Thursday, March 6, 2008

Last Night's Tipple

I finished the bottle of 2006 Root:1 Cabernet Sauvignon last night, and it held up well after being open a day. I am really surprised by the rhubarb on the nose. That's not an aroma that I have experienced before, and it's really strange to find it in a beverage made from grapes. I like it, though. I agree with the assessment from yesterday: this wine is a bit thin and short, but it is interesting and tasty and well worth the $8 I paid for it.

The premise of the marketing schtick for this wine is that the ungrafted grapevines it is produced from produce grapes that have deeper flavor than grafted grapevines. This has been a common claim about grafted grapevines since their introduction began in the 1870s, and it's one of the principal reasons that grafted grapevines were illegal in Burgundy until 1887 despite the fact that phylloxera was devastating Burgundy vineyards to such an extent that the economic viability of winemaking there was in doubt. The only way to validate or falsify that assertion definitively would be to conduct a controlled experiment where both grafted and ungrafted vines of the same age and variety were planted in the same vineyard, which would allow us to compare the wines made from each and know that any differences between the two would likely be a result of whether the vines were grafted or ungrafted. Well, grafted and ungrafted vines don't generally exist in the same vineyard. There are regions (large parts of Chile and Argentina and some small parts of Australia) where vines are generally ungrafted, and there are regions where vines are not. The best evidence we have are evaluations of pre- and post-phylloxera wines from the same regions or vineyards, and those evaluations are pretty unanimous that the pre-phylloxera wines are better. Game, set, and match for ungrafted vines, right? Well, not really. The American rootstocks that were used for grafting carried American vine viruses with them, and these viruses were previously unknown in Europe. The spread like wildfire after the introduction of grafting, and it was many years before vinegrowers learned to combat them. So was it the grafting or was it the viruses that accounts for the decline in quality? Who knows.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

In Praise of Mamacita

Mamacita makes some kick-ass macaroni and cheese. Seriously. Maybe if we heckle her enough, she'll post the recipe.

(And that picture is just something that I stole from Wikipedia. It in no way represents the beauty that is Mamacita's version.)

The Duchess

Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire, is a particularly interesting character from late 18th and early 19th Century British history. She was the daughter of the first Earl of Spencer (which makes her one of the ancestors of Diana, the Princess of Wales) and the wife of William Cavendish, the fifth Duke of Devonshire. Both her father and her husband were scions of the Whig party, and Georgiana was an important personage in the Whig party in her own right. She was a relentless campaigner for Whig candidates (particularly Charles Fox), and and it was largely her skill and determination that kept the Whigs together through the dark times during Pitt's ascendancy in the 1780s and 1790s. More than that, she was also the arbiter of fashion and the very center of fashionable aristocratic society. In other words, she might not have ranked in importance quite at the same level as William Pitt the younger, the great Prime Minister, but she's not that far behind.

Georgiana has been the subject of a number of biographies, the most recent of which was Amanda Foreman's Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire, which is a pretty good read and a decent piece of scholarship (although I think that Foreman identifies a bit too closely with Georgiana). Well, period movie fans, Foreman's book is being made into a movie!

It will be interesting to see what Hollywood makes of the story. Georgiana was a prominent figure on the British scene from the time of her marriage at age 17 until her death at age 49, and it looks from the cast list that the movie aspires to cover most of her life. That's unfortunate since it seems likely that it will cover none of it very well; but I will be looking forward to it anyway. Who knows? Georgiana's affair with Edward Grey (later Earl Grey, the guy that the type of tea is named after) might make for some good bodice-ripping action.

Today's Shoes

Vass wingtip bluchers in Color #8 shell cordovan with double leather soles (Banana last).

Last Night's Tipple

Last night's wine (the 2006 Root:1 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Colchagua Valley in Chile) was an impulse buy at Costco, and I began to regret the purchase as soon as I haded over my credit card at the register. I'm not a bit fan of Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines (probably a result of a psychological need to be different), and I have not had very good experiences with Chilean wines (most of what I've tried has been green and thin and not very appealing). In the store, though, I was won over by the stylish packaging, the price ($8, if I recall correctly), and the marketing schtick. Namely, the grapes used to make this wine are from ungrafted vines. Since the phylloxera destroyed European vineyards in the second half of the 19th Century, most of the world's commercial vitis vinifera vines have been grafted. The grape-bearing part is vitis vinifera, but it has been grafted onto roots from non-vinifera North American grape species. North American non-vinifera grape varieties, you see, are immune to the ravages of phylloxera, and the discovery that this was so saved the European wine industry. But phylloxera hasn't reached every corner of the wine world, at least not yet. Specifically, most of South America has never been visited by it, and so grafting is not nearly as widespread in Chile and Argentina as it is in the rest of the world. Root:1's marketing claims that the lack of grafting makes their grapes have a more intense fruit and varietally authentic character. I'm more than a bit suspicious of that claim, but I had to try it. And so I bought a bottle.

Cabernet Sauvignon is famous for having a green streak. Given that one of its parents is the Cabernet Franc, which is about as vegetal as a red grape variety gets, this isn't particularly surprising. There is a good bit of green bell pepper on the nose, as befits a Cabernet Sauvignon wine. But there is also a very sharp and distinct rhubarb aroma. I like rhubarb. There is some decent red fruit on the palate, along with some olives. It's a bit thin and a bit short, but I still enjoyed it. It's better than most other Chilean wines that I have tried, and it offers good value for $8 a bottle. My impulses were good in this case.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Gift Cards and DJs

This morning, the male half of the none-too-bright morning show pair that I am embarrassed to listen to while getting ready for work mentioned that The Sharper Image was no longer going to honor the gift cards that it had issued. It was completely unethical, he bloviated, just another example of big corporations screwing the little man. As usual when he expresses an opinion about something other than radio, his information was both misleading and incomplete.

The Sharper Image has indeed suspended redemption of the gift cards that it has issued. It has done so because it has filed for bankruptcy. This makes perfect sense. When a shopper purchases a gift card, it doesn't really represent revenue that a retailer can immediately book as income. Because the gift card is redeemable for goods and services, it really is a liability. That is, the company that issues the gift card has to produce something of value in exchange for the gift card at some future date. Money paid for a gift card isn't income for a company. It's a loan to the company. Redeeming the gift card represents paying off a debt to the card's holder. When a company files for bankruptcy, it is saying that it can no longer pay its outstanding debts; and it no longer has the ability to decide to pay some its debts but not all. That's a matter under the control of the bankruptcy court. In other words, The Sharper Image couldn't have redeemed those gift cards even if they had wanted to. Now, if The Sharper Image had continued to sell gift cards knowing that they were about to file for bankruptcy, that would have been unethical. But there is no evidence that they did so. So, idiot radio DJ, why don't you spend 5 minutes finding out what is really going on before you accuse someone of unethical conduct? Is that too much to ask?

Today's Shoes


GJ Cleverley bespoke three-eyelet plain-toe bluchers in chestnut Russian reindeer with single leather soles. Cleverley's Russian reindeer is certainly something of a gimmick. I don't think that it's the most durable skin available, and I don't think that it is the most appropriate for shoemaking. In the 18th Century, when these skins were originally tanned, Russian reindeer leather was mostly used for bookbinding. The two centuries that it has spent on the bottom of the ocean off the coast of Plymouth probably didn't do wonders for it, either. I have heard reports that it splits fairly easily. Despite it all, though, I do love the skin and the shoes it can make. I have two pairs made from it, and I love them both. A friend of mine has recently been ruminating about whether he should bespeak a pair from Cleverley made from Russian reindeer and if so in what pattern. I think he's leaning toward a double buckle monkstrap cap-toe, something that I had never considered but that would be excellent. If he doesn't do it, I might. Heck, even if he does do it, I might.


Alden long wing bluchers in Color #8 shell cordovan with reverse welts and double leather soles (model 975, Barrie last).

Last Night's Tipple

Last night, I finished off the remainder of the 2006 La Posta Bonarda that I opened on Sunday night. One writer that I read recently asserted that Bonarda was the Argentine Zinfandel: its European origins are undeniable but obscure, and it has only become respected and important in Argentina. The wine it produces is juicy and fruity and enjoyable but perhaps not of transcendent quality. That comparison seems pretty apt to me, at least if this La Posta is at all indicative of the kind of wine that Bonarda makes. It was an enjoyable on the second night as the first, although it wasn't profound. The only thing about it that makes me reluctant to purchase it again is the fact that I can get a lot of really good wines for $16 a bottle. That is, it's not the vest value in the world.

Believe it or not, Argentina is the most important wine-producing country in South America and produces the fifth most wine per year of any nation in the world. Those little tidbits of trivia surprised me when I read them -- I had assumed that Chile, whose wines are ubiquitous in grocery and liquor stores around here, would have placed ahead of Argentina, but such is not the case. Even more surprising to me is the fact that the number of acres of vines under cultivation in Argentina and the wine production from them have fallen dramatically over the past 25 years. In the '60s and '70s, Argentina produced and consumed a staggering amount of wine. Virtually all of the wine produced was for domestic consumption, and the Argentines consumed more than 90 liters per capita per annum. Think about that for a minute: every man, woman, and child in Argentina drank 120 bottles of wine per year. And most of it was high-alcohol mass-produced plonk. Not coincidentally, the end of the military dictatorship in the early '80s ushered in a better era of viticulture, more commercial and more quality-oriented. Vast quantities of low-quality vines were ripped out, and winemaking practices improved dramatically. There are today a large number of high quality (and high price) Argentine wines on the world market, and that's a good thing.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Texas Presidential Primary

The Texas Presidential primary takes place on March 4, and I think that it would be useful for those of us who live in the Lone Star State to understand how it works before we vote. The media tends to present this as a horse race, citing polls that show Hillary Clinton up by 4 percentage points or Barack Obama up by 2 points or whatever. That makes for a clearer story line, but it does not give a very accurate picture of which candidate is likely to win the most delegates. Let's discuss the relevant details of both the Republican and the Democratic primaries, starting with the Republican because it's a lot easier to explain.

Republican Primary

Texas gets a total of 140 delegates. 96 of these are apportioned by Congressional districts, 3 for each of the 32 districts in Texas. If one candidate in a Congressional district gets 50% or more of the vote, he gets all 3 delegates for that district. If no candidate gets 50% of the vote but the candidate with the largest number of votes gets at least 20%, then the plurality candidate gets 2 delegates, with the candidate with the next highest number of votes getting 1 delegate. If no candidate gets at least 20% of the votes, then the top three candidates get 1 delegate each. There are also 41 at-large delegates, all of which go to a candidate who gets at least 50% of the statewide vote. If no candidate gets at least 50% of the vote but at least one gets 20% of the vote, then the candidates who get more than 20% of the vote split the delegates proportionate to their statewide votes. If no candidates get more than 20% of the vote, then all 41 delegates are apportioned among all of the candidates based on each candidate's vote total. The remaining 3 delegates are officials in the Texas Republican party, and they are uncommitted to any candidate. See here for more information. In other words, John McCain might not take all 137 committed delegates, but he probably will take the vast majority.

Democratic Party

Oh, boy, is this Byzantine. Texas receives a total of 228 delegates, and these delegates are assigned as follows:
  1. 126 are assigned on the basis of the results from the March 4 primary. These 126 delegates are apportioned by state senatorial district according to the number of votes cast in each district for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 2006 election. This means that more Democratic senatorial districts (for example, District 14) get more delegates than less Democratic districts (for example, District 31), and the delegate totals per district range from 2 to 8. Delegates are apportioned to presidential candidates based on the number of votes that the various candidates receive in the district.
  2. 42 pledged at-large delegates and 25 pledged elected official delegates are elected by the state convention, which will be held on June 7, 2008. Delegates to the state convention are elected by state senatorial district conventions, which will be held on March 29, 2008. Delegates to the state senatorial district conventions are elected by precinct conventions, held at 7:15 PM on March 4, 2008 -- in other words, immediately after the polls close. The number of delegates that a precinct elects to the state senatorial district convention is proportional to the number of votes cast in that precinct for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in the 2006 election. A similar scheme of proportional representation is used in apportioning delegates to the state convention by state senatorial district. At each convention level, delegates are apportioned to each presidential candidate on the basis of the preferences expressed by the people who show up to the convention. In other words, the number of delegates that each candidate receives at the state convention will be based largely on the number of supporters he or she turns out to the precinct conventions on election day.
  3. 3 unpledged delegates are elected by the state convention. These delegates are supposed to have distinguished themselves by their long-term service to the Texas Democratic Party. I don't believe that these will be truly unpledged -- that is, I expect them to be elected on the basis of who they likely will support at the national convention.
  4. 32 unpledged delegates are appointed based on their positions in the Texas Democratic Party. These are the so-called "superdelegates."
See this Texas Democratic Party publication for more information. The long and the short of this is that the candidate who gets more votes in the primary might not even get the majority of the 126 primary-apportioned delegates. In fact, because Hillary Clinton has stronger support among Hispanic voters while Barack Obama has stronger support among black voters and because the heavily black state senatorial districts get more delegates than the heavily Hispanic senatorial districts, it is likely that Obama will get a majority of the 126 delegates even if Clinton wins more than 50% of the popular vote. In addition, if you feel strongly about either candidate and you can make it, it is in your best interest to attend the precinct conventions at 7:15 PM on March 4 -- doing so makes your preference disproportionately consequential.

Today's Shoes


Grenson Masterpieces three-eyelet austerity brogue blucher ankle boots in antiqued British tan calfskin with single leather soles.


Gravati three-eyelet plain-toe bluchers in navy blue waterproof suede with microcellular rubber soles (15445, 433 last).