Friday, April 24, 2015

Pluot goes to a virtual New Zealand tasting (and learns something new)!

A wine's body or mouthfeel or weight comes from soil, and its aromatics come from climate.

This is according to the winemaker for Brancott, Patrick Materman, who led about 25 bloggers through a virtual online tasting of five New Zealand sauvignon blancs last night. The assessment was new to me, and a few other bloggers questioned it too, albeit with a level of enthusiastic wine geekiness I don't necessarily share ("I thought mouthfeel heft came from skin or lees contact?!").

Last night's virtual roundtable marked my first invitation to a blogger tasting since Pluot rebooted. I'm very flattered. I'm flattered and pleased, but still I would love to be a fly on the wall when the winemaker, anywhere -- New Zealand, Chile -- is told it's his turn to take part in this sort of thing. O God .... There are always the anxious whispers, usually from the techies in New York or California who stand beside the camera(s). "Are we still on?" And always there is the winemaker's pleasant, calm patience with all questions and comments. Is he much struck by the keenness, or is he thinking, "Folks, please. It's just wine." Great fun, but how many different ways can 25 people in the chat room find to say "I'm getting notes of honeysuckle and lime zest"? What does one answer?

Maybe I'm just peeved because I got notes of lavender, pine, and cream instead. But then the moderator, an editor from Wine Enthusiast, mentioned "creaminess" to the wine maker from my chat room response, so I feel as if I had some sort of impact, or at least showed my appreciation adequately by demonstrating I was there. The Butterfly Effect ... Six Degrees of Separation ... you know.   

2013 Brancott Estate "Letter Series" sauvignon blanc. Creamy (from the soil, remember), notes of lavender, pine, and eucalyptus (from the climate). Delicious. Suggested retail, about $26. My chat room question as to whether there would be other letters in the series, C, D, E, for example, or perhaps R, A, N, C, O, T, T, was left unanswered. It's o.k.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Among the Borg, laughing

I learned a few interesting things this week, and I'll burden my fatheads with them because, well, you're there. They are important things, too.

First, on his radio show Mark Levin broadcast twenty-year-old audio from Barack Obama, only released on YouTube this week although Levin had used the transcript in his book Liberty and Tyranny, in which the future president describes a personal, youthful revelation: that his salvation must be linked to everyone's. "My individual salvation would only come from collective salvation," Obama remembers marveling about his even younger self, speaking, probably he thought humbly, to a small public television audience in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1995.

Levin digests this from-the-starting-gate monomania for what it is. It's neither religious nor humble. It is the thinking of a despot, he says, the light-blinded keening of a "god on earth" convinced "the entirety of society must go through what you think you need to go through" to achieve personal salvation. Free people, or even unfree people, can fight over what personal salvation is; but in a world governed by a god on earth who must achieve his salvation through the collective, nobody will even do that. 

Then from Hillsdale College's monthly Imprimus pamphlet came a short article by Professor John Marini, who writes of the films and the world view, or rather the America-view, of Frank Capra. Capra arrived in the United States from Sicily as a boy in the early 1900s and spent his career making films about individual Americans working hard, raising their families, and being very much aware what personal freedom is. Jefferson Smith in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington says "I'm free to think and to speak. My ancestors couldn't. I can, and my children will." George Bailey works like a dog (It's a Wonderful Life) to help one immigrant family at a time get a loan to buy a house and carry on living their lives, while Mr. Potter purrs about administering "a discontented, lazy rabble instead of a thrifty working class." Professor Marini notes that in his movies,
Capra rejected social or economic theories based on progressivism or historicism—theories in which the idea of natural right is replaced with struggles for power based on categories such as race and class (emphasis mine).
Needless to say, Capra's "star declined after World War II," when a new generation of filmmakers decided getting on the right side of the struggle for groups' power was much cooler than fuddy-duddy individual freedom, which never changes or grows in itself and leaves no scope for purring elites' administering of classes. Frank Capra's name became synonymous with light, trite, daisy-chain movie fare. With lies, almost. I remember professors who hated him. He ignored Problems.

Anyway the idea that the opposite of natural rights is the struggle for power over human categories -- power in the collective -- combined with Mark Levin's broadcasting of an old audio of Barack Obama basking in the god-light of collective salvation, was in my mind; then I opened the April issue of Food and Wine.


I saw beautiful people laughing. I read the word sustainability endlessly, plus phrases like "farm to table," or "locovore," or "forward-thinking" or "campaign to end hunger" or "organic" or "unlock the potential in all of us." And I wondered. Campaigning to end hunger for example is a fine thing by all means, but why does no one in these glossy spreads breathe the heresy that agribusiness with an incentive to earn a profit could help end hunger? And why can't I see Mark Levin in these same glossy pages, enjoying a glass of Muscadet Sevre et Maine? Or Professor Marini savoring a caramelized fennel tart? Okay, so they do politics and Food and Wine does not -- except it does. Ferociously.

And then I decided. Liberals are the Borg. They are the laughing, beautiful, food-festival-going, wine-drinking Borg, but they are still the Borg.


 Image from a defunct science fiction geek blog. They stole the bandwidth first. 

Don't know the Borg? Learn Star Trek, post-William Shatner, post-Leonard Nimoy era. Collective thinking, policed speech, unquestioned dogma, the march toward conflict-less perfection, and the absolute determination that all shall join salvation's virtuous hive all define this fictional species, which of course looks very much like humanity at its worst. They are everywhere they think it's important to be. Everywhere they are seems important -- or becomes so, because they take over. Resistance is futile. Do you think Food and Wine has ever printed a picture or penned a word about Barack Obama's tastes in food or wine, or his wife's? I'm guessing, um, yes.


The upshot being that if I go to the Food and Wine Classic in Aspen and say to anyone who will listen, "I'm mad because personal freedom is the most important thing in life and in all your glossy pages you say nothing about it and you associate with no one who says anything about it -- quite the opposite," I surely wouldn't endear myself to any of the beautiful, forward-thinking people there. Maybe that's good. Maybe we should thank God this Borg have a species weakness that the fictional Borg do not. Imagine them, Locutus and all, too comically paralyzed by snobbery to really assimilate, um, everyone.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Throwing away history

Hoarder or historian? You be the judge.

It's a certificate of recognition -- the feel-good, self-esteem, moral relativism hippies were already in charge of education in 1978 -- in Intramural Soccer-Speedball for the school year 1978-1979. Note it's just recognition "in" the sport. Nothing about performance. Maybe I stank. I don't even remember what Speedball was. I was just finishing the eighth grade.  On to high school in the fall.

I saved this thing, and a great many others like it, for God knows what reasons. I liked being fourteen maybe, and wanted to go on being, even in imagination. Maybe I'm a hoarder. My sister says I am.

Or maybe I have always been a historian, and this is history. This is a primary source document, proof of any number of facts: that this junior high school existed, that these types of "awards" were given, that these sports were played and that girls played them, that the principal's name was Sam Good, that this penmanship was in vogue and that Hindu-Arabic numerals were still in use. We even can know that this sort of paper and this ink was used.

People who don't like the discipline of history dismiss history books by scoffing that "historians lie."  They "pick and choose" what they want to write about, they have "bias." That is not the point. History -- and little children used to be taught this, before the hippies took over -- is human activity documented by writing. Where there is no writing, where there are only pottery shards or royal tombs filled with gold, there is pre-history. Uncertainty; no proof. We can only guess about the royals' sports then, or their end-of-term school awards ceremonies. Not to mention the peasantry, who are equally important. Note the little frisson of anguish. We want to know, -- because human beings' lives are worth chronicling truthfully. It is more important than gold. Maybe that's what "made in the image of God" means. And with even this humble little piece of paper, we know, even something tiny and stupid. Knowledge of human history is a small miracle.

Because it's a miracle that junky little written proofs of anything survive to begin with. The peasantry are the most likely to throw out their paper stuff, or to have none. When cities and palaces save this kind of crap in their archives, five hundred years later historians have proof to walk among, not just the "diaries and letters" which we used to be taught are primary (and that never made any sense because nobody anymore writes diaries or letters), but school awards certificates, the doge's laundry bills, Lady Buxom's wine merchant's receipts. When we find this crap in a plastic box in our basement, we think my God that was forty years ago who gives a crap and we throw it out.   

Which I did. I can't very well take it with me. But here's the kicker -- I was always a historian. So now you know.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Bon Appetit's Alsatian style Chicken in beer and cream sauce, 1987

It's been ages, my fatheads, since we simply cooked something new. On a gray rainy morning in April we will venture back to Bon Appétit magazine's hardbound collection, French Country Favorites, published in 1987. We'll choose Chicken in Beer and Cream Sauce, "Alsatian style."

And we'll do it our way. The recipe tells us to braise the chicken pieces. I don't do that, since for me the result of braising is a fussy, rubbery, thick-skinned mess. I manfully admit my technique is lacking, tug my forelock at those who do it well, and, re: braising instructions: bake either a whole chicken or chicken pieces in the oven instead, collect its drippings in a clear Pyrex cup, and then siphon off the good juices from under their layer of fat with a bulb baster. That gives you the chicken-y base liquid you need to put together the sauce that braising would have created. Remember one of our favorites, Chicken with Olive Sauce, done just this way? I even took a picture of the cup.

And a picture of the beginnings of a sauce, any sauce, which will probably include onions.

For our Chicken in Beer and Cream, Alsatian style, do take care what kind of beer you use. Three cups is a lot. Dinner will have a whiff of beer bitterness anyway. "Avoid dark," the recipe warns, and maybe circa 1987 that simple warning would have sufficed, but nowadays you must take even greater care to avoid any American ultra-hoppy craft beers. You might try Wisconsin-based Pecatonica, whose Alphorn ale and (ultra prize-winning) Amber ale I was lucky enough to be able to try yesterday. Both superb.

Our retro 1987 Alsatian recipe also called for a thickening of both a roux (butter and flour melted together) and three egg yolks. So French! So rich. But I thought this seemed too rich, so I let the beer, cream, and chicken essence simply cook down to a nice consistency.

Off we go, then; and for an accompaniment, why not a lithe and delicate Alsatian riesling, or possibly more of the beer? 

Chicken in Beer and Cream Sauce, Alsatian style

1 4-pound chicken, cut into serving pieces
1 Tbsp butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 large bay leaf
2 whole cloves
3 cups beer
1 cup whipping cream
pinch nutmeg

Bake the chicken pieces in a shallow pan in a 325 F oven for 45 minutes to an hour -- all dark-meat thighs and drumsticks can bake longer, about an hour and a half, and will be all the more succulent.

Meanwhile, make the sauce. Melt 1 Tablespoon butter in a heavy skillet. Add and soften the diced onion and then the minced garlic, taking care only to warm the garlic and not burn it. Add the bay leaf and cloves. Pour in the beer -- if your chicken is done by this time you may use some of the beer to deglaze the roasting pan, and then pour in that -- reduce heat, and simmer and reduce the sauce slowly.  Add the juices, defatted a la the Pyrex cup and the bulb baster, from the chicken roasting pan.

Pour in the cream, add salt and pepper to taste, and continue slowly simmering and reducing the sauce until it is of a nice thickness. Drop in a small pinch of nutmeg.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

2011 Flowers Sonoma Coast pinot noir

This is still, partly, why people stay in the wine business.Or at least it's one of the perks of it. When bottles have damaged labels, vendors replace them with better-looking product at no charge. They "write off," or kick back to the winery, or perhaps just suffer, the cost to themselves.  Un-sellable bottles then have to go somewhere; you can pour the perfectly sound wine down the drain and throw away the bottle, or you can take it home, with the manager's permission, fully appreciating your luck at working in the wine business.

Especially when it's Flowers Sonoma Coast pinot noir, 2011. An old descriptor from a previous life comes back to me. "Seamless." Retail, about $43. I had no problem finishing this myself in two nights.

And why, in restaurants, is it always my friend and me who end up seated next to the raucous table of eight headed by the obviously attractive woman with the carrying voice, who told everyone what a slut her sister Bonnie used to be? And how she herself lost her virginity to Joe Somebody, but then when it came time to get married to someone else much later in life, she hated the whole process of planning "this Wedding" because she hated being the center of attention? The other member of the party with another raspy, effortlessly carrying voice, the man with the Italian accent, could hardly get a word in edgewise. All the remaining six seemed to have no purpose but to laugh. The elderly couple making out at the bar finally left. It was very crowded, and everybody cheered when the Hawks won. 

And I'm glad to see, just by the by, that there have always been "food cranks." Or at least that there have been food cranks since before our current day of anxious "paleo" eaters and people who are intellectually adrift enough to hate bread because some author told them to. Imagine hating bread! It would be like hating the moon, or water. I'm reading Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster stories again (circa 1920s), as they are always a tonic to the soul. In "Jeeves and the Old School Chum" we meet Laura Pyke, friend of Mrs. Bingo Little. When the Pyke visits Mr. and Mrs. Little for a few days, misery ensues because she insists on lecturing everyone on how seriously a normal diet plus cocktails corrodes the "stomachic tissues." Worse, she forces her food crankiness into the kitchen itself. Mrs. Little thinks her old chum is a high priestess of modern thinking, and so lets it happen. Out with the "jolly chunky repasts" that Bingo and company love, steaks and sandwiches and things, and in with the proteins and grated carrots. Of course Jeeves steps in to resolve all. But in the meantime it is reassuring to know, as Miss Marple would put it -- and if only she and Jeeves could meet! What a story! --  human nature remains so much the same.  

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

About that murder in Chipping Cleghorn

Of course you may have a nice glass of wine,

2011 Ciro Rosso Classico, fresh, tart, Italian, but I must tell you I have at long last grasped what is the problem with the plot of the (otherwise completely wondrous) A Murder is Announced, I mean to say the television adaptation produced in 1985 and starring the very great and wondrous Joan Hickson as Miss Marple. I have not read the book in ages, so it may be that the book clears this up: but I must ask: how in the world are we to bring together the three points of the murder-triangle? How do we answer why and how Miss Blacklock got the gun, stolen by Edmund Swettenham from Colonel Easterbrooke, and why and how Edmund knew Rudi Schertz at all, so as to get him to place the announcement in the paper and then stage the sham break-in, in which he (Rudi) was killed? Mind you, the television program is so good that I have watched it perhaps seven or eight times in the last month -- a little birthday present to myself, you know -- before the difficulties of the denouement began to dawn on me. There are one or two other difficulties, too, but all the Miss Marple geeks who comment on the videos seem to agree that those are just par for the course with Agatha Christie. They all seem to agree that the general scrumptiousness of her little English village murder mysteries, crammed with mostly harmless mid-20th century eccentrics, is worth it. Me too.

Now, do you think, as Miss Marple might say, that all the fuss over the state of Indiana not requiring you to bake gay wedding cakes, is the opening barrage of a long fight by our liberal masters to see to it that the 2016 Republican presidential nominee becomes pro-gay marriage? It will be a superb way to suppress the vote, given the horrors of the 2014 midterms, for them. Sometimes I think we're all better off studying turdus migratorius, and watching Miss Marple.   


Their faces move

It pleases me to imagine that, in a very small way, I understand the experience of St. Paul in the agora -- that is, in the public square, b...