It takes only 15 milliseconds for the human body to register a taste. According to Dr. Hildegarde Heymann, at the University of California at Davis, taste perception is swift because the tongue and mouth (assisted by the nose) are the body’s primary defenses against poison. For our four main senses: taste takes: 1.5 to 4.0 milliseconds, touch: 2.4 to 8.9 milliseconds, hearing: 13 to 22 milliseconds, and vision: 13 to 45 milliseconds. (Winespeed) I did not know I can taste wine that quickly!
And a few words about beer from Winespeed: Ten companies account for 2/3 of the world’s beer supply. According to the publication Meininger’s, the beer industry has consolidated in recent years, with the top ten beer companies producing 32 million gallons of beer annually. The number one producer, Anheuser-Busch InBev, (which own over 600 beer brands including Budweiser, Bud Light, Corona, and Stella Artois) is responsible for a quarter of all global beer production followed by Heineken with 12% and Carlsberg with 6%.
With so many choices regarding what to drink, where to buy and taste, may I suggest a rather simple idea. Ask one of your most knowledgeable friends what they like to drink. You already know mine, but I would be pleased to share it again if there is any interest.
I was worried about a new disorder I might have: placomusophilia. Forget the muselet.
Like most of you who enjoy wine tasting, you have probably tasted wines at wineries, and had to pour or “spit” wine. But I noticed something interesting. I have NEVER been to a champagne or sparkling wine tasting where the wine is spit into a container. Yet, I recently took a champagne course, and the taster spit his champagne into a bucket!!! On my trip to the Champagne regions, and the cities of Epernay and Reims, I never saw a bucket in the tasting rooms!!
Speaking of wine tasting, what do you think of some wineries charging $100 for wine tasting? Obscene!!! My suggestion for you is to join a wine club and try to patronize them when you visit your favorite wine region. For example, I am a member at Domaine Carneros. When I went to France, I arranged a private tasting at their parent company, Taittinger in Reims, through my membership here at Domaine Carneros. Whatever you do, just enjoy it to the fullest, and be sure to tell us about it.
What is placomusophilia? A collector of metal caps found on the tops of champagne or sparkling wine corks. Sounds like I need some antibiotics?
Most of you who know me, know that I travel with my good buddy, Mr. Mike, or I travel solo. Mike is the BEST travel buddy ever. We are not joined at the hip when we travel, though we have similar interests. And we never, I repeat, never, talk about money!!
But perhaps you would like a different perspective on solo travel, other than mine. I had the benefit of traveling solo on business throughout the late Seventies, and most of the Eighties. And I was able to start traveling for pleasure at a fairly young age (to Europe), essentially, on my own.
The Point Guy has a great website, and email. I strongly suggest that you subscribe, not only for travel, but their advice on best use of award points and airline miles to maximize your trips. Here are some of his thoughts.
PG: For all sorts of reasons, you might be faced with the choice of traveling alone, or not traveling at all. Your partner, friends or family may not be able to take the same time off work or they may just not be as keen on the destination as you are. But that doesn’t mean you’re stuck at home. I love traveling by myself and have had some fantastic experiences abroad all on my own. In fact, sometimes I prefer traveling alone over traveling with others.
Now given a choice, I would choose Mr. Mike over solo travel. But when we are traveling, we always have the option to go in different directions. He loves to walk the cities, I love the trains and public transportation. I enjoy a museum or two, he prefers the street culture. But both of us are foodies, enjoy good wine and beer, and love to engage locals in conversation.
The best reason for solo travel is freedom. Sleep in or get up early. Coffee in the room or find a nearby coffee joint. Hit a bus or walking tour or explore on my own. Skip lunch or have beer and French fries. Take a nap or rent a bicycle. You get the idea.
PG: Long story short: You don’t have to do anything you don’t want just because someone you would travel with wants to do it.
Meeting new people is easier when traveling alone. While I was in Greece, both in Athens and Santorini, I made lifelong friends. Most of you know I have friends all over the world, from places like Cambodia, Malaysia, Peru, Japan, South Africa, Thailand, Mexico, Switzerland, and now Greece.
Plus, I’ve found that being the lone foreigner at a bar or café quickly leads to interesting conversations. In fact, just last week in Chicago, my new friends sitting at the bar at Joe’s Stone Crabs engaged in one of the best conversations I have experienced during the pandemic.
Solo trips also cost less. But for me, the flexibility to change plans midstream is even better. On my trip to Greece last May, after five days in Santorini, I decided to return to Athens for another six days, rather than head to more Greek islands.
PG: Traveling solo is not always perfect. My solo trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway is a good example. I missed my train, and had great difficulty rebooking on a later train, in second class, no less. Nobody spoke English, save for an unexpected young stranger who came to my rescue while I was being severely admonished by the ticket agent. For some people, mealtime is difficult. My mornings always start with coffee in my room (I bring Peet’s, as you know). Then I head out for a real breakfast. This creates the option to have a light lunch or to skip it altogether. A solo breakfast is no big deal. Dinner is where some people feel alone. Generally, I solve this by sitting at the bar and ordering my food there. And from my business days, eating alone generally does not bother me.
So, where are the best places for solo travelers? I lean toward bigger cities, like Bangkok, London, Buenos Aires, Washington, DC, Tokyo, Budapest, Athens, Paris, Chicago, Sydney, and Berlin. Why? There is always plenty to see, do, and eat.
I will admit to you that certain places should be avoided as a solo traveler. Which ones? Honeymoon and couples locations, of course!
I am not big on group tours. I will do a half day “hop on hop off” bus tour, just to get my bearings in a big city. But a big multi day tour is NOT my idea of fun! The very last one we took to Peru to visit Cuzco, and Machu Picchu were a disaster. Other people in the group were always late when the bus was leaving. Foreigners pass gas whenever they want! Skip the groups!!!
Many solo travelers prefer hostels since it is a great way to meet people. Though my hostel days are over, I stayed in one recently in Dublin. It was great fun, but noisy, and not that comfortable. My desk chair was a tree stump. And even though I had a room to myself, the noise level was quite high, and the room lacked basic amenities, like AC and extra towels.
Bottom line, just be open and approachable. I know this is easy to say as a single male traveler. But I have met many people, of both sexes, of all ages while traveling, and it can be done, safely. Whatever you do, please do not hibernate in your room.
I just signed up for a course on, what else, champagne. Why not? I always want to learn more about my favorite adult beverage. Speaking of, here is some interesting information from Winespeed:
What is remuage? Toward the end of its long resting period sur lie, a bottle of Champagne must be rotated to loosen the expired yeasts that have accumulated during the second fermentation. Known as remuage in French or “riddling” in English, this process involves the gradual tilting of the bottle neck-down, meanwhile rotating it in small increments to collect the yeast sediment in the neck of the bottle. Remuage is still sometimes done manually, using a shaking and twisting technique practiced over centuries by skilled cellar masters. A good remueur (bottle turner) can riddle roughly 40,000 bottles a day. Done manually, remuage takes four to six weeks. Automated remuage is now much more common using a machine called a gyropalette that can riddle 500 bottles at once. When remuage is finished, the bottles are neck-down (sur pointe) and ready to be disgorged.
More champagne by the numbers: Can you believe there are 16,200 growers in Champagne. Small growers collectively own 90% of all the vineyards in Champagne. Some produce their own wine, while others supply the largest Champagne houses. The average vineyard area a grower owns is 5.2 acres (2.1 hectares). There are only 360 Champagne houses in the entire region.
Would you believe 0.3% is the maximum percentage of sugar allowed in Champagnes labeled Brut Nature? Less than 3 grams of sugar per liter (equal to 0.03%) is allowed by law. But often a Brut Nature’s dosage is dosage zero — no sugar at all is added. This style is the driest and most austere of all Champagnes.
Now for a really staggering number. Over 20.8 million bottles of Champagne were exported to the U.S. in 2020. The U.S. currently holds the # 2 spot among Champagne’s top export destinations. The United Kingdom leads with 21.3 million bottles imported last year. Japan ranks third with 10.8 million bottles. Love the Brits!
What are crayeres? In order to have enough stone to construct the city of Reims in what was then Gaul, in the fourth century, the Romans dug three hundred immensely deep quarries in the chalky rock. These same vertical chalk pits, called crayères, are used today by the Champagne houses to age Champagne. They are miracles of construction that seem to defy physics, and descending into their eerily quiet, cold, dark, humid chambers is an otherworldly experience that no wine drinker should miss. Because the best chalk was often well underground, many crayères go down as far as 120 feet (37 meters). They are shaped like pyramids, so the deepest parts of the crayères are also the widest, and the tops of the pits are narrow (this limited air exposure in the quarry and kept the chalk moist and soft, and thus easier to cut into large construction blocks). During World War I, when Reims was extensively bombed, twenty thousand people lived for years in the dark crayères (no sunlight penetrates). Indeed, the crayères under Veuve Clicquot and Ruinart were makeshift hospitals, and under Pommery was a school.
Your first reaction is that both are quite bad, or perhaps even tolerable, given the circumstances. I can probably count on one hand my decent airline meals, and most of those were on Singapore Airlines.
My best hospital meals were at UC Berkeley. I contracted pneumonia as a sophomore there and was also hospitalized with a mysterious and unknown virus while I was in grad school. And I must tell you, the food was well above average, perhaps even pretty good. Why?
I found out the UC Berkeley’s Cowell Memorial Hospital does not have a cafeteria or its own food services. All the food came from across the parking lot, the famous Faculty Club. Once I had an appetite, meal selection became great fun. The menu for the next meal would arrive, and I could select any or all of the items on the list. And it was all pretty darn good, certainly several steps above dorm food (Undergrad), and better even than my ex-wife’s cooking (grad school)!
The best airline meals occur when I am in either Business or First Class. The only exception to this was back in the 80s, when the major airlines had a buffet on board (even in coach). I recall several United flights to Washington DC from SFO. As my row was called up to the buffet, I could make my own deli or Hofbrau style sandwich and sides. But the best part was the dessert, as they had a soft ice cream dispenser with all the goodies!!
I probably should not tell you about the worst meals. I have no other hospital meal experience, other than at UC Berkeley. But I have a good friend who eats more than 50% of his dinner meals at the hospital. He is a lifelong bachelor, holds two or three jobs at any time, and cannot be bothered with cooking. When he gets off work around 3pm, he goes to an afternoon matinee at the cinema, then goes over to one of the major hospitals for his dinner. Since he can afford to eat anywhere, he chooses, I find his choices rather curious.
My understanding is the best hospital food in the world can be found at famous Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok. I do not intend to find out, but they have several famous chefs, ready to prepare whatever the patient and their family requests.
As far as the worst airline food, the US based airlines are always the worst. Almost any foreign airline, at least pre-pandemic, served better, more recognizable food than our legacy carriers. If I had to choose, Alaska and Hawaiian are my choices for the best domestic meals. In fact, for a period, Hawaiian First-Class meals were planned by Bev Gannon of Maui’s Halemaile General Store fame. And the Alaska flights up to Anchorage in First always have great seafood and ice cream.
Now that I think about it, dorm food reminds me the most of airline food. Banquet food fits in somewhere rather low in the pecking order as well. Remarkably, one rather short one-hour flights in Asia, all the airlines provide a full meal and beverage service (at least, pre-pandemic). It is reminiscent of a fire drill, but the flight attendants get the job done!
Most of you know by now to either bring your own food and snacks or eat before boarding. You are on your own to figure out the hospital food. Over the years, I have many friends who were hospitalized, beg me to bring a hot dog or burger. In Third World countries, families are expected to provide food for their family member who is hospitalized. OK, friends, relatives, and others, you have been warned!
For my music fans, I went to Ravinia, about an hour north of Chicago, to see the Roots, the Jimmy Fallon band on the Tonight Show. The founder, Questlove, aka Ahmir Thompson is the leader, and sang for a full two hours. Perhaps a little too much rap for me, but overall, quite enjoyable.
For those of you unfamiliar with Ravinia, it is the oldest outdoor musical festival in the US. The venue is located in Highland Park. Ravinia is one of the few concert venues in the country to allow full meals (and alcohol) to be brought in and consumed at concerts, even allowing alcoholic beverages. Accordingly, most grocery stores and specialty restaurants in and around the Highland Park area offer ready-to-eat Ravinia picnics for purchase.
People were wheeling in large coolers, tables, chairs, and blankets, creating both simple and elaborate dinners. I was able to dine at Joe’s Stone Crabs before heading out to Ravinia. But some of the picnic spreads I saw were quite impressive, including the variety of alcohol. And the people were very friendly, offering anyone nearby a bite of food or an adult beverage.
In 2021, Questlove made his film directorial debut with Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), a film about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, which featured performances by Stevie Wonder, Sly and The Family Stone, Nina Simone, Mahalia Jackson, Mavis Staples, B.B. King, and many other top Soul, Jazz, Gospel and Latin artists of the era. SUMMER OF SOUL won both the US Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award for documentary at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Disney-owned Searchlight Pictures acquired the film for distribution, setting a new Sundance Film Festival record for documentary film acquisition price. If you have not seen it on Netflix, I strongly recommend it. Summer of Soul is better than Woodstock!
Now for the only downside, I missed the train out to Ravinia, so I had to Uber for $43. I caught the train on the way back to Chicago but had to wait over an hour along with several thousand other music fans. It was well past my bedtime, about 12:30am, so I had to Uber back to my hotel. But I got about 5 hours of sleep, before having to head out to O’Hare for my flight home.
Many cities claim to have the best hotdog. New York, of course, with Nathan’s, Papaya King, Gray’s, Crif, and Shaller’s always claim to be the best. But my personal preference is for the Chicago dog. Why?
First, the Chicago dog is all beef, with a poppy seed bun. It is topped with yellow mustard, chopped white onions, bright green sweet pickle relish, tomato slices or wedges, pickled sport peppers, and a dash of celery salt. My favorite place to get the Chicago dog is Portillo’s in downtown Chicago. Hot Doug’s is a distant second. Second, Chicago is my kind of town, Chicago is!!!
Most people know the hot dog arrived in Chicago from Frankfurt, via Vienna. Frankfurt was known for pork sausages since the 13th century. Sometime in the 19th century, a butcher in Vienna added beef to the sausage mixture, creating the wiener-frankfurter. It reached Chicago, a bun was added, and the World’s Fair in 1893 featured Chicago dogs. Another unique feature of Chicago dogs are the cooking method, either steamed or cooked in hot (not boiling water). Less common is the use of a charcoal grill, maybe a California thing? The typical dog weights two ounces or 1/8 pound (57 grams) and features a natural casing. And the bun must be steamed, not toasted or grilled!
Chicago has more hot dog stands than fast food restaurants. Other Chicago “rules” are: NO catsup, NO seedless bun, Vienna beef ONLY, must have “the works”, and heavy on the “salad” portion (tomatoes, pickles, and peppers). Oh, and the dog must be consumed in FIVE bites, no more, no less!! Beer and fries are the most common items to order with the Portillo dog.
Portillo’s started in 1963, when Dick Portillo bought a 6 by 12 foot trailer. There are currently 60 locations, with the closest one now in Scottsdale, AZ. Portillo did not invent the Chicago dog, he merely perfected it. The “neon” green relish is made by adding blue food coloring!
I just learned that each hot dog that you consume can shorten your life by 36 minutes. OK, here is another 26 minutes I am giving back to ??
Whenever I visit Chicago, I usually stop by Portillo’s for a dog or a Chicago beef. In fact, I do the same thing when I am in Scottsdale.
Why Not? I think it is one of the great American cities. It is much more manageable than NYC, and certainly less expansive than Los Angeles. But the options for what to see and do seem limitless.
I may have told you that my parents lived here during the end of World War 2. They were allowed to leave the Relocation Center in Gila, Arizona if they went east and worked in factories that supported the war effort. Most of my family worked for Curtiss Candy Company. My Dad worked in an auto shop (Wood Brothers), getting his start on his future vocation. The lived on Addison Street, also home to famous Wrigley Field.
I first started visiting Chicago in the 70s, mostly on business. I learned the downtown area quickly. Then I had a client in South Chicago, which is/was a rather sketchy part of the city. I have also enjoyed the famous Brookfield Zoo, Wicker Park, and the Loop area. And I have done most of the tourist things, like the Hancock Center (96 stories), Wrigley Field, Rush Street, the Navy Pier, the Loop, the El, Second City, Garrett’s Popcorn, deep dish pizza, and Portillos.
One of the most enjoyable parts of my visit is feeding some of the old homeless men in the Loop. I make it a point to find a hungry soul and take him to breakfast. I also keep all of my leftovers, and give them away on Michigan Avenue. Don’t ask me how they survive the Mideast winters.
Don’t get me wrong, I also know how to live it up. I can dine at both famous and not so famous places. And Chicago is a great shopping city. The Magnificent Mile (Michigan Avenue) is perhaps unrivaled for shopping of all kinds.
Though my business travel days are over, I still love Chicago, even without an expense account. I have fond memories of dance parties, cocktail parties, and some things that are best left in the proverbial “vault”, if you know what I mean. Playing tennis is Chicago was always fun, same for golf. Jogging in the heat and humidity is just terrible. Maybe I will try some cycling since the temps are in the 80s.
In the 80s, it was great fun to visit famous Marshall Field’s Department Store to buy dress shirts. They had every color and style imaginable. After a visit to Chicago, I was the envy of all the other guys I worked with. My favorite was a blue dress shirt with a tab rounded collar. I was the envy of the department!
I particularly remember meeting a nice young lady from Pennsylvania. In fact we called her Miss Pennsylvania. Why? We went shopping at the famous Water Tower Place for a bathing suit for her!! And we got to see her model them for us!!!
But the best story revolves around a dinner at some Italian place not far from Rush Street. After the dinner ended, a group of about 50 followed us to a bar on Rush, where we danced the night away.
Then there is the story of taking some nuns to Rush Street. My buddy and I were on a site visit with a large, Catholic hospital chain here in California. The nuns asked us to take them out to Rush Street, and told us to get lost! When we went to retrieve them around 2am, they had about 5 guys gathered around them. In my infinite wisdom, I asked Sister Michaela if she was ready to head back to the hotel. The guys said, astonishingly, “Sister!!!!.” These ladies told the guys that they are hospital administrators! Yes, I said, they are, but they also are nuns!!!!!
But the focus of this trip is art, in the name of Frida Kahlo, Vincent van Gogh, and Banksy. And maybe a short train ride out to Ravinia for some music.
I am also headed to the oldest outdoor music festival in the US, the Ravinia Festival out in Highland Park. I think my Aunt and Uncle lived there post war, until the late Fifties. Over the years, performers have included: Aretha, Gladys, Santana, Smokey, Mary J., Dolly, Lady Gaga, Tony, Carrie, Diana, and Maroon 5. I am attending Jimmy Fallon’s favorite band, The Roots. The band was formed back in 1987 by Questlove and Black Thought. They are known as a jazzy and eclectic approach to hiphop. I love keyboarder, James Poyser when he plays to Jimmy’s thank you notes.
Big sidebar: My Uber driver was the nicest senior man of Iraqi decent. We had many nice topical conversations. But the best was talking about how our country was built by immigrants, people like him, and my Grandfather. They came here before the overthrow of Sadam, back in 1978. He about lost control when I told him my grandfather came from Japan in 1896, at the age of 6!!!! He spent most of his career at Motorola, got laid off, and now loves being an Uber driver. He and his wife raised two boys who have good jobs. It is the great American story.
Another small sidebar: the Hispanic busboy at breakfast on Friday was a man I recognized from a previous trip. He has been there for 12 hears, works two other jobs, including cleaning a bank on weekends. Another great American story about immigrants!!!!
Small sidebar #2: My cab driver this morning was a Paki guy, so we hit it off after I told him about my Paki friends here in California. I was just about to text Uber, and here he was outside of my hotel. He offered me a good price, so off we went to O’Hare.
My quick dinner on Saturday night before the Ravinia (Roots) concert was at Joe’s Stone Crabs, Chicago branch, of course. I am sitting at the bar with their “regulars” and strike up a great conversation with a really interesting African American couple, and a few of the bartenders. Besides making me miss my train to Ravinia, we had the best discussion of politics, medicine, and race relations. BTW, I had some great oysters, spicy fresh corn, and calamari, along with two glasses of rose’ champagne.
I have managed to feed a family of four and a lone panhandler, and a deaf panhandler so far.
Saturday, I went out to the Cubs game at Wrigley, always a treat. My usher moved me to a great view seat on the top deck, just “because”, I guess. Wrigley is always a treat, with a video version of the great Ernie Banks leading the 6th inning tradition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
So, on to Ravinia, I ended up having to take Uber out there, almost an hour north of the city. The Roots concert was mostly entertaining, a little too much rap for me, but the rest was outstanding. The topper was taking the Metra train back into the City, along with several thousand music fans. The ride back started around midnight (late for me) and must have stopped twenty times between Ravinia and the downtown Ogilvie Transportation Center. What a crazy experience!
So, it was big culture for a few days, but I am so happy to be home!!!
To make the best possible wine (known as the grand vin), a top château will blend together only its very finest lots of wine from the most mature and well-sited vineyard plots. What happens to all the other wine? In many cases, the château makes a second wine, which will be less expensive and will have its own brand name and its own distinct label. (A second wine has nothing to do with a Second Growth). Some of the best known second wines include Carruades de Lafite-Rothschild (from Château Lafite-Rothschild), Château Haut-Bages-Averous (from Château Lynch-Bages), Le Petit Cheval (from Château Cheval Blanc), and Les Forts de Latour (from Château Latour).
One outcome, in Burgundy during the French Revolution: At the end of the French Revolution, the abolition of the Ancien Régime, or Old Regime, stripped numerous privileges from the ruling classes. Larger vineyards owned by nobility and religious institutions were confiscated, divided, and re-distributed, resulting in many more producers who made much smaller amounts of wine. Interestingly, La Romanée is one of the few clos that was not divided in 1789. The Conti family’s assets were confiscated, but for unknown reasons, this vineyard was spared from division. Today, the entirety of the La Romanée vineyard is owned by Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair whose wines are not the most expensive in the world, but pretty darn close. (Winespeed)
More woes for France? A whopping 30% reduction in wine is anticipated from this year’s French harvest. The French Ministry of Agriculture expects a loss of up to 35.6 million hectoliters (940 million gallons) of wine nationally. French levels were last this low in 1977. Due to late frosts in April, persistent rains in June and July, and consistent drought in the south, many French regions are also preparing for higher prices. GK: Believe me, after visiting Bordeaux, and taking more than my share of abuse about being from California, and nearby Napa Valley, I do not feel sorry for the French. But I hate to see any farmers lose $$!!
Ernest Hemingway was quite insightful: “Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.”
Yes, global warming is changing the harvest season. Take a look at Napa Valley: The 2021 harvest began on July 30 in Napa Valley. The first winery to pick was St. Supéry harvesting 7 tons of Sauvignon Blanc. Honig began picking their Gordon Ranch vineyard on August 3rd. The earliest Napa harvest in the last several years was in 2015, when Mumm Napa began harvesting for sparkling wine on July 22nd. (Winespeed)
The longevity of a red wine is based on many factors, but the most important component is the wine’s tannin. Tannin is a natural preservative. All other things being held equal, wines with significant amounts of tannin live longer than wines without. Plants build tannins for protection, preservation, and defense. (Since Neolithic times, plant tannins have been used to prevent the spoilage of animal skins— when “tanning” hides into leather, for example). Consider a collector’s cellar. It’s usually filled with wines like Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux— wines that have a lot of tannin and therefore have a good chance of living well into the future. (Winespeed)
Can wine get sunburned? Wine can’t. But wine grapes can. With climate change beginning to be observed in many warmer wine regions, winemakers are increasingly concerned about sunburned grapes. Like human skin, the grape skins can wrinkle, thicken, and get more leathery in response to too much direct sun. When such grapes are made into wine, the wine can often have a rustic, rough feel—exactly the opposite of what most winemakers hope for. To protect grapes from too much sun, wineries often grow grapes so that the clusters are partially shaded by the vines’ leaves. It’s a tricky call, however, because too much shading could mean the grapes wouldn’t ripen properly and the resulting wine could taste like canned green beans. (Winespeed)
Since we are getting close to harvest season, due to global warming, the excitement of the 2021 vintage begins. It seems there are numerous choices, both for wines, regions, and countries. I strongly encourage you to drink what you enjoy, at reasonable prices, and forget what the “experts” say.
Greywacke sounds like something made with Grey Goose vodka, right? Wrong! New Zealand’s most famous soil, greywacke (GRAY wacky) is the mud-gray, hard, fractured, deformed residual rocky material that forms from the decay of sandstone. Greywacke soils have an amazing etiology. They are created as the water from large rivers cascades down the sides of continental shelves, creating turbidity currents and undersea avalanches. The power generated races along the bottom of the ocean for many miles, forming fan-shaped beds of sandy sediments. Over time, these deposits are buried by mud and harden, forming greywacke. The greywacke in New Zealand is largely Mesozoic in age and makes up most of the rock that forms the spine of the Southern Alps. Greywacke is also the principal rock of California’s Sonoma Coast.
And if you are feeling sorry for yourself in the middle of the summer heat and wildfires, consider this: Ten million acres of wildfires are now burning in Sibera, in icy northern Russia—more than the combined number of acres burning in the U.S., Greece, Turkey, and Canada combined, according to the Wall St. Journal. The fires are sending choking smoke to the North Pole and blocking out sunlight. NASA has estimated that smoke from the Siberian wildfires currently covers 2,000 miles from east to west and 2,500 miles from north to south. At this point, denying climate change is pure insanity. Having been to Siberia, I can tell you they can handle the fires better than we can here in California. From Winespeed: Since so many of you wrote in (thank you!) inquiring about our favorite cheeses with Champagne, we thought we’d share our all-time favorites with you.
Our number one favorite cheese with Champagne is Crémeux des Cîteaux, a triple crème from Burgundy, France. We also asked some friends and colleagues about their favorites. Sommelier/educator Andrea Robinson, M.S., swears by Caserina Camembert di Bufala and Truffled Pecorino both from Italy. Todd Jasmine, the cheese expert at Oakville Grocery in Napa Valley, suggests Fiscalini Bandage Wrapped Cheddar from California and 30-month Gruyère from Switzerland.
Several of these sound rather expensive. I stick with some basic cheeses from Trader Joe’s, like Brie, Camembert, Fontina, Gouda, and Stilton with dried apricots. Green olives also go well, along with a nice selection of crackers and dried, cured meat. BTW, have you ever made the famous FIVE cheese penne pasta I have mentioned numerous times???
Like many of you, I get tired of the big, oakey chardonnays. But thankfully, Winespeed has read my mind:
In the United States, the popularity of big, oaky California Chardonnays led, in the late 1990s, to a still-thriving counter movement called ABC—Anything But Chardonnay. Today, scores of California winemakers talk about the importance of expressing elegance and balance in Chardonnay. Yet too few “walk the talk.” They may have moved their vineyards to cooler places, but many winemakers seem to have forgotten to move their mindsets and winemaking practices there, too. The audience for gas-pedal-to-the-floor, big, ripe, and oaky California Chardonnay isn’t going away. But if you’re an ABCer, here are a few really cool chardonnays made in a pure, minimalist, not-overripe style:
Melville “Clone 76-Inox”
Matthiasson “Linda Vista Vineyard”
Flowers “Camp Meeting Ridge”
Massican “Hyde Vineyard”
If you know of a good, lighter chardonnay, please let me know.
Interesting about Chile, where Mr. Mike and I did some serious wine tasting a few years back. Chile is the only major wine country in the world where no phylloxera exists. A lethal insect, phylloxera devastated most of the world’s vineyards in the 19th century, after which vines were necessarily grafted onto resistant rootstock. But most of the vines in Chile today remain ungrafted. Phylloxera’s curious absence is not fully understood.
More zin than cab?? Cabernet Sauvignon plantings superseded Zinfandel way back in 1998. Today there are 94,854 acres of Cabernet; but just 40,061 acres of Zinfandel. Most of the Cabernet is planted in Napa and San Luis Obispo counties. Most of the Zinfandel is planted in San Joaquin and Sonoma counties. (Winespeed) PS, I am not a big fan of most zinfandel.
Ever tried a dry, white Bordeaux? I have enjoyed a few over the last three years. The U.K is currently the leading importer of dry white Bordeaux wines—14% of all dry white Bordeaux is imported into that country. The U.S. and Japan aren’t far behind, importing 11% and 10% of all dry white Bordeaux respectively. But China doesn’t yet appear to be interested in Bordeaux’s amazing dry whites, the best of which (like Château Haut Brion Blanc) cost many hundreds of dollars a bottle. While China imports a whopping 65% of all red Bordeaux, it imports just 2% of white Bordeaux. (Winespeed) You can find some white Bordeaux at Trader Joe’s.
Funny? Sex in the vineyards? Right now in the Napa Valley where I live, there’s a lot of sex in the vineyards. Strictly between the vines, of course. Cultivated vines are hermaphroditic (the reproductive organs of both sexes are simultaneously present). Thus, come spring, grapevines pollinate themselves. But only if the moment is right. Grapevines, as it turns out, are rather particular. Too much wind? Forget it. A little chill in the air? The grapevines get a headache. Rain? May as well be a cold shower. Only when it’s calm, peaceful, and perfectly warm will grapevines procreate. The tender process is called flowering and indeed, if all goes well, tiny white flowers will result. With time, these tiny white flowers will become clusters of grapes. But if circumstances go awry and no flowers appear, there will be no grapes. (Sorry, buddy.) Winespeed
Moving on to Washington state, where was Columbia Valley their first AVA? Ok Washington State wine fans, this was a bit of a trick question. Even though the Columbia Valley is the largest and best known American Viticultural Area in Washington, the Yakima Valley, which is within Columbia Valley, was Washington’s first AVA, designated as such in 1983. Columbia Valley was named an AVA a year later. The Yakima Valley is the historic heart of Washington wine country. Vinifera wine grapes were planted here in the late 1930s by Seattle attorney William Bridgman who also pioneered irrigated agriculture in the region and planted some of the state’s first grapes including Semillon, Ruby Cabernet, Grenache, and Pinot Noir. Many of the state’s earliest wineries, including Chinook, Thurston-Wolfe, Portteus, and Barnard Griffin are in Yakima, and many other wineries buy Yakima grapes. A number of Washington’s most famous grower-owned vineyards are also here, notably, Boushey Vineyard and Red Willow Vineyard. (Winespeed)
It seems we tend to overlook the wines made right in our own backyard. Why not give Oregon and Washington a try? And here in California, how about Lodi?