Lonely Man of Cake

August 7, 2007

Gary Trains Conan’s Palate

Filed under: Blogging,Culinary,Internet,Wine — lonelymanofcake @ 9:37 am

As avid readers of my blog, you’ve definitely watched my all time favorite episode of Wine Library TV, where host Gary Vaynerchuk teaches ordinary folks like you and me to have the precise palates of professional wine critics. Well, Gary, together with his dedicated fans (the VaynerNation) are doing something right, as last week the veritable Vay-ner-chuk featured on Conan O’Brien’s Late Night. This clip is a bit shorter than what aired on TV, but it should do the trick:

UPDATE: My blog got props (and a nice quote) over at CHOWCheck it out.


July 8, 2007

Ode to Gary Vaynerchuk

Filed under: America,Culinary,Education,Internet,Wine — lonelymanofcake @ 9:16 am

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I am a huge fan of Gary Vaynerchuk, the host of Wine Library TV.  As I also mentioned, Vaynerchuk was featured in TIME Magazine in a piece which, some would say, makes him the “Wine Man of the Year.”

If you’ve had a chance to watch any of Gary’s video (I made a few recommendations here), you’ll notice his unorthodox style, which at least one critic (who I hold in high esteem) found to be lacking the dignity and sophistication appropriate for the wine-appreciating community.  Here is my response which I submitted elsewhere, but I would nonetheless like to share it here as well:

As one of the younger members of the forum, I feel that Vaynerchuk’s daily videos are responsible for opening up wine culture to the younger, less economically sound crowd in a way that no critic or publication has done in the past. I’m all for a more “sophisticated approach,” but the fact is that wine, through the ages, was always something shared by all segments of the population, only recently (relatively speaking) becoming the province of the elite and demanding “a more dignified approach.” I don’t see any good in the assumed exclusivity and elitism in contemporary wine culture other than concern emanating from those currently entrenched in the community that they will have to associate with people possessing less wine knowledge, and perhaps lower social stature.

A similar debate can be (and probably has already been) held regarding some of the shows on the TV Food Network. Emeril Lagasse was also considered unorthodox when he began with his antics, but his shows, and those that followed, allowed people a glimpse of the high-end food industry while being both entertaining and not breaking the bank.

Vaynerchuk is unorthodox in the same way. Occasionally, he can be crass. On Thursday night’s segment dealing with a wine called Beauzeaux (pun clearly intended), he compared the nose to a sweaty jockstrap dipped in mouthwash. Granted, that is undignified. But his entertaining approach has attracted a not insignificant mass of followers and enfranchised a population segment which would have otherwise been alienated by the prevailing stuffiness and exclusivity.

Watching the show on a pretty consistent basis, I think it’s safe to say that while there is a certain conflict of interest in reviewing the wines you sell, Vaynerchuk will often take issue with Parker’s high scores on expensive bottles (which people want to buy), dismiss all 3-4 bottles tasted during a given show, and will freely disparage bad wines alongside good wines with questionable QPR.

Vaynerchuk’s antics encouraged me, and gave me the know-how to train my palate, break out of my Sideways-esque Merlot boycott, and experiment with out of the ordinary varietals. But the “undignified” approach does not necessarily breed a generation of ignominious connoisseurs. It is a warmer, more inclusive approach. It encourages savvy shopping and experimentation. And Vaynerchuk knows he’s onto something. He closes each episode with the following line, occasionally throwing a cork at the camera for emphasis: “Because you, with a little bit of me, we’re changing the wine world, aren’t we?”

June 12, 2007

The Future of the Golan Heights Wineries

Filed under: Israel,Politics,Wine — lonelymanofcake @ 6:12 pm

With mounting speculation that an impending peace deal with Syria would most probably require Israel’s withdrawal from the Golan Heights, one of the more interesting, but less publicly debated, ramifications of such a deal would involve the fate of the numerous wineries in the area.  On my recent winery tour in the north, we visited two of (at least) seven wineries in the area: Bazelet ha-Golan (amazing Cabernet) and the bio-organic Bashan Winery (amazing Port).  The Golan Heights winery–which we were not able to visit–is the institution that put Israeli wines on the map and that put the myth of all-kosher-wine-taste-like Manischewitz to rest.

This article in Decanter Magazine discusses the issue, and while the article does not introduce much new material to the discussion, it is interesting to note Daniel Rogov’s casual feelings about a possible withdrawal, and the misplaced (and naive) projection of the CEO of the Carmel Winery that such a move would encourage wine tourism in Israel.

What are your feelings on the issue?

June 6, 2007

Merlot: Why it Sucks

Filed under: Culinary,Wine — lonelymanofcake @ 9:18 pm

I had an oenophilic epiphany last weekend as I gallivanted around the country tasting fine wines: I can no longer tolerate drinking Merlot. OK, I’ll acknowledge that it was with the help of Merlot that I was able to build my palate and appreciation for wine. It is an easy drinking wine, light on the tannins, and is generally easy to decipher flavorwise. Merlot is certainly the entry-level wine of choice for many. So, thank you Merlot for being there for me at the beginning of my quest.

But when you’ve learned to finally ride your bicycle, you remove the training wheels with no pretension of ever reattaching them. There is always a place for the guitar soloist, but there is nothing like the aurally transcendent experience of big band jazz or a symphony orchestra. One boutique vintner, when presenting his wines to us last weekend, called the Merlot “the queen” and the Cabernet “the king.” I will often say that Merlot feels two-dimensional while Cabernet and other powerful full-bodied wines feel three-dimensional.

I am not alone here. Growing popular distaste for Merlot was canonized and perpetuated in Sideways with Miles’s notorious exclamation: “If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am not drinking any fucking Merlot!” A survey conducted by AC Nielsen examining wine purchasing trends in the US showed that while Americans continued to purchase Merlot, even in the aftermath of Sideways, 3% fewer households were repeat purchasers of the varietal. And it goes without saying that popularity of Pinot Noir, an exciting, full-bodied cherry-berry varietal, skyrocketed in the wake of Sideways, with 14% increases in both household penetration and frequency of purchase. In general, this two year-old article from the San Francisco Chronicle discusses the Merlot dislike phenomenon from a historical perspective and the author hypothesizes that the bad rap Merlot has taken of late is a function of the rate at which the varietal was planted during the period which saw a surge in the popularity of dry reds in the States.

Just to make sure that I wasn’t blowing things out of proportion, I decided that even after tasting lackluster Merlot after lackluster Merlot last weekend, I would try one last time.  I saddled up a Carmel 2004 Regional (Upper Galilee) Merlot, let the bottle breathe for an hour, thereafter decanting into glasses to allow for additional oxygenation.  The color looked good for a Merlot.  On the nose, the first thing that hit me was the strong smell of alcohol, and indeed, the wine’s 14% alcohol content is on the high end for a Merlot.  The smell of oak was also very strong (12 months in French oak barrels), with a very vague hint of cherry.  The first sip that I took was very aggressive on the tip of my tongue (i.e., acidity issues), and the wine felt like an “oak bomb.”  The oak overpowered any of the other potential flavor components of the wine, which was a real disappointment.  When I tasted the wine the next day, it had opened nicely and was much more tame, with a distinct cherry bouquet and taste.   That was it.  Oak and cherry.  Not a very impressive wine.  My score: 82, and that’s only after the wine has been allowed to breathe overnight!

February 12, 2007

Describing Wine

Filed under: Culinary,Wine — lonelymanofcake @ 6:22 pm

One of the major problems with tasting wine is the lack of “objective” terminology which can be used to describe the taste. For example, one who sips a Cabernet and wishes to share his impressions with his dinner party, will aver that the wine tastes “like raspberry and cherry, with a hint of vanilla.” In essence, wine can be defined only in terms of the tastes of other foods. Wine does have taste properties which are wine specific (e.g., tannins), but taste describing the taste itself is subordinate to other fruits and spices.

This article (via ALDaily) confronts these issues from an epistemological standpoint:

If a chardonnay tastes a bit like a peach, what then does the peach taste like? A chardonnay?… If you must describe the Van Loveren 2001 limited edition Merlot as being “chocolately”, does it mean that chocolate tastes like the Van Loveren Merlot?…
These are questions of a profound epistemological weight. They reflect the uncertain status of anything we claim to know and understand. If I don’t understand the meaning of a word, and I look it up in the dictionary, I see it explained in other words. Those other words, in case I don’t understand them either, are explained by yet further words. There is no absolute point of reference. So where does knowledge begin? Aren’t we all just refracting meaning around from one word to another in a pleasant verbal gavotte to fill in the time as we wait for death?

The author then goes on to detail how he will only use “objective” terminology in his reviews of wine, and then gives up altogether. Read, and enjoy.

January 26, 2007

Port of Call

Filed under: Culinary,General,Israel,Wine — lonelymanofcake @ 12:44 pm

This Shabbat, I will be sharing a meal with friends and relatives. As is my custom, I have selected a unique bottle of wine as both gift to the hosts and complement to the meal.
There seems to be an aversion in the wine drinking community to sweet red wines. The only acceptable sweet wines are invariably white (i.e., Muscat, Gewürztraminer) and may be imbibed only with dessert. However, there do exist sweet red wines (not Manischewitz!) for the discriminating connoisseur’s palate. One such wine is “Port.” The bottle we will be drinking, from the Psagot winery, is pictured.

After Shabbat, we will discuss the fascinating history of the wine and its drinking etiquette, and I will post my tasting notes.

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