Yesterday’s surprise announcement that KFC Corp., the parent company of Kentucky Fried Chicken, has purchased Screaming Eagle Winery sent shock waves up and down Napa Valley.
Already nervous due to the recession, the valley’s cult wineries were caught off guard by the move, which had been in hush-hush planning for weeks, according to insiders who did not wish to be identified, because they were not authorized to speak to the press.
The purchase price was not announced, but is likely to have been in the mid-nine figures, one insider said, making it the most expensive winery deal in U.S. history. As part of the deal, Screaming Eagle will produce a second wine, Frying Eagle, that will be sold in KFC franchises nationally and, eventually, overseas. Those in the know say also that the Colonel’s iconic face will be incorporated into Screaming Eagle’s label.
The sale of Screaming Eagle should not have been a complete surprise, however. Many of Napa’s top wineries have been quietly seeking buyers, due to sluggish sales because formerly wealthy collectors are no longer seeking out expensive wines. There have been persistent rumors that TEPCO, the Tokyo Electric Power Co., was in secret talks with Harlan Estate, but those negotiations hit a snag following the devastating March 11 Japanese earthquake and tsunami that wrecked TEPCO’s Fukushima nuclear power plant.
Business Week recently reported on a possible merger between Colgin Cellars and Sears, while Aflac, the big insurance compay, is said to be interested in Scarecrow.
Personally [this is Steve speaking], I wouldn’t be surprised to see even minor cult wines, such as [deleted] and [deleted], brought under corporate control, which might not be a bad thing, when you think about it, as I have. If most of the cult wines were owned by a corporation, they’d have a monopoly, and they could then raise their prices, so the cult wines would be even more expensive than they are now. Then all wineries would benefit because of the proven economic theory known as trickle-down. So I’m in favor of the corporate takeover of cult wineries.
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Top 5 wines of the week
100 points. Chateau Lactic 2008 Chardonnay (Russian River Valley); $37. I gave this wine 100 points! My first perfect Chardonnay ever! An extraordinarily rich, opulent Chardonnay, brimming with luscious flavors of buttered toast, buttered popcorn, buttercream, vanilla, caramel, butterscotch and melted butter. It was fermented and aged in 100% new, high-char French oak for 2-1/2 years. So balanced and rich, its finish lasts literally for more than an hour. 30 cases, 15.7%.
98 points. Bronwyn 2008 “Parallelogram” Red Wine (Paso Robles); $75. Made from an unusual blend of Syrah, Petit Verdot, Tannat, Xinomavro (a rare Greek variety), Tempranillo, Tinta Cao and Gewurztraminer, this unoaked wine has flavors that are difficult to describe, even with a dictionary. I opened my Webster’s at random to the word “leishmaniasis,” which sounds right. 256 cases, 15.2%.
97 points. Mishuga Family 2007 “MazelTov!” (Oakville); $475. Made from 99% Cabernet Sauvignon by a superstar winemaker who cannot be identified because s/he is under contract to a cult winery whose owner hates Melvin Meshuga (apparently they’ve both been married to the same woman, oops, I shouldn’t have said that! Too late, I just hit the “send” button) and would fire the superstar winemaker if he found out that he/she was working for Meshuga. The other 1% in the blend is Xinomavro (a rare Greek variety). 2 cases, 15.7%. Kudos also to Meshuga’s 2009 “Bris” Pinot Noir.
95 points. Feral Cat 2009 Xinomavro (Livermore Valley); $35. Xinomavro is a rare Greek grape variety. According to Wikipedia, “Various writers have compared Xinomavro to Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo, etc.” Therefore, it must be quite good! I was unable to taste this wine in a blind tasting of other Xinomavros, since this is the only one in California, so I tasted it, blind, in a flight of Pinot Grigios, and you know what? It was, well, not the best, but certainly it stood out as unique. So I said to myself, “I give this wine 95 points!” And, for the price, it’s a pretty good value. Drink it with, uh, anything you darned well want! It’s a free country.
94 points. Blue Ox non-vintage Merlot (California); $4/300L. Imagine a “wine in a box” on steroids! The equivalent of a full barrel of Merlot, it works out to about 11 cents a bottle. True, it’s not a very good wine, in and of itself, although if you like the smell of sweaty armpits, it’s for you! But the price is recession-proof. The box measures approximately 5 feet high x 3-1/2 feet wide and is quite heavy (400 pounds), so you’ll need to get some help from the guys and find a dolly and pickup truck to get it home. The little spigot that comes out from the Ox’s nose is really cute.
Dear Mr. Critic:
Recently my boyfriend bought me a cheap bottle of wine for my birthday. I was very insulted, but I didn’t want to confront him because I love him and he’s good to me. How should I let him know he hurt my feeings?
Hurting in Pittsburg
Hurt him back. Hit him on the head with the bottle, then throw it in the garbage and tell him, in no uncertain terms, that it’s Screaming Eagle or no more nookie.
My roommate and I are having a little argument. I say Petrus is better than Cheval Blanc. He says the opposite. This is really destroying our relationship. We agreed to abide by your decision. So, wise one, which is better?
Roommates in Minneapolis
How long have you two been married? Because in every relationship, both sides have to give a little to get a little. Put aside this little squabble, get yourselves a bottle of gin, and watch E!’s latest on Lindsay Lohan.
Dear Most Esteemed Steve Critic:
What can you tell me about the taste of soil in wine?
Dear Most Esteemed Rajeev:
Not good. Try filtering the wine through cheesecloth. Good luck.
I’m one of those people that gets hopelessly confused in the wine aisle of the supermarket. I just don’t know what to buy! And the clerks are no help whatsoever! They are, like, totally clueless! I’ll be, like, standing there, looking all confused, and one of them will walk past me and I’ll say, like, “Can you help me? I’m having chicken tonight and–” but then usually he’ll, like, shrug his shoulders and tell me he doesn’t really work in the wine aisle, he’s just walking through to dairy. And I’ll ask if there’s somebody who does work in the wine aisle but by that time the guy is already gone, and so now I’m not only confused, I’m, like, angry too. I guess what I’m asking for is your expert advice on how to deal with my confusion and anger in the wine aisle.
Seriously in need of help in Los Angeles
Approximately 30 minutes before visiting the wine aisle, take two 5-mg. tablets of Diazepam (Valium), followed by a 5-mg. tablet of Vicodin. Wash them down with 3 shots of whiskey. You will feel much more relaxed, and, when you collapse in the wine aisle, I’m sure the clerks will be there for you.
Dear Bigshot Important Mr. Stupid Critic,
So this isnt a question, it’s a statemint. Why should anybody care about your stupid opinon anyhow? You should do something useful like being a plummer or fixing cars.
A Natural American Leader
Actually you did ask a question. The construction “Why should anybody care about your stupid opinon anyhow?” is an interrogatory, followed by a question mark, so your initial assertion that you were not asking a question is clearly false, which raises questions about your credibility, if not your sanity. As for my advice, try Googling “remedial reading and spelling” and look for results near your mental institution.
Mr. Wine Critic,
Why should I believe anything you say?
Because I’m an expert!
Why did the winemaker cross the road?
Curious in Duluth
I’m a wine critic, not Einstein. How the heck should I know?
What do you think of shelf talkers?
Wine Store Owner Thinking of Using Them
In general, I’m not in favor of talking shelves. Or any other talking inanimate objects. There’s enough talking in this world just coming from humans who think they have something to say.
I want to be a famous wine critic, be really rich, live in a mansion, have lots of babes and drive a Porsche. Any advice?
Sure! It’s easy as pie. Here’s what you do.
1. Rob Fort Knox and don’t get caught.
2. Sell the gold for cash.
3. Deposit $10 million in my Swiss bank account.
4. Then I will teach you how to become a wine critic! But you’re on your own with the babes.
Kids! If you have a question, just Ask The Wine Critic!
I can with pleasure announce that wine lovers can toast to the future health of their favorite wine critics this coming week at restaurants around the country, including Salud! in New York, Boulevard in San Francisco and Bouchon, in Napa Valley.
The event, which will be simulcast in all participating restaurants, will be produced by some of the leading Master Sommeliers and Masters of Wine in America. All proceeds will help to pay wine critics’ medical and psychological bills.
Patterned after a similar event to assist mixologists, the “Help Our Sick Critics” event reflects the increasing concern on the part of critics and those who love them about the many injuries wine reviewers sustain in the performance of their often back-breaking and stressful work.
“Wine critics have extremely difficult jobs,” explains Linda F. Mochaletto, a professor of sensory analysis at the University of Ontario. Various forms of repetitive stress injury involving wrists, fingers, elbows and shoulders often arise after a critic has spent years opening thousands of wine bottles. “We’re even seeing stress injuries of the thumb and forefinger in the case of twist-off screwtops,” Mochaletto says.
Chiropractors report increasing cases of severe back injury by critics who have to pick up heavy cases of wine. Other frequent causes of injury are skin cuts, sometimes severe, resulting from broken wine glasses or box cutters used to break down cardboard boxes for recycling. Doctors also report toe fractures caused by dropping said boxes on feet. There have even been reports of cancer caused by carcinogens found in the extruded styrofoam many wine bottles are packaged in.
Dr. Stanley F. Molar, a Philadelphia dentist, says that repeated tasting of wine can cause major damage to teeth, enamel and gums, a major problem since most wine critics are independent contractors who do not possess dental insurance. “I know of wine critics who ended up in the emergency room after extensive tasting of high-acid German wines,” he noted. Reports of tongue discoloration are not uncommon. One female wine critic was said to have tried to lighten her purple tongue by soaking it in hair dye, which caused internal injuries.
It’s not only physical injuries that can take their toll on wine critics. The psychological stress can be high. “I’ve had several nervous breakdowns in the performance of my job,” notes Steve Heimoff, a well-known Bay Area wine critic. “When I have to give low scores to winemakers I like, it causes me major angst. And don’t think it’s a picnic having to go to all those fancy-shmancy dinners, with their constant schmoozing. Sometimes all I want to do is chill at home over a nice beer and watch The History Channel. But, no, there’s another to-do in San Francisco. It’s very stressful.”
The events this coming week are expected to raise millions of dollars, which will be deposited into a bank. Ailing wine critics can apply for charitable medical awards by applying through this blog. The most miserable stories will receive top consideration.
Hard to believe it was 2-1/2 years ago when I made this video, when my blog was a mere 3 months old. Gary V. was big back then, so I decided to have some good-natured fun and do this wacky takeoff. Click here to see it.
Lost in the hoopla surrounding last week’s announcement of the discovery of the world’s oldest wine press was the unearthing of a stone tablet proving that wine criticism may be at least 6,000 years older than was previously thought.
The ancient winery was found at a remote cave site in Armenia, called Winna Speg-ta-torr, or “Believe [in the] God [or] Die.” News of the winery’s discovery bolted around the globe. But just yesterday, one of the archeologists who led the dig, Gregory Areshian of the University of California Los Angeles, announced he had also discovered a stone tablet, almost intact, that suggests vintners of old may have been as subject to wine criticism as are today’s winemakers.
The tablet, Areshian reported, was made of basalt, and was approximately 12 inches wide and 15 inches long, or about the size of a modern oversized wine magazine. It refers to an entity, Ruh-Buh-Puh-Kuh, or “He [who] kills [or] blesses [the] wine.” In an interview, Areshian said it is unclear just who or what this entity was thought to be by the late Stone Age Armenians. “Ruh-Buh-Puh-Kuh may have been an actual person, perhaps a warlord. Or it may have referred to some god. Either way, he seems to have been worshipped. We just don’t know enough about these people’s strange religion.”
The stone, which was difficult to translate because it was written in a little understood trans-Sumerian language called Geekish, refers to a wine, made by a local minor official named Freidy-Franzzxsiah (the name is an anagram of the ancient number for “Two” and the word for a huge quantity), which seems to have been popular with slaves. Areshian said references to the same wine have been found in archeological digs as widespread as the Egyptian tombs of Luxor and the ruins of Southern California shopping centers. In the reference to the wine of Freidy-Franzzxsiah, Ruh-Buh-Puh-Kuh referred to “chicken entrails,” although other translations have it as “swamp gas” and “vomitous emissions.”
Areshian said that Ruh-Buh-Puh-Kuh cursed the wine of Freidy-Franzzxsiah, referring to it as ”unholy” and “an affront to the High One, Jhim-Low-Bee.” This “Jhim Low-Bee,” a previously unknown Caucasian spirit-entity, seems to have held special terrors for people. Also unclear is the hierarchical relationship between Ruh-Buh-Puh-Kuh and Jhim-Low-Bee. Was one higher than the other in the totem pole of ancient deities? Were they different names for the same entity? Nobody yet knows.
“Clearly, we have much to learn about the strange, cultic practices of these ancient peoples, which are so different from our own,” Areshian says, adding, “That’s the nice thing about archeology. It lets us see how much human intelligence has progressed over the millennia.”
Following its success with a car that drives itself, I have learned, through my sources in Silicon Valley, that Google is secretly working on a robotic wine sensing machine, using artificial intelligence software that can mimic if not surpass the actual blind tasting abilities of the greatest wine critics.
The machine, which is said to physically resemble C-3PO, the robot from Star Wars, already has tasted more than 1,000 wines, without any form of human interaction, and correctly identified 99.87% of them.
The machine, which is nicknamed “Lobby” because it was conceptualized during a company party in Google’s lobby, also rates the wines it tastes, using the familiar 100-point system. Google programmed hundreds of thousands of scores from the world’s most famous wine critics, including Robert Parker and (ahem), myself, into Lobby’s database, using special algorithms that enable Lobby to search through it, seeking similar words and phrases, and assigning score numbers based on “hits.”
According to my source, the differences between Lobby’s scores and mine are “statistically insignificant.”
It’s not clear what Google plans to do with Lobby. My source, who is an engineer affiliated with the project, says the company is considering creating an online wine magazine using Lobby as its critic. Google then will argue that Lobby is actually better than a real, living wine critic, since he [it?] has no mind and cannot think, making him [it] immune to subjective factors.
According to the engineer, “Lobby is the perfect wine critic. He has the I.Q. of a penguin. He has no opinions, and in fact isn’t even conscious. All he can do is review wine. And he can do it all day and all night long, requiring only an occasional rinsing of his intake tube.”
The launching of Lobby represents, in the eyes of some analysts, Google’s long-awaited “second act” — the search for a major revenue source beyond the advertising its search product generates. With existing print wine magazines in a weakened position, and wine blogging having shown its inability to generate revenue, Google may be attempting to make a big play in the wine world. Eric Schmidt, Google’s chairman/ceo, has been seen frequently in Napa Valley and in Bordeaux, and is known to have recently invested in Crushpad, the custom winemaking facility.
The amount of effort and resources poured into the development of Lobby suggests that Google is taking the machine very seriously. My engineer source also tells me that Lobby understands and can speak in eleven languages, including Mandarin, Urdu, Bengali, Hebrew, German and, of course, English. There are plans for a personalized wine reviewing application, MyLobby, that can be downloaded to a computer or cell phone. If the effort is a success, Schmidt has told insiders he plans to construct a new center on the Google campus; its main entrance will be called The Lobby Lobby.
“This project is still in the experimental stage, but it does provide a glimpse of what wine reviewing might look like in the future. The implications are staggering,” my source says. “Google wants to take over the world, and wine might be the way they do it.”