Sunday, February 24, 2008

Today's Shoes

Alden half-brogue bluchers in dark brown long-nap suede with combination leather/rubber soles -- Alden calls them Commando soles, and they're actually full leather soles and heels with mini-lug rubber soles glued and stitched over them (Barrie last). These shoes were a special order that I placed years ago with Alden of Carmel. Alas, Alden actively discourages special orders now, and most retailers won't do them because of Alden's hostility.

Last Night's Tipple

Man, that picture didn't come through well at all. Oh, well. That's the best I can do.

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


Anybody who has played golf on a Sunday knows that middle-aged men are the scourge of fast play. Not all of them, of course, and they are hardly the only offenders. However, far too many of them apparently believe that they have the skill level of Tiger Woods and that the rounds they are playing are as consequential as the final round of the Masters. On a typical hole, they will wait until the group ahead of them is 300 yards down the fairway before hitting their tee shots, which will almost invariably be dribbled into the rough maybe 100 yards. They will then wait for the group ahead to finish on the green before hitting their second shots, even though it would take a Woods-like effort with a one iron to reach the green. When they finally do hit their second shots, they will likely be 75 yard worm-burners that go another 75 yards in the rough. It will continue like this for another two or three shots until they are finally on the green, at which point the real slow-down begins. All putts must be examined from at least three different perspectives for not less than a minute at each perspective, and it is impossible for more than one player to line up their putts at the same time. The average round of golf on the weekend will take close to five hours, and this kind of slow play is the cause of it.

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.

Today's Shoes

Gravati unlined three-eyelet plain-toe blucher boots in snuff suede with microcellular rubber soles (16899, 697 last). In recent years, Gravati, like all of the other Italian makers, has introduced elongated lasts, both square-toe and round-toe. Styles are changing a bit, and the most recent Gravati lasts are backing off of the elongated look a little bit. 697 is a new last, and it's not as snouty as some of the lasts from the past few years. Still, though, it is a bit snouty -- about 3/16" less length would be perfect. It otherwise is a very shapely and attractive last -- I like what Gravati has done here.

Last Night's Tipple

I finished the bottle of 2005 Gagliardo Dolcetto d'Alba last night, and it was as good or better than it was when I opened it the night before. This wine had a shelf talker recommendation from the Central Market wine buyer, and I will admit that that was what determined me on my purchase. The packaging seemed a bit too cutesy and marketing-driven for comfort; but when confronted with 7 or 10 wines of the same variety, all of similar price and none of them familiar, why not pay attention to a staff recommendation for one?

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

Today's Shoes

Alden long wing bluchers in dark tan alpine grain calfskin with a reverse welt and double leather soles (Barrie last) -- a LeatherSoul special makeup and a recreation of a classic American shoe.

Last Night's Tipple

The three most important red grapes in the Piemonte region of northwestern Italy are nebbiolo, barbera, and dolcetto. Nebbiolo is by far the most renowned of the three, as it is used to make Barolo and Barbaresco, the king and queen of Italian wines. Barbera is the overshadowed child, with a good reputation in its own right but not one that can really compare to nebbiolo. Dolcetto is the red-headed stepchild of the three. It doesn't get much respect, either by wine critics (who often think of it as a simple, easy-drinking, and unserious wine) or by many growers, who relegate it to the second-rate vineyard locations and use its wine as a way to generate cash flow while their nebbiolo-based wines are maturing.

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


We're being overrun by pythons! It's time to panic! Abandon all hope and emigrate to Canada! At least, that's what USA Today seems to hope that you'll do, based on the tone of the article that they put on the front page of today's paper.
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.

Today's Shoes


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).

Last Night's Tipple

I finished the bottle of 2005 Van Duzer Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir last night, and it was just as enjoyable the second night as it had been the first. I didn't pick up the olive notes this time, but I did smell some floral components that I hadn't noticed before. In any event, I am very pleased with this wine, even at $25 a bottle. (And that $25 a bottle is a pretty good price -- I've seen it elsewhere for over $30. Costco's wine prices are very competitive.)

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

On This Day

On this day in 1943, a fissure opened in a cornfield owned by Dionisio Pulido near the Mexican town of Paricutín. That fissure quickly grew into a volcano; and within a year, that volcano was over 1100 feet tall. Eruptions continued until 1952. Despite the fact that it destroyed Pulido's cornfield and the town of Paricutín, with lava flows eventually covering 10 square miles, nobody was killed in the eruption. The volcano has been silent since 1952, and vulcanologists believe that it is permanently extinct.

Today's Shoes


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)

Last Night's Tipple

The skins of red grapes have tannins and pigments, and these tannins and pigments give red wine its backbone and color. The pinot noir grape, being a red grape, has tannins and pigments in its skin; but its skin is thin and consequently imparts much lower quantities of tannins and pigments than most red grapes, particularly the big boys like cabernet sauvignon and syrah. According to John Winthrop Haeger's book North American Pinot Noir,
[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

Campaign Ads

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.

Today's Shoes

Vass Theresianer punch-cap high-lace boots in tobacco suede with single leather soles (F last). The boots pictured above are very similar to mine, but the ones pictured lack a punch-cap and have two more sets of speed-lacing hooks than mine do. What I really wanted was a pair of high-lace punch-cap bal boots, but Vass apparently doesn't have a bal boot pattern. So I had to settle for these. They're still pretty good, although I'm probably destined to buy the Edward Green Shannon.

Last Night's Tipple

Costco is a very strange place. Nestled among the gigantic cans of tuna and the 32-packs of toilet paper is wine. Lots of wine. I think that I've read that Costco is the largest wine retailer in the United States, and it's easy to see why. They devote substantial floor space to it, and their prices are very attractive. And it's not just Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay and box wine dreck from Australia. They carry a number of well-reputed and distinctly uncheap wines. If you want to buy some Dom Perignon, for example, this is the place to do it. You're probably not going to find a better price. The most recent wine that makes me scratch my head and wonder how they got it is a 1996 Chateau Guiraud Sauternes.

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

Today's Shoes

Martegani adelaide "austerity brogue" bals with twin-needle stitching forming the wing cap, U throat, and heel counter in dark brown Rustik calfskin with single leather soles (46 last). Every time I wear these, I wonder why I don't wear them more -- they're comfortable and unique.

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.

Last Night's Tipple

The conventional wisdom is that Willamette Valley of Oregon is a better, or at least a more Burgundian, location to grow pinot noir than is California. Since my first experiment with California pinot noir wasn't particularly successful, I figured that I might as well give some Willamette Valley pinot a whirl. And what better exemplar of Willamette Valley pinot noir than that from Willamette Valley Vineyards? Willamette Valley Vineyards is one of the older producers in the area, having been founded in 1983 by native Oregonian Jim Bernau on land that he says "is similar to the red clay soil found in the Grand Cru Pinot Noir vineyards of Romaneé-st-Vivant in Burgundy". The winery produces some chardonnay, pinot gris, and riesling; but the emphasis is on pinot noir, and WVV produces several different bottlings. The one that I see most frequently is the Whole Cluster Fermented pinot. The winemaker's notes on this wine make it clear that what they mean by "whole cluster fermentation" is carbonic maceration, where whole clusters of fruit are sealed in vats filled with carbon dioxide. This environment promotes an anaerobic fermentation. Carbonic maceration is used extensively in Beaujolais and elsewhere to produce intensely fruity wines, and that appears to be WVV's intention with this one. It was suggested as a light aperitif wine, and that wasn't really what I was looking for. I chose instead the mainline 2006 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. I thought that the vinification would have been more traditional, and the label says that the wine has spent time in French oak. The winemaker's notes confuse me, however. They say that "approximately 70% of the grape berries [remain] intact for inter-berry fermentation (which adds fruitiness)." That sounds like carbonic maceration to me, too, although I don't know why WVV wouldn't just come out and say it if in fact it was.

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

Look What The Courts Are Doing

Ilya Somin of the Volokh Conspiracy calls attention to a recent decision of the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit striking down a Texas law banning the sale, lending, or giving away of sex toys. According to the opinion in Reliable Consultants, Inc. v. Earle (am I the only one who finds it amusing that Ronnie Earle is a defendant in this case?), the law at issue was passed in 1979 and "prohibit[ted] the 'promotion' and 'wholesale promotion' of 'obscene devices'... The legislature chose to broadly define 'obscene device,' not using the Miller test, but as any device 'designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs.'" The court held that, based on the Supreme Court precedents established by Griswold v. Connecticut and Lawrence v. Texas, the statute violated the 14th Amendment and was therefore void. I'm sure that Mamacita's friend Dawn is relieved. Also interesting about this decision is that it decides the question differently from how the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals decided a case about a similar Alabama law in 2004. This means that there is a circuit split on sex toy regulation, setting the stage for the Supreme Court to decide the issue once and for all. I don't know about you, but the prospect of Ruth Bader Ginsberg or Antonin Scalia pontificating about the Constitutionality of laws banning sex toys is, well, a bit awkward.

Today's Shoes

Gravati long-vamp penny loafers with a twin-needle-stitched apron in red-brown grained Tibet #39 calfskin with a single leather sole (15477, 701 last).

Last Night's Tipple

I finished off the bottle of 2005 Toad Hollow Goldie's Vines Pinot Noir last night, and I can't really say that it improved with time being open. It still had that musty aroma, and it didn't really bring much except tartness. André Tchelistcheff, the legendary winemaker at Beaulieu Vinyards, famously said that God made cabernet sauvignon while the devil made pinot noir; and I can believe it. This wine was not inexpensive, and yet it is very unsatisfying. It seems like it is almost ever thus with pinot noir. Every once in a while, one has a profound experience with pinot noir, which makes one willing to flush a lot of money down the toilet trying to find a repeat.

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

New Shoes

Well, not yet. But they're in the works. Gravati has come out with a beautiful brand-new three-eyelet blucher with V-shaped quarters. Jim Pierce, who owns the shoe concession at Harold's in the Heights, ordered it in snuff-colored Janus suede with light-colored Rapid stitching, light-colored laces, and a microcellular rubber soles. It's also on the 692 last, one that I hadn't seen before. It's a nice, smart round-toe last without quite the elongation of the 683. I like it quite a bit. All in all, the shoe is outstanding. It's undeniably sporty and casual, however, and that's not really what I was looking for. And so I ordered the same model on the same last in a snuff-colored cashmere suede with single leather soles. They'll hopefully be in by April or May, and I'm looking forward to them. Jim also said that he had ordered a new French-style two eyelet plain-toe blucher for late spring/early summer. By French-style, I mean that the vamp-quarter seam is a straight line. It's a very popular style for several Parisian makers like Corthay and Dimitri Gomez. Jim didn't order it thusly, but I think that it would be great in that red/amber grained Tibet #39 calfskin.

Today's Shoes

Gravati three-eyelet plain-toe bluchers in navy blue waterproof suede with a microcellular rubber sole (15445, 433 last). I wore these because more rain was predicted for today, and indeed, I got caught in a thunderstorm without an umbrella when going from the grocery store back to my car. This waterproof suede is as advertised: my feet didn't get wet, and the suede is as good as new after the downpour.

Last Night's Tipple

Toad Hollow Vineyards began as a partnership between Todd Williams (comedian Robin Williams' half brother) and Rodney Strong, the head of Rodney Strong Vineyards. Both Williams and Strong are now deceased (the former in 2007, the latter in 2006), but the motto of the vineyards remains unchanged: "Fine wine at a reasonable price." I have had a number of Toad Hollow wines, and I have always been impressed both by the quality of the wines and the lowness of the price. Cacophany, the Toad Hollow Zinfandel is very good, as is the Amplexus Blanquette de Limoux sparking wine. I also like the whimsical label illustrations, the obvious irreverence of the company, and the approach that they take to wine. That is, they believe, or appear to believe, that wine is not supposed to be a great mystery, only consumed by the learned and only with a serious and contemplative mien. And so, when faced with thirty or forty feet of shelf of California pinot noirs about which I knew nothing, I was drawn to the 2005 Toad Hollow Goldie's Vines Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.

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

Minivan Lust

Mamacita has been in lust of the Honda Odyssey minivan for quite some time now. I always thought that she was completely nuts. Minivans, as we all know, are seriously uncool, and they don't do anything that couldn't be done by a much cooler SUV. Right? Well, a recent post on Amazon's Car Lust blog has caused me to reevaluate.

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?

Today's Shoes

Gravati plain-toe monkstrap in dark brown peccary with a combination leather/rubber sole (16371, 640 last). It was supposed to be rainy all day today, and the rubber sole seemed appropriate for the weather.

Last Night's Tipple

Finished off the bottle of 2005 Albert Bichot Bourgogne Rouge last night, and my impressions remain the same: it's pleasant enough, I suppose, but there's not a whole lot of there there. Not much nose, not much flavor, not much of anything. Maybe it's possible to get a good Pinot Noir for $13. I just haven't found one yet.

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

Mountains of Socks

In many ways, we are living in the Golden Age of socks. While some of the classic sock patterns (like clocks, where a pattern forming a single stripe down the side of the sock all the way from the toe to the top of the sock) are difficult to find, the availability of high-quality, interesting socks is greater now than it has been at any point in my life. Maybe things were different in the '30s and '40s, I don't know. But I do know that ankle-length wool-blend solid color Gold Toe socks were about the best that one could find when I was growing up and that so much more is now easily obtainable.

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.

Today's Shoes


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).

Last Night's Tipple

It's widely believed among the marketing types that American wine consumers prefer New World-style varietal wines to Old World-style denomination of origin wines because the labeling of varietal wines is simple and easy to understand while the labeling of denomination of origin wines is complex and confusing. And Burgundy is the most complex and confusing of the denomination of origin wines that I can think of. There's the generic AOC Burgundy (both rouge and blanc). Then there are the wines from a specific region within Burgundy (eg, Côte de Beaune-Villages). Then there are wines from specific villages (eg, Gevrey-Chambertin, Rully, Meursault, and Pommard), each with its own AOC. Then there are the single vineyard wines, which can be either Premier Cru or Grand Cru (eg, La Tâche), each again with its own AOC. All in all, there are over 700 AOCs in Burgundy, some of them as small as 1.8 hectares (Romanée-Conti). It's a lot easier to buy a California Cabernet Sauvignon than it is to have even a rudimentary understanding of how wine in Burgundy works. It's intimidating.

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

Today's Shoes


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.

Last Night's Tipple

The winegrowing region of Yecla is located in the southwest of Spain, and it has historically been an important one producing vast quantities of well-regarded wine. The scourge of the phylloxera louse never reached the vineyards there, and so it provided large stocks of blending wines for French merchants after phylloxera devastated French vineyards in the second half of the Nineteenth Century. The vinyards dwindled in scope and fell into disrepair in the first half of the Twentieth Century, however, and the modern revival of Yecla began after 1950, and the region was granted Denominación de Origen (DO) status in 1975.

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.

The Danes

Yesterday, the Danish police arrested three men yesterday for plotting to murder Kurt Westergaard, a cartoonist for the Morgenavisen Jullands-Posten newspaper whose cartoon showing Mohammed wearing a bomb with a lit fuse as turban appears above. The publication of this cartoon and 11 others in September, 2005 provided the excuse for rioting and other violence in several Muslim countries in early 2006. CNN reports that newspapers in Denmark, Spain, Sweden, and the Netherlands reprinted the cartoon today in a show of solidarity for Westergaard. Good for them. Even if one disagrees with the message conveyed by the cartoon, rioting, violence, and attempted murder are barbaric responses to its publication.

(HT: Captain's Quarters)

I Blame Mamacita

You may have noticed that I haven't posted in a while. It's Mamacita's fault. I don't know how, exactly, but it is. Rather than try to catch up, a project that is doomed to failure if I know myself at all, we'll just pretend that the past two and a half weeks never existed. So, on with the shoes.