Thursday, April 16, 2020

Nurse the Hate: Musing Over A Ventoux

I am having a Cotes du Rhone, a humble little bottle from Ventoux.  The Cotes du Rhone is in Southern France, a place that is quite pleasant if you like good weather and the air to smell like lavender and olives.  These wines are the everyday wines in France, or they used to be before American fast food and movie culture switched over the younger generations over to energy drinks and spirits.  They are the kind of wines that I rarely open, but almost without fail when I drink them I think, "Hey, that's pretty good.".

Southern France would be a great place to live.  Hemingway spent a great deal of time there, having lazy swims in the clear blue ocean and reading the papers with pitchers of cocktails in small hotels that kissed his ass.  Impressionist painters rushed in to capture the colorful landscapes.  Movie stars bought the land with gorgeous views in the 1950s.  Picasso swaggered around taking in the sun and fucking young girls.  Hell, even the Papacy moved there in the 1500s.  The famous wine region Chateauneuf du Pape is "House of the Pope", a nice little summer castle where a Pope could let his hair down and have fabulous wine made by his minions.  What am I waiting for?

I cannot speak French.  I can barely read French.  I have no understanding why I cannot discern the sounds of foreign languages, but still hear a slight tic in one of my vocals on a record made 16 years ago that drives me crazy.  "You hear that John?  Where I make that weird "huh-uh" sound before coming back to the verse?"  John Smerek then stares at me trying to simultaneously fix the problem while letting me know with his blank expression that no one will ever notice what I'm talking about.  Godammit John!  I still do!

How does that type of obsessive hearing go completely South when listening to someone say "Monsieur, pouvez-vous s'il vous plaît arrêter d'appeler tout le monde copain?"?  All I hear is "mama fah mum ahh no duh nuh".  This is a clear problem, because once a group of foreign guys recognize that you can't understand them, they will start to talk shit about you right in your face.  You can tell something is up from the facial expressions and reactions of grins and so on, sort of like a dog is aware something is happening when he sees you gather up some towels and the dog shampoo before heading to then spare bathtub to warm the water for his unwanted bath.

Assuming I can't speak French, now I can't have a job of any type unless I become some odd expat rake that hustles tourists with "tours" where I make up all the history of the region on the spot as I drive them around in my beat-to-shit Citroen.  This is too much work when envisioning the Hemingway/Picasso lifestyle of padding around in leather sandals calling out pigeon French to shopkeepers wildly interested in pretending to be your friend so they can overcharge you for cheese.

The hurdle to having a country hamlet in a state of beautiful decay appears to be my not being a genius author or artist.  I knew that would come back to bite me eventually.  In this new world of social distancing in a Greater Depression, it's not going to be easy to pull off.  Now more than ever Religion and Chemicals are the key to the future.  And I'm a guy that knows about wine and advertising and commercially unsuccessful music.  Hmmm.  Maybe I could eek out a few years by masquerading as a knowledgable American Wine Importer that can help local vintners Get Into The American Market.  

I looked up a house I could afford for at least a few years.  I could lease out these vines, swagger around giving unwanted and largely unwarranted advice.  I'd make myself a regular at the main bar in the village.  "Look Pepin, if you want to break into the American market the right way, we have to control New York and Chicago!  I know the guys there that can make that happen!  (I don't).  Your wines are fucking fabulous!  (They aren't).  I just need a couple grand a month to grease the wheels over there.  (I'd spend that on a shitty car and restaurants, and wheeling around American tourists on history tours in Monaco where I'd make shit up as I went.). We can make that happen!  (I can't)."

In these Uncertain Times, all options are in play.  I also need to mention, this Ventoux is actually quite good.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Nurse the Hate: The Story About Having A Port In New York

I bought a bottle of Sandeman Fine Tawny Porto on my last suicide run to the grocery store.  I can tell I must be getting older as I have developed a taste for tawny port.  It's a shame I cannot sit at a dinner table with friends and say, "Gentlemen, let's allow the ladies to retire to the parlor while we have our port in the library."  At this point I can stare at Netflix by myself and need to restrain the urge to gurgle the port down a beer stein.  I am watching the clock, waiting to get back on my path.  Like you, I am stuck in this purgatory.

I always think of the English when I think of port.  They established the trade after all.  I watched a British period docudrama last week where men shot blowguns at targets while their ladies jousted with verbal barbs at a proper emotional distance.  That was a generation that knew how to handle a pandemic.  "Yes, as I understand it Perkins spent 13 agonizing days with the fever before succumbing in that tent in Burma.  Nasty business this...  Oh, my honor?  Freshen up my port, would you Williams?"

I got into port about 30 years ago.  My Uncle Jack (who Bobby Latina clipped his name for "The Jack Fords" for those interested in minor Ohio rock and roll trivia) was amused that I had taken a liking to this very out of fashion beverage.  I remember having a port at Windows On The World on top of the World Trade Center.  I didn't have a dinner jacket, so they gave me the "rental" penalty jacket.  Restaurants would sometimes require gentlemen to wear blazers, and if they didn't have one they would provide one they kept behind the reception desk.  The key was that this jacket would be blatantly unfashionable and fit poorly, theoretically punishing you to the point where you would never again forget a jacket at an establishment as fine as this. 

The problem with this policy is the poorly fit blue blazer was better quality than anything I owned, so this was like traveling where I had my clothes shipped ahead.  Imagine walking into a hotel room and they made you wear a clean pair of Chuck Taylors as opposed to the filthy cheap knock offs you normally wore.  "I can wear this?  Seriously?  Sure!"  I was probably wearing an early 90s enormous XL cut shirt with an ugly pattern that looked like a pajama top and some unflattering pleated pant, so anything that covered any of that eyesore was a welcome addition.

When I traveled to New York under these circumstances, I was jolted to understand how out of fashion I was at that particular moment.  I remember once going to a party at an apartment across from Wall Street and I noticed I was the only guy with his shirt tucked in and wearing a belt.  "Wait?  We don't tuck our shirts in anymore?  When did you guys find out?  Who told you?"  There is never a time that you feel more Midwestern.  The good news was I got the tip and became one of the first Cleveland guys to wear his shirt untucked.  "Hey man...  Look at Miller.  How come his shirt isn't tucked in?  Is that a thing now?"

That night with Jack Ford we had a port at Windows.  After dinner Jack Ford wanted to take us to an old bar he knew in Manhatten where he insisted we all had to get another port.  I returned the blazer to the sneering host, in the back of my mind noting I needed to buy new clothes when I got back to Ohio.  Jack drove us to the bar.  He swerved all over the road with the misguided confidence of a senior citizen with a belly full of gin and port.  We stopped at a place with long graceful brass rails down the old wood bar.  It was one of those New York places that seemed like it had always been there and would always be there.  They had three different ports, so we split them up amongst us.  I remember my father was there, and my cousin Nancy.  My mother had recently died, so my father must have been lonely.  The holidays are brutal that way, an experience each of us is doomed to have unless we have the relative good fortune to die before our loved ones.

The night had hit that point where conversations had drilled down to the person immediately next to you.  I asked Jack about his business, a murky "international moving company" that had extensive work in Central America, Africa, and the Middle East.  We were drinking a Taylor's Tawny, a nice but by no means great port.  It was a good one to have at the quiet last part of the night.  Jack had his guard down a bit, something I had never seen.  He was probably drunker than even I realized.  He stared straight ahead and starting talking.  It wasn't so much to me.  It was something on his mind he had to get out.  "I was in Nicaragua one time with two guys I worked with.  We were doing this project down there.  We were at this little country bar.  A beer joint basically.  We all had to take a leak, and they had an outhouse in the back.  There were three stalls, you know, those little boxes with holes in the ground.  I was heading out with the other guys, and then this kid bartender asked me if we wanted another round.  I turned back at the bar and some local got up and cut me off to go to the outhouse.  So I ordered another round and then all three of those guys got machine gunned in those outhouses."

Up to this point we had been having our normal dry sarcastic banter.  Jack got faraway for a minute.  He looked at the mirror across from us, all the colorful bottles in the three deep row, paused and knocked back his port.  I was stunned, waiting for some kind of "Ah gotcha!" punch line.  There wasn't one.  We sat there quietly for a moment.  The spell broke.  He tuned his head to look at me, returning to the present.  "How's your port?"     

Monday, April 6, 2020

Nurse the Hate: Thoughts On Cheap Tuscan Red Wine

Another night in house arrest.  I opened a cheap ass Italian red from Tuscany tonight, a Rosso Tuscano.  I have immersed myself in Italian wine over the last year for two reasons.  The first was I was painfully undereducated on Italian wines.  I knew just enough to be dangerous about Barolo, Chianti, and Amarones.  I got extremely lucky in my last big wine certification to have been asked about Amarone production, something that stuck in my head for no good reason like the song "Love Is Like Oxygen".  Had I been asked about Sicily, differences in key Sangiovese production areas or even locating Puglia I would have been screwed.  Sometimes things work out for me.

I did the IWC Italian wine course and have had to memorize a bunch of pointless wines like Vino Santo (a dessert wine almost no one drinks) and Grappollos (a nice red you are as likely to come in contact with as having a beer with Iggy Pop in a hotel lobby).  I tried to memorize obscure Southern Italian grapes, rivers, and soil types last year while almost having a mental breakdown and, not surprisingly, that didn't go very well.  As a result I have to score well on the second test which is focused on Northern Italian areas like Piedmont, Verona, Friuli and Trentino/Alto Adige.  I was feeling good.  I felt like I was back in control of my life and then Doomsday hit.  I don't know if it's possible to take on more stress then I have in the last two years.  When I get the inevitable stress-induced stomach cancer diagnosis sometime around Christmas, I will feel my muscles in my shoulders relax slightly as I realize I can just let the avalanche of shit bury me and stop struggling.  But before I do, I am going to enjoy this Tuscano Rosso on a Monday Night.

When I used to go to Italian Restaurants back in The Olden Times, I would usually order Chianti since I felt like it was sort of legit and I never knew what the other crap was on the list.  It seems crazy now that people used to just walk into buildings filled with other people and order food, often shaking hands and touching strangers before eating.  What a reckless age the 2019s were!  Thinking about sitting in a crowded restaurant now eating a plate of pasta surrounded by a swirling chaos of humanity seems as insane as participating in a bi-sexual orgy of intervenous drug users in Haiti in the 1980s.  Life comes at you fast.

Here's a quick lesson about Tuscan wines.  Chianti is sangiovese.  It's that annoying European thing where they assume you know what's in the bottle because they told you the region where it was made.  Here in America we don't know anything, much less where anything is located.  Ask someone to find Iowa on a map sometime and you'll see what I mean.  So in the area around Florence and Siena they make wine from sangiovese.  It tastes sort of cherry with a dusty tinge on the finish.  Chianti got very popular about 50 years ago, so the Italians did what the Italians do...  They tweaked what the borders of Chianti are.  For example if Cleveland made Chianti, one day when you woke up you were told that Akron is Cleveland now too and their wine is no longer "Akron Wine" but "Chianti".  Now the guys that were making a mint in what was previously recognized as Old School Chianti got pissed.  Thinking fast, the government said "OK!  You are now Chianti Classico!".  On top of that, there are a bunch of areas surrounding Chianti that grow sangiovese too. Sometimes the wine tastes better if they blend in a little cabernet or merlot.  They aren't "allowed" to call it sangiovese then, even if it's 75% of the blend or so.  The government insists it must be called "Red Wine" (or "Rosso").  So if you see a "Rosso" from Tuscany, it is probably a pretty decent little red wine for a Monday.

Italy is a really great place.  The weather is good.  The food is great.  The people are nice.  I feel badly at how the virus has walloped them for the iconoclastic tendencies of the people that make it such a wonderful place.  I had been planning to go on a little trip to Puglia with my favorite person in the world before Doomsday hit.  When I was losing my mind last year, photos of Puglia kept appearing, calming me almost like a tranquilizer.  I had been looking forward to sitting seaside at Puglia, having a nice dinner with the salty sea breeze in our faces... and enjoying a wine from Tuscany.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Nurse the Hate: A Brief Discussion on Bordeaux

I decided to open a Bordeaux today.  I have always loved Bordeaux, though that has become somewhat unfashionable to say.  It's like clearing your throat during an argument between two people debating the merits of two bands like Brian Jonestown Massacre vs GOAT and saying "You know, I love Creedence!".  You might be 100% correct in your opinion that it is the superior band, but it's just not quite as cool as the other two, now is it?  I can't tell you how many asshole "wine influeners" that I follow online who devote their time to pointlessly being a champion for the equivalent of indie rock band wine grapes.  "Dude... totally loving this Arbois!".  Fuck off.

Let me break down why you should buy cheap Bordeaux.  There is value there.  When China decided to have a middle class, these people in this new middle class looked at themselves and said "Holy shit!  We have disposable income!  What should we buy to let other people know that we have MADE IT?".  This resulted in sales going crazy for legacy luxury brands like top tier Bordeaux.  Previously the European and US country club/banker set had driven up the best Bordeaux wine prices beyond most mere mortals price range.  Now drop in a few million Chinese that know just enough to be dangerous and only want "the best of the best".  This has resulted in the top Bordeaux wines soaring from $100 a bottle to $2000.  Meanwhile, the ocean of "everyday" Bordeaux wines are still $12-$18 because the Chinese market doesn't want to buy anything that doesn't cause label envy.

The basic fact is that almost all of these people buying the wines can't differentiate in what they are drinking.  They just know it's supposed to be good.  Anyone can tell that a Chateau Latour is better than a $20 bottle of Bordeaux.  Yet, who can justify that a Latour is 100 times better than the one you picked up at the wine shop?  It's $2000 vs $20.  Let me tell you about when I was at Bordeaux sitting around drinking wine with a bunch of Chinese folks...

What I find interesting about Asian cultures is the strict dedication to rote memorization of facts.  Here's a blatant generalization.  Every one of those fuckers has the entire textbook memorized when they walk in the room while I am still trying to pronounce "Pauillac".  If someone leading a group discussion says "Latour makes 50,000 cases", you can be sure a young Chinese guy in glasses will raise his hand to say "Excuse me, I believe last year they made 49,400 cases" as if that made any difference to the real point.  They painstakingly memorize data while oblivious to the greater meaning of the data.  This often best reveals itself in blind tasting.

There was an entire table of Chinese.  I was sitting with a couple French guys, a Hungarian, a girl from Taiwan and a German at the other table.  We tasted a wine that was concealed in a paper bag.  It was tight, extremely tannic and not very enjoyable to drink.  The Chinese table was especially brutal in their assessment of the wine, calling it cheap, low quality wine with a tone that varied between disgust and pity.   When it was revealed to be a fairly expensive Bordeaux from a known producer, the Chinese table flipped on a dime.  "Ohhh!!!!"  They excitedly took photos of the bottle and fought to pour themselves more wine, tripping over each other to get more of this wine that moments ago they had dismissed as horrible.

The flip side to this is regardless of how good the quality of an inexpensive producer is, the Chinese market will not take a strong position on an inexpensive Bordeaux unless the label has somehow created status for itself within the mainland.  These poor Bordeaux guys from the wrong side of the tracks have been relegated to always being stuck in the $15 price point despite being forced to make better wine just to be in the same stratosphere as the properties suddenly getting $500 per bottle for a wine that they happily charged $50 for 15 years ago.  There are also hundreds of these shoestring operations out there fighting for the same shelf space on grocery store shelves.  The quality of these cheap Bordeaux is so much higher than it was in the 1990s, it's almost unrecognizable.

Now don't get me wrong.  I would prefer to drink a Leoville Barton or Lynch Bages every night.  I just can't afford to now.  Frankly, with the collapse of the world economy, I have some concerns about being able to afford the $15 Bordeaux.  As news is beginning to tease the idea that the peak of the pandemic won't be until June, that puts being able to go outside in anything less than a hazmat suit at some point in September.  This will lead to a complete global economic catastrophe that will make the Great Depression look like a picnic.  Maybe that means a complete re-adjustment of fine wine pricing where Latour goes back to being $90 and the cheap Bordeaux is $8.  Unfortunately I won't have any money unless I start selling heroin or guns.  The people that make the $8 Bordeaux will have to start selling heroin or guns too, as selling wine to importers at $2 a bottle won't put food on the table.  Hmm.  This is a real pickle we're in.  For now, I'm looking for good $15 Bordeaux and staying in the bunker.  I suggest you do the same.

Shields up.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Nurse the Hate: Leo's Story About Greece

The one good thing about being under house arrest has been the ability to devote more time to my wine studies.  Sure, I watched Tiger King on Netflix, but I also sat through an hour and half webinar on Friuli and Lombardy.  A man needs balance.  A quick side note on Tiger King...  I kept waiting to see Leo stroll by on screen at some point.  Joe Exotic seems like a guy that would have been able to dupe Leo into feeding tigers, or at the very least make pizza out of expired Wal Mart meat.  When you toss in the fact that Joe Exotic provided weed strong enough to make straight guys have sex with/marry him, and I think we can all agree that it was plain dumb luck Leo never stopped at that Oklahoma roadside private zoo.  He would have nestled in like a tick there.

I've been sampling odd wines writing timed tasting notes.  Yesterday I got into a Xinomavro from Naoussa (Greece).  I have not had a great deal of Greek wine. There are a couple of good reasons for this.  First, I don't eat at Greek restaurants because there aren't a lot of Greek restaurants where I live because there aren't a lot of Greeks which means there aren't a lot of Greek wines.  The other reason is I was given a bottle of Greek wine once by a lady that did some work for me and I didn't trust her judgement on things like food or wine.  She had that thing a lot of older Greek and Italian women have, the judgement that the shinier something is, the "nicer" it is.  She loved Cher, shiny tight dresses, and rattling bracelets.  These women live in homes with gold lamp shades, zebra pelt rugs and fake waterfalls.  You think I am going to trust her judgement on a wonky shaped bottle of white wine?  It was a different age.  1999 Me was afraid to even try it.

I have since done what the Ancient Greeks referred to as book learnin'.  Greece, as befits an ancient culture with fabulous weather and rocky soils, has an equally historic wine culture.  Most Greek wines that make it to the States are crispy little whites meant to be drunk with seafood.  I don't know if I had ever even seen a Greek red wine before a few years ago.  This was a good one.  Xinomavro is a red wine grape.  It is very tannic and has a lighter color like a Nebbiolo.  To me it tastes like if a decent Barolo/Barbaresco was blended with a little California Zin made in a more restrained style.  It is tannic, structured, and feels somewhat delicate.  It doesn't have the complexity of a good Nebbiolo, but the exchange is more approachable fruit.  I've never had a Xinomavro from a quality producer with a decade of bottle age, but I will bet it is fabulous.

So I was drinking my Naoussa Xinomavro pondering End Times, wondering who has all the hoarded toilet paper, and regretting never having been to Greece.  I am woefully undereducated on Greece.  I have always assumed it was a place where hairy guys force you to do shots of ouzo at tavernas before stealing your wallet.  It's a place where you get lost because you can't read any signs and business can done with a goat.  "You take girl.  I take goat."  This is admittedly a hazy idea of Greece at best.  Leo went there for his honeymoon.  I had a conversation with him when he got back about it hoping to glean more information about Greece, but as usual he had almost no concrete facts on where he was and what he saw.

The only thing that stood out to him was a story he told me about "what they do in Greece".  As a disclaimer, he usually can't discern between something that is an odd trait of an individual that has attached himself to him or something which is a defining national trait or custom.  On his honeymoon he was on a group tour.  Leo told me about "something they do in Greece".  This could have been something someone told him on the bus as a joke.  "Yeah!  When you sneeze, someone will say a number between 1 and 27, and that number was the letter of the alphabet of the first name of the person that was thinking about you".

Now I know what you are thinking.  It's probably the same thing I was thinking.  There are only 26 letters in the alphabet, not 27.  I then questioned in my mind if Leo had picked up the Greek alphabet in the week he was in Greece, or maybe there were 27 letters in that alphabet, but decided that both facts were unlikely.  I had opened this Pandora's box, so I dove right in.  I asked Leo for clarification on what was the 27th letter of the alphabet.  "Ah..."  I could see him mentally running through the A,B,Cs in his head.  Suddenly his face brightened as he had found the answer.  "The 27th letter of the alphabet is The Joker". He smiled broadly, his point defended.  The debate was over.

So last night I sat there on this open ended house arrest listening to Fountains of Wayne, a criminally underrated band who's main songwriter Adam Schlesinger just died from coronavirus.  Shit.  Give any of their records a spin.  The songs are great.  The wine was good.  I was really digging that xinomavro.  If I ever get out of here, I am going to track down one of those with some bottle age.  I am also going to look into if anyone in Greece spells their name with a Joker.  It is probably necessary to note that upon introductions.  "My name is Alexander.  It is spelled joker-capital A-l-e-x-a-n-d-e-r.  The joker is silent..."

Ah Greece...  so much left to learn.