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Friday Fishwrap


Newsom Says He’s Ready for Life as a Wine Clerk

The Gav was forced to drop out of the Guv’s race after his fundraising efforts pooped, despite a ballyhooed Facebook presence (his thousands of friends include moi). Now, in this sympathetic article by the normally ascerbic Maureen Dowd, The Gav sounds almost wistful, after the trauma of seeing his political life — which those of us who’ve watched him forever know was his abiding passion — go down the tubes. “This is it. God bless. It was fun while it lasted,” he is quoted as saying of politics, adding that, “In a couple of years, you’ll see me as the clerk of a wine store.”

First of all, don’t believe for a second that Dah Mayor is giving up on politics. Not in his dna. He lives and breathes the hurdy-gurdy life of political office, and no matter what he says, there’s still a Governor’s or Senator’s seat (or an Oval Office) he dreams of. But if by chance elected office isn’t in his karma, he’ll have an easy time finding a wine store to clerk at, since he owns a bunch of them through his PlumpJack group. I can still see The Gav working the register at the first PlumpJack wine store, on Fillmore Street. He was a good clerk, friendly, smiling and attentive to his customers’ wants. It’s hard to imagine him peddling wine now that he’s had a taste of the big time. But maybe.

Don’t try spitting after the first 500

This is a first-person account of a guy’s first experience judging at a monster wine tasting, the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Never mind that it’s eloquent testimony to the futility and inherent contradictions of such massive events, whose findings must be viewed with the utmost suspicion. I’ve blogged endlessly on the limitations of big competitions. What caught my eye was the author’s confession: As he began tasting the 544 wines, he had an epiphany: “I was finally going to have to learn how to spit.”

My embarrassing little secret: I, too, have never learned to properly spit.

I’ve tried to hide it for years, out of shame. I’m sure that lots of people noticed, and had the decency not to say anything. Bigtime critic whose scores can make or break a wine, but how does he spit? Like a girl. Either I expectorate back into my glass (eeewww) and dump it someplace, or I have to bend over and lean into the drain on the winery floor and let the stuff gurgle out from between my lips. Messy, stupid looking. I just never got the hang of ejecting a straight, strong, steady stream of wine through the air and having it hit its target like an arrow into the bull’s eye. I can’t whistle, either. Are the two related? But not being able to spit is the only thing I’m embarrassed about in my job. Everthing else is, well — as Oded Shakked would say — da kine.

Reserve? No, thanks, I’ll take the regular

Bill Daley has a nice Q&A with Randall Grahm in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune (another endangered newspaper, which reminds me: Did you see the other day that Media News, which owns practically all the newspapers in the Bay Area besides the Chronicle, filed for bankruptcy?). In addition to all the interestingly robust things Randall said was this sentiment: “Oak does not make everything taste better; generally one is better off passing on the special ‘reserve’ selections.”

True, true, true, true, true. I’ve found this to be so over and over in my career. Several times each week a winery will send me a “regular” and a “reserve” bottling and, almost invariably, I’ll give a higher score to the regular. The conceit behind a reserve seems to be to let the grapes get much riper than for the regular (or extract the hell out of them), then plaster as much new oak as you can on the wine. The result? Thicker, heavier, duller, and you get to pay an extra $10 or $20. Caveat emptor.

Snob wine magazines go head-to-head. Will they clobber themselves to death?

La Revue du Vin de France, a top French wine zine, announced it’s going international, in an effort to combat Decanter and Wine Spectator. Bring it on! RdV is a pretty technical publication; their Feb. issue has articles on “Oxidation of white Burgundy” and “Carbon balance: challenges in the wine estates,” which don’t exactly sound consumer-friendly to me. Nor has RdV shown that it has any appreciation of California wines, which account for about 70-80% of all wines sold in America. I went through their 2009 archives and couldn’t find a single article on a non-French wine. I suppose there may be a market for this, but not in America. Not really. But bon chance, Revue du Vin people!

Steve in New York

I’m off to The Big Apple Sunday for Wine Enthusiast’s annual Wine Star Awards, surely one of the most glamorous wine events of the year. In my tuxedo, I’ll be shmoozing with an amazing cast of true legends: Ted Baseler, Roger Trinchero, Gary Vaynerchuk, Scott McLeod, Leonardo LoCascio, Harvey Chaplin, Claudio Rizzoli, Robert Hill Smith and Josh Wesson, among other award winners. What a wonderful night this has become. My boss, Adam Strum, stood by it for years, and look what a success it is. It’s been my pleasure to contribute my small part.

I’ll try to post something before coming home next Thursday, but we’re pretty busy around the clock, and I may not be able to. Check in. In the meantime, stay happy, be healthy, eat good food and drink good wine.

  1. At one of the first wine tastings I ever attended, I leaned over, pierced my lips, spat with vigor and…splashed my myself right in the eye. Le sacre bleu, ouch! Luckily, no one was looking and now I just let the wine dribble out of my mouth.

  2. We should start a class in remedial spitting.

  3. Steve, I hope you have a great time at the WE’s star award. I imagine it will be very glam.

  4. Christine, it’s a nice event. Thanks.

  5. Steve, I’m not an expert, but…put your lips together and pucker, and then make the sound of “putt”. Out comes the wine in a nice reproducible and meaningful stream. Oh, you’ve tried that already? Well, back to the drawing board.

  6. I recommend practicing spitting in the shower:
    1. take a little water in your mouth.
    2. chew, aerate vigorously.
    3. pick a target.
    4. work on aim, concentrating the stream and preventing ‘trail off’ the will dribble everything down your shirt, tie or chest.

    You can develop deadly skill with this method! I remember my first meeting Robert Mondavi in 1980 at the winery. It was a private tasting out behind the Vineyard Room. I chewed up a wine…a spit and a miss! Missed the bucket by about 2 feet and soiled the spotless concrete. Figured I better work on my technique after that!

  7. Well, Tim, at least you didn’t spit on Mr. Mondavi!

  8. In the early ’70s, before I ever started writing, I attended a winemaking seminar in the Napa Valley. One of the sessions was run by Ric Forman. He was standing at the lecturn when he took a sip of wine, sloshed it around in his mouth and shot out a stream of fluid that we all thought was going to just land on the floor.

    But, no. There a couple of feet away sat a bucket. Perfect shot. I’ve now been practicing for quite some time and still cannot perfect that shot.

  9. On the other hand I can hit a bulls eye with my .45 magnum at 100 yards.

  10. Yeh, all you Oakland guys are the same.

  11. Brett, I’ve followed Addamo for some years. Their wines have been spotty — sometimes quite good. The Chards and Pinots have outshined the Syrahs, not to mention an execrable Dolcetto. The winemaker, Justin Mund, used to be at Laetitia. He’s a young, smart guy and I hope he lands on his feet.

  12. Thanks Steve, their vineyard is pretty close to my house. It is sad to see any winemakers having trouble, but I think we may see more consolidation.

  13. Steve – hilarious spitting post!

    Rene (sp?), the former wine buyer at Oliver’s in Cotati, was the best spitter I’ve seen. She could hit the bucket from around the corner. All I can say is that I am thankful for floor drains. Perhaps I can inspire one into my kitchen remodel.

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