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New Wine Reviews: Lang and Reed

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I was glad that Lang and Reed Napa Valley asked me to review three of their new releases, because I’ve always loved their wines, and because of my admiration for John Skupny. I remember “way back” when Lang & Reed started up by focusing on Cabernet Franc. It was a bold, risky thing for them to do. Most people thought of Cab Franc as a blending grape to go into Bordeaux blends dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon. Cab Franc had long been, of course, a staple of Loire red wines, like Chinon, but was very little known on its own in America. I also remember when I used to visit the Sierra Foothills and taste their wines—this is going back to the 1990s and early 2000s–and concluding that Cabernet Franc was the emerging red wine from that region (Zinfandel was obviously the star).

But Cab Francs from Napa Valley were rare to the point of unicorns! Yet John was making fabulous ones. Now, after all these years, I’m glad to report he still is, and not just from Napa Valley. His “California” bottling is pretty darned good, and the Chenin Blanc is luscious.

Here are my reviews.

2018 Cabernet Franc (California); $29. All I could think of tasting this wine was food. Steak, braised ribs, duck, sausages, roasted chicken, or, if you’re not a meat-eater, a veggie meatloaf or omelet or quiche with mushrooms and spinach. Foods, in other words, that call for a red wine that’s medium-bodied, silky, spicy, fruity, softly tannic, slightly earthy and delicious. Which is exactly what this 100% Cab Franc is. More than 60% of the grapes came from the Sierra Foothills; the remaining fruit is from Alexander Valley and Napa Valley. A red wine like this does need some oak to temper it, but not much; in this case, the oak is what they call “seasoned.” This lovely wine will appeal to sommeliers in the best restaurants, not only for its inherent qualities but the price. Highly recommended. Score: 91 points.

2020 Chenin Blanc, Mendocino; $30. This white wine is deeply flavored, with peaches, pears, green melons, apples, tropical fruits and vanilla. But it’s super-balanced and dry, with excellent acidity and a bracing minerality. With just a touch of oak, it combines the richness of a fine Chardonnay with the creamy elegance of, say, a nice French sur lie Muscadet. There’s just a touch of almond-skin bitterness on the finish, but food will resolve it. The vineyard source is inland Mendocino (not coastal Anderson Valley), on the eastern side of the Russian River as it comes tumbling down from the highlands—an area hot during the day, but chilly at night. Complex enough to pair with fancy fare, like foie gras, spring rolls or—yum yum–oysters. But scrambled eggs for weekend brunch would be perfect in lieu of sparkling wine. A great price for a restaurant wine of this quality. Score: 90 points.

2017 Two-Fourteen Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley; $85. I really liked Lang & Reed’s 2018 California Cabernet Franc, but this is clearly a better wine, in several senses. It’s more deeply flavored. I find raspberry and black cherry purée, mocha, bacon, candied violets and sweet green peas, accented by a dark smokiness from oak. It’s also better structured, probably the result of its Napa Valley mountain origin. The balance of acidity and alcohol is just about perfect. With soft, pillowy tannins, it’s drinkable now at the age of 4 years, but I suspect it will benefit from a few more years in the cellar. Foodwise, the fanciness suggests high-quality fare. I’m not a big beef eater, but this beautiful wine might convince me to have a char-broiled Porterhouse at a white-tablecloth steakhouse. Score: 93 points.


Remembering Sept. 11

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It was early on that Tuesday morning of Sept. 11, 2001, around 6:15 a.m. California time. I was making coffee when the phone rang. It was Marilyn. “Are you watching T.V.?”

No, I wasn’t. I switched on the T.V., as Marilyn described what she knew: a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. I don’t think I turned the T.V. off until I went to bed that night. Like everybody else, I was glued to the tube.

And I was pissed. I’m not embarrassed today to admit that, from the very first hours when it looked like Al Qaeda and bin Laden had done it, I was eager for revenge. I kept what turned out to be a Sept. 11 Diary, and some of its first entries were BOMB AFGHANISTAN! This was my generation’s Pearl Harbor, and America needed to defend herself and take out the criminals.

Not too many days later, the U.S. House of Representatives took a vote on the AUMF, Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists, which gave the government permission to wage war in Afghanistan. It passed almost unanimously, with but a single vote against: that of Rep. Barbara Lee, who represented my Oakland district (and still does). I was outraged by what I perceived to be her stunningly bad judgment and cowardice, and I told her so, in an email. My language was intemperate, but then, most of my fellow Americans felt the same way I did.

Today, with the end of the Afghanistan War, and with many Americans now thinking it had been unnecessary, Barbara Lee has become a sort of heroine. Hindsight is always 20/20, of course. Historians will long debate the Afghan War (and the Iraq War, too). My own personal view is that we had to do something after Sept. 11. But President Biden was right when he observed that we should have declared victory and gone home after we took out bin Laden, in May, 2011. Instead, we stayed, and tried to nation-build, when it should have been obvious, post-Vietnam, that nation-building is not something America does very well, and perhaps shouldn’t even try. (I still think Rep. Lee was wrong, by the way.)

I’ve been back to New York City, my hometown, many times in the last twenty years, but I never went down to Ground Zero. Didn’t want to see it, didn’t want to feel like I was sightseeing where something so awful had happened, and where so many people suffered and died. I felt the same way after the Oakland Hills Firestorm, in October, 1991. Marilyn and I drove up to see the carnage a few days after the fire was put out, but we spent only a few moments looking at the scene—street after street of homes reduced to foundations and chimneys—before we felt unclean, and got the hell out.

There will be another Sept. 11. In one form or another, haters of America will attack us again. As far as I’m concerned, this attack could just as easily be from domestic terrorists as from foreign jihadis. We already saw forebodings on Jan. 6. Those Republican trumpers are still out there, violent, judgmental and homicidal. We know who their targets are: liberals, homosexuals, abortion doctors, reporters, Black activists, judges, Jews, Democrats, immigrants, Muslims. If I worry about terrorist attacks, it’s not from ISIS or Al Qaeda or Al-Shabab. It’s from the unvaccinated morons like the Proud Boys and all the other militia groups who want to burn the Constitution and establish a clerical-fascist dictatorship in America.


Sen. Feinstein must step down in the next 10 days!

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It’s looking increasingly likely that Governor Newsom will be recalled in the upcoming election. I sincerely hope he isn’t, but because it could happen, we have to make contingency plans. If he’s throw out of office, then the Republican who succeeds him (whoever it is) will be able to appoint California’s next U.S. Senator, should anything happen to Dianne Feinstein, who is 88 years old.

Although the radically rightwing radio talk show host, Larry Elder, is said to be the frontrunner among Republicans to replace Newsom, any of them would be a disaster. They’re all confirmed Trumpers: anti-choice, homophobic, anti-science, anti-immigrant, and in favor of cutting taxes on the rich. Most of them have vowed to do away with all mask requirements, and to make proofs of vaccination illegal. We do not want any of those people to be Governor of California!

And yet it might happen. If it does, what about Feinstein? Everybody knows she could drop dead at any moment. With this in mind, she should resign immediately, giving Newsom the opportunity to name her successor well before the Sept. 14 recall election date.

She may not want to: she’s stubborn. A lot of people urged her to resign before the 2018 election, but she refused. That was then; this is now; the stakes are far higher. Dianne has had a good, long run in the Senate (nearly 30 years), has earned her place in the California history books, and is very rich. With whatever years remain to her, she could retire to a comfortable life, perhaps writing a memoir. Her mansion in Pacific Heights and lavish oceanfront home in Stinson Beach provide her with plenty of comfort. She can be proud of her stellar career.

If she steps down, Newsom would have a wealth of potential replacements from the House of Representatives: Adam Schiff, Eric Swallwell, Jackie Speier, Ro Khanna, Ted Lieu, Karen Bass, Linda Sanchez all come to mind (I’d love to see Maxine Waters in the Senate, driving the Republicans out of their minds, but we need someone who will remain there for a long time, and she’s already 83. Ditto for Barbara Lee, who’s 75).

There’s another good reason to vote NO on the recall: if God forbid a Republican is elected, government in California will instantly come crashing down into total gridlock. The Democratic-controlled Legislature will rightfully refuse to cooperate with a rightwing neo-fascist Trump supporter. This would be an ugly situation, and the ultimate losers would be the People of California.

If you agree with my thinking, please help to advance this message. Contact Feinstein and respectfully ask her to resign. I’ve been a strong Dianne supporter since she was Mayor of San Francisco; I was a young political activist working on transit issues, and she always took my calls and was very helpful. She’s done a great job over the decades as Senator, especially on gun control. But there comes a time in every career when it’s time to step aside and let a younger generation take over. For Dianne Feinstein, that time, urgently, is now.


Old habits die hard

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At Waterbar Marilyn and I ordered a platter of oysters and when our Italian server looked to see who wanted the wine list, naturally I extended my hand. For nearly 40 years in my relationship with Marilyn I’ve been “the wine guy” (Marilyn has her own expertises) but I’ve never been so arrogant as to assume I should do the ordering for her. So after I decided on a Muscadet de Sevre et Maine for myself, I handed the list to Marilyn and she picked a Pouilly-Fumé—another good choice.

When the wines came I had to try them both with the oysters—that’s what I mean by “old habits die hard.” This is a little snobbish and must strike certain people (although not Marilyn, who’s used to it) as eccentric, but what can I say? It’s what I do. Wine-and-food pairing is integral to the soul of the wine lover. The Muscadet was as good with the bivalves as I’d expected. It was cold, light and bracing, steely to the point of mineral, and in the tang you could taste the wind from the Bay of Biscay that washes over the Melon de Bourgogne grapevines.

One hundred eighty miles to the east, also on the Loire, is the source of the Pouilly-Fumé. This growing region, along with neighboring Sancerre, yields what the British writer Andrew Jeffords calls “some of the very greatest incarnations of Sauvignon Blanc.” It’s a cool area, climate-wise, but not as cool as in Muscadet, and nowhere near as cool as, say, Marlborough, which is why you rarely get that methoxypyrazine smell. Instead, Pouilly-Fumés are generous in fruit, and seldom oaky. Compared to the Muscadet, the wine was rounder and softer, and I was surprised that I preferred it to the Muscadet, which was a tad too dry for the sweetness of the oysters.

It’s impossible to talk about this stuff with anyone except another wine lover. Baseball fans go on and on about ERAs and who’s on the IL. Politicos are obsessed with races in Kansas’s 2nd and Virginia’s 7th districts. Tarantino freaks argue about whether The Hateful Eight is superior to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Foodies debate who makes the best tacos in town. But leave it to winos to worry about whether Muscadet or Pouilly-Fumé goes better with oysters!

And yet this is who we are. If you recognize yourself in this scenario, don’t apologize for it. Yes, we have to keep our obsessions under control: it would not be right to pull this stuff at, say, the Thanksgiving table, when Aunt Ethel and Uncle Jerry just want to enjoy the turkey and stuffing, and not be subjected to a Talmudic debate on wine. But when we’re in the rarified company of our own kind, feel free to let loose.


Oakland sued for failure to enforce its own policies

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(Readers: this is a copy of my post this morning on the website of my political lobbying group, the Coalition for a Better Oakland. While it concerns the city in which I live, it’s relevant to cities around the country that are dealing with the scourge of encampments.)

It’s with great pleasure I share with you the news that our friend Seneca Scott, executive director of Neighbors Together Oakland (NTO), yesterday announced that NTO is suing the City of Oakland for failure to implement Oakland’s Encampment Management Policy (EMP).

The EMP, you’ll recall, was unanimously approved by the Oakland City Council last October, with the full support of Mayor Schaaf. It carefully defined “no-go” areas where tents would be prohibited, including parks, and was set to begin on Jan. 1, 2021. It was a sane, wise policy, but never implemented. The City Council, says Scott, “ignored the EMP out of fear of political blowback.” The lawsuit demands “that the courts intervene and hold the City accountable for enforcing the law in order to restore balance to city streets and neighborhoods…”.

While the Coalition for a Better Oakland is not party to the lawsuit, we fully support it, and will do whatever we can to be helpful.

NTO’s lawsuit, which was filed in Alameda County Superior Court, is similar to one filed in Los Angeles by the LA Alliance for Human Rights, which is suing Los Angeles over its failure to resolve the encampment problem. That followed a rash of other cities being sued for the same reason: their epic failure to clean up encampments by providing shelter for the unhoused.

There are several interesting things about these lawsuits. First, they denote very clearly that cities have to be compelled to take action on encampments; left to their own devices, they remain inert, paralyzed by fear of pro-encampment activists. Secondly, the lawsuits require cities to not only clean up encampments, but to offer their residents some kind of “four walls and a roof” in which to relocate. This is not just for reasons of compassion, but for legal necessity: the landmark Martin v. Boise legal decision, which was left intact by the U.S. Supreme Court, requires “that homeless persons cannot be punished for sleeping outside on public property in the absence of adequate alternatives.” Cities have interpreted Martin v. Boise, probably correctly, as meaning they dare not roust homeless people unless they can give them someplace else to live.

It’s great that cities finally are being compelled to deal with encampments, after so many years of official denial and ineptitude. NTO has done a brave and good thing. Without their lawsuit, Oakland government, and especially its renegade City Council, will continue to drift in inaction and lassitude, pretending to be progressive but ultimately caring about nothing but campaign contributions.

Left unanswered by the lawsuit, meanwhile, are three huge questions: (1) What kind of shelter must cities provide to homeless people? (2) how do cities pay for it? and (3) What do we do with homeless people who refuse to leave their tents, even after being offered shelter?


Vote NO on the recall!

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I still think Gov. Newsom is going to beat this Republican recall. But the polls are a lot closer than they were a few months ago, when I predicted he’d win by double digits.

Now, I suspect his margin will be in the single digits. Still a win, but not a very big one.

It’s obvious to me what’s happening. Newsom inherited a series of gruesome issues. The wildfires are clearly not his fault, although Republicans are blaming him for not clearing the forests.

The housing situation is clearly not his fault, although Republicans are making it sound like Newsom is refusing to build badly-needed housing.

COVID-19 is clearly not his fault. He has tackled the pandemic with as much grace and intelligence as anyone could expect. But Republicans are suggesting he personally imported the virus from that Wuhan lab and spread it around California.

It’s only fair, I suppose, to blame The Guy at the Top when things go badly. But it’s not fair. He’s done the best he could, under the toughest circumstances imaginable. His critics, especially those Trump Republicans, love to play Monday morning quarterback. But what would they have done, had they been in power? They would have ended mask mandates and school shutdowns, thus putting hundreds of thousands more Californians at risk of serious disease or death. They would have cut taxes on billionaires, and ended Newsom’s efforts to combat global warming. They would have done whatever they can to make California unfriendly to LGBTQ people. They would have brought the evangelical churches into the halls of government, with all the attendant horrors. Above all, even if a Republican were to replace Newsom (which I do not for a moment believe), that new Governor would be dead on arrival, politically speaking: facing a Democratic legislature, he would get nothing done, except to give nasty speeches that would tear Californians apart, pitting inland rural districts against the more populous coastal cities and suburbs. The last thing California needs is more division.

The Governor is handling the stress well. He’s out there every day, doing his job, whether it’s at a hospital or in a forest or school. Looking poised and confident, he’s leading our complicated State as effectively as any modern Governor I’ve seen, including Jerry Brown. I’m sure that, inwardly, this cannot be a happy time for Gavin; we all want to be loved, politicians more than anyone, and it must hurt him to realize that a good chunk of Californians want to kick him out.

But the Governor ought to take comfort in these two facts: 1) most of the recall proponents are Trump Republicans who do not have the interests of California, or America, at heart, and 2) even those Democrats and Independents who may be thinking of kicking him out are going to change their minds at the last minute. As they look over the Republican field of candidates, including Caitlyn Jenner, they see a clown car—although that’s not fair to actual clowns, who as a rule are not dangerous lunatics. I strongly believe even those inclined to fire the Governor will reconsider, when they consider the alternative.


Afghanistan: the lesson

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Those Trump-publicans are trying to pin the blame for Afghanistan on Biden, but it won’t work, because Americans know the truth: Trump started the “get out of Afghanistan” parade and Biden inherited it and got out.

I didn’t blame Trump at the time. Even a broken clock is right twice a day! America had been in Afghanistan nearly twenty years; Trump understood how stupid it was to remain there a day longer. He began the negotiations with the Taliban to ensure an orderly transition. If the situation today is out of control, why not blame Trump?

However, I won’t do that. I shared his frustrations, along with a majority of Americans. What the hell were we doing in a land war, a civil war, in a godforsaken Asian country, and a fundamentalist Islamic one at that? Yes, Al Qaeda and the Taliban deserved what they got after Sept. 11. We beat the crap out of them. But the warning signs were all over the place. After we overthrew the Taliban, we should have gotten out, and left Afghanis to stew in their own juices, with a warning: If you harbor terrorists again, we will destroy you.

But we didn’t deploy our full strength, and that was our strategic mistake. As an old karate guy, I can tell you that withholding your most powerful blows is not the way to win a fight. You have to give it everything you’ve got, because your opponent will certainly give it everything he’s got. In other words, there’s no time for the Marquis of Queensbury rules.

Does “everything we’ve got” mean nuclear weapons? Yes. Tactical ones. I know this isn’t a popular thing to say. It horrifies people. But if we’re not prepared to win wars using “everything we’ve got,” then we shouldn’t fight wars in the first place. Did we learn nothing from Vietnam?


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