Friday, November 30, 2007

Liquor and the Law

Via the forums at comes a link to a story about the revenuers seizing over a million dollars' worth of collectible Jack Daniel's whiskey:
State agents are sorting through some 2,400 bottles of Jack Daniel whiskey estimated to cost $1 million found in storage buildings.

The bottles were found following an investigation into possible illegal sales of whiskey by two businesses in this southern Middle Tennessee town where the Jack Daniel distillery is located.

No one has been arrested.

Authorities said they received permission to search two storage buildings on Highway 55 last weekend and found hundreds of bottles of Jacks Daniel's.

"There are bottles here that are not even sold in this county," said Mike Cawthorn, senior agent in charge of the Nashville office of the Tennessee Alcohol Beverage Commission. "There are bottles of Jack Daniel's here that are to be sold only in Italy and Spain."

Officials said the rarity of the bottles helped drive up the value of the find.

Danielle Elks, executive director of the ABC, said Thursday one bottle dates back to 1914. She told WSMV-TV of Nashville it was still sealed and worth about $10,000.

Believe it or not, there are lots and lots of collectors of Jack Daniel's whiskey (and the bottles that it comes in). Brown-Forman, JD's corporate parent, has encouraged this by issuing limited-release commemorative bottlings from time to time; but in all honesty, given the level of interest in the JD brand, it seems likely that there would be quite a market for collectible bottles regardless of what Brown-Forman did. Although the story doesn't really spell this out, what was going on here was that a company (or a partnership or some other commercial enterprise) was buying collectible bottles of JD, transporting them to Lynchburg, where the JD distillery is located, having Jimmy Bedford, the JD master distiller, sign them, and then reselling them at a profit.

This little story is interesting to me for a couple of reasons. First, notice that this is really all about money. Defenders of the three-tier system of liquor distribution (and Tennessee is a three-tier state) like to claim that it encourages temperance and helps to prevent liquor from getting into the hands of children ("It's for the children!"). Well, it's not like a bunch of teenagers (or anybody else, for that matter) were trying to get their hands on this collectible liquor to throw a big, drunken party. The vast majority of this liquor was never going to be drunk. But allowing unlicensed liquor to be imported into Tennessee and sold is a threat to the three-tier system and to the liquor wholesalers that that system benefits. Second, this points out the absurdity of American liquor laws. Nobody would tolerate state laws that prohibit the sale of books by retailers who did not in turn buy them from state-licensed wholesalers. Indeed, such a system would be unconstitutional because it would amount to a tariff barrier erected against out-of-state booksellers. Why is it acceptable public policy for liquor sales to be different? (I know, I know: the 21st Amendment provides that "[t]he transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use there in of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited." But that was intended to allow states to continue to be dry if they so desired, not to allow wet states to protect in-state distributors from out-of-state competition.)

Today's Shoes

Gravati split-toe double-monkstraps in medium brown lightly-grained calfskin (Gravati calls it Rodeo) with thick single leather soles (16617, 671 last). The apron and toe seam are done with twin-needle stitching, meaning that they are technically not seams at all. The vamp of the shoe is one piece, and the leather has been pinched together to accommodate the twin-needle stitching. In other words, it's strictly decorative, not structural in any way.

Last Night's Tipple

I finished the bottle of 2005 Ravenswood Sonoma County Zinfandel last night. Alas, it wasn't as exuberantly fruity and intense as it had been Wednesday night. As is often the case, a day open in the bottle did it no favors. It improved as I got down to the very end of the bottle, but it was no match for what it had originally been.

I typically use those little Vac-u-vin rubber stoppers that allow you to pump the air out of the bottle and form something of a vacuum when I have a portion of a bottle left that I'm not going to finish that day. It works reasonably well, I suppose, better than just putting the cork back in the bottle upside down. But I don't think that I've ever had a wine that tasted as good on the second day as on the first. Air just doesn't do anything positive for wine in the long run. I read about wines that have to be decanted and left to sit for hours before they begin to open up. I evidently haven't been drinking that kind of wine.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Bespoke Ties?

Even some of the most eloquent exponents of bespoke tailored clothing and shoes and shirts sometimes question the utility of bespoke ties. After all, they say, any ready-to-wear tie can be tied in a variety of lengths; so getting the perfect length is possible even for ties that aren't made especially for the wearer. Right?

Well, yes, to an extent. But what if you don't like the small blade of the tie too short or too long? Or if you want a tie that's wider or narrower than is standard on ready-to-wear ties? Or if you like the shell material of a ready-to-wear tie but don't like the size or shape of the knot that it ties? Then bespoke ties are for you. And whom do you go to for bespoke ties? I recommend Sam Hober. Sam Hober is the creation of David and Noina Hober (Sam is their daughter), and they originally specialized in hand-woven Thai silk neckties and pocket squares, which are beautiful and unique. The tie pictured above is made from Thai silk -- it's difficult to see, but Thai silk has a beautiful variegated character to it that you simply do not see elsewhere -- and it exhibits yet another benefit of bespoke neckwear: it's custom-woven based on the customer's specifications. David won't always do this, but if you have a good idea for a design, if it's possible for his Thai weavers to make, and if he thinks that he can sell it to more people than just you, he will do custom weavings. If Thai silk isn't your thing, David also has a wide variety of English and Italian silks, including the best selection of grenadines that I have ever seen. And he has Atkinson's Irish Poplin, a mixture of silk and wool that makes up into beautiful and versatile ties. Regardless of what fabric you select, you get to specify your tie length, width, shape (ie, how bottle-shaped it is, etc.), construction (3-fold, 5-fold, 6-fold, etc.), and lining weight. The ties aren't inexpensive, but they're significantly cheaper than some of the super-luxury ready-to-wear tie brands out there. An outstanding product at a good price.

Today's Shoes


Edward Green bal austerity brogues in antique burgundy calf with single leather soles with a double row of brass slugs in the toe of the sole (Beaulieu model, 888 last). The shoes pictured above are identical to mine except that they are made on the 82 last instead of the 888. Most shoemakers will recommend brass slugs in the toe of the sole as a mechanism for reducing the speed with which the sole toes wear down. They don't work. Only steel plates work. (Well, hard rubber plates work too.) But the brass slugs still look cool.


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

Last Night's Tipple

Back in the late '80s and early '90s, wine critics and wine consumers commonly referred to the three Rs of Zinfandel: Ridge, Rosenblum, and Ravenswood. The first and the last of that group were most often mentioned together because they provided a study in contrasts: Ridge made wines noted for their restraint and elegance (and the fact that they were -- and are -- aged in American oak). Ravenswood isn't like that.

Ravenswood is the creation of Joel Peterson. Peterson is a baby boomer whose parents were both chemists. Peterson pere was also a major figure in the Bay Area wine connoisseur community, and Peterson fils has been tasting wines since he was 10 years old. When he was a boy, his father would measure out the wines that he served him and then measured what was in Joel's spitoon after the tasting. If the two measurements didn't match, there would be hell to pay. Joel went on to get a degree in molecular biology and to work as a researcher in a hospital. But he retained an interest in wine, and he started Ravenswood to be something of a sidelight and hobby in 1976. Commercial success and critical acclaim -- not least by Robert Parker of The Wine Advocate -- in the mid to late 1980s eventually allowed him to quit his day job and to become Ravenswood's full-time winemaker. Peterson chose "No Wimpy Wines" for Ravenswood's motto, and he has made wines in keeping with that motto from the beginning. They're big, highly-extracted, packed with flavor and tannin, and aged in French oak. To call Ravenswood the anti-Ridge would be misleading: both wineries believe and have believed in natural winemaking with the highest-quality fruit available. It's just that the wines that Peterson believes to be ideal are very different from the wines Paul Draper, the winemaker at Ridge, believes to be so.

Ravenswood went public in 1999 and was purchased by beverage Goliath Constellation Brands in 2001. That fact hasn't helped Ravenswood with wine connoisseurs, who tend to be very suspicious of the vinous products of big corporations. They also don't tend to like that Ravenswood has become ubiquitous over the past ten or twelve years, primarily because of the Vintner's Blend range, which is responsible for 800,000 cases of Ravenswood's 1 million cases sold per year. Vintner's Blend wines are simple, pleasant, and cheap, and they can be found anywhere. Familiarity breeds contempt. But if you read reviews of Ravenswood's single-vinyard wines, particularly of the flagship Old Hill Vineyard Zinfandel, it's evident that critics still think that Peterson makes some excellent wines. It's just that Ravenswood has long since ceased to be the Flavor of the Month.

Ravenswood's County series of wines lies between the Vintner's Blend range and the single-vinyard range. There are five Zinfandels in the current 2005 vintage: Sonoma County, Napa County, Amador County, Mendocino County, and Lodi. Since Ravenswood is a Sonoma County winery, and since some of their best-known and most-respected wines are made from Sonoma County grapes, I decided to give the Sonoma County bottling a try first. Wow. If any wine can be said to have "hedonistic gobs of fruit," this is it: lots and lots of sweet raspberries. It actually tastes like raspberries and cream, the cream coming from the French oak, I would assume. At 15% alcohol, it packs quite an alcoholic punch. It's also pretty tannic, but there's so much fruit that I didn't really notice the tannin much. I like it. A lot. Especially at $13 a bottle.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Dilation has been a central part of every eye examination that I've had since the time that I was a child, and I hate everything about it. I don't like having drops put in my eyes, I absolutely hate the actual examination where the doctor shines a light through a lens into my now-dilated eyes, and going out into the daylight with still-dilated eyes isn't a whole lot of fun, either. Well, technology has finally come to the rescue.

The reason that dilation has been standard practice in eye examinations is that the optometrist or ophthalmologist needs to examine retina at the back of the eyeball for tears, holes, and other abnormalities. Dilation forces the iris open so that he can get a decent view. A company named Optos Eye Care has developed an alternative, called optomap (R). With optomap, you look into an opening of a machine that looks like an old-fashioned microfilm reader. There's a green dot that you have to focus on; and when you do, the machine takes a digital image of your retina. No hassle, no pain, no dilation, and the optometrist or opthamologist has a permanent record of what the retina looks like. It typically costs extra to get an eye exam with optomap, but I think that it represents a great leap forward.

Today's Shoes


Alden high-lace wingtip blucher boots in cigar shell cordovan with double leather soles (Plaza last). You will recall that these were special make-ups for Tom Park at LeatherSoul. Tom has also had these made up in Color #8 shell cordovan, and those were good-looking too. A new shipment of the Color #8 version is supposed to be in in April, and I might be picking up a pair of those then. These would look good on Aberdeen last, too, although Plaza sure is good-looking in its own right.


Alden wintip bals in dark brown suede with single leather soles (model 904, Hampton last).

Last Night's Tipple

I finished off the bottle of 1998 Ridge Lytton Springs last night, and my reactions to it are similar to my reactions from Monday night. I can't really call it good, and I don't think the extra day open benefited it at all. With some time in the glass, there is some fruit that is nice enough, but there's not that much sensual pleasure to be had on this. I should have opened this two or three years ago at least.

And let this be a lesson to you, wine lovers: lots of wine, including lots of good wine from excellent makers, doesn't really benefit much from bottle age. Like just about every beer, a lot of wine starts to deteriorate from the minute it's bottled. I don't know if that's what happened with this Lytton Springs, but it sure seems to me that it started to deteriorate at some point between 1999 and when I opened it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

On Private Label Shoes

The shoes pictured above are sold by Brooks Brothers under the Peal & Co. label. That brand sounds like an old-line English manufacturer; and indeed, Peal & Co. was one of the oldest and best-reputed London bespoke makers. Alas, it is no longer, and Brooks Brothers purchased the name back in the 1950s. Now, it's only a name. Shoes bearing the Peal & Co. label today are made either Crockett & Jones or Alfred Sargent, both of which are major Northampton manufacturers. Are they equivalent to any shoes bearing the Crockett & Jones or Alfred Sargent label? Maybe yes, maybe no; and there's really no way for a consumer to be able to tell just by examining them on the shelf. Major shoe manufacturers can produce shoes to varying levels of quality; and when they are contracted to produce private-label merchandise for retailers, it is the retailer who determines the level of quality of the manufacture, not the manufacturer. If a retailer wants to cut the cost of the shoes by using lower-grade soles or synthetic counters instead of leather ones, he can do so. No only can he do so, but there is no way for you the consumer to be able he did it without cutting the shoe open or wearing it for months. So yes, that pattern on a Peal & Co. shoe may be identical to that of a Crockett & Jones-labeled shoe; and yes, everything about the two shoes may appear to be exactly the same. That's not necessarily the case. Don't assume that it is.

(And I'm just using Peal & Co. here as an example. I have no information in particular about their level of quality. The same could be said of Polo shoes or any other private-label shoes.)

Today's Shoes


Alden punch-cap bals in black calf with single leather soles (model 901, Hampton last). These shoes bear the Brooks Brothers label, but they are identical to the Alden-labeled version.


Gravati chelsea boots in tobacco suede with single leather soles (16366, 655 last).

Last Night's Tipple

At some point in 2000, I purchased a bottle of 1998 Ridge Lytton Springs. (The picture to the right is doubly wrong: it's a 2005 bottle, and it's a split instead of a standard 750 ml one.) I imagine that I was planning on keeping it for a special occasion or something. Regardless, I forgot about it for a number of years, which is how it came to be sitting in my wine rack in late 2007. Lytton Springs is one of Ridge's two flagship Zinfandel blends (along with Geyserville), although it is not labeled as Zinfandel. The 1998 is 77% Zinfandel, 16% Petite Sirah, 2% Carignane, 4% Mataro, and 1% Alicante Bouschet, according to the label, and it is 14.3% alcohol. The label also says that
Intense fruit, a rich structure, and firm tannins characterize this lovely vintage, which will be at its best over the next five to six years.

The wine was bottled in November, 1999, so math indicates that Paul Draper thought that it would last until late 2005. That was two years ago. And it's not like I have stored this in ideal conditions. There is nothing to do but drink it now and see how it is.

I suspect that it has seen better days. When I first poured it, the dominant aroma was of a box of Band-Aids. Yes, Band-Aids. I don't know what wine-taster-ese is for that smell, but it wasn't the world's most appealing. There was no fruit that I could detect: just Band-Aids and tannin. At one point, I almost poured it out, but I decided to persevere. I'm glad I did. With some time in the glass and vigorous swirling, it improves considerably. I started to get some fruit, and the Band-Aid smell dissipated. Still, it is dominated by dark, dank odors. I can't say that I actually liked it, but it wasn't revolting. Oh, how I wish that I had consumed this three or four years ago.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Quote of the Day

If the taste of a wine turns out to be good, the nose is the most important thing. When I taste several wines, I go through the nose of every one first; then, after one taste, the ones that I've decided are out I push back and don't taste again. But if the taste and feel in the mouth of one live up to its smell, I say there's the winner. A lot of old Frenchmen I know always have a cigarette hanging out of their mouths; they're great tasters, but if they stop smoking, they have to learn a whole new way of tasting. At dinner, your nose will recover faster than your palate, even if there are a lot of smells around the table. After a certain point in a long meal you don't need any more liquid, but you find yourself still sitting there, smelling the wine. Eighty percent of the quality of the pleasure is in the smell. (Paul Draper, as quoted by David Darlington in Angel's Visits: An Inquiry Into the Mystery of Zinfandel, p. 52)

I really don't know about the Frenchmen who taste wine with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths, but what Draper says about eighty percent of the pleasure in wine coming from the smell of it is accurate, at least for me; and the same is true for whiskey.

Today's Shoes


GJ Cleverley bespoke side-elastic shoes with a pie-crust-style apron hand-stitching in dark burgundy calfskin with single leather soles and steel plates in the toes of the soles.


Wheeler bespoke cowboy boots in dark brown elephant with a wave pattern stitched on the shafts.

Last Night's Tipple

Tonight, I finished the bottle of Ridge 2005 Ridge Paso Robles (Dusi Ranch) Zinfandel. There's nothing particularly new to report about this wine that I didn't mention yesterday, only that it was a bit more enjoyable last night than the night before, with fewer of the plummy, stewed fruit flavors than when it was first opened.

I commented before on the uniformity and austerity of Ridge's labels. There's something else noteworthy about them: they're packed full of information. On every label, you'll find a blurb from the winemaker (usually Paul Draper, but it appears that some wines are being partially taken over by others) that explains how the growing season went, how the wine was made (submerged-cap fermentation or whatever), how it was aged, and when it was bottled. In addition, the front of the label will tell the exact mixture of grape varieties and the exact alcohol content. None of this may seem exceptional today, but it was when Ridge started making wine back in the 1950s. All the information-packed labels that are so common with wine and beer today (at least wine and beer made in the United States) owe a little something to Ridge. And if one considers who founded Ridge, it really is no surprise that their labels are as they are: Dave Bennion, Hew Crane, Charlie Rosen, and Howard Zeidler were all scientists and engineers at the Stanford Research Institute; and Ridge began as a hobby that grew out of their joint purchase of a vacation home on Monte Bello.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

My Wine Glasses

I've commented before on what a big difference air can make on the appreciation of whiskey. Well, the same thing is true for wine. At least, it is for me. For me, a wine glass has to be big (so that I can swirl the wine around to aerate it without sloshing it out of the glass), clear (so that I can appreciate the color of the wine -- I'm not one of those people who wax eloquent about a wine's "robe," but I like the way wine looks and I want to be able to see it), and made from crystal (because I dearly love the way that crystal rings when I thump it). I've settled on the Bordeaux glasses from Riedel's Vinum line. Riedel claims to have conducted research into the ideal glass shape for different kinds of wine, so they have Bordeaux glasses and Burgundy glasses and Brunello glasses and Tempranillo glasses. I'm inclined to think their research to be bunk, but I like the shape of their Bordeaux glasses. They're machine-blown crystal (24% lead), they're clear, and they're big (21.5 ounces). At around $20 a stem, they're not cheap; but I don't need many stems. The only real problem with them is that they're brittle. It's ridiculously easy to break them while handwashing them (you can't put them in the dishwasher). I can only imagine how breakable glasses from the hand-blown Sommelier line are. I have read about a line of crystal wineglasses that use titanium instead of lead and that are consequently much less brittle; but until I have tried one of those out, these Riedel Vinum glasses will be my choice.

Today's Shoes

Gravati three-eyelet half-brogue bluchers with modified U throat in dark brown waterproof suede with a rubber lug sole (16407, 640 last). Another rainy day, another rain-appropriate shoe.

Last Night's Tipple

My experience with the 2005 Ridge Geyserville on Thanksgiving was so positive that I decided to buy more Ridge wines. And so I toddled on down to my friendly neighborhood liquor superstore, also known as the Spec's warehouse. They had a number of Ridge wines, including the 2005 Lytton Springs, the 2003 Lytton West Syrah, and the 2002 Homeranch Cab/Merlot. At some point, I will have to try the Lytton Springs, but I ended up purchasing two bottles: the 2005 Paso Robles (Dusi Ranch) Zin and the 2005 Ponzo Zin. I chose to give the Paso Robles Zin a try last night.

You will notice that the label of the bottle to the left looks a whole lot like the label of the Geyserville I had on Thanksgiving. That's the way that Ridge is. All of their labels are the same: simple cream paper with the wine identified on the front and a winemaker's blurb on the back. The graphic on the Geyserville label noting that the 2005 is the 40th vintage of that wine represents a radical departure in label layout. It's the only graphic of any kind that I have ever seen on a Ridge label.

This bottle is a bit unusual for Ridge. It's 100% Zinfandel, and it is so because the Dusi Ranch vineyard from which the grapes composing this wine were picked is planted in 100% Zinfandel. Ridge believes in single-vineyard wines, with the wine being made from all (or most) of the different varieties that are planted in that vineyard. If Dusi Ranch had had Carignane or Petite Sirah planted in it, some of those grapes would have made it into this wine. But Dusi Ranch is unusual: it was planted in 1922 and yet it still is all Zinfandel. Because it's 100% Zinfandel, it's also extremely high in alcohol at a liver-bruising 15.2%. That's okay -- it's not noticeably hot or alcoholic, which speaks well of the grapes used and the winemaker who used them. As is typical with Ridge, it was aged in American oak barrels, most of them five years old (meaning that the oak influence on the wine is muted).

This is a very different wine from the Geyserville that I had on Thanksgiving. This one is bigger, more exuberant, more fruit-driven. It's also more acidic, almost distractingly so at first. It mellows with air, though, and reveals a nicely-balanced wine. I also get some raisin on the palate, which I don't necessarily like. It's a nice wine but not as good as the Geyserville. That's okay -- I suspect that not a whole lot is as good as that Geyserville.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Hot Gift For Christmas

If you're wracking your brain to come up with a gift idea for one of your loved (or liked) ones, consider what is destined to become The Hot Gift For Christmas 2007: a homemade necklace with lettered beads spelling TEP. No, those aren't somebody's initials, and they don't stand for anything. They just are. I guarantee: all the cool kids will have one come January, 2008.

A Book Recommendation

The problem I have with books about beer, wine, and spirits is that too many of them are just guidebooks. They'll list a bunch of different brands or producers, include a brief blurb about the history of the brand or producer and maybe something about what makes them different or special, and have a bunch of tasting notes. There is certainly a place in the world for such books -- there are a lot of different alcoholic beverages out there, and most of them aren't exactly cheap. Everybody wants some good advice about what to buy. But it gets tiresome that virtually every book about beer, wine, and spirits takes this format; and it is very refreshing to find one that is not. That's why I like, for example, Andrew Jefford's Peat Smoke and Spirit, about the whiskies of Islay and the people and distilleries who make them and have made them. And that's why I like David Darlington's Zin: The History and Mystery of Zinfandel. It was originally published in 1991 with the title Angels' Visits: An Inquiry Into the Mystery of Zinfandel and had been out of print for several years before Dacapo retitled it and reissued it. I'm glad that they did because it's a very good book. It's really several books in one. On one level, it attempts to answer the question about where the Zinfandel grape came from. On another level, it discusses the various styles of Zinfandel produced over the years. On a third level, it's a dialectic about the differing philosophies of winemaking by the two dominant producers of red Zinfandel at the time the book was written: Ravenswood and Ridge. Ravenswood specialized (and still does specialize) in making big wines ("BIG! BRAWNY! HEDONISTIC GOBS OF FRUIT!") from 100% Zinfandel (either discarding or refusing to buy the carignane or petite sirah that was grown in the vineyards that they bought their Zinfandel from). Ridge wines are typically not so forward (but let's face it: there's just no way that Zinfandel can be a shrinking violet). Paul Draper, the head winemaker at Ridge since the late '60s, is a believer in two things: balance, with all the elements of a wine -- alcohol, tannin, fruit, etc. -- being in harmony throughout its life, and the value that blends of grapes from a single vineyard can bring to the party. Ridge's wines are rarely 100% of anything, and this is especially true for their Zinfandels. In many years, Ridge's two flagship Zinfandels, Geyserville and Lytton Springs, don't have enough Zinfandel in them to be labeled as Zinfandels legally. Much of Zin is composed of dueling chapters where Darlington interviews, accompanies, and works with alternately Joel Peterson at Ravenswood and Paul Draper at Ridge in an attempt to understand and appreciate America's wine grape. It reads like an extended feature article in the New York Times Magazine -- and that's not a bad thing. If reading this book does not enhance your appreciation of Zinfandel specifically and wine in general, you probably just aren't a wine person.

Today's Shoes

Gravati plain-toe three-eyelet bluchers in waterproof navy blue suede with a lightweight microcellular rubber sole (15445, 433 last). I bought these (on sale) from Harold's in the Heights a couple of years ago, and they do very well, particularly in the rain. Jim Pierce brought this model in in four different colors: navy blue suede, black suede, dark brown suede, and a pale olive green suede. I wish that I had bought all four. Yes, even the pale olive green suede.

Last Night's Tipple

There are a number of super-aged rye whiskeys either on the market today or on the market in recent years, including the various releases of Sazerac 18 as part of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, Rittenhouse 21 and 23 year old rye from Heaven Hill, Black Maple Hill 16 year old (I think), Hirsch 10 year old, and Van Winkle Family Reserve 13 year old. Where are all of these old ryes coming from? The plethora of bottlings suggests that there was a lot of rye distillation going on in Kentucky in the 1980s, but this isn't really the case. More rye is being produced today than twenty years ago, and today's rye production is a mere thimbleful in an ocean of Bourbon. There are lots of bottlings of old rye, but those bottlings don't contain much total volume. And what volume they do contain often has the same ultimate source: according to American whiskey expert extrordinaire Chuck Cowdery, several of the super-aged ryes listed above were distilled for the Cream of Kentucky brand (now defunct, but still owned by Buffalo Trace and possibly up for revival sometime soon) in the 1980s at the Bernheim Distillery in Louisville (currently owned by Heaven Hill). I know that the Van Winkle Family Reserve rye has had other sources as well (or maybe just another source), but it wouldn't surprise me at all if it were the same juice as is in the 18 year old Sazerac rye that I've had. They taste very similar to me.

My currently-open bottle of Van Winkle Family Reserve rye is almost empty, but not to worry: I was recently able to pick up another bottle of it to replace this one. This one continues to impress -- lots of spicy cinnamon bread pudding on the nose, with a definite rye kick on the palate. It's an excellent whiskey, and one worth its relatively high price.

Friday, November 23, 2007


Would you eat grapes like the ones pictured above? No? I probably wouldn't either. But in the right hands, they can make wonderful wine. They have been infected with a fungus called Botrytis canerea that causes the grape berries to shrivel, and winemakers have recognized for centuries that such botrytized grapes are to be prized rather than thrown out. In fact, Botrytis canerea is commonly known as the noble rot because the shriveling that it induces concentrates the sugars, juices, and flavors of the infected grapes and imparts an unctuous, sweet, honey-like flavor to the resulting wine.

The king of botrytized wines is Sauternes, named after a commune in the Graves region of Bordeaux. Sauternes is a mixture of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Muscadelle grapes, although the Semillon typically predominates because it is the most susceptible to Botrytis canerea. Unusually for a wine region, there is one undisputed master of Sauternes production: Château d'Yquem. Ask 100 wine experts what the best Sauternes producer is, and I would wager dollars to doughnuts that all 100 will respond Yquem. Yquem's prices certainly bear that out: a 375 ml bottle of the 2003, the most recent vintage now on the market, will retail for close to $200, far more than any other Sauternes. I've always wanted to try Yquem; but as profligate as I am, I'm loath to spend $200 on half a bottle of wine. So I have not. On an excursion to the store yesterday morning to pick up a shallot, however, I made an impulse purchase of another, much lesser, Sauternes: a 375 ml bottle of 2003 Château Haut-Mayne. I know nothing whatever about this estate (or even whether it is really an estate), and I have been unable to find anything online with a quick Google search. I can tell you, however, that I enjoyed their wine very much. It was, well, vinous honey: sweet, syrupy, delicious. Many dessert wines (at least the ones that aren't fortified) will be lower in alcohol than typical table wines. They have to be because their sweetness comes from unfermented sugar, and the sugar levels of the grape juice that is vinified aren't really much higher than those for regular wine. Not so Sauternes. The Botrytis concentrates the grape juice to such an extent that there is plenty of sugar to ferment to a high degree of alcohol while leaving more than enough to keep the wine super-sweet. The Haut-Mayne was 14.5% alcohol and still as sweet as you could ask for. I enjoyed it very much. It certainly made me want to try other, more well-reputed Sauternes -- maybe not Yquem, but certainly something more reasonable like Château Guiraud or Château Rieussec.

Oh, and unless you're hosting a big dinner party, get the 375 ml bottles. The stuff is simply too rich to consume much of it. It would surprise me if four people could finish a 375 ml bottle and wish that there were more.

Today's Shoes

Martegani six-eyelet plain-toe bluchers with a floating medallion in navy blue shell cordovan with a thick single leather sole (3B last). Martegani's US representative, Ron Rider, calls this model the Lucca II. My shoes are identical to the ones pictured to the right in every respect except that they are made from navy blue shell cordovan instead of that tan calfskin. Yes, you read correctly. They're navy blue shell cordovan. Horween, the Chicago tannery that makes the best shell cordovan, actually makes small quantities of navy blue. When I first heard that, I knew that I would have to have something made from it, and this particular model seemed like a good choice. Getting the shoes was a bit of an adventure: when Martegani started to make them up, there were exactly two navy shells in Italy; and it takes two shells to make one pair of shoes. They accidentally split one of them while lasting it, and they had to wait several months before getting a replacement. No matter. The shoes were worth the wait. The 3B last runs long naturally, and, as with all shell cordovan shoes, these fit a bit more loosely than the same shoe in calfskin. Today, though, they fit reasonably well -- no heel slippage after a day of wear. I may have to wear these more often.

Last Night's Tipple

Thanksgiving is the second most distinctively American of holidays (July 4, Independence Day, would be the most distinctively American), and, as such, it seems appropriate to me to consume American wine with Thanksgiving dinner. Ridge Geyserville is nothing if not an American wine. Ridge's Monte Bello winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains dates back to 1885. Their Lytton Springs winery, where Geyserville is produced and aged, is in Sonoma County. Where most other American wineries with pretensions of greatness ape the French by aging their wines in French oak, Ridge uses American oak, even for their top-of-the-line Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon, which is on just about everybody's short list for the best wine produced in the United States and as one of the great wines of the world. And consider the grapes that are used to make Geyserville: the 2005 Geyserville that I had is 77% Zinfandel, 17% Carignane (notice the American spelling), and 6% Petite Sirah. Petite Sirah has long been an important blending grape in California, capable of adding tannic backbone to wines. It's known as Durif in France, and it has never achieved the importance there that it has here. Carignane likewise has featured prominently in American blends for decades, and American vintners know that it can produce very good wine when it comes from properly-tended old vines. In France, known as Carignan, it has been a prominent component in the oceans of rot-gut vins de table pouring out of the Midi since the late 19th Century. Only recently have the French begun to acknowledge what Americans have known for a long time: that Carignan can produce good wine if it's cultivated vinified properly.

And then there's Zinfandel. It's as American as a vitis vinifera (ie, the European/Near East wine-producing grape species) can possibly be. Only in the United States has it achieved greatness and prominence. Heck, only in the United States is it known as Zinfandel. Zinfandel grapes were first cultivated in Long Island greenhouses in the first half of the 19th Century as table grapes. They were transplanted to California, were widely planted, and were used to improve and replace the insipid wine made from the Mission grapes that had been current in California since the 18th Century. And they flourished. Zinfandel, like Petite Sirah and Carignane, was an important component in the blends produced by California winemakers in the second half of the 19th Century and throughout the 20th Century. In fact, as often as not, the three grape varieties shared the same vineyards with each other. Recent research has indicated that the Zinfandel grape originated in Croatia, where it is known as the Crljenak Kaštelanski. It is also planted in southern Italy, where it is known as the Primitivo, but those plantings postdate the California plantings by many years. It's a minor grape producing indifferent wine in Croatia and Italy. It's a major grape capable of producing great wine in the United States.

Geyserville is the name of a vineyard in the Alexander Valley of Sonoma County. When Ridge first began to expand its production outside of the grapes on Monte Bello Ridge, Geyserville was one of the first vineyards that they used; and they used it because it was in a perfect microclimate for viticulture and because it had an abundance of high-quality old vines. Ridge Geyserville has always been predominantly Zinfandel, but the vineyard has always included other grapes, like Petite Sirah and Carignane (also Mataro, Alicante, and others); and, in keeping with Ridge's winemaking philosophy, so has the finished Geyserville wine. The blend will vary from year to year; and in many years, it won't have the 75% Zinfandel that the US government requires for the wine to be labeled as Zinfandel. Consequently, Geyserville is never labeled as Zinfandel, even in years, like 2005, when it has enough Zin to qualify.

This is a wonderful wine. I don't claim to be a wine expert or to have a great palate, but it was just what my Thanksgiving steak needed. It's not a little wine -- nothing that's 14.6% alcohol could ever be called little -- but it did not overpower the food. Instead, it provided a nice complement to it. There was a good bit of tannic bite and a lot of raspberry aromas and flavors. The flavors were intense, but it was not over-extracted or syrupy. An outstanding wine. It's not inexpensive (I paid $30 for the bottle), but, for me, it was worth it.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Good Steak

I don't eat turkey on Thanksgiving. Turkey is okay; but even at its very best, it's only adequate. As my mother says, it's a shame to waste a special meal on a damn bird. This year, as I have done in some years past, I cooked a steak. A New York Strip steak, to be exact. Some people like filet, and some people like ribeye. I like New York Strip because it has good texture and firmness without being tough and enough fat to be tasty but not enough to be fatty. Here's how I prepared it. I don't claim that this is the best recipe, but I can claim that it produces a damn fine steak.

Take a New York Strip steak between an inch and a half and two inches thick. Coat each side with kosher salt and fresh-ground pepper. Let sit for a half hour or more (to allow the steak to come up to room temperature and to allow the salt to draw moisture out of the steak, the better to sear it). Pre-heat a cast iron skillet on the stove over high heat until it's hot enough to brand something. Pour in a tiny bit of vegetable oil (maybe a teaspoon), then place the steak into it. Sear the steak on the first side for four minutes, then flip and sear the other for three minutes. There will be lots of smoke. That's okay; just remember to take the battery out of the smoke detector while you're doing this. Remove to a bed of bamboo skewers placed across a plate (to allow the steak to rest without sitting in its own juices, which would make the nice seared crust soggy), then tent with aluminum foil. While the steak is resting, reduce the heat under the skillet to medium and sautee a minced shallot in the rendered fat from the steak. After the shallot is good and brown, deglaze the pan with maybe a cup of red wine and half a cup of water. Simmer until the volume is reduced by half. Collect the sauce in a bowl and use to dip the steak in. Serve with the side dishes of your choice. Voila! It's delicious and the perfect Thanksgiving dinner.

Today's Shoes

Vass plain-toe blucher in burgundy Scotch grain calfskin with double leather soles (Budapest last). My shoes are identical to the model shown above except that mine are on Budapest last while the one pictured is on the Banana last. Vass calls this model the London, for some strange reason. British shoemakers make a lot of plain-toe bluchers, but they certainly don't make them for wear in London. At least, not by their well-dressed customers.

Last Night's Tipple

The last stop on this week's Tour of Wild Turkey is the plain-old flagship 101 proof Bourbon bottling, again. My experience with this whiskey last night was similar to the one I had on Saturday night but better. This time, the whiskey exhibited more the butterscotch aromas that I like in Wild Turkey products and less of the new whiskey, cotton candy smell. It was also not as rough. The difference? Well, aside from the unreliability of the taster, last night I had the ceiling fan going where I did not on Sunday night. More air, different flavors and aromas. I would do well to have the ceiling fan going in the future.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Beware the Tainted Ginger!

We've all read about the latest Chinese-produced toy recall, but I for one didn't realize that some Chinese-grown ginger was recalled back in July. As the Wall Street Journal noted on Monday,
In July, two dozen Albertson's grocery stores in California received a shipment of fresh ginger and put it on shelves. Seeral days later, state inspectors discovered that the ginger, which had been imported from China, contained a dangerous pesticide. State health officials warned Californians to avoid ginger grown in China. (Tainted Ginger's Long Trip From China to U.S. Stores" by Nicholas Zamiska and David Kesmodel, p. A1)

It may seem a little bit extreme for California officials to recommend that consumers avoid all Chinese-grown ginger on the basis of one tainted batch, especially in light of the fact that 78% of the unground dry ginger sold in the US is of Chinese origin, but it's more comprehensible when you consider that it was impossible for anybody to tell what the ultimate source of the problem ginger was. It got to Albertson's stores via a series of middlemen, going back to an export company in Shandong province in China. That trail is murky and obscure enough but becomes incomprehensible from there: the vast majority of ginger grown in Shandong province is grown on family farms, of which there are thousands, many of which supply the export company. It's impossible to tell which one or ones the problem ginger came from. So what is to be done?

American companies that buy Chinese-grown produce often demand such low prices that it isn't practical for exporters and importers to run tests, says Clara Shih, president of Best Buy Produce International Inc. The Vernon, Calif., company imports Chinese-grown produce and resells it to other buyers including supermarkets. "People in this country don't really care as long as it's cheap," says Ms. Shih.

I'm not so sure that that's accurate. American consumers have reacted poorly in the past to food safety scares -- think of the results of the publication of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and the Alar apple scare, to name two at the beginning and end of the Twentieth Century, respectively -- and it's not like American consumers are already conflicted about our commercial relationship with China. Not only that, but there's a lot of money to play with here. According to the article, Chinese-grown ginger wholesales for $7 per 30-pound box. The next-cheapest competitor, Brazil, produces ginger that wholesales for $35 per 30-pound box. That $28 per box margin can pay for a lot of inspections and testing; and it will, if American consumers demand it.

Today's Shoes


Vass plain-toe bals with a floating medallion on the toe in cognac (really burnt orange) calfskin with beveled single leather soles (U last). Vass calls this model the Oxford Medallion. My shoes are identical to the ones in the picture except for the color of the calfskin. I don't wear these shoes very often for two reasons. First, the color is a bit extreme -- there aren't a whole lot of occasions that call for burnt orange shoes. Second, they're too big. I had never tried shoes on the U last on before I bought these, and on the advice of others who had, I ordered them half a size larger than my regular size because the U last was supposed to be narrow. Well, maybe it is narrow compared to other Vass lasts, but it isn't narrow in an absolute sense. These shoes are, predictably enough, about a half a size too large, meaning that they break in the wrong place on my foot and aren't that comfortable. Oh, well. If I had it to do over again, I would order these in a darker color (maybe antic cognac or Color #8 shell cordovan) and would order them in my regular size.


Sutor Mantellassi three-eyelet plain-toe blucher boots in navy blue suede with Norwegian construction and a rubber sole. These are more shoes that have an extended toe that makes them just a bit too long. They would benefit from being half a size smaller. Other than that, they're great. The suede is nice and floppy, even with a full lining.

Last Night's Tipple

Continuing with this week's Wild Turkey theme, I had another pour of Wild Turkey Rare Breed last night. You will recall that Rare Breed is Wild Turkey's "barrel-proof" bottling, meaning that it is presented as Bourbon that has been bottled straight out of the barrel without any water dilution. Whereas most barrel-proof Bourbons are extremely potent (Booker's is over 125 proof; George T. Stagg is typically over 140 proof), this one is a relatively gentle 108.4 proof, and it is made up of 6 year old, 8 year old, and 12 year old Bourbons. It's true that Wild Turkey enters the barrels at a significantly lower proof than is standard among other Bourbon distillers, but I have my doubts that 108.4 proof (preprinted on the neck band) represents the precise alcoholic strength that the dump making up the batch exits the barrels at.

Regardless, this has consistently been one of my favorite Bourbons because it piles on the unctuous dessert-like flavors and aromas that I like so much. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite so enjoyable this time around. Even after a significant airing, it still smelled woody, and the taste was a bit harsh and unpleasant. Toward the end of the glass, it began to exhibit some buttered popcorn and some butterscotch, like I was accustomed to; but overall, this glass was a bit of a disappointment. Why? I'm not sure, but there are a few possible explanations. First, it could be that nothing whatever has changed in the whiskey or the manner in which I consumed it; that it was my mood and the vagarities of my palate that accounted for the difference in experience. Second, it could be that the manner in which I consumed it differed from the norm and that this difference accounted for the difference in experience. My ceiling fan is typically going while I pour and consume whiskey. Last night, it wasn't. I could certainly believe that that contributed to the quantity and quality of the air the glass got and consequently to the way the whiskey smelled and tasted. Third, it could be that the whiskey is getting oxidized. Yes, oxidized. The bottle has been open for well over a year, and it is getting pretty empty. Spirits don't fall apart from exposure to oxygen the way that most beer and wine do, but eventually they too will oxidize. It could be that that is what's happening with this bottle. Not to worry, though. I'll finish it up soon enough and buy a brand-new one.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Please, Not Another Boondogle

The Houston Dynamo won the MLS Cup last week. For those of you who don't follow minor professional sports in the United States, that means that the Houston professional soccer franchise won the championship of the league in which they play. I am a homer, and I want Houston sports teams to do well; but I can't honestly say that I am happy by this development. It's not because I have any particular animosity towards MLS in general or the Dynamo specifically but rather because their victory makes it more likely that they will get an extraordinarily costly new stadium in downtown Houston at least partially at taxpayer expense. Sure enough, just like clockwork, the Houston Chronicle reports that negotiations for a new stadium are coming close to fruition:
The Houston Dynamo, fresh off the team's second straight championship, could have a private-public deal to build a stadium in place within weeks, city and team officials said Monday.

"I'm hopeful we can put a good deal together," said Andy Icken, the city's deputy director of public works, who is heading negotiations for the city. "If we're going to be successful, we'll be successful in the next two weeks."

Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns the Dynamo, is laying plans to build a 22,000-seat, open-air stadium at a cost of $70 million to $80 million...

Some members of the team, which won its second straight Major League Soccer championship Sunday by defeating the New England Revolution, said they are wondering why it is taking so long to secure a stadium deal.

"Mayor White, listen up: This team deserves it (a stadium)," Dynamo defender Craig Waibel said...

Nearly two years ago, AEG moved its franchise to Houston after failing to put together a stadium deal to its liking in San Jose, Calif. The mammoth entertainment company renamed the team the Dynamo, and executives promised to get a stadium built in its new home.

Oliver Luck, Dynamo president and general manager, said the team has presented a good proposal to the city and is waiting for a response. "We're close to a deal. It's really up to the mayor," Luck said.

White is seeking a deal that would not require the city to contribute public money. While AEG's proposal calls for the company to bear most of the construction costs, it still would require the city to provide millions of dollars in needed infrastructure improvements, city and team officials said. ("Dynamo stadium deal may only be weeks away" by Bill Murphy and Bernardo Fallas)

Well, I guess that I can be thankful that Mayor White is opposed to the contribution of public money to the project (although I'm not sure how that is compatible with the city ponying up millions of dollars for infrastructure improvements around the new stadium). Still, I don't like the idea of the city being involved in this at all. I complained about the prospect of this stadium in May when a Houston Chronicle columnist opined that the only reason that anyone could possibly oppose a taxpayer-funded stadium for the Dynamo was racism, and I still believe what I wrote then. The Houston Dynamo are a private enterprise just like any other. Why should they not have to build their place of business at their own expense. Building sports stadia at public expense, even partially at public expense, is bad public policy because it does nothing but transfer taxpayers' money into the pockets of the owners of the Houston Dynamo for the viewing pleasure of the few thousand fans who attend Dynamo games.

And no, Craig Waibel, Houston doesn't owe your team a stadium. Providing handouts to owners of sports franchises isn't among the city government's legitimate responsibilities. Houston didn't owe a stadium to the Astros, and the Astros mean more to Houston than your two-bit third-rate team ever could.

Today's Shoes


Gravati side-buckle monkstraps in dark brown (01) Radica calf with single leather soles (16042, 433 last).


Alden long wing bluchers in dark tan Alpine grained calfskin with a reverse welt and double leather soles (Barrie last). You will recall that these were special-order make-ups for LeatherSoul Hawaii. It appears that Tom Park at LeatherSoul has done well with these: only the small sizes remain. I'm glad to see that so many people have good taste.

Last Night's Tipple

Finally! A picture of a bottle of Russell's Reserve Rye! See? I wasn't kidding when I wrote a couple of weeks ago that it looks a lot like the bottle for Russell's Reserve Bourbon. One difference between the two (and one that I doubt most of the buyers of either will notice) is that Russell's Reserve Bourbon is 10 years old while Russell's Reserve Rye is only 6 years old. Why is this? I really have no idea, but I can speculate about possible explanations. First, the rye is obviously intended to compete with Sazerac Rye, which is 6 years old. Why shouldn't RR rye be the same age. Second is the pricepoint. Austin Nichols wanted this whiskey to retail around $25 or $30 a bottle, which might be a bit low for 10 year old rye. As a point of reference, Michter's 10 year old rye costs $81 a fifth. That's an outlier, of course, but it is generally true that rye of a certain age will be more expensive than comparable Bourbon of the same age. Wild Turkey rye is a couple of bucks more a bottle than WT Bourbon. The same is true of Van Winkle Family Reserve Bourbon and rye and of Sazerac rye and Buffalo Trace Bourbon. It could be that the Austin Nichols people decided that they couldn't offer 10 year old rye at the pricepoint that they wanted for this product. Third, it could be that there weren't stocks of Wild Turkey rye whiskey that were older than 6 years. WT rye is a young whiskey, and most of what goes into it will be just a shade over the legal minimum of 4 years old (legal minimum for straight rye without an age statement, that is). If Austin Nichols decided relatively recently to do a Russell's Reserve rye, there wouldn't have been much aged whiskey available. They may have decided to go with 6 year old whiskey instead of waiting for another four years to introduce the product. And fourth, it could be that Jimmy Russell and others at Wild Turkey just thought that WT rye at 6 years old was perfect for the flavor profile that they were going for. Sometimes, decisions like this aren't all about marketing.

Indeed, it would be hard for me to argue with the age of this rye. It still has a bit of the wildness of the regular WT bottling, but the additional age has toned it down and given it more caramel. As we have discussed before, more caramel is more better. I certainly don't have much experience with such things, but I can't really say that additional age would make this any better. About all I can complain about is the proof: I wish that this were 101 proof instead of 90. This is a very enjoyable rye.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Vichy Water

Toward the end of Casablanca, after Rick (Humphrey Bogart) told Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) that if she didn't leave with her husband (Paul Henreid) she would regret it ("maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life"), after Rick shoots Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt) to prevent him from interfering with the plane carrying them from leaving, Rick and Captain Renault (Claude Rains) stand and contemplate the situation. Renault pulls out a bottle of water labeled Vichy Water, opens it, and pours a glass. He then looks at the bottle in disgust and throws it in the wastebasket, showing that even so corrupt and jaded an official as he is can't continue to collaborate with the Vichy regime and the Nazis whose puppet it is. It's a great symbolic (if not very subtle) moment in the film, and I had always assumed that the Vichy Water was just a prop. It turns out that it's not. Vichy Water was apparently a generic term for naturally carbonated mineral water, named after such water coming from Vichy long before it became the capital of Petain's regime. I'm fairly sure that it is still possible to get Vichy Water that's actually from Vichy, but I was unsuccessful. I did, however, find some Vichy Catalan water, which comes from a spring near Barcelona and has been bottled commercially since 1890. Yup, it's mineral water, all right: my palette isn't the most sensitive, but even it can detect the saltiness. Not unpleasant, mind you, but present nonetheless. I probably won't buy it again, but it was worth it to be able to write about Casablanca.

Speaking of Casablanca, have you noticed what a superlative propaganda film it is? I don't mean that pejoratively, given the cause that it was propagandizing for. Even today, if you can watch the dueling Die Wacht am Rhein - La Marseillaise scene and not be ready to enlist to kick the jackbooted minions of Hitler out of France, you have no heart:

Monday Evening Movie Review

I was flipping channels last night, and I happened upon TMC showing The Philadelphia Story, the famous 1940 comedy starring James Stewart, Cary Grant, and Katherine Hepburn. Hepburn plays Tracy Lord, daughter of the wealthy and socially-prominent Philadelphian Seth Lord. Tracy used to be married CK Dexter Haven, played by Grant, but the marriage dissolved in acrimony and (for Haven) alcoholism. She is now engaged to marry George Kittredge (John Howard), a new man who has worked himself up from coal miner to mine general manager. The problem? Well, there are two problems, really. First is that scandal sheet mogul Sidney Kidd (Henry Daniell) wants pictures of the wedding in his magazine, Spy. Second is that Haven still loves Tracy. Kidd has incriminating information about the philandering of Seth Lord, and he uses this information to blackmail Haven into getting a reporter (and aspiring writer) named Macaulay Connor (James Stewart) and a photographer (and Connor's love interest) named Elizabeth Imbrie (Ruth Hussey) into the Lord house by vouching for them as friends of Tracy's brother, absent in the American embassy in Argentina. As you would expect, hilarity ensues, and everything turns out right in the end.

This is one of my favorite movies. I love Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant, I love the clothes, and the movie is fun, funny, and entertaining. Of course, it would be impossible to film a movie with The Philadelphia Story's script nowadays. There are just too many, um, questionable lines. Consider the following:
Haven: How about you, Mr. Connor? You drink, don't you -- alcohol, I mean?
Connor: Oh, a little.
Haven: A little? And you a writer? Tsk, tsk, tsk. I thought all writers drank to excess and beat their wives. You know, at one time, I think I secretly wanted to be a writer.
Grant started out in Vaudeville, and he remained a master of comedic timing throughout his career. Stewart is just a fantastic actor, and he won the Oscar for his performance in this movie. It was one of his last movies before he enlisted in the US Army Air Corps, later going on to fly B-17 bombers over Germany in World War II. I'm not a big fan of Katherine Hepburn, but she does a very good impression of aristocratic hauteur in this film. It's not overly deep, and I doubt that it will change your world view. But it is an example of what a good comedy can be. Would that Hollywood would remember what can be done before they turn out more of the same old crap.

Today's Shoes


Gravati cap-toe bals in red-brown grained calfskin (Lama Larice) with single leather soles (16592, 500 last).


Gravati high-vamp penny loafer with twin-needle-stitched apron in red-brown grained calfskin (Color 39 Tibet) with single leather soles (15477, 701 last). The shoe in the middle of the picture above is mine. As I have previously mentioned, I'm quite taken with Tibet calf -- the veining pattern is beautiful, it's soft, and it takes a good shine -- and I'm going to use it on other special orders in the future. My current project is a split-toe blucher boot with twin-needle stitching on the apron and toe seam in Color 39 Tibet. What I really want is the 15950 with the apron and toe stitching. It remains to be seen whether Gravati will make it or whether they will force me into an existing model.

Last Night's Tipple

In case you haven't noticed, I'm on something of a Wild Turkey kick recently. Given that this is the week of Thanksgiving, that seems appropriate. Last night, it was another pour of the original 101 proof version of Russell's Reserve. To be honest, it really didn't do a whole lot for me this time. Too much orange, too much wood, not enough cinnamon and caramel. I wonder if ten years is simply too much age for Wild Turkey -- the other expressions that I have tried and enjoyed have been (mostly) younger than that. (Rare Breed does contain some 12 year old juice, but it also contains 6 year old and 8 year old, meaning that the aggregate is likely younger than 10 years old.) It could also be, of course, that this bottle is simply not to my liking or that I was simply not in the mood to enjoy it last night.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Rich and Famous

I am ashamed to admit that I know that Lindsay Lohan served 84 minutes in jail last week for her guilty plea in August to settle two DUI charges. I know it because a staple of morning drive-time radio is celebrity gossip, and this was some of the gossip offered up. The male half of the dynamic duo that I listen to took the opportunity to rail once again about how there are two different justice systems in the United States, one for the rich and powerful and one for the rest of us. If any of us had been facing charges like Lohan was, he assured us, we would be looking at five years at least. And where did that five years come from? Well, some guy claiming to be a Houston cop had called the show when Lohan was arrested over the summer to say that that's what someone in her position would be looking at in Texas. Texas, mind you. Not California. Because, you know, laws can differ from state to state. I'm just guessing here, but I think that the reason for the purported cop's judgment was for the fact that one of the charged Lohan was facing was cocaine possession (though, as far as I can tell, possession of small amounts of cocaine is a felony in Texas but not one that will get you five years for a first-time offense). Of course, what people are charged with is frequently far different from what they plead guilty to, even if they aren't rich and famous. And then there's the matter of the Los Angeles County Jail, where Lohan was incarcerated. Even a rudimentary amount of research reveals that it is severely overcrowded and that is under a Federal court order to limit that overcrowding. The result of this is that just about everybody who serves time in the Los Angeles County Jail is released early. Yes, even Lindsay Lohan. But don't let facts get in the way of a self-righteous rant, Mr. Idiot DJ guy.

Today's Shoes

Gravati five-eyelet plain-toe blucher boots in dark brown peccary with an extended storm welt and a combination leather/rubber (Beverly) sole (15950, 640 last). This is my boot of choice for tromping around in the rain, which is what I did today. Well, not the rain. More like the wet after the rain.

Last Night's Tipple

I write about Van Winkle whiskeys quite a bit, and they deserve to be written about. They've very good. If you look at what I buy and what I drink, you'll find that I buy a lot of Wild Turkey; and for good reason: they make some excellent whiskey, too. But until yesterday, I had never tried the flagship product, the standard 101 proof bottling.

What is now the Wild Turkey Distillery traces its heritage back to the Ripy family, which first distilled whiskey in Anderson County, Kentucky, in 1869. After the repeal of Prohibition, the Ripys revived their distillery. Some of their whiskey was bottled under the label of the Austin Nichols Company, a food and beverage distributer. In 1940, the president of the company, Thomas McCarthy, took some Ripy whiskey that he selected from the warehouse with him on a wild turkey hunt in South Carolina. His fellow hunters liked it so much that they requested him to bring more of that "wild turkey" Bourbon with him the next year. The Wild Turkey brand was introduced in 1942, and the Austin Nichols Company bought the distillery from the Ripys in 1970. Austin Nichols later became part of the Pernod Ricard wine and spirits empire, and Wild Turkey remains an important part of that empire. I would wager that it is the most widely-known of all Bourbon brands after Jim Beam.

In many ways, Wild Turkey was the one of the original modern premium Bourbons; and a premium Bourbon it remains. Whiskey enthusiasts complain incessantly that Jack Daniel's isn't what it used to be and that Jim Beam is watered-down crap. They don't complain about Wild Turkey. It is now what it has always been: big, bold, and unapologetic. Wild Turkey's mashbill is rye-heavy, and they use a #4 char (the heaviest char available) on the barrels that they age their Bourbon in. It's distinctive and delicious in the other bottlings that I have tried. It's younger and wilder, but still delicious in the standard 101 proof bottling. It's very much a young whiskey -- I can't really describe what that means other than to say that there it has fresh, sweet aroma, tastes a bit grainy, and is slightly rough. But it is very tasty. With some time in the glass, it betrays the same cinnamon bread pudding aromas and flavors that I associate with the other Wild Turkey bottlings that I have tried. I like it.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Bourbon Country Reader

Chuck Cowdery is a Chicago attorney who has a thing for Bourbon. Not only does he have a thing for it; he writes about it, and well. He is the author of Bourbon, Straight: The Uncut and Unfiltered Story of American Whiskey, an enjoyable compendium of Bourbon history, Bourbon opinion, and Bourbon reviews; the author, director, and producer of "Made and Bottled in Kentucky," a documentary about Bourbon that originally aired on public television; and a freelance contributer to such publications as The Malt Advocate and Whisky Magazine. He also publishes his own newsletter about Bourbon (well, American whiskey, really) called The Bourbon Country Reader. The current edition contains a story about the twists and turns through the years of the Camp Nelson facility (DSP-KY-69), which for many years was a full-blown distillery but currently only has warehouses aging Wild Turkey Bourbon; a mention of the retirement of Jerry Dalton, former master distiller of Jim Beam; a story about the seizure of a million dollars' worth of unlicensed Jack Daniel's whiskey in Tennessee; and a review of the new Russell's Reserve Rye. It's always enjoyable, very readable, and highly recommended.

Today's Shoes

Vass high-lace cap-toe blucher boots in red-brown calfskin (Vass calls it Antic -- that's apparently how you spell antique in Magyar -- Cognac) with double leather soles with steel plates in the toes (Theresianer boot model, P2 last). These boots were inspired by a sample that Gabor Halmos, the Vass rep in the US, has of the Theresianer boot on U last in Antic Cognac. It's a stunning boot, but I don't like the way U last fits me. I basically wanted the same boot, only on P2 last. That is, I wanted a single sole with a beveled waist. That's not what I got. Evidently, there was some breakdown in communication in the chain from me to Gabor to the factory in Budapest. It is still a nice looking boot with a double leather sole and an unbeveled waist, although it resembles a combat boot more than a refined city boot. And so, since I have gotten them, I have tended to wear them in situations where combat boots are metaphorically appropriate. Like, for instance, when going to see an art exhibit with Mamacita and B and thence gallivanting about town.

Last Night's Tipple

Wild Turkey has lots and lots of bottlings. There are the 80 proof and 101 proof Bourbons, the straight rye, Russell's Reserve Bourbon, Russell's Reserve Rye, Rare Breed Bourbon (the barrel-proof offering), and Kentucky Spirit (the single-barrel offering), to say nothing of the one-off bottlings like American Spirit or Tribute. And that's just in the United States. Overseas, one can also get the 101 proof 8 year, the 101 proof 12 year, the 86.8 proof, and Freedom (another barrel-proof offering of age combinations slightly different from Rare Breed). Every variation that I have tried has been good, which of course just makes me want to try more variations. I had been wanting to try Kentucky Spirit for a while, and so I bought a bottle on Friday evening. Mine states on the neck band that it was bottled on May 8, 2007 from barrel number 69 in warehouse E on rick number 13. I have no idea whether anything other than the date of bottling means anything, but there it is. It is bottled at 101 proof, just like WT's most famous and popular bottling. Other things about the packaging, though, are very different. The standard 101 proof bottling comes in an unassuming bottle-shaped bottle, closed with a simple, unassuming, plastic-topped cork. Kentucky Spirit comes in a fancy, flask-shaped bottle with stylized ridges suggesting a fanned-out turkey's tail and is closed with a fancy, carved-wood-topped cork. (I have read that the original Kentucky Spirit bottles actually had corks topped with a pewter turkey figuring). And Kentucky Spirit is expensive, too: more than twice as expensive as a bottle of the standard 101, which itself has a price similar to other premium Bourbons like Maker's Mark.

Is it worth it? Well, that's a question of value that every consumer must consider for himself, but I can say that it is delicious. It has the same spicy sweetness that I have experienced with other WT bottlings (like cinnamon bread pudding, at least to me), although it is distinct from the others. It seems a bit subtler and refined than Rare Breed, which has been my favorite Turkey. After trying Kentucky Spirit, I can't really say whether I prefer it to Rare Breed or the other way around. I imagine that that would depend on mood. And, fortunately, I don't have to choose one or the other: both are plentiful. As a single-barrel offering, one would think that there will be noticeable variation from bottle to bottle. I will be interested to see if that's the case.

Friday, November 16, 2007

A Good Hanger is Hard to Find

Today's Wall Street Journal Catalog Critic column compares hangers ("No Wire Hangers!" by Lauren Lipton, p. W12). Yes, hangers. Believe it or not, hangers are extremely important to the care and feeding of fine tailored clothing. Put a jacket on a thin, unshaped, narrow hanger, and the shoulders will droop and the collar will stretch. The overall winner? Suit hangers from The Hanger Project.
"Fantastic," our expert said. Maple hanger comes in three lengths to accommodate a variety of jacket sizes. Flocked trouser bar and extra-wide, 2-inch contoured shoulders keep creasing and sagging to a minimum. Hook swivels 360 degrees without unscrewing.

The expert speaks the truth. Chris Despos ordered a number of these hangers (with his logo on them), and my most recent Despos jacket came on one. They're more functional than any other hanger that I've ever seen, and they're pretty, too.

There is, of course, back-story for The Hanger Project. It's the enterprise of a recent graduate of the University of Texas who is a long-time participant on the Ask Andy Forums. There was a great deal of discussion there about the poor quality of most commercially-available suit hangers and how it would be great if it were possible to pick up Oxxford suit hangers without having to buy Oxxford suits. He took it upon himself to find out who makes Oxxford suit hangers (the company's name is the Beverley Coat Hanger Co., Inc.), what the options were (type of wood, color of finish, etc.), and what the minimum order was. He then organized a group buy for Ask Andy members. That was such a smashing success that he decided to make it a going concern. It's only a sideline, but I hope that he's successful at it. Success means that I will continue to have access to these great hangers. Good job, Kirby!

Today's Shoes

Alden two-eyelet chukka boots in long-nap tobacco suede (Alden calls it Polo) with combination leather/rubber (Commando) soles (Barrie last). As you will recall, these are special orders from the Alden Shop in San Francisco. This is such a lovely color of suede that I'm very surprised that Alden doesn't use it more often. I suppose that they just don't sell a whole lot of suede, which is a pity.

Last Night's Tipple

I was in the mood for some beer, and so I bought a big-ass bottle of Rogue Shakespeare Stout. ("Big-ass bottle" is a technical term for a bottle containing 22 ounces.) Rogue Ales is a well-reputed Oregon microbrewery founded in 1988. It's a very American operation: their brewers are addicted to hops, and they love numbers. This stout, the bottle helpfully tells me, has been hopped to a level of 69 IBU, which is very high. The bottle also tells me that it's 15 degrees Plato, has an Apparent Attenuation of 77, and 135 degrees Lovibond. I had no idea what any of these terms were, but the World Wide Web is a wonderful thing. The Plato scale is a measure of fermentable sugars by weight of wort, and I gather that 15 degrees is pretty high. Apparent Attenuation is a measure of how much of the fermentable sugars in the wort was converted to alcohol; an AA of 77 means that 77% of the sugar was fermented. I really have no idea of how an AA of 77 compares to most beers on the market. The Lovibond scale is a measure of the color of a liquid. I gather that the higher the degrees Lovibond a beer is, the darker it is. 135 degrees Lovibond makes for a very dark beer.

In any event, this is a dry stout reminiscent of Irish stouts like Guinness. It's dark, hoppy, and full-flavored. Rogue's notes say that there are hints of chocolate in the flavor. I didn't get any of that, but I did enjoy it. I just wish that it didn't cost $5.50 for the bottle.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Creed makes fragrances. Very expensive ones. They are expensive for two reasons. First, of course, is that they have established themselves as a well-known luxury brand and can charge accordingly. Second is that they don't make their fragrances like most of the fragrances on the market. They use the traditional fragrance-making infusion technique, and their ingredients are all-natural. If a scent reminds you of tobacco or roses, it's probably because it contains tobacco or roses, not something artificial cooked up in a lab. Most other fragrance-makers don't do this anymore because of the expense involved and because it isn't conducive to mass-production. And it makes a difference -- at least, I think that it does. Mass-market fragrances tend to change significantly when they come in contact with the skin, and the intensity of their scents degrades rapidly with time. Not so with Creed fragrances. Every fragrance will react to the skin to some extent; but the Creed fragrances that I have tried don't change much from the bottle to the skin, and their intensity degrades very s-l-o-w-l-y. I have used Bois du Portugal before, but my current Creed scent is Vintage Tabarome (not Tabarome Millesime!). It dates to 1875 and was a favorite of Winston Churchill. For good reason, too: its heavy tobacco overtones would have matched with Churchill's ubiquitous cigars. There is nothing unisex about this fragrance. It is purely masculine, beyond any shadow of a doubt. It's all tobacco and leather. I like it very much. It only comes in a giant 8.4 ounce bottle that you have to decant into an atomizer, but that's not really a terrible hassle. It's also horribly expensive, but consider this: I have had my bottle for two years, and I've used maybe a quarter of it. Broken down on a cost-per-use basis, it's not really that bad.

(The picture above is for Creed's new Virgin Island Water fragrance. Unlike Vintage Tabarome, it is unisex, citrusy thing. I probably wouldn't like it at all.)

Today's Shoes


Gravati three-eyelet wholecut bals in burgundy Lama calf with single leather soles (14391, 683 last).


Alden half-brogue bluchers in long-nap dark brown suede with combination leather/rubber soles (actually, a rubber mini-lug sewn onto a single leather sole; Alden calls it the Commando sole) (Barrie last). You will recall that these shoes were special orders from Alden of Carmel, done probably 6 years ago. Alden has since discontinued doing one-off special orders, which is a shame. I can understand why, though: such shoes disrupt the production line and make the factory much less efficient. They cannot realistically charge enough to make up for the lost output, so they don't do them.

Last Night's Tipple

I have drinking American whiskey almost continuously for quite some time now, so I decided to have another pour of Forty Creek Barrel Select Canadian Whisky. I probably should not have done this. American straight whiskey is BIG. Canadian whisky is not. Even a more assertive and less vodka-like product like Forty Creek will not have the depth of flavor or aroma that an American straight will have; and the fact that it's bottled at 80 proof, significantly lower than most of the American whiskey that I drink, will not help matters. Predictably, just as a French white Bordeaux characterized by finesse and subtlety would look pallid and weak when tasted next to a big, bruising, aggressive New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, so too did the Forty Creek taste weak and pallid when compared to the Bourbon and rye that I've been drinking recently. There just didn't seem to be much there, although I'm pretty sure that there actually is. I will try it again when I'm off my current Bourbon kick.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

On My List

I know that it must seem to the casual observer that I have in my possession a bottle of every single whiskey currently on the market, but this is not the case. Here are some that I do not have that are on my list for future purchase:
  1. Eagle Rare 10 Year Old Bourbon
  2. George Dickel Barrel Select Tennessee Whiskey
  3. Booker's Bourbon
  4. Basil Hayden Bourbon
  5. Old Fitzgerald Signature (100 proof)
  6. Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon (Vintage 1997)
  7. Old Rip Van Winkle 10 year old Bourbon
  8. Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit Bourbon
  9. Bruichladdich 3-D Scotch
  10. Famous Grouse 18 year old Malt Scotch
  11. Glen Moray 12 year old Scotch
  12. Glenfarclas 12 year old Scotch
  13. Longmorn 12 year old Scotch
  14. Talisker 10 year old Scotch
It'll probably take at least until, oh, mid-December for me to get to all of those. ;->

Today's Shoes


Alden punch-cap bals in black calf with single soles (model 901, Hampton last). Yes, black. I actually do own some black shoes. I actually purchased these shoes from Brooks Brothers (on an excellent sale about five years ago), and they bear a Brooks Brothers logo. However, it would be evident that they were made by Alden even if I didn't know it from other sources. Alden makes all of Brooks' American-made shoes. Some are special Brooks-only models. This one isn't -- it's just the standard 901. I went up to Harold's in the Heights this afternoon to wish Harold Wiesenthal -- the founder of the store -- a happy 80th birthday and to take a look at some Gravati samples that the US rep had sent down to Jim Pierce. Jim took one look at my shoes and asked, "Alden?" Johnny Mykoff asked, "701?" A pretty good performance (only off by one digit) considering that Harold's doesn't sell Alden and neither one has looked extensively at the Alden line in years.

(The shoe pictured -- from the Alden Shop in San Francisco -- is actually a 9015, the same punch-cap bal in Color #8 shell cordovan, even though it sure looks black in that picture.)


Gravati four-eyelet split-toe bluchers in red-brown grained calfskin (Lama Larice) with single leather soles (16532, 655 last).