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Wine: A matter of taste?


Is there such a thing as “objective” quality in wine? Or is it all personal preference?

I ask because I bought a $22 bottle of a non-vintage white Rioja (I don’t want to identify it) at a wine shop here in Oakland the other day that the floor clerk highly recommended as being “dry, crisp and yeasty.” As I love a good fino sherry, I got it, never having previously had a white Rioja. On tasting, my first thought was, “this wine is too old.” It tasted stale and tired.

But it made me wonder. This particular wine shop is wildly popular with younger folks; the proprietors seem to have their fingers on the pulse of the tastes of their customers in their twenties and thirties. One of their biggest sellers is orange wine. So when I tasted that white Rioja, and hated it, my next thought was, Am I out of touch with the taste of younger wine drinkers?

I’m aware that tastes change. If everyone is drinking orange wine and bretty beer, then that’s the popular taste; if I don’t like them (and I don’t), then I’m out of step. But really, how could an old, tired white wine possibly be considered “good,” no matter how many people like it? Or am I just an old, tired white male who doesn’t get it?

I looked up to see what my former colleague, Mike Schachner, had to say about the wine in Wine Enthusiast. I found there his review of the 2016: same producer, same 100% Vidura. His experience resonated with my own: “A cloudy burnished-gold color and oxidized aromas of briny but stale white fruits get this Viura off to a shaky start. Bold malic acidity lends kick to an otherwise flat palate. This tastes lightly oxidized and briny to an extreme, while the finish is cidery.” Granted, he reviewed the ’16 while my bottle was nonvintage, but still, it might have been the same wine. “Oxidized…stale…flat palate.” There was nothing “yeasty” about it, as the floor clerk said, which made me wonder if she knew what she was talking about (but that’s a whole different story!).

So back to my questions. “Is there such a thing as ‘objective’ quality in wine? Or is it all personal preference?” I have to insist there is such a thing as objective quality. All my reading, all my life experience, all my studying and talking with winemakers for 40-plus years tell me that. Enologists have written books about faults in wine. And yet, I always remember when I interviewed Josh Jensen, down at Calera, about a million years ago. He told me that when he advertised for an assistant winemaker, the first requirement he had was “Must not be a U.C. Davis grad.” Davis, he insisted (and others told me the same thing) taught how to make squeaky-clean wines of no personality or distinction. He, Josh, wanted his wines to have personality. Tim Mondavi had told me something similar: he liked a little brett in his Pinot Noirs, even though the professors at U.C. Davis hated brett.

The idea of personality in wine, as in people, is highly appealing. But could the oxidized, or maderized, quality of that white Rioja conceivably be called “personality”? Kenneth Dahmer had “personality” too, but not one that was particularly appealing. On the second night after I’d opened the wine, I poured myself another glass. Still oxidized, still stale, still tired. But, I asked myself, is there something here, something that could be called interesting or charming or unique or even–gasp–intellectual? I finished the bottle, and thought about every sip. Had I been unfair? Was I so used to clean, fresh, fruity white wines that I was refusing to recognize the qualities of this maderized one?

Transition time for my blog


I started this blog way back in May, 2008. Wine blogs were then getting to be “the next big thing” and I wanted in on the action. Unlike most other bloggers, I had a steady daytime gig at Wine Enthusiast that gave me plenty of visibility (and a decent income). But I wanted the greater freedom that personal wine blogging afforded. No editors! No publishers! Nobody but me!

My wine blog got big, fast. It was newsworthy that a well-known wine writer had a personal blog. My writing style, too, contributed to its success. rose to the top of the wine blogosphere. It’s true that I never won any trophies from the Wine Bloggers Conference, but I got nominated a whole bunch of times and they asked me to co-keynote one of their conferences. Certainly, as measured by the “comments” my posts got, my blog was one of the most popular in America.

That continued even after I left Wine Enthusiast in 2012 to become Director of Wine Communications and Education at Jackson Family Wines. But when I retired, in 2016, I decided that it no longer made sense to write about wine. I would no longer have day-to-day contact with the industry. There wasn’t any more need to keep up with issues and events. And, to be honest, I wasn’t interested in the wine industry now that I wasn’t in it. So I told my readers I was transitioning. The subject of my blog would now become Donald Trump.

That was in September, 2016. He was by then the Republican nominee for president, running against my choice, Hillary Clinton. I knew what a horror Trump was. It was clear to me then that he, and the evil people around him, were threats to America, and to me personally. So I decided to use my blog to resist him. And that is what I did for the next 4-1/2 years, until he had been defeated in 2020, thank God.

Since then, my blog writing has been infrequent. I no longer post every day, as I did for more than 12 years. There was another reason for this: my blogging energies became transferred to my “other” blog at the Coalition for a Better Oakland, of which I am president. CBO, as we call it, absorbs a great deal of my thinking and time. My colleagues and I are serious about becoming a force for moderate Democrats in Oakland, a city long dominated by the “woke” politicians of the far Left. I hate seeing my beloved Democratic Party—the party of my parents and grandparents—being hijacked by ideological extremists, whose demands are driving voters away from the Democratic Party into the waiting arms of rightwing Republicans. The stakes are high.

I explain all this in order to tell my remaining readers why you don’t hear from me more often. Times change, and we have to change with them. I’ll still continue to post here every so often, but it’s no longer a priority. My daily blog at is now my priority. I hope you’ll read it regularly. It’s mainly about Oakland, but the issues will be familiar to all of you; they’re national issues. The important thing for me, personally, is to continue to have a platform where I can express my views, in the hope that my two cents will have some impact on things.


Please check out my other blog


I invite readers to visit the website of the group I co-founded, the Coalition for a Better Oakland, where I also post a daily blog.

CBO is taking up more and more of my time. I consider myself fortunate to have found something so intellectually interesting, and so important. Although our focus is on the city of Oakland, where I have lived for 34 years, our concerns apply to most cities in America. So take a few minutes and check us out!

On getting attacked for telling the truth


Now that our Coalition for a Better Oakland is gaining traction in the media, the people who don’t want us to succeed are coming out of the woodwork, spewing their special brand of hate.

It’s mainly the “defund the police” crowd. Since they can’t attack us (or me) on the merits, they resort to the usual ad hominem insults. In the last week or so, I’ve repeatedly been called a rightwing old white guy, just because I support the police.

Well, I have a thick skin, so that doesn’t bother me at all. But I do want to get my political beliefs on the record. I may be “old” and “white” (nothing I can do about that!), but I’m sure no rightwinger!

The truth:

I was born into a household where my parents worshipped Franklin D. Roosevelt and Adlai Stevenson. I had just turned 13 when John F. Kennedy ran in the Democratic primaries, and I was so enamored of him that I made a “JFK” sign and went to a hotel where he was giving a speech. He looked at me and my sign, smiled, nodded, and disappeared into the hotel.

I took the Sixties off from politics : > but in ’76 I saw Carter announce for President and became an ardent supporter. I voted for Jesse Jackson in the 1984 California primary, and when I saw Bill Clinton interviewed on CSPAN in 1988, when he was still Governor of Arkansas, I wrote him a letter in Little Rock, which he was kind enough to answer (I still have it, framed). I was a huge Clinton supporter and still am. He kept the flame of liberalism alive when the winds of evangelical conservatism were trying to snuff it out.

I voted for Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2004. In 2008, I was a gigantic Hillary supporter, but when she lost the nomination, I hopped on the Obama train, and when he won (on that famous night in Chicago) and came onstage with Michelle and the kids, I stood in front of my T.V. and cried. I supported Hillary again in 2016, strongly, and almost threw up when the orange fascist won. And now, I’m a Biden guy.

So don’t hand me none of your “rightwinger” crap!

Now, on to the “old white” stuff. Look, if you hate on someone because they’re “old,” you’re an ageist, pure and simple. And if you hate on someone because they’re “White,” then you’re a racist, pure and simple. Can a Black person be a racist? Of course!

Republicans currently are waging a war on “wokeism,” and while I deplore much of the nonsense we get from the woke crowd (such as “defund the police”), I support their essential goal: to eliminate all hatred of groups based on characteristics they cannot control. And it is the rightwing that does most of the hating in this country: hating on queer people, on Muslims and Mexicans and Asians and Black people and educated people and everybody else they hate and try to cancel.

But to those “woke” people calling me an old white rightwing guy, I say, STFU. You know in your heart that “defunding the police” is not going to happen, because every time police budgets are cut, crime goes up, and We the People will not allow that. You know that the Americans will not tolerate your program of slashing police budgets. You know you’re on the wrong side of History. You know you cannot debate the facts; all you have are your insults and smears. If you’re Black and you’re trying to impugn me by calling me “White,” you are the exact kind of person Dr. King called “a vicious racist,” with your “lips dripping with words of nullification” or (a more contemporary word), cancellation. Stop hiding behind your Blackness and thinking you can get away with being a racist and an ageist and not getting called out. Those days are over.

In conclusion, then, it’s the extremes on both sides that have screwed this country up. The woke crowd on the left, and the Insurrectionist crazies on the right. That’s why I’m such a big Biden fan: he’s solidly in the center lane, same as all the Democrats I’ve supported all my life. And he’s got a heart of gold. Is there a Republican left in this country with a heart?

Waiting for the Grim Reaper


I went down to get my newspaper early this morning and noticed that a box from Amazon had been propped into place to hold the building’s front door open.

Odd, I thought. My first theory was that someone had broken in overnight. So I picked the package up and tossed it onto the lobby bench.

Then I heard the loud penetrating noise of a siren and looked up, outside the lobby windows, to see an Oakland Police Department officer urgently gesturing. Of course I opened the door. He apologized profusely, said he had placed the package there to keep the door open, and explained that someone in the building had died.

“What unit number?” I asked. He didn’t know, but he did know it was on the second floor.

“Howard,” I said, to myself.

He was exactly my age and, like me, Jewish. He’d lived in the building almost as long as I had. He had fastened a mezuzah onto the left side of his door post and when I asked him why (he did not seem to be a religious man), he grinned and said, “It can’t hurt.” We’d never been particularly close. He was not a friendly man and appeared to have no friends; I can’t recall a visitor in twenty years. He was a bit of a recluse and also something of a hoarder. An insurance salesman by trade, he’d often be heard talking loudly into his phone, inside his apartment, arguing over some claim with someone. In recent years, he looked increasingly gaunt to me. He walked hesitantly, slowly, with the unsteady gait of an old man which, of course, he was. His skin tone was pallid, and he had deep, black hollows beneath his eyes. I hadn’t known him to suffer from illness, the way another neighbor my age, Richard, had; at least three or four times, Richard was whisked away by paramedics after a heart incident, before finally dying of a heart attack shortly before the pandemic. And now, it was Howard’s turn.

I made a little sign and put it up in the lobby on the bulletin board:







I doubt that most people in the building even know who he is, or was. He seldom ventured out of his apartment, especially over the course of this past year. Most of the people in my condo building are young. They don’t really “live” here, they just dwell here for a year or two before moving on to the next place, and they consequently don’t get to know their neighbors. I suspect they’ll look at my sign and think, “Who was Howard?” But Howard was a person.

I’ve reached that point where Death is omnipresent. “Time’s winged chariot” and all that. Richard – Howard – I would make a perfect trifecta.

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