during that period.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Loaf of Bread, a Bottle of Wine……and a Clean Glass, please!

What are your expectations when it comes to the cleanliness of wine glasses? Me, I like mine clean. I like to be able to see the wine rather than water spots and streaks. Every time I set out glasses for guests I check to see if they are clean and if they aren’t I clean them, individually. I want my guests to be able to appreciate the wine they are served not complain about dirty glassware. This does not seem to be the case at The Venetian in Las Vegas. We were there last week to celebrate the 65th birthday of a friend. We did the usual things, played the one arm bandits, took in a show and had a birthday dinner at the Bouchon. It was all great fun with lots of love and celebrations for the birthday boy.

On each of the two nights there were pre-festivity drinks and as Miranda and I had a hospitality suite we hosted the drinks before dinner at the Bouchon. All The Venetian had to do for us was provide about 20 wine glasses. We called to let them know this before we had lunch. We called again after we came back from lunch. And then we called again later as it began to approach the time for our guests to arrive. The excuse was that because we were not in the room the glasses could not be delivered; but that did not seem to stop the maid cleaning the room earlier in the day. Because we had to find an ice-machine to get enough ice keep the white wines cold, Miranda’s mother stayed in the room so that someone would be there to take possession of the glasses. Even getting ice was not all that simple as the ice-machine on our floor was broken. But when we returned the glasses were there, all 20 and all filthy with water streaks. What to do? It was too late to get the hotel staff to clean them. It had taken them hours just to get this mess to our room, so I cleaned them. It was a rush job but I got it done. And even then The Venetian charged us $24 for the privilege of drinking from their glasses.

The moral of this story? Never ask for glasses from room service. Instead seek out whoever is doing the housekeeping of your room and ask them if they can give you glasses from their supply. This is what other members of our group did for the gathering the night before. They got 18 clean glasses and no problems.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Little Bottle of Beer

As I noted in a previous post I much prefer wine to beer, but a chance encounter last year has reinvigorated my interest in suds. And it was another chance discovery that uncovered a particularly nice Belgian beer made in the Trappist brewery of Abbey of St-Remy, in the southern part of Belgium. Miranda and I were returning a rented trailer we’d used to dump tree trimmings from the garden when we noticed Mesa Liquor and Wine Co advertising that they had Belgium beers. We must have driven by this place dozens of times and never noticed it. They have over 1,000 beers and so I was hopeful that I would find some vintage beer but the best they could do was some hard to get beers matured in old whiskey oak barrels. They also had the Trappistes Rochefort beers and I got a bottle of the "8" or Green Cap. The “8” pours deep brown in color with a generous head that fades fairly quickly. It’s a full-bodied, deeply flavored ale that really fills the mouth with creamy-smooth richness and an extraordinarily long finish. If it wasn’t for that fact that its over 9% ABV I could drink this little drop all day. Online tasting notes don’t really do the beer justice but it would be interesting to put a case down to see how it changes with age – if I could just figure out where the production date is on the bottle!