subscribe: Posts | Comments      Facebook      Email Steve

Christmas, and here’s El Nino!



We had a quiet, low-key Christmas Eve dinner down in San Mateo. Maxine made a prime rib of beef, perfectly cooked, with her specialty creamed broccoli and good old-fashioned baked potatoes with butter. I paired it all with a Corison 2002 Kronos Cabernet Sauvignon. That particular wine is well-known for aging, but at 13 years, it was still filled with juicy black currants and dark chocolate, although it was showing its age a bit around the edges. I preferred it straight out of the bottle, young; after an hour in the glass it grew a little ponderous, which makes me wonder if perhaps another ten years might not be kind to it.

Before the meat course, however, we started out with some appetizers, particularly ahi tuna tartare I made from scratch. I like to almost mince the fish, then macerate it in a mixture of soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, ginger, capers, cilantro and lime juice. Some recipes call for adding things like avocado or roasted macadamia nuts, but I don’t; they make the tuna cumbersome and the dish doesn’t need all that frou-frou. Let the fish be the star, I say. Tuna tartare needs something to place it on or in. I’ve tried just about everything: toast, bruschetta, rice crackers, butter lettuce leaves and so on, but for the past few years I’ve stuck with potato chips, although in that case you have to spoon the fish onto the chip because if you try to use the chip to scoop out the fish, it (the chip) will break. But then, that gives you an excuse to use those weird little spoons that live in your utensil drawer. With the tuna, I opened a “J” 1997 Late Disgorged Brut, which I’ve been hanging onto for about ten years (it must have been released around 2005). Some critics say you shouldn’t age an LD after it’s been released, but I’m glad I did. The wine really was superb. It had lost about 70% of the bubbles, and was all nice and leesy-yeasty-toasty, and while the fruit had evolved into secondary characteristics (dried lime, grapefruit rind), it had a core of caramel sweetness. That was really a memorable wine.

We also had a wee sip of Highland Park 25 Year Old Single Malt. I gave that bottle to Keith a few years ago; I’ve always liked it, but never understood how valuable it is. We Googled it and found prices averaging between $500 and $600. How does Scotch get that expensive? Supply and demand, I guess. At any rate, a fabulous sipper, smooth, mellow, endlessly complex and satisfying especially on such a cold evening.

On Christmas Day we went to see The Big Short, which I highly recommend. It’s hard to say who should get the Oscar, Christian Bale or Steve Carell. Both were just terrific; the story itself—how bankers, through their greed and carelessness, almost brought down the world economy—is compelling, and director Adam McKay’s production was astounding. He used that “breaking the fourth wall” technique that The Office employed so well. Go see this movie.

Meanwhile, for those of you who have been enjoying a warm East Coast December, give us our weather back, you thieves! We’re freezing our butts off in California, where the daytime high has struggled to get out of the 40s and broad areas of the Bay Area have been dipping into the 20s at night. This morning—yesterday, as you read this—Oakland set a record low, at 30 degrees. Brrr. Gus didn’t mind it, but I did. Now I know that 30 degrees isn’t “cold” by Michigan or Vermont standards, but cut us a little slack here; we’re not used to it, and something about the Bay Area’s damp, fresh-off-the-Pacific wind makes 47 feel like 7.

But the big story isn’t the cold, it’s the rain. El Nino seems to be delivering as advertised, and since it’s not really supposed to kick in until January, we could be in for some extraordinarily soaking rains and blizzards in the High Sierra, which is where we get our water. In fact, the snowpack is twice what it was last year, and is at 111% percent of normal.

If El Nino is as “monstrous” as the scientists have been saying, we’re going to have to laud their predictive powers. When they get stuff wrong, everybody jumps on them. If they got this right—and it looks like they did—it will redound to the greater glory of climate science.

  1. “We’re freezing our butts off in California, where the daytime high has struggled to get out of the 40s and broad areas of the Bay Area have been dipping into the 20s at night.”

    Make that Northern California.

    Down here in Los Angeles, our weather has been largely sunny with some occasional rain cloud showers.

    (Daytime highs range from the 50s to the mid-60s. Nighttime lows around 40 degrees. The New Year’s Day Tournament of Roses parade in Pasadena should be another “Chamber of Commerce postcard perfect” day: 67 degrees and zero percent chance of El Niño rain.)

    Cold Santa Ana winds blowing off the desert towards the ocean have put us in firestorm danger.

  2. Bob Henry,

    You are correct. SoCal hasn’t received the rain we’ve gotten up north. The Central Coast has also missed out on a great bit of it. I know that the SLH is way short of the total that we have here in the RRV. And I was in Happy Canyon a week ago and saw Cab vines that had pushed more shoots and even set fruit again.

    Adam Lee
    Siduri Wines

  3. Gee, and I’ve been thinking it was unacceptably cold in SoCal. I agree with Bob Henry about the temperatures, but it’s been Brrrr in the air. (But yes, some beautiful days.)

  4. Twenty years ago Single Malt Whisky was just emerging as a specialty item. I worked at Cannery Wine Cellar then and we had well over 300 different examples. My Christmas bonus soon started going to those shelves and I still have a bit of 1961 Linkwood bottled at 29 years that was under $150 in 1993. The last time I tried to find any, a shop in Austria was listing it for over $900. I think now the distilleries are busy cranking out mostly 10 to 15 year malts and 25 and older is a lot more expensive. Port tastings then were loaded with dozens of 1963 vintages to sample. Those days are gone.

  5. This Los Angeles Times (November 13th) article has an accompanying map of California that projects the chance of above normal rainfall from January to March:

    Headline: “El Niño is here, and it’ll be ‘one storm after another like a conveyor belt'”



    Generally, El Niño doesn’t peak in California until January, February and March, [Bill] Patzert [climatologist for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory] said. That’s when Californians should expect “mudslides, heavy rainfall, one storm after another like a conveyor belt.”

  6. “The Big Short” was an excellent movie, and I’m glad that it was made because of its message, but it’s not really Oscar bait. You read it here first.

  7. Doug and Steve,

    From The Spirits Business website (dated October 13, 2014):


    [Factoid: inventories of Scotch malt whisky aged over nine years fell over 25% between 2007-12, according to a recent report by Robobank.]



    As global demand for Scotch whisky increased over the past few years, more producers have opted to remove age statements from existing and new expressions to preserve stocks of older whisky.

    The most famous example of which was The Macallan, which removed age statements from its entire core range under 18-years-old with the 1824 Series, which uses colour as a signpost for flavour, rather than age.

    — AND —

    Chris Morris, master distiller for Brown-Forman … told The Spirits Business[:]

    “We do not believe in age statements in any of our whiskeys at Brown-Forman, because while there’s nothing wrong with a whiskey declaring its age, an age statement as we know specifically from the great Scotch whisky industry can be used against you. And an age is just a number; it doesn’t say the whisky’s any good.

    “The consumer thinks the higher the number, the better the whisky. So by not having an age claim we are asking the consumer to try the whiskey and judge it on its flavour and not on an arbitrary note.”

    Asked if consumers’ perception of age being an indicator for quality is a problem created by the Scotch industry, Morris added: “That could be the case, especially when you see these Scotch whisky brands now removing their age claim. How important was that in the first place?”

  8. Eric Lundblad says:

    This doesn’t look like El Nino based rain. It looks like the Alaska storm pattern that we ‘typically’ get. It’s similar to the weather pattern the nation got last year, except everything shifted west (or inverted might be a better characterization).

    El Nino hits So Cal harder than NorCal, and the storms are warmer and are drenching downpours that cause flooding and landslides.

    I’m worried that El Nino is, so far, a bust and our current rain pattern could, as always, stop at any moment. Course, it’s not even January yet so it’s too early to say anything definitive. Maybe the current

  9. Eric Lundblad says:

    (Oops, forgot to remove the ‘Maybe the current’ dangling sentence at the end of that post).

  10. Doug,

    Regarding the 1963 Ports, back in February I was invited to a luncheon organized by one of the great Port collectors in Los Angeles.

    Lamentably, I had already booked a work session for a wine client that Saturday and had to convey my “regrets.”

    The line-up:

    “Twelve 1963 Vintage Ports will be tasted including Quinta do Noval ‘Nacional’ along with the 1958,1960 and 1962 ‘Nacional’. Five of the Ports will be served from magnums. The final Port will be the legendary 1931 Quinta do Noval. All Ports have been resting in my personal cellar for over 30 years and will be opened with Port tongs.”

    The presenters and co-imbibers:

    “Christian Seely, Director of Quinta do Noval will be Guest of Honor. Darryl Corti is Guest commentator and Dennis Foley, Rare Wine Consultant, will supervise the wine service.”

    The meal:

    “A champagne reception will start at noon with passed hors d’oeuvres. The Ports will be served in flights along with a five course lunch orchestrated by Wolfgang Puck.”

    The tariff:

    “Price is $1,875 inclusive.”

    ~~ Bob

  11. Supplemental.

    This Wall Street Journal (December 16th) article has an accompanying map that depicts weather patterns affect across the United States due to El Niño.

    “Baby, It’s Warm Outside: Weather Patterns Shake Up U.S. Temperatures;
    Arctic Oscillation and El Niño combine to bring springtime to Northeast, snow and rain to West”


Leave a Reply


Recent Comments

Recent Posts