Wednesday, July 9

Well, That's Certainly A Grilled Rib-Eye With Porcini Mushrooms, Spinach Salad With Chick Peas And Feta, And A Dove Dark Chocolate Piece For Thought.

Reuters: "Study Shows Value of Food Diary in Losing Weight".

THIS shows you precisely why a little education is a dangerous thing: elitist that I am, I've been keeping a food roman à clef, where everything I ate appears slightly disguised, but not enough that insiders wouldn't recognize them. Plus I had a really good twist ending planned. I think Viacom may be interested.

Fortunately, Roy reprised this two-year-old NRO wonder from wingnut back-bencher Melinda Ledden Sidak--who, assuming her most-Googled work isn't just a pure timecard job, spends most of her days baking cookies, mixing cocktails, and hoovering the collection of exotic-animal-skin rugs before hubby gets home--which reminded me, at the edge of despair, that whatever hardships the possessor of A Little Learning faces, it still beats hell out of 21st century galloping Tory megalomania.
I have a confession to make. It’s about an embarrassing habit that has earned me the sneers and pitying glances of sommeliers and right-thinking people from Europe to the Caribbean. You see, I love to drink Big California chardonnays. Big, fruity, buttery, oaky, in-your-face, so-over, 90s-style chardonnay.

And I refuse to apologize for it.

Let's begin by asking ourselves why this is important. The answer may surprise you: it isn't.

But it is personal, for a number of reasons. One, I've been educating myself about wine for thirty years, since the day I was handed a wine list and asked to make the selection for a big-shot dinner, and I had absolutely no idea what I was looking at. Second, I've been a curmudgeon even longer than that, and while the easy faux-curmudgeonliness of the wingnut right generally rolls off my back, it, like anti-evolutionism, anti-intellectualism, and Driving With Your Goddam Cell Phone Plastered To Your Ear should, on general principles, be publicly denounced and humiliated from time to time, even though the intended target is sure to miss the point. Three: if I've learned anything at all in that time about wine it's that the perennial question about crappy, barely-merchantable products--namely, is the greedy producer or the idiot public most to blame?--is fairly easy to answer where wine is concerned: it's the idiots, and especially American idiots.

We're going to try to get through this with little or no Wine Talk, especially coming from someone who makes no claim of real connoisseurship. So let's begin by saying that, in general, this sort of "I'm an aggressive dumbass, and you can't stop me!" approach has its place, and that place is in the infield watching a NASCAR race. Reverse snobbery is an exponentially-worse intellectual transgression than regular snobbery, because the real snob is required to learn something first.

Then there is the business of believing, or appearing to believe, that the History of the World began when your mother's contractions started coming a minute apart. Being that these days when the temperature tops 70º, but fails to break 88.5º, I am subjected, whatever my preference, to the company of a five-year-old male and, frequently, his seven-year-old brother, and their long-winded expositions on what they find "hilarious", I have come to suspect the education system is to blame for this. Specifically, the pre-analytical child is barraged with facts, which he is taught to regurgitate as readily as he does red-dyed bars of pure sugar flavored with some chem-lab substitute for cinnamon. The thing he does not learn, from what I can see, is that those facts came from someone else, who, at least at this point, knows more about the subject than he does.

And so to Ms (pardon; the offense was fully intentional) Ledden Sidak, whose age we are unable to determine by indifferent internet search, but who lends us a clue right off the bat by presuming an ubiquitous, wildly popular, and much-maligned style of California Chardonnay which gained prominence in the 1980s belongs rather to the following decade, when, one must assume, she is most likely to have first come into contact with it. This is compounded by egregiously suggesting (facile curmudgeonliness, again) that all disputatiousness was a simple matter of a shift in elitist fashion, as though the world's premier white wine grape were a boy band, or a pair of leg warmers.

Now, a brief word about wine talk: it's ludicrous, sometimes embarrassing, and it's been pwned since Thurber (there is, somewhere in my collection, a vintage [sorry] cartoon rendering of two spike-haired, safety-pin-bedecked Punks seated at a Bistro table as one says to the other, "It's a naive domestic glue, but I think you'll be amused by its pretensions."). But there's no other way to talk about physical taste. Try to describe a steak. It's jargon. It's poetic. It also can carry very specific meaning. It takes a lot of experience to use well. Ms Ledden Sidak does not. Big, fruity, buttery, and oaky might all apply to California chardonnay of the particularly blowsy sort she prefers (though I'd use a lot of care with "fruity") but all have become trite through over-application by the ill-informed, something which is not much improved by that "in-your-face".

I have nothing against professions of love for the style, though they won't come from me, but, first, it would have been better to acknowledge that difference of opinion exists and is firmly grounded, by adding, well, "blowsy", or "boarderline psychotic", or something to suggest you appreciate that not all opinion in the world is to be judged by whether or not it's yours. Propounding a particular style of wine, particularly one from so noble a grape as Chardonnay--especially given that "nobility" in a grape denotes its ability to take many, sometimes subtly distinct, forms and remain successful--is a neophyte's foolishness. Simple discrimination and pep-rally enthusiasm are not accomplishments. They're not even the beginning of understanding. Listen, the true connoisseur doesn't care if you put ice in the damn stuff, and two olives, if that's how you like it. He'll probably bristle if you tell him you're right and he's the prisoner of the oenological PC police, though.

We can't go on without a word about "oaky".   Sorry.  I have a friend who worked for many years in the best wine store in town, and to this day one cannot say "oaky chardonnay" in his presence without first making sure he won't hit any furniture as he falls. If you break it to him gently and while seated, he may recount the time when, one busy and exasperating Saturday, the umpteenth customer asked him for a "really oaky chard", and he suggested buying the cheapest bottle in the house and putting a twig in it. Wine is not supposed to "taste" "like" oak. Or of oak, except in particular circumstances which would include the fact that one is tasting it too young, before the imparted oak has had a chance to harmonize with its surroundings. You're supposed to be tasting wine. This attitude is apparently a by-product of the American discovery of Food, circa 1975, after which a nation whose primary culinary influence is three island nations known almost exclusively for boiling everything until the flavor is safely removed, decided, by the Inverse Law of Idiocy, that everything on one's plate, or in one's glass, should have a flavor capable of stunning a mid-sized dog. Chipotle-Mango Mayonnaise this! motherfucker.
Chardonnay always has seemed to be a very loaded sort of wine compared with other varieties. People think they know something about you the instant they hear you order. The central stigma in the U.S. is its alleged association with affluent political liberals. The term “chardonnay-sipping,” usually is paired with other derogatory compound phrases such as “Volvo-driving,” “brie (or sushi)-eating” “running shoe wearing” and less colorful epithets like “snob” and “sissy.” In this formulation, by the way, chardonnay sippers always live in “leafy” neighborhoods.

Rule #2: just because other people are stupider than you, it doesn't make you smart. Especially when they're the people who share your political allegiances and sense of humorlessness.
Recently, I have tried to break out of my wine rut. My husband and I vacationed on the French island of St. Bartelemy, enjoying delectable food and warm sunshine. There was only one problem with our otherwise perfect holiday in paradise. There was not a single bottle of California-style chardonnay to be had at any price.

Sheesh, the ocean was nearby. Why didn't you walk into it?
Oh, we tried. The chardonnay grape is the basis for many famous French labels such as Chablis, Pouilly-Fuisse, and Montrachet. We tried many an expensive bottle to try to feed our nasty habit, to no avail. Each one of them to our palates seemed watery, or acidic, or too tart. One afternoon, we even set off on a desperate mission to a huge warehouse literally stacked floor to ceiling with wine. The nice French lady who helped me seemed dumbfounded when I asked if they had any California wine among the thousands of bottles surrounding us. “But….thees is a French island!” she asked, bewildered.

Okay, first, "thees is a French island!" is not a question, and, second, I'm guessing that when you replied, "But I vant zee American zhard-o-nay," it didn't help matters.

Lesson--where are we?--three. Zee fucking Mow-ra-chay, from a good vintage and producer, is the goddam epitome of the sort of wine you claim to like, but without the two kilograms/liter of oak chips. French wines are naturally more acidic than California wines (which have a severe problem with over-ripe, acid-shedding grapes).  Acidity provides the wine with a backbone (and, in the lack, is why California Chardonnays are so often flabby). It's a good thing. The wine may be "tart" to someone expecting, maybe, a Diet Pepsi, and its naturally lower alcohol may seem "watery" to someone expecting a Jack Daniel's, which, incidentally, is nearly as sweet as that Pepsi, suggesting that American palates, generally educated by the mass market, might benefit from a long-overdue weaning. Greater acidity and less "alcohol burn" make them much better accompaniments to food, which is where, generally, wine should be consumed, not as a cocktail with a faux-Continental flair which one then poor-mouths as not American enough.
Later, when I explained to the proprietor of one of the island’s finest restaurants about my inexplicable craving for California (or Australian—they do it well too) chardonnay, he offered his sincere condolences.

I'll bet.
We decided to stick to pina coladas and beer for the rest of the trip.

Why stop there?
Upon our return, we could hardly wait to open a frosty (yes, we like our wine incorrectly and unfashionably cold, too) Rombauer Carneros chardonnay, which we buy by the case and often to the exclusion of everything else other than the occasional splurge on a Kistler or Newton. For those of you who share my leanings, you absolutely cannot do better than Rombauer. How fitting that such a sexy, muscular and swaggering chardonnay should have been created by a winery founded by a former fighter pilot. No watery French swill here.

By the Great Horned Satan and his leafy, tree-lined streets, lady, the reason you like it frosty (wow, I'm shocked) is that home cryogenics numbs the fucking excesses and hides the lack of acidity. Why don't you learn to take it like a man? Although I suppose Koerner Rombauer, stud fighter jock from the California National Guard might miss the fellatio.


Anonymous said...

...No watery French swill here...


This brings to mind a semi-remembered line from, among a galaxy of other absolute favorites, my personal favorite Jeeves-and Wooster character Spode, the would-be aristofascist: " namby-pamby French knee here..."

I do hope I recalled that line correctly. Oh well. Back to the source material for the n-teeth time for Pooka... trudge, trudge

Hail Spode

his (insert suspiciously crooked X here) deutschmark


aimai said...

simply brilliant. I have nothing to add. I can't even figure out which were the best lines, they were all superb.

Oh, what the hell, this is one of my favorites:

This attitude is apparently a by-product of the American discovery of Food, circa 1975, after which a nation whose primary culinary influence is three island nations known almost exclusively for boiling everything until the flavor is safely removed, decided, by the Inverse Law of Idiocy, that everything on one's plate, or in one's glass, should have a flavor capable of stunning a mid-sized dog. Chipotle-Mango Mayonnaise this! motherfucker.

Kathy said...

Such Boorish manners! Why didn't they bring a case of Calif wine with them. Or visit Catalina, if they wanted an island vacation with Ca. wine.

I myself like an inexpensive brand of wine from Gilroy CA (garlic capital of the world) called Fortino's. Their Burgundy is especially good, tho I think what is called 'simple' or 'single note'. Its better the 2nd day after opening, but on the 3rd day it turns to vinegar. (DON"T cook with it, it'll ruin the food). But I didn't take it to France when I visited 2 years ago.

I really enjoyed the wine there. And the coffee was splendid. The French people were polite and agreeable.

LA Confidential Pantload said...

Personally I go for the Guantanamo Vineyards label: a select crop wiretapped at the source and held in cargo vans to absorb and concentrate the powers of the sun, then whisked off to a holding tank where it's lights on, 24-7, for several weeks. Further refinement to deepen and enrich the natural flavors is added by cellaring in total darkness for five to six years, periodically waterboarding to add that necessary complexity yielded by forceful interaction with the surrounding environment.

This bracing treatment yields a true aficionado's delight of suicidal impulses under a strong finish of screaming psychosis.

R. Porrofatto said...

Amazing. Because she couldn't get that one California wine on a French island, she avoided all wines to be had there. If they didn't serve her favorite Rice-a-Roni would she have turned her nose up at the Boeuf Bourgignon? Why bother traveling to a French island at all? And I'll never understand the need some of these people have to imbue their narrow-minded, even plebeian, tastes with all that they, i.e., mankind, hold true, to the point where a hankering for pizza becomes an existential lesson in morality, courage, manliness, whatever. Ms. Sidak managed to elevate her limited wine choice all the way from prissy limp-wristed liberal to macho muscular fighter-pilot conservative in minutes, for no other reason than that's what it had to be. Truly nuts.

And what aimai said.

Scott C. said...

By the Great Horned Satan and his leafy, tree-lined streets, lady, the reason you like it frosty (wow, I'm shocked) is that home cryogenics numbs the fucking excesses and hides the lack of acidity. Why don't you learn to take it like a man? Although I suppose Koerner Rombauer, stud fighter jock from the California National Guard might miss the fellatio.

Okay, clearly nothing's going to top this today, so I think I'll call it quits and go have a drink.

(Wait...England, Ireland...What's the third food-boiling island nation?)

Jay B. said...

(Wait...England, Ireland...What's the third food-boiling island nation?)

I'm going with Germany here. As a native East Coaster, however, you can also make the claim for Poland and Lithuania (the latter part of my heritage (boiled cabbage, dough and beef), the former allowed the latter use of their White Eagles hall).

Thankfully, my Italian part culinarily overwhelmed the Irish and Lithuanian.

Anyway, Doghouse, that was dizzying. Your deconstruction, of course, but also the madness within the target and her central complaint.

I literally can't conceive of someone who would even lie about liking wine going to a French island and complaining they don't serve Californian Chardonnay (Pina Fucking Coladas?!?!). It takes an epic amount of willful stupidity to achieve this amount of "triumphal" obstinance.

As a confession -- I love wine. But I've found $6 bottles at Trader Joe's which are perfectly crafted for my palette. A sub-vin de pays house wine at a Parisian bistro was a life-loving gift. I've also sampled a $500 bottle of Bordeaux which tasted every bit like sickly-sweet barbecue sauce (A $200 bottle tasted better than anything I've ever had in my life).

It's not that I can't believe people like this exist, I just can't believe they'd write pridefully about something so stupid.

Anonymous said...

James, this is one of the most concise, beautiful eviscerations of one person's stupidity ever committed to print. Thank you.

Bill In OH said...

That was a true pleasure. I'm going to be sending a link to all my wine-enjoying friends, because we all know someone like Ms. Ledden Sidak; confidently clueless. Thanks, Doghouse.

Kia said...

This post is probably the best thing about wine I will read in my entire life.

Jennifer said...

What an excellent post. It's most definitely not big, fruity, buttery, or oaky. I'm guessing Ms. Ledden Sidak might say it was cold, but that certainly didn't hide the acidity.

KathyR said...


I lived in Davis, CA in the middle '80s. I drank a lot of wine in the middle to late '80s. A LOT of wine. I went to Napa a lot in the middle and late '80s. I knew more about wine then than I do now. Because now I am cheap and don't get out much.

Big, yes. If by "big," you mean smacks your mouth and nose with alcohol. Buttery, OK, sure. Oaky, (steady there, Dog's friend) yes. At least kind of woody-smoky. But "fruity?" Uh, no. And not really gonna happen with all that wood and butter and bigness. Yeesh.

The cold thing is the dead giveaway. Most people who just don't like wine will drink some if it's cold. Because then they can't really taste it.

Imagine going to "a French Island" and drinking beer (probably American) and pina coladas. Fer chrissakes. Imagine going to Belgium and drinking only Bud and eating only Hersheys.

Also, I have never ever heard anyone called "running shoe wearing." WTF? "Birkenstock-wearing," yes. And that is justifiably an epithet. "Running shoe wearing?"

I apologize for the length of this comment. Touched a nerve.

Gabriel Ratchet said...

I can really add nothing to this, other than I feel privileged to have witnessed such a masterful and well-deserved smackdown.

Anonymous said...

And aria and a in-your-face windmill dunk on team and a player who both richly deserve it, all in one. Thank you.


Red said...

Sweet Jesus, rich people pick the stupidest shit to complain about, don't they?

Daryl C said...

(Wait...England, Ireland...What's the third food-boiling island nation?)

I'm going with Germany here.

Wait, what?

heydave said...

And the Stoopid Amur'can Tourist plods along.

Brian said...

Great post! I'm a wine nerd...this gets linked over at the discussion board I frequent.

Rombauer Chardonnay is, to put it frankly, vile. Perfect for the pina colada crowd.

The strange thing is by modern American standards their merlots and cabs are rather restrained, even elegant, and almost "Euro" in character. (Except for the Zin. The zin is targeted to people who find the Chardonnay too "winey" and prefer beverages that taste like Red Koolaid) They sell a lot of Chardonnay, does their brother winery, Frank Family (owned by a Disney exec, so conservatively correct as well).

Itchycoo Parka said...

i must have written this same rant three or four times, not to speak of ranting it out loud at social gatherings, only regarding coffee instead of wine.

bravo. bravissimo.

Keifus said...

Great, now I feel bad about using the word oak-a-riffic on Wednesday. When will I ever get it right?

There are a few places to go in America to eat and drink. And I don't think I'd order anything but California wines in Napa valley, either. (What a waste of a trip to France.) Mystifying attitude, and a brilliant takedown of it.

John Protevi said...

Doghouse Riley: il miglior fabbro

Fluffybunnyfeet said...

(Wait...England, Ireland...What's the third food-boiling island nation?)

Arrr, me lad, 'twould be the land o' haggis.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Riley, I appreciate your writing a great deal.

Kiroto said...

While I am inclined to agree that the love of a not-that-great wine is not a sound decision in my book of opinions. I also have to admit that when it comes down to it, people like what they like and god love america for providing them the freedom to do so.

In the same way that I think McDonnalds is sickening to my stomach, the reality is that millions of americans have come to love the taste of fried fat and their blessed canola oil.

Your blurring the lines of manicured taste that has been molded artistically and analyzed with passion and the make strong, sweet or salty and appeal to the fundamentals of my taste buds at a low cost and heavy serving mindsets.

So, my recommendation, is don't judge the guy behind at the bar with the biker shirt on, he has just as much of a right in this life as you do and his opinion counts just the same and very likely, is the salt of the earth.

Nobility is being knowing that your shit stinks just the same.