Thursday, March 6, 2008
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
(And that picture is just something that I stole from Wikipedia. It in no way represents the beauty that is Mamacita's version.)
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.
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
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?
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).
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 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.
Oh, boy, is this Byzantine. Texas receives a total of 228 delegates, and these delegates are assigned as follows:
- 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.
- 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 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.
- 32 unpledged delegates are appointed based on their positions in the Texas Democratic Party. These are the so-called "superdelegates."
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).
Most of the Argentine wine that one sees on the US market are either malbec or one of the mass-appeal varietals like cabernet sauvignon or merlot. Bonarda bottlings are a little uncommon, but they can be found. I had heard about bonarda; and since novelty always appeals to me, I decided to seek it out. Spec's had two or three different versions, none of which I knew anything about. I selected the 2006 La Posta Estela Armando Vineyard Bonarda largely because I liked the label (when there is nothing else to judge a wine by, why not just go by the label?). The importer's website says that the grapes for this wine are from 45 year old vines cultivated by a family of Italian ancestry. There is a good deal of fruit on the nose, mixed with some earthiness and smoke. Towards the end of the glass, I thought that I smelled a bit of raspberries and cream and a bit of toast (as in Wonder bread). There was a lot of red fruit on the palate, along with a good deal of drying tannins. The finish wasn't particularly long, but that's okay. This was a concentrated and enjoyable wine. I think that it was a little overpriced at $16 a bottle, but trying new things is almost always a good idea.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
Anyway, continuing with the dolcetto theme, last night I opened a bottle of 2005 Chionetti Dolcetto di Dogliani San Luigi. The DOC is Dolcetto di Dogliani, and San Luigi is the name of the vineyard where the grapes were grown. In the Dolcetto d'Alba DOC, dolcetto is usually a secondary or tertiary grape, planted in less favorable locations by growers who reserve their best spots for nebbiolo and barbera. This is less frequently the case in the Dolcetto di Dogliani DOC -- more frequently, growers plant dolcetto and only dolcetto. This naturally causes them to take the grape more seriously than do some growers in the Dolcetto d'Alba DOC, and people who actually know something about this say that Dolcetto di Dogliani wines are typically heavier, more intense, and more age-worthy than Dolcetto d'Alba wines. Quinto Chionetti is a respected Dogliani producer, and he makes three single-vineyard dolcettos: Briccolero, Vigna la Costa, and San Luigi. My friendly, neighborhood liquor and wine superstore only carries the San Luigi, so that's all I can try (although I think that it would be fascinating to compare all three). It cost around $24 a bottle, making it about as expensive a dolcetto as you can find.
When first poured, this wine didn't have much aroma at all. With some vigorous swirling, however, it really opened up. When it did, it had the same copper penny aroma as the Gagliardo I had previously. In addition, there was a big rose petal component and some meatiness. Yes, meatiness. I'm not sure exactly which meat -- maybe ham, maybe bacon -- but it's there. I like it a whole lot. On the palate, there's a lot of dark fruit and a lot of drying tannins. With the Gagliardo, at first it was a bit short -- I swallowed it, and it was gone. That changed with some time in the glass, but it was a bit disconcerting nonetheless. That wasn't a problem with this Chionetti. I like this wine a lot. I wouldn't go so far as to say that it was a great value, but it was very tasty; and I did enjoy it more than the Gagliardo (although they were close).
Saturday, February 23, 2008
The Wall Street Journal February 16 Golf Journal column points out another factor leading to slow play, namely, course design:
The average drive of a 90s-shooting male golfer is 192 yards. He thinks he hits the ball 30 yards farther than that, according to a survey of more than 18,000 golfers completed three years ago by Frank Thomas, the former technical director for the U.S. Golf Association. In fact, the survey found that 41% of men estimate they hit their drives 250-plus yards, which hard data from club manufacturers expose as total balderdash; in reality, maybe only one in 50 golfers routinely hits drives 250 yards. Senior men are lucky to coax 170 to 180 yards out of their tee shots. Typical female golfers drive about 135 yards.
If golf were somehow to reinvent itself from scratch, reflecting how the vast majority of participants actually play the game today, the default tees at courses would play at 5,700 to 6,300 yards. The forward-most tees, for beginners, some seniors and some women, would be at around 4,100 yards and get lots of use, and some courses would provide alternative tees set at, say, 6,700 and 7,200 yards, for the relatively few crack youngsters and low single-digit handicappers who can comfortably manage that length. (Scratch golfers constitute only 0.65% of the total.) ("A Tee Too Far: Long Courses Overmatch Golfers; Trying a New Way" by John Paul Newport, p. W1)
There is a lot of sense in this approach to golf course design; and if golfers would comply, it would improve the golfing experience for everyone. The actual golfers would be happier because they would actually have a chance to play the course like it was designed to be played. They players around them would be happier because the speed of play would improve dramatically. But the first paragraph that I quoted points out the problem: the average golfer thinks that he's lot better than he actually is. He reads the coverage of the US Open, which tells about how the course being played this year will be 7,600 yards long. Not only does he think that he can play a 7,600 yard course, he is also insulted if you put tees out there for him to use that are only 5,400 yards. Delusions of grandeur are the main problem; golf course design is a subsidiary concern.
Dolcetto is frequently referred to as the Italian version of Beaujolais in introductory wine books, and it's a comparison that causes umbrage for both proud Dolcetto producers and proud Beaujolais producers. The wine writers typically mean that both Dolcetto and Beaujolais are (relatively) cheap, soft, easy drinking wines best consumed young. In other words, they mean the comparison to be mildly pejorative or at least patronizing. Well, anyone who has ever tried Domaine Diochon Moulin-a-Vent or most of the other Beaujolais wine that Kermit Lynch imports knows that there is Beaujolais out there that is not just soft and easy-drinking and is age-worthy and "serious." I suspect that the same can be said for a lot of dolcetto. This Gagliardo Dolcetto d'Alba, I think, is not just some pleasant quaffer. It has plenty of acidity and tannin, mixed with plenty of fruit. I have no idea of whether it's age-worthy, but I do know that I have had plenty of purportedly "serious" wines that don't bring as much flavor, complexity, and interest to the table as this wine does. It really tastes nothing at all like Beaujolais, even excellent Beaujolais, but I think that the comparison of dolcetto and Beaujolais is justified for reasons not intended by the critics: both wines are under-appreciated and under-priced relative to their potential quality.
Friday, February 22, 2008
Well, I don't really have an objection to a wine that is simple and easy-drinking so long as it's good, and I don't understand criticizing wine for being "unserious." What is that supposed to mean, anyway? Wine is, or ought to be, primarily a beverage to be enjoyed, not an intellectual exercise. I any event, I have read from people whose opinions I respect that dolcetto frequently makes enjoyable, delicious wine. So what do I care what the critics say? The bottle that I picked up (for around $15) is a 2005 Gagliardo Dolcetto d'Alba. The producer, Gianni Gagliardo, has two separate lines. True to the stereotype, the upper of these two lines (Gianni Gagliardo) is almost exclusively nebbiolo-based, with one barbera and one favorita (a Piemontese white grape). Wines in this line probably cause some controversy amongst the critics because they all appear to be aged in small French oak barriques, which is a big departure from traditional winemaking techniques in the Piemonte (large Slovenian oak barrels, mostly used and approaching neutrality, were traditionally used). The lower line is called simply Gagliardo, and the producer calls the bottlings in this line "young family wines." In addition to the Dolcetto d'Alba, there's a Barbera d'Alba, a Roero Arneis (another white grape), and a favorita. None of them see any oak -- brief "aging" in stainless steel is it. That's fine with me. I'm not big on oak in wine, anyway, and I'm looking for a wine to drink now, not age for a few years.
This wine has a very interesting nose (and in this case, "interesting" is good). The dominant note is this odd copper aroma -- take a stack of pre-1983 pennies and give them a whiff, and you'll know what I mean -- and it's mixed in with rose petals and a gamey note. I like it. It's juicy on the palate, with a good deal of dark fruit. There also is a not insignificant amount of tannin, and a good bit of acidity. My only real complaint is that it started out a bit short, but that changed a bit as it spent some time open and in the glass. Very enjoyable.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
As climate change warms the nation, giant Burmese pythons could colonize one-third of the USA, from San Francisco across the Southwest, Texas and the South and up north along the Virginia coast, according to U.S. Geological Survey maps released Wednesday.
The pythons can be 20 feet long and 250 pounds. They are highly adaptable to new environments. ("Pythons could squeeze lower third of USA" by Elizabeth Weise, p. A1)
Burmese pythons are sold legally as pets in the US, with hatchlings going for as little as $20. Buyers frequently find that dealing with a full-grown python is extremely difficult, and they release the snakes into the wild. There is evidence that these released pets have established breeding colonies in places in the wild, particularly in the Florida Everglades. If you read the story closely, you'll notice that the US Geological Survey isn't exactly predicting that pythons will colonize the lower third of the United States, just that the climate of the lower third of the United States could be hospitable to pythons if the one makes certain assumptions about the increases in temperature that global warning could bring by the year 2100. Now go back and count all of the caveats in that chain.
GJ Cleverley bespoke side-elastic shoes with twin-needle stitching on the apron in dark burgundy calfskin with single leather soles.
Gravati three-eyelet half-brogue bluchers with a modified U-throat in antiqued tan calfskin (Gravati calls it Betis -- it's aniline-dyed calfskin treated with alcohol to strip the finish off partially to make it susceptible to neutral creme, which, when worked in, darkens the leather) with double leather soles with a central rubber plug (16407, 640 last).
Both Van Duzer and the Willamette Valley Vineyards pinot that I had earlier in the week prominently display the logo for an organization named LIVE (Low Input Viticulture & Enology) on their back labels, advertising the fact that their wines are LIVE-certified. Well, what the heck does that mean? LIVE is a non-profit organization of winegrowers "providing education and certification for vineyards using international standards of sustainable viticulture practices in wine grape production." It turns out that they are a sort of halfway house between conventional viticulture and organic or biodynamic viticulture -- that is, a rejection of the "better living through chemicals" school of winegrowing but a realization that herbicides and fertilizers are sometimes necessary to make vineyards commercially viable. I don't have the energy or enthusiasm to read exactly what a winery has to do to be LIVE-certified, but it certainly sounds like a good thing to me. I don't really believe that chemical-free agriculture necessarily produces better-tasting or healthier products, but at the same time I don't wine that stinks of sulfur dioxide.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Alden high-lace wingtip blucher boots in dark brown (cigar) shell cordovan with double leather soles (Plaza last). These boots were special make-ups LeatherSoul in Hawaii. Cigar shell cordovan apparently has gotten very difficult to find, and Alden merchants are reporting wait times of many, many months or longer for their cigar make-ups. The good news is that LeatherSoul has been reordering these in Color #8.
Gravati four-eyelet plain-toe bluchers in dark brown grained (Lama) calf with combination leather/rubber soles (16532, 640 last)
[t]he thin skins’ tannins comprise only about 1.7 percent of the grape’s weight–as compared to 3 percent to 6 percent in most red varieties–and pinot’s anthocyanins, the soluble pigments that give most red wines their color, are present in less than half the quantity as in, for example, syrah.
This means that most pinot noir wines don't have really deep color and are not particularly tannic. In fact, all too many pinots are pale and thin; and that has been my principal complaint about the pinot wines that I have been trying recently. I don't really want pinot to be an inky, tannic monster that coats my tongue with grape sludge -- finesse and subtlety are usually attributes to be desired in a wine, particularly a pinot, in my opinion -- but I'd like it to remind me that it isn't just water with alcohol and some red food coloring added.
Costco is currently selling the 2005 Van Duzer Vineyards Willamette Valley Estate Pinot Noir for around $25 a bottle. When I saw it, I had never heard of Van Duzer Vineyards; but I liked the looks of the bottle and the shelf talker, and I bought a bottle. It was something of a risk -- insipid pinot noirs are all too common, even at high price points. Paying $10 for an insipid wine is merely disappointing. Paying $25 for one is actively infuriating. Well, fortunately, this Van Duzer pinot is not insipid. It's significantly darker than the other pinots that I have tried recently, and it also has more concentration and tannic backbone. There's some earth and some cherries on the nose, as well as olives. Yes, olives. Strange, at least to me, but not at all unappealing. There is a good deal of bright cherry fruit on the palate, and the wine has a nice bit of acidity, which I like. I wouldn't say that I have found the Holy Grail of pinot noir, but at least I found one that I like a good bit.
(It turns out that Van Duzer Vineyards was founded in 1989. They primarily make pinot noir, although they do make some pinot gris. All of the grapes that they use are grown on their own estates -- no purchased grapes. There are two separate lines: the lower-priced Estate line and the higher-priced Reserve line, which appears to be made up exclusively of single-vineyard wines. Based on my experience with the Estate pinot noir, I'd certainly be willing to shell out another $10 a bottle to try one of the Reserve wines.)
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
The last competitive state-wide election in Texas that I can recall was in 1994, when George W. Bush upset Ann Richards to win the governorship for the first time. Since then, Republicans have swept just about every statewide race. Regardless of how you feel about the political results of this dominance, you have to admit that one positive consequence is that there usually aren't many campaign ads on television. The 2000 and 2004 Presidential elections might have been exceptionally close, but you wouldn't have known it from watching TV ads in Texas. Both parties knew that George W. Bush would win Texas in a landslide, and so neither campaign spent any time or effort campaigning here. Given the vapidity of almost every political ad that I have ever seen on TV and how even ones supporting positions and candidates that I like enrage me with their shoddy logic and their manipulative presentation, I think that this is a good thing.
But Texas actually matters this time around. The conventional wisdom is that Hillary Clinton needs to win the Texas and Ohio primaries on March 4 in order to keep her presidential campaign viable. And so, for the first time in twelve years, we have been inundated with Clinton and Obama commercials. Yippee. I don't know how you people who live in battleground states stand it.
When Sauternes was classified in 1855 in preparation for the Exposition Universelle de Paris (a parallel classification was done for the wines of the Médoc plus Haut-Brion from Graves), there were three groupings: 1 Premier Cru Supérieur (Yquem, then as now, is in a class by itself), 11 Premier Crus, and 15 Deuxièmes Crus. Château Guiraud, which was originally purchased by Pierre Guiraud in 1766, was one of the Premier Crus. Quality and standards change, of course, so it's a little bit ridiculous to pay too much attention to a classification that took place 153 years ago. Nevertheless, Guiraud is one of the well-reputed, reliable Sauternes producers. 1996 was ranked by various wine reporters as a very good but not excellent vintage in Sauternes. How is it that Costco got a few cases of 1996 Guiraud in 2008? Beats me. Maybe they picked it up from the secondary market for a song, or maybe Guiraud kept a stock of it unreleased hoping for higher prices and finally decided to dump it. In any event, since 1996, there has been one classic vintage in Sauternes (2001) and two excellent ones (1997 and 2003). Whoever sold Costco this Guiraud probably judged that there was no financial incentive to holding onto it for any longer. And so Costco acquired several cases of half bottles of 1996 Château Guiraud Premier Cru Sauternes, which it is currently selling for $28. That's really cheap for a First Growth Sauternes from a good year, and I bought a bottle to try.
Sauternes start out a deep gold color, and it tends to darken with age. This wine was almost copper-colored, so dark that I would have suspected that it had oxidized if it hadn't been Sauternes. It had a deeply honeyed nose, and on the palate it was honey mixed with lemons. This is a sweet wine, but it's not overpoweringly so -- not as sweet as Coca-Cola, for example. And the sweetness there is is balanced by the significant acidity, so it's not sickly or cloying. I liked this wine a lot. I might just go out and buy more. Really, really good, and not a bad value for Sauternes.
Monday, February 18, 2008
In other news, Ron Rider, who is the US Market Manager for Martegani and the person who made these shoes happen, apparently has a new project, Rider Boot Company:
Our (hopefully!) trademark boot will be the 3 eyelet Chukka, presented in numerous ways, including both a classic dress last and a more rounded sport last, in desirable upper materials - especially Genuine Shell Cordovan - and appropriate sole treatments. We also look forward to presenting fantastic options in both Captoe and Wingtip boots - both mid and tall shaft. Our goal is quality, not quantity, and a unique (if tiny) place in a market dominated by low wage manufacturing and high cost advertising.
It sounds good to me -- I love boots. I hope it works.
In any event, my first sniff prompted me to say, "well, finally, here's a real pinot." There was a good bit of earthiness, along with plenty of bright cherry fruit and violets. A lot of good pinot will supposedly have elements of roses or violets (or both) on the nose, and I like it when I find it. On the palate, it was fruity and pleasant. I have two complaints about it. First, it seemed a bit thin and short. Once I swallowed it, it was gone. There was no lingering aftertaste. It didn't coat my mouth with pinot-y goodness. Secondly, I would have preferred if it had been a bit more acidic. It seemed a bit flabby to me. All in all, though, I enjoyed it. At $20 a bottle, I don't know if it brings a whole lot of value; but then again, I haven't been doing very well with pinots that are cheaper.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
In addition to being a very prolific parent (having crossed with gouais to produce chardonnay, gamay, aligoté, melon de Bourgogne, and many others), pinot noir is also susceptible to mutation. Various mutations of the pinot noir have produced the pinot meunier, the pinot blanc, and the pinot gris (or pinot grigio in Italy and some parts of the United States), each of them relatively important in its own right. Pinot gris especially is an interesting case. Its name means "gray pinot," and that is a very good description. Where the skins of pinot noir grapes are a midnight blue in color, the skins of pinot gris grapes are much lighter -- a kind of pale blue-gray. You would never guess from looking at the pale wine that pinot gris produces that the skins are anything other than yellow-green. But they are. Pinot is a strange thing, indeed.
Saturday, February 16, 2008
The Toad Hollow website says that the 2005 vintage is "our best to date." I didn't have the previous vintages, but I have to say that that doesn't encourage me very much. When I first opened this wine, I suspected that it was corked. There was this mushroomy mustiness on the nose that I didn't like at all. Wines infected with TCA are supposed to smell like musty cardboard, and I suspected that that was what was going on here. On the other hand, though, pinot noir can take on some earthy characteristics, so I thought that it would be prudent to try this instead of just pouring it out. Well, there wasn't a whole lot in the wine. Not much fruit, not much pleasure, not much of anything except a mushroomy mustiness on the nose and a good deal of acidity. I don't really know if this bottle was corked, but I do know that I didn't particularly like it.
Friday, February 15, 2008
The minivan's job is to haul people and cargo in as comfortable and efficient a manner as possible, and it fulfills that mission admirably. Forget about three-row SUVs. Minivans can carry more people more comfortably than even large SUVs; and with the extraordinary flexibility of seat placement/folding/removal, minivans are unparalleled at virtually everything you'd need it to do.
Need to carry a bunch of kids and their stuff on a road trip? There's no better vehicle than a minivan. Want to haul as bulky a load of cargo as you could in a pickup, but you'd prefer to keep it dry, clean, and secure? Fold down or remove the seats, and the minivan becomes a cargo hauler par excellence. Want to take your buddies on a week-long backpacking trip? You can fit everybody, their backpacks, the food, AND a few cases of beer.
People rightfully rave about the cargo-carrying flexibility of wagons, hatchbacks, crossovers, SUVs, and even oddballs like the Honda Element and PT Cruiser, but all of those pale in comparison with the humble minivan.
As a group, SUVs' sole advantages over minivans are style and sheer off-road capability--and it's not as if today's popular car-based SUVs (effectively minivans in drag) are fantastic at low-range bouldering.
The point about cargo capacity is a very good one. My parents recently had to clean out the storage space holding what was left of my grandmother's furniture and other large possessions after her death. In the past, they had rented a U-Haul trailer, but that wasn't a whole lot of fun to drive 600 miles over mountain roads with the constant threat of freezing precipitation. So they rented a minivan and took out all of the rear seats. It performed admirably. There was more than enough room to haul what they needed to haul, and it handled as well as a car. And the fact of the matter is that a small-sized sedan just isn't going to cut it for a family with small children. There just isn't enough room to haul the whole family plus passengers, and that's a real pain in the butt when the children are old enough to be in soccer or other activities. The minivan may not be cool, exactly, but if its utility is unmatched, why shouldn't people buy it?
For decades in the 19th and 20th Centuries, the most widely-accepted theory of the spread of viticulture in Europe, Africa, and the near East held that vitis vinifera was first domesticated in Mesopotamia and was subsequently transplanted to Europe and Africa mostly by the Greeks and the Romans. There are a couple of problems with that theory. First, wild ranged all over the Mediterranean basin as far north as Belgium up until the late 19th Century. It's highly unlikely that anyone would have transplanted clippings of wild vinifera, so it's likely that the vine was indigenous to most of this area. Given this, why should we think that domestication happened in one and only one location? Second, there's the matter of the pinot noir grape. It's not like any of the near Eastern grape varieties that the Romans were known to have distributed throughout the Empire, but there is decent evidence that it or something like it has been cultivated in Burgundy for almost 2000 years (Columella, writing in the First Century AD, describes a pinot-like grape growing in Burgundy), and there is evidence of vine cultivation in what is today France before the advent of the Romans. Furthermore, consider pinot's offspring. Chardonnay and Gamay, two of the best-known, are both products of presumably accidental field crosses between pinot noir and gouais, a white variety known to have been brought to France from the near East by the Romans. (There are many other pinot-gouais offspring, including aligoté and melon de Bourgogne, the grape of Muscadet.) Both of these grapes are unusually hardy, growing well in a variety of environments. Chardonnay, in particular, can and does grow just about anywhere and is usually capable of producing good or great wine wherever it grows. It's a truism of genetics that genetic diversity between parents is more likely to result in hardy offspring than genetic similarity, and genetic diversity is frequently the result of distance. That doesn't prove that pinot noir was domesticated in northern France, of course, but it is suggestive.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
So what makes a good sock? To me, there are four aspects. First, it must fit. The heel of the sock must actually hit the heel of the foot wearing it, or the sock will rub against the shoe and against the foot and be uncomfortable and short-lived. In addition, the sock must not be baggy around the ball of the foot, or the excess fabric will ball up and feel like a stone in your shoe. And the elasticized ribbing at the top of the sock must not be too constricting. Second, it must be comfortable. Obviously, a sock must fit to be comfortable; but good fit is not enough to ensure comfort. It should not be scratchy against the leg, and it should not be overly hot. In addition, any seams on the sock should not irritate the foot. Third, it should not sag or droop. There are few things more annoying than feeling your socks pool around your ankles. As a practical matter, this means that the socks must either be over-the-calf (ie, long enough to go over the bulge of the calf, making the calf an obstacle to the ravages of gravity), or they must be worn with sock garters. Apparently, the British mostly choose to wear mid-calf socks with sock garters. I wouldn't even know where to find sock garters, and I would not be comfortable wearing them; consequently, I opt for over-the-calf socks. Fourth, it must be visually interesting. This does not necessarily preclude a solid-color sock, but it must stand out somehow, through the vibrancy of its color or the way a combination of fiber types causes it to shine or something else.
There are many different makers of fine socks, and each of the makers has several different lines of varying qualities and fibers. I can't claim to have tried all or anywhere close to all of the makers, much less all of their lines. But here's what I do know:
- Pantherella is the most widely known of the luxury sock makers, and the value of the Pantherella brand is by far the greatest. If I were starting out in the sock business with nothing except the Pantherella brand, I could be rich in a few years. Pantherella makes everything and is distributed everywhere. For many years, its socks have been the mainstays in both my work and leisure wardrobe because they stay up reasonably well, they fit reasonably well, and they are reasonably long-lived. The best socks I own -- the over-the-calf Sea Island cotton lisles -- are Pantherellas. Despite all of this, though, I think that Pantherella is a bit lacking. First, they use too much nylon in most of their socks. The nylon improves durability, of course, but it does so at the expense of comfort. This is most apparent in their merino socks, which are scratchy. In addition, most Pantherella are about two inches too short -- ideally, over-the-calf socks should go up to the base of the knee. Pantherella socks, for the most part, barely clear my calf and are consequently prone to sag somewhat during the course of the day. While the colors offered in the Sea Island lisle are excellent, they're solid colors; and Pantherella really struggles with bringing that same color vibrancy to their patterned socks. Pantherella makes a good sock, but there are better options out there. Here are some claimants in alphabetical order:
- Bresciani -- Most independent men's stores that I have shopped in carry Pantherella for most of their basics and some other maker for their most interesting socks. Bresciani is often that second maker. This is a little bit mystifying to me, since I'm told that Bresciani does not maintain stock of anything, which makes wait times for fill-ins too long to be practicable. In any event, I have never liked Bresciani socks much, mostly because they shrink a lot in the wash and end up too short. In addition, the designs that I've seen, while more interesting than most of what Pantherella puts out, still aren't very interesting.
- Facenti -- I am told that Facenti does most of its business as a private-label maker for some of the big-name Italian tailoring brands (Kiton, Zegna, and others). They also make socks under their own labels (Facenti and another one that I can't remember), though, of varying quality. I have four pairs of socks from Facenti. One is a beautiful pair of 100% cotton pique socks in navy with green stripes, and these socks are miraculous. Despite being 100% cotton, they hold their shape excellently, stay up, and don't shrink. I was convinced that they would degrade with washing, but they haven't yet. The other three pairs are blends of cotton and nylon (80%-20%, I think), and they are less excellent. They are visually interesting (intricate, multi-width stripes in all cases), they stay up, and they fit. However, less care is given to the toe seam then with the other pair. It's bulky, and the ends of it can get a little uncomfortable with a little wear. Nevertheless, I am eagerly awaiting the day when these socks are widely distributed in the United States. The socks pictured above are made by Facenti, and I think you will agree that they are beautiful.
- Falke -- Surprisingly enough, Falke is a German brand. They don't have a lot of distribution in the United States, and what distribution they have is outrageously expensive -- up to 50% more than their most expensive competitors. They also apparently only make sized socks -- real sizes, not the Regular and Large that most manufacturers offer. The socks appear to be very well made; the toe seam, for example, is as flat as I have ever seen (although the ends of the linking thread are a bit longer than they should be). They are either all or almost all natural fibers, and yet they appear to hold their shapes very well. My complaint with Falke is three-fold. First, they make boring socks. Perhaps some of their socks somewhere are something other than solid, but I have not seen them. Second, they don't do color very well. With the exception of their scarlet cashmere socks, which are excellent, all of their non-dark colors are washed-out and ugly. It's true that their wool-silk socks are beautiful in dark colors, but I don't just want a sock wardrobe of charcoal and dark brown. Third and most seriously, they don't fit well: they're baggy around the forefoot. I don't think that I'll be buying more of these.
- Marcoliani is an Italian manufacturer that has recently expanded its presence in the United States. They make just about every kind of socks imagineable -- solids, stripes, dots, herringbones, bird's eyes, everything. The socks fit better than Pantherella, mostly because they are longer. They also feel better than Pantherella, mostly because they have more natural fiber content. The merino socks, for example, are something of a revelation. I had believed that merino socks would always be scratchy. Marcoliani merino socks are not scratchy. Marcoliani's designs are consistently interesting, and their color palette is excellent. I have two complaints. First, they don't seem to understand how to do red -- all of their reds are either have too much orange or too much burgundy. Second, they really need to do a better job on the toe seam. It doesn't really bother me while I'm wearing the sock, but it sure bothers me when I am examining it. It's much too bulky for my taste.
- VK Nagrani (Ovadafut) -- These socks have become very popular in recent years, and I can understand why. They certainly are interesting, coming in a wide variety of colors and designs. I don't think that the quality is really there, though. They're too thick, and they only come in mid-calf length. Furthermore, the elastic rib at the top is too constricting and makes the sock uncomfortable to wear for an entire day. And the toe seam problem for them is significantly worse than it is for Marcoliani. These are not inexpensive socks, and they should be better for the price.
Gravati side-zip ankle boots in dark brown kangaroo skin with single leather soles (16821, 683 last).
Gravati cap-toe bals with leather lacing simulating punching along the edge of the toe cap and around the laces in tobacco suede with single leather soles (16492, 655 last).
The only grape permissible for red Burgundy is the Pinot Noir (Gamay is allowed in Bourgogne Passe-Tout-Grains and Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire, two less restrictive and less prestigious AOCs encompassing the same territory as the Bourgogne AOC). Pinot is a famously finicky grape capable of producing thin, acidic dreck. There are some grape varieties that will usually produce decent wine even in difficult circumstances. Pinot Noir isn't one of those. People who love Pinot Noir are usually disappointed by its expression. But when it's right, whoo boy, is it ever right. At its best, it is pale, aromatic, and delectable. The problem is that it is not often at its best; and when it is, it's extraordinarily expensive.
The 2005 Albert Bichot Bourgogne is not extraordinarily expensive. In fact, it's pretty cheap, about as cheap as an AOC Burgundy Pinot can possibly be. Albert Bichot is one of the major Burgundy negociants (merchants who buy grapes and wine from individual growers, then age, blend, bottle, and market the result), although not really in the top rank like Louis Jadot and Louis Latour. This wine has a lot of violets and vanilla on the nose, and the palate is relatively light in body with a good deal of tannin. I wish that there were more fruit, and I wish that there were more acidity; but it probably is a decent value for the money. I will admit, though, that I was a bit disappointed.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Edward Green bal austerity brogues in burgundy antique calfskin with single leather soles (Beaulieu model, 888 last). The 888 last was designed by Tony Gaziano while he was with Edward Green as a replacement for the 808 last. The 808 was a replacement for the famous 88, but both of these lasts had fit problems. 888 was supposed to be a better-fitting version of both of these. It is a beautiful last. The problem, for me, is that the toe is elongated enough that it causes the shoe to break too far forward on my foot. When I flex my foot while walking, the crease hits my little toe just behind the nail. This is a bit uncomfortable. Alas. Even though the 808 does not fit well generally, it fits me just fine; and I think that it will meet my square-toe Edward Green needs in the future.
Mephisto Allrounder Teramo sneakers in medium brown oiled calfskin and taupe suede.
The principal red grape variety planted in Yecla is the Monastrell, better known by its French name, Mourvèdre. Monastrell apparently originated in Spain (Mourvèdre is a Francification of Murviedro, a town near Valencia), but its principal claim to fame is as one of the important grapes used in the blends of the Southern Rhone. It's known for its earthy, gamy character; and in recent years, it has gained popularity among New World Rhone Rangers.
Bodegas Castaño was founded in 1985 and is today one of the largest producers in Yecla. Their principal export markets are Germany and the Netherlands; but Eric Solomon and European Cellars do import Castaño wines into the United States. Solanera, a blend of 65% Monastrell, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 15% Tintorera, is made for Solomon only, so it's impossible to find anywhere but the United States. It has achieved a measure of notoriety over the past few years, largely because of the favorable reviews given to it by Robert Parker in the Wine Advocate. When I first put my nose into the glass, I was afraid that it had been spoiled. I smelled mushrooms and wet ground. Some people like that sort of thing. I don't, and I suspected that the wine had been corked. I suppose it may have been, but the mushroom smell blew off after a couple of minutes to reveal an inky black, low-acid fruit bomb, high in alcohol and body. I enjoyed it, although I would have preferred something more acidic. It just was flabby.
(HT: Captain's Quarters)
Sunday, January 27, 2008
It's not very common to see a bottling of 16 year old Scotch. There are many 15 year old Scotches, and many more 18 year old Scotches; but I can't think of more than a couple 16 year olds. The question with Tomintoul 16 is why the distiller decided to bottle it. Did he decide that 16 years was the perfect age to exhibit a particular set of characteristics that he wanted to exhibit? Well, maybe, but I figure that it was more of a marketing decision. Tomintoul is relatively unknown, so a 15 year old Tomintoul would lose out when competing with a 15 year old from a more well-known distillery. A 16 year old, however, would have an advantage among age-conscious consumers; and the evaporation loss between 15 and 16 years wouldn't be very much. A 16 year old Tomintoul is more likely to be economically viable than a 15 year old, in other words.
Saturday, January 26, 2008
Fellow Nutella lover here wondering if you would be interested in celebrating World Nutella Day on February 5th?
Why, yes, yes I would. Here's bleeding espresso's post about it. She writes:
Nutella is more than just a “chocolaty hazelnut spread,” it is a way of life. From childhood memories to oozing hot crepes, from breakfasts on vacation to free-spooning sessions on the couch, Nutella is prominent in the memories of many children and grown-up children in the world.
My first exposure to Nutella is much more recent than hers -- I was fully grown before I had ever heard of the stuff -- but my attachment is none diminished for all that. And so I will do my part to make World Nutella Day a success. See that you do the same.
This Darkest doesn't have quite the degree of color that Black Bowmore did, but it is plenty dark. It was aged for 12 years in ex-Bourbon barrels and then finished for an additional two years in ex-Sherry casks. I don't know what kind of Sherry those casks were, but I would bet that it wasn't fino -- the casks impart a great deal of color, sweetness, and flavor to the whisky; and a delicate Sherry like fino could not have had that kind of an impact. Bowmore's stills are relatively squat, and their charges are relatively heavy, both of which tend to reduce the copper contact during distillation. This makes the spirit heavy and pungent, and it takes a heavy and pungent Sherry like Oloroso to compete with it. And it does compete. The idea of a Sherry-finished Islay struck me as more than a bit odd when I first heard of it, but I think that it works with this whisky. The sweetness of the Sherry softens the smokiness and brininess of the Scotch, and it gives the whisky another dimension. The problem I have with most peaty Islay whiskies that I've had is that my enjoyment of them is mostly intellectual. Bowmore Darkest offers a good deal of sensual enjoyment, too.
Friday, January 25, 2008
In one of the banking world's most unsettling recent disclosures, France's Société Générale SA said Mr. [Jérôme] Kerviel had cost the bank €4.9 billion, equal to $7.2 billion, by making huge unauthorized trades that he hid for months by hacking into computers. The combined trading positions he built up over recent months, say people close to the situation, totaled some €50 billion, or $73 billion. ("French Bank Rocked by Rogue Trader" by David Gauthier-Villars, Carrick Mollenkamp, and Alistair MacDonald, January 25, 2008, p. A1)
Apparently, Kerviel essentially bet huge sums of Société Générale's money that major European stock indexes would rise. These bets were hugely in the money during 2007, but the market began to turn at the beginning of this year and Kerviel's positions turned negative. He apparently evaded the bank's risk controls by creating fictitious trades that appeared to offset the actual trades that he made. In addition,
According to Mr. Bouton, the Société Générale chairman, Mr. Kerviel began conducting fraudulent trades sometime in 2007. People familiar with Mr. Kerviel's behavior believe he worked late into the night, essentially burrowing into Société Générale's computers, as he allegedly built a multilayered way to hide his trades by hacking into the computer systems.
Société Générale's computer systems are considered some of the most complex in banking for handling equity derivatives, that is, investment contracts whose value moves with the value of other assets. Officials of the bank believe Mr. Kerviel spent many hours of hacking to eliminate controls that would have blocked his super-sized bets. Changes he is said to have made enabled him to eliminate credit and trade-size controls, so the bank's risk managers couldn't see his giant trades on the direction of indexes.
Mr. Citerne said the bank didn't notice the unauthorized trading until last week because the trader had "intimate and malicious" knowledge of its procedures and knew at what dates checks were conducted. "Each time he took a position one way, he would enter a fictitious trade in the opposite direction to mask the real one," Mr. Citerne said. According to one person familiar with the situation, Mr. Kerviel used the computer log-in and passwords of colleagues both in the trading unit and the technology section.
It's difficult to tell from this description exactly what Kerviel did, but it sounds to me that from his work in Société Générale's back office before his transfer to the trading desk, he formed an intimate understanding of their risk control computer applications and developed strategies for evading. Specifically, it appears that he used passwords of his colleagues to log into the risk control system and either approve his own trades or alter the configuration of the system so that his trades weren't flagged as risky. The keystone of this evasion strategy was him getting his colleagues' passwords. It's possible, of course, that he installed a password cracker or used keystroke loggers to intercept the passwords. I doubt it, though. If Société Générale is like every other corporation in the world, Kerviel would have had little trouble getting the passwords from Post-It notes on the sides of his coworkers' monitors or even from just asking them for them. If that's what he did, it can hardly be called hacking. Unauthorized access, certainly; but hacking implies a level of technical sophistication that copying passwords off Post-It notes doesn't require.