2008 Finnzies Winners Named (Aaaaayyyy!)

December 2, 2008

For those of you who read this blog and who don’t live in the greater Memphis, TN area let me apologize for writing a blog that won’t really pertain to you unless you decide to vacation here.

With that said, it’s time to give the 2008 year-end Finn Wine Awards, better known as the “Finnzies”. (At this point, I need for Henry Winkler to say “Aaaaayyyyy!“) By winning one of these you receive nothing more than recognition, but really, isn’t that why you got into the wine business to start?!?

Category 1: Wine Shops and Wine People Who Pissed Me Off This Year

Surprisingly there were no winners in this category. Maybe my annual “kind to all” New Year’s resolution has actually softened up my heart. I’ve also elected to apply this resolution to people making Facebook friendship requests and now I accept all of these requests. It has made for some very strange bedfellows to say the least. I intend to keep this resolution next year even if it means accepting a friendship request from a certain N.Y. Times, Houston based writer if asked. Of course, the ultimate test won’t occur until my ex-wife makes a request (click on the link to see my ex-wife). Fortunately I don’t see that one happening.

Category 2: Novice Wine Drinker Of the Year

This year’s award goes to Mike Marshall, attorney-at-law. Mike has done several things to earn this award: (a) he has “gladly” offered up some of his personal wine collection to me, (b) he has offered up his home for wine tastings and parties, (c) he has attended Sip Around the World in each of the last two years with me (I would ask that you don’t judge him too harshly for this), and (d) he has offered me free off-the-cuff legal advice as needed. Congratulations Mike!

Category 3: Best Wine Merchant

This year’s winner is Josh Hammond, proprietor of Buster’s Liquors located at 191 S. Highland St., Memphis, TN 38111. Josh has always taken great care of me. Here are just a few examples:

  • He has always carried out my purchases for me. Why he does this, I don’t know since I am larger than him, but it’s just one more example of the level of customer service he offers.
  • Since I have purchased numerous cases from his shop — some when he was there, some when he was not, some with plastic, and some with cash — he almost always gives me a case discount even when I’m not making a case purchase from him.
  • He will special order wine for me when his wholesalers can get it.
  • He will let me in on some his very-hard-to-get stuff before it hits the floor.

In short, if you ever form your own wine group and make most of your purchases with Josh then he will take care of you. Also, since Buster’s sells more wine than anyone else in the State Of Tennessee (take that Frugal MacDoogal’s in Nashville) he usually has the largest and most varied selection since his wholesalers are usually going to give him first crack at anything they have.

Please make sure you tell Josh I sent you! It will help both of us.

Category 4: Best New Wine Merchant

Latham Oates is the owner and general manager of Forest Hill Wine Merchants located at 9087 Poplar Avenue, Suite 101, Germantown, TN 38138 (in the shopping center on the southwest corner of Poplar Ave. and Forest Hill-Irene Rd.). Latham is a reformed attorney and a great guy who is wonderful at helping the clueless masses in their quest to find the perfect bottle of wine (the right price, the right taste, paired with the right food). He has a selection of wines whose breadth is incredible and I love the layout of this rather large wine shop. In short, I really, really, really need this place to succeed, because I really, really, really like shopping there and it is convenient to my home. It is definitely a “destination” shop.

Once again, make you mention to Latham where you read about his shop so he can help you out.

Category 5: Best Winery Owner

I am officially retiring the owners of Adelsheim Vineyard from this category. As such, I feel obligated to make this statement one last time: they are the nicest owners of a winery I have ever met. The private tasting they gave me was so far beyond the call of duty I can’t even begin to describe it. Their Pinot Noirs are some of the best made on the planet and everyone should always have at least a couple of their bottles in their private cellar. 

I am also retiring Morgan Clendenen, wife of Jim Clendenen, owner of Au Bon Climat, from this category. A couple of years back Morgan ended up in a bidding war on some cigars against me and one of my friends at a L’Ete du Vin auction. At the time, we did not know who she was, but we told her we would quit upping the bid if she would give each of us a couple of cigars from the box. Although we figured we would never see her again she tracked us down and gave us the cigars. She was then promptly introduced from the stage for all of the wines she had donated to the charity auction. She is truly a class act. As a side note, the same friend once had lunch at Au Bon Climat a few years later with Jim Clendenen and he continues to rave about how nice he was and what a great experience he had.

With all of that said, this year’s winner is Dr. Michael Dragutsky, owner of Cornerstone Cellars. Dr. Dragutsky is a Memphis and he always donates, and more importantly shows up for Sip Around the World. Dr. Dragutsky is passionate about the great Cabs he produces. Year in and year out his creations consistently receive high ratings. On top of this, Dr. Dragutsky is always willing to patiently discuss his creations with both knowledgeable and novice wine tasters alike. In short, he is an extremely nice guy and a very good wine maker.

Category 6: Best Local Restaurant Wine List

There are a lot of Memphis restaurants deserving consideration in this category. Grisanti’s has always been noted for their wine list. I also like the wine lists at Encore, Spindini, Flemings, Ruth’s Chris, and Three Oaks, but my favorite wine list this year was found at Napa Cafe on Sanderlin. If you ever have a chance to dine in their wine cellar, I would encourage you to do so. Just be prepared to have your conversation interrupted by the wait staff coming in to find the various bottles which have been ordered by other diners. However, the ambiance and privacy more than offset these few minor interruptions.

Category 7: Best Wine Gospel Apostle

This one was rather easy. Carol Tidwell Simpson has created a Facebook group for oenophiles called “Folks Who Think Wine Should Count As A Serving o’Fruit in the Food Pyramid” that in a very short amount of time has grown organically by leaps and bounds. It has a comments section and discussion boards that are growing. It is well worth creating a personal Facebook page to check it out.

Category 8: Best Wine Critic (Outside Of Me)

Another easy category this year. The winner is James Molesworth of Wine Spectator. James was the writer who picked this year’s top WS selection, Casa Lapostolle’s Clos Apalta Colchagua Valley 2005. If you click on the link to JM’s name you can see a video of him discussing this pick. By the way, James has an enjoyable blog on the Wine Spectator site that I would recommend reading, but only after checking to see if I’ve had a recent update.

That is it for this year. However, I will from time-to-time give “shout outs” to those individuals making a difference in the wine world who I deem worthy.

Now go out and Vici Vino!


Wine Education 101 – Wine Fight: New World v. Old World Wines

November 27, 2008

The following definition is from Wikipedia:

Old World Wine refers primarily to wine made in Europe but can also include other regions of the Mediterranean basin with long histories of winemaking such as North Africa and the Near East. The phrase is often used in contrast to “New World Wine” which refers primarily to wines from New World wine regions such as the United StatesAustraliaSouth America and South Africa

Anyone who has ever tried to purchase a french or italian wine for the first time already knows there is a significant difference between old world wines and new world wines. This difference is both significant and fundamental and not just because an old world wine label is more difficult for Americans to read and understand.

Since old world winemakers have been at this whole winemaking thing longer than most of the rest of the world, they have had quite a bit more time to figure out which vine stocks make the best wines based on the “terroir” of the “appellation”. In the wine world, these are two important terms:

Terroir – Wine critics disagree as to an exact definition of this term, however, in general terms terroir refers to the interaction of the climate, soil, and topography on the grapes and grape vines.

Appellation – A geographical indication used to identify where the grapes for a wine were grown. The rules that govern appellations are dependent on the country in which the wine was produced. The term is often used interchangeably with viticultural area.

Each appellation in the old world has established strict rules and laws regarding both their blended and non-blended wines. For starters, these rules and laws dictate the grape varietals which can be grown in each appellation. For instance, a red left bank Bordeaux will always be a Cabernet Sauvignon usually with Merlot and Cabernet Franc blended in to soften the tannins. A right bank Bordeaux, on the other hand, will always be a Merlot usually with Cabernet Sauvignon blended in to give it more character and structure.

These same Old World rules and laws also dictate how the wines of any appellation are labelled. Continuing with our Bordeaux example, both bottles would contain the name of the specific Bordeaux appellation. The left bank bottle might be named something like Haut-Medoc or Margaux, while the right bank bottle might be named a Saint Emilion. The label would also indicate the winery’s classification. Traditionally those wines listed as first growths (Premiers or 1 er Crus) had the best reputations and the highest prices. Back then this equated to quality. These days a bottle of Petrus which is from the right bank Bordeaux appellation of Pomerol will cost you more than any of the five first growth wines.

Now I know some of you are asking is this really all that different from how new world vintners label their releases? After all, don’t most American wine consumers think quality is equated with the amount of information contained on the label? Shouldn’t a 2005 Finn’s Cabernet Sauvignon, C.H.’s Vineyard, Private Reserve Special Selection be far better than 2005 Finn’s Cabernet Sauvignon, California and isn’t that kind of similar to the classification systems found in the old world? Well, much like the old world, you can no longer equate quality with over simplified rules. Often times, The Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator will rank a lower end wine higher than it’s high priced brethren. So in this way, yes, there is not much difference between the two worlds.

However, when it comes to taste and winemaking there is a general fundamental difference between the two worlds. If you were to taste a top-of-the-line Oregon Pinot Noir and a Vosne-Romanee (which is considered the best section of Burgundy, France where they make Pinot Noir wines) should you, as a novice wine taster, be able to tell a difference in most cases. Well, believe it or not the answer is yes. Old world winemakers want you to taste the terroir as part of the experience. When you taste them you should always pick up at least a hint of the soil in which the grapes were grown. Typically, these wines will be a bit fuller than their new world counterparts which utilize more science in achieving their taste.

This is due to two things. The old world winemaker is somewhat limited by the aforementioned appellation rules and regulations in how much he can alter his wine. He is limited in where the grapes can be grown, in how much he can blend in other varietals, and what he can do chemically to alter characteristics of the wine. In the new world, the regulations are looser and most vintners are interested in making the most appealing possible wine (i.e., the most profitable wine). Therefore, as a general rule, most new world wines will have a slightly cleaner taste with less earthiness.

Now, I had always heard this anecdotally, but wasn’t sure how true it was until I had a blind tasting one night with one of my wine groups. Our theme was Ryder Cup. We had U.S. wines tasted against their European counterparts. Since the tasting was done blind, nobody knew which wine was which. We tasted two wines at a time with each side being tasted against its counterpart. The results were consistent with the group: regardless of price, the U.S. wine “won” each tasting in seven out of eight categories.

This told me a couple of things. One, even a novice can tell the difference, and two, U.S. wine consumers do have a collective defined taste. See, I really do learn something new every day and I hope this helped you too.

In the meantime, go out there and veni, vidi, vici, vino!

Wine Reviews – Let the Stampede Begin

November 18, 2008

If you really want to have some fun, then go hang out at a wine shop the day after the Wine Spectator Top 100 list is released. You can watch person after person trying to find and purchase the same bottles of wine. Feel free to mess with the ones who appear to be wine snobs by saying things like:

  • Yeah, that’s the bottle WS recommended last year and boy did it make me sick. I didn’t realize there was such a corking issue with their line of wines.
  • I know you didn’t ask, but I really love that bottle’s overpowering gooseberry aroma (make sure you say aroma and not bouquet). I’ve had it with all these bottles that taste exactly the same with their subtle hints of fruit, spices and flowers. I’ll take straight forward any day!
  • I’ve been tasting that one for years. It does the best job of capturing a true barnyard terroir of anything I’ve ever tasted. If you have a chance try it with raccoon or squirrel. You’ve never had a pairing like that.
  • I had you marked as an oenophile with superb taste. I would have never guessed you were one of those losers who was beholden to the ratings of big and bold only fishwrap. Learn something new every day although I should have already known this by looking at your significant other.

Let it never be said I’m not willing to do my own little part to contribute to this. With that said, here are sure to be some of the most requested bottles from this year’s list which I think you should be able to find in and around Memphis:

  • #10 – Seghesio, Zinfandel Sonoma County 2007, $24 – This pick was released back on Nov. 10th so you may be out-of-luck. However, it is usually on the wine list at Ruth’s Chris.
  • #30 – Byron, Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley 2005, $25
  • #40 – Kim Crawford, Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2008, $19 – I think they have the vintage wrong on this one. Even so, this wine consistently scores in the low 90s.
  • #42 – Amavi, Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2005, $25 – Let me know if you find this one. I would like to pick up a couple of bottles myself.
  • #51 – Fattoria di Felsina, Chianti Classico Berardenga 2006, $17 – This will be a sangiovese-based wine which I would personally love to try. Once again, let me know where to find it.

So there are five to get you started.

Veni, Vidi, Vici, Vino!

Wine Education 101 – Wine Reviews

November 15, 2008

(Editor’s note: I began writing this blog on Friday.)

Earlier today Wine Spectator released their wine of the year. Here are their Top 10 wines for 2008:

  1. Casa Lapostolle, Clos Apalta Colchagua Valley 2005, $75, 5,987 cases made.
  2. Château Rauzan-Ségla, Margaux 2005, $100, 10,000 cases made.
  3. Quinta do Crasto, Douro Reserva Old Vines 2005, $40, 1,500 cases imported.
  4. Château Guiraud, Sauternes 2005, $57, 9,165 cases made.
  5. Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Crau 2005, $55, 15,830 cases made.
  6. Pio Cesare, Barolo 2004, $62, 7,000 cases made.
  7. Château Pontet-Canet, Pauillac 2005, $100, 20,830 cases made.
  8. Château de Beaucastel, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2005, $95, 15,000 cases made.
  9. Mollydooker, Shiraz McLaren Vale Carnival of Love 2007, $90, 2,596 cases made.
  10. Seghesio, Zinfandel Sonoma County 2007, $24, 68,000 cases made.

This list is part of Wine Spectator’s The Top 100 [Wines] Of 2008. The full list will be released on Monday. Although I did not include them here, the list also includes tasting notes and reviews for each of the wines. This list is the most read and closely scrutinized wine review of the year.

The timing of the release of the annual list couldn’t be better since it allows me an opportunity to voice my thoughts on the subject of wine reviews while illustrating some points using an actual list. Here are some things a novice wine drinker should keep in mind when reading wine reviews:

  • The only opinion on wine that should matter to you is your own. Would you really care about someone’s opinion concerning the superiority of black cherry Kool-Aid to  orange Kool-Aid? As intimidating as the subject of wine can be initially, once you understands the basics you will quickly find out that most of your wine snob acquaintances are, in the words of wine critic Gary Vaynerchuk, “a bunch of douche bags” (his words, not mine).
  • The most read wine reviews from from the print media are The Wine Spectator (James Molesworth, Bruce Sanderson, & James Laube are my personal favorites), The Wine Advocate, and Wine Enthusiast. Online there are two important sources of information. They are THIS BLOG and Gary Vaynerchuk’s Wine Library TV. Other noted wine critics include Jancis Robinson (The Financial Times), Oz Clarke (author), and John Brecher & Dorothy Gaiter (Wall Street Journal).
  • All of the above critics bring something unique in their wine opinions to the table. They also bring their personal taste and biases. If you find one who has taste similar to yours then a quick way to discover new wines you will enjoy is to read them regularly – duh.
  • The Wine Advocate is synonymous with its founder Robert Parker who is probably the most famous and influential wine critic in the world although I should be passing him in popularity at any moment. The Wine Advocate is famous for not accepting advertising dollars. They do this to differentiate themselves from The Wine Spectator who they would have you believe are opinion slaves beholden to their advertising clients. In some wine circles it is popular to disparage The Wine Spectator by referring to it as The Wine Speculator. I have actually studied this and it is a myth. If you compare the reviews of both publications there is a very small variance in scoring. I never noted a difference of more than five points and in over 80% of the cases the reviews were within two points. Tell me this novice wine drinker, do you really think you can tell the difference between an 88 point and an 86 point wine?
  • Most wine reviews do not apply to casual wine drinkers. How many of you are going to invest $100+ in a bottle of wine? If you do and and the bottle needs to be aged do you have a proper place to store the bottle? (Please note a dry, dark closet does not constitute proper storage.) If there were less than 3,000 cases either imported or made are you really going to be able to find a bottle at your local wine shop? In the case of the list published above, three of my wine shops had the Seghesio in stock the day it was released as part of the list. All three were sold out within an hour of opening. It is for all of these reasons that many of you should be reading this blog. For the most part, I only review everyday value wines.

With all of that said, as many of you already know I went to the Sip Around the World event last weekend and sampled about thirty wines. All of these wines can be found in the Memphis market. The following list are some of the more notable wines I sampled (all prices are estimates):

  • Crowd Favorite Award (Red):337, Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, $15 – Although this was not my favorite wine of the evening, it was a runaway hit with many other drinkers. This is definitely an everyday wine which you would not want to age. It is rather light for a cab and would almost be described as medium-bodied in weight. Kind of simple, but enjoyable. Black fruits (black currants, blackberries, black cherries) with some floral and spice notes. 
  • Crowd Favorite Award (White): Fess Parker, Santa Barbera County Chardonnay 2006, $18 – This wine is usually panned by wine critics (WS scored it 82), but just like most of the crowd, I liked this wine a lot. Unlike a lot of California chardonnays it was not full-bodied or overoaked. Yes, it is simple, but I loved the citrus flavors combined with a hint of butter.
  • Personal Favorite Award (Red): Chateau Belregard-Figeac, St. Emilion 2005, $13 – Here is your french wine lesson of the evening. Basically all french wines are blends. Right Bank Bordeaux wines are primarily Merlot with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc blended in to give it a bit more body. Left Bank Bordeaux wines are primarily Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot and Cabernet Franc blended in to soften them. Although I generally prefer left bank Bordeaux wines, this right bank Bordeaux was out of this world — especially considering its price. I will definitely be stocking up on this little gem. Although it did exhibit many of the red fruits (cherry, raspberry, and red currants) you would expect in any Merlot, it also had a good bit of earthiness and spice which made it taste more like a Southern Rhone grenache-based wine.
  • Personal Favorite Award (White) – Ipsum, White 2007, $9 – This is a great everyday bottle of wine. It is a blend of 60% Verdejo and 40% Viura grapes. The fruit notes include apples and pears. Picture a very good sauvignon blanc without gooseberry (also described as cat pee for you novices). Light and airy and great for fish, chicken, and light white-sauce pasta dishes.
  • Off-the-Beaten-Path Award – Toad Hollow, Eye Of the Toad Pinot Noir Rose, $10 – Roses have taken a beating in most knowledgeable wine circles. We have white zinfandel to thank for that. However this “white pinot” continues to be one of my very favorite summer wines. Picture strawberries with spice notes.
  • Some other wines I enjoyed were: Matua, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007, $12; Chateau Moulin De Tricot, Margaux 2004, $12; Cornerstone, Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, $64; Domaine les Pallieres, Gigondas 2005, $30.

Now get out there and Vici Vino!

Wine Education 101 – Wine Events & Wine Groups

November 11, 2008

Other than hanging out with me on a regular basis, the single quickest way to ramp up your wine knowledge is to either attend large wine tasting events or to start your own wine tasting group.

I attended the 14th Annual Sip Around the World wine tasting benefiting the National Kidney Foundation of West Tennessee this past Friday night. I’ve attended a number of these events previously and there are several benefits even for someone like me:

  • There are a number of different “wine people” at these events. At this particular event, you could have spoken with the owner of a large, very respected winery, the owners of two large, local wine stores, several representatives of one of the large distributors, several sale reps for various wineries, the wine stewards for at least two of our local high end restaurants, and a number of my friends who are oenophiles of various levels.
  • If you want an easy way to identify those folks who are serious sippers at an event there will be two giveaways. One – they will be wearing white sleeves or carrying a white handkerchief so they can see color more easily. It’s always best to look at a wine’s color against a white background, but that’s a subject for another blog. Two – they will be taking notes upon occasion. Usually they are writing directly on on the sheet listing the various wines. Feel free to ask them what they like. They will almost always be all too happy to share their opinion although they may continue moving while they talk since they don’t have much time to sample a large number of wines.
  • You can sample a number of different wines. Most of the wines at an event of this type will be in the value to mid-level price range. So when you are deciding what you want to sample you need to give some thought to what varietals or blends you would like to drink on an everyday basis and strategize accordingly. Fortunately when it is a local event like this one you can be certain you will be able to find most, if not all, of the wines you taste at your local wine shops. I tasted around thirty wines and could have tasted more, but my palate starts to give out around twenty wines.
  • You can discover your personal taste quickly. If this is your first “event” I would suggest taking someone knowledgeable with you (even if that means purchasing their ticket) who can show you the major difference in wine style such as “big and bold” versus “light and airy”. Your tasting “expert” should then be able to show you the differences in the flavors found in the different varietals and blends that would match your palate preference.

Another great, and somewhat less expensive way, to quickly increase your knowledge of alcoholic grape juice is to start your own wine group. Usually a good number for a wine group is around 12 people. For each meeting you should have a wine theme. It is usually a good idea to appoint someone to be in charge of your wine group to assign members guidelines in selecting bottles (for instance if you’re doing Chardonnays from around the world this person should tell different members to bring Australian, U.S., or French examples). If everyone brings a different bottle then everyone should be able to have at least a decent taste of each bottle. Please note, a taste is about two fingers of an average sized wine glass. It helps, but isn’t necessary, to have a person who is a bit more knowledgeable to direct the proceedings.

A good wine group will have the following items at their “meetings”:

  • Bottled Water – Do not pour water into your glass after tasting a wine. Unless you are going to then dry out your glass with a paper towel, it is better to pour wine on wine. The water is to cleanse your palate between bottles and to keep you hydrated. You’re in a marathon, not a sprint.
  • “Dump” Buckets – You will need to have buckets where people can pour out wine they do not care for.
  • Rating Sheets & Pens – You need to rate the wines you try and be able to record your notes on each. Everyone should keep the price on the bottle and should write down where they purchased the bottle. This information is needed as people try to determine the best values of the evening.
  • Music – An integral part of any party. See my music blog for sample playlists for any occasion.
  • A Wine Bucket – Wines should be served between roughly 58 and 67 degrees. Don’t be afraid to use an ice chest without ice to accomplish this.
  • Wine Bags – All of my groups taste wines “blind”. This means we put them in a bag so nobody can be influenced by price and label. We only reveal the wines after everyone has expressed their thoughts.
  • Stemware – If you’re going to compare wines side-by-side (the preferred method) this means each person will need at least two wine glasses. If you have a group of 12 people then you will need 24 glasses. If it’s not going to be a seated party then you will need to have wine charms as well. Old Time Pottery used to sell inexpensive stemware for beginning oenophiles.
  • A Good Corkscrew and Foil Cutter – Although I remove the foil from most non-French wine bottles by simply twisting it off (try it sometime, you’ll be surprised) you may still need a foil cutter. A good corkscrew is a waiter’s corkscrew which in Memphis can be purchased at Lit Kitchen Supply. You will know it is a true waiter’s corkscrew if it has the hinge halfway through the part of the corkscrew used as a lever against the wine bottle when pulling the cork.
  • Smell Standards – This involves emaciating the traditional flavors with cheap table wine and letting them sit out in the sun so you can teach your nose the subtleties of the various “smells” found in different varietals.

In the next blog, I will review the wines I tasted at the Sip Around the World event and then I will go back to wine education.

In the meantime remember our war chant: Veni, Vidi, Vici, Vino!

Veni, Vidi, Vici Vino! (I Came, I Saw, I Conquered Wine)

November 5, 2008

I have decided to write a series of blogs on the subject of wine. Most of these blogs will deal with wine education while a few will simply be reviews of some of the various wines I have been drinking. Although I am not a Master Sommelier, I do know more than the average bear about this subject. From time-to-time I lead educational wine tastings and I have three different wine tasting groups which all need to be kick-started back into gear. I am quite often asked my opinion about a variety of wine-related topics and I have finally decided to publish my opinions, thoughts, and ideas so I can simply direct people to this site rather than having to listen to the sound of my own voice repeating itself.

For the record, it is my personal belief that most people wish they knew more about wine, but feel intimidated by all of the different grape varietals and label information. Further complicating matters, wine appreciation is usually taught in a very uptight, rigid, and very boring manner by very boring people who cannot teach or communicate. I think this is because the people teaching this subject really don’t want others to learn much. I truly believe they enjoy the feeling of superiority they achieve from knowing more about the subject of wine than others. These people are usually referred to as “wine snobs” and they take great pride in this. I think male wine snobs are usually trying compensate for some other deficiency.

Obviously, it would be impossible for me to impart everything I know in just a couple of blogs, so it is my intention to write blogs on the following subject:

  • Farming and What the Color Of the Wine Tells You
  • The Wine Press, Wine Ratings, Your Local Wine Shop, and Pigs With Lipstick
  • Tasting To Determine Your Taste and Starting A Wine Group
  • Aroma and Taste
  • Pairing
  • Purchasing Old World Wines
  • Building A Wine Collection and Aging Wine
  • Pairing Wine and Food
  • Wine Events and Wine Tours
  • Frequently Asked Questions

By the end of this you will be able to hold your own with any wine snob out there including the most feared name in wine consumption — Robert Parker.

As for tonight, I am currently trying a 2006 (the vintage) bottle of Hopler (the winery), Gruner Veltliner (the varietal). A few years ago, this particular varietal (that’s a fancy way of saying variety of grape) was all the rage in wine circles. It is a white grape that makes a wine that would be classified somewhere between a Sauvignon Blanc (tart) and an unoaked Chardonnay (creamy, but not full-bodied). The winemakers notes say:

Austria’s national grape variety is appealing due to its character imparted by granite soils. Light greenish yellow, subtle mineral tones with smell of apricots. Fully ripened, delicate structure, strong extract with refined sweetness of fruit on the palate and creamy finish.

Gruner Veltliner is appropriate with cold hors d’oeuvres, pasta dishes, delicate salads or as special apertif. 

When the wine is poured it has some effervescence. Its tart flavor is concentrated (think of sweet tarts) so it finishes clean on the palate. It is a crisp wine, much like a sauvignon blanc, but does not have the aroma of gooseberries thank God. (For the uninitiated gooseberries smell something like your grandfather passing gas.) Due to its crisp nature this wine could overpower any bland dishes, but I would highly recommend it for sitting outside on a crisp, cool fall night. The wine retails for between $11 and $15. For an everyday value white wine I would definitely recommend this.

Now get ready to experience some Veni, Vidi, Vici Vino!

The N.Y. Times Hack Proves My Point

November 4, 2008

Some mornings you get up and all of the planets align for you.

Case in point, my last blog where I called out the tabloid fish wrap known as The N.Y. Times for hiring hacks in place of real writers. Well, the writer in question has finally written another article which has been published. The headline of the article reads, “Judge Weighing Whether to Dismiss Defamation Case Against Clemens”. The first paragraph of the article then states, “A judge in Houston heard arguments Monday on the legality of the defamation case brought by Roger Clemens against his former trainer, Brian McNamee. At issue is whether McNamee was immune from such actions, and, if he was not, whether the case should be tried in Texas.” (here is the link to the article:  http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/04/sports/baseball/04clemens.html)

Okay, clearly someone either doesn’t know how to write a headline or doesn’t understand who is suing whom in the case. Just for the record, the text of the article is correct Roger Clemens is the one doing the suing and not the one being sued as stated in the headline.

This illustrates a great point. Your local newspaper probably has a writing staff and editors who are every bit as good as The N.Y. Times. Now if you’re subscribing to The N.Y. Times because of some eastern elitist snob appeal then I say bully for you and onward. However, if you’re doing so because you think they have a crack writing team then think again. Chances are the writer was able to land a job with the Times because the writer was able to sleep with the daughter of the publisher while in college, or because the writer’s rich uncle was on the editorial board of The Times, or because the writer’s daddy owns one of the larger advertisers in the Times, or because… well, you get the idea. So if you’re a person who actually cares about things like journalistic integrity or who desires to read something written by a person with an i.q. over 130 then you should either stick with your local newspaper or with this blog.

Now, as I previously stated, if The New York Times will simply apologize to me for allowing their hack excuse of a writer to take away two hours of my life, then I will remove all mention of them from all blogs (past, present, and future). If they choose not to do so, then I will continue down this path while laughing at the fact that they are incapable of figuring out a 21st century business model that works. Hello gentlemen and gentle ladies, are you aware of what your advertising revenue is going to look like after the end of the election today?

Having Fun At the Expense Of the Hacks At The N.Y. Times

November 1, 2008

Today’s blog is about the topics of having fun and forgiveness.

You see, right now I am feeling particularly wronged by the hacks posing as writers and editors at the N.Y. Times and I think we should all have some fun at their expense. I have a friend who is in divinity school and she will tell you that one’s inability to forgive only hurts oneself. Well I can buy into that, but before I forgive the barely literate, 120 point intelligence quotient, excuse of a hack writer employed by that tabloid piece of fishwrap known as the N.Y. Times, I think all of you should be able to have some fun at their expense. Don’t you?

Before listing the potential fun activities, I think I should relate the incident that caused me to heap scorn on this formerly respectable publication.

Back in August a reader of this blog left me an e-mail. The e-mail said the writer was with a newspaper and wanted to talk to me concerning my blog. This is not all that unusual. With the demise of print newspapers on the horizon, I often find that newspaper writers and hacks often scour the internet looking for story ideas.  From time-to-time I will get an inquiry of this type from a reporter who is either seeking comment on a particular subject (usually related to music, wine, travel, blogging, or just having fun in general) or seeking advice on how to proceed with an article. I usually enjoy these encounters since I view most writers are kindred spirits.

In this particular case the reporter was working on an article concerning how people use music to accentuate the decor of various spaces. She not only took up a half hour of my time, but she asked me to send her various examples of playlists I would design for certain themes. I did this. She also wanted some photographs of the artwork and room setting for where we conduct our Fabulous Finn Wine Gatherings. I did all of this and the reporter was greatly excited (I have an e-mail from her to prove it) and said she would be writing the article shortly and might have to send over a professional photographer, but that I was a great resource for the article. All of this took a few hours of my time which can never be replaced.

During the course of our discussion she commented something to the effect of, “you know you could make a good bit of money doing this.” I found this to be an interesting comment. Like most of us, I’m always in favor of making more money, especially if I can do it while doing something I enjoy. So what did I do, I set up a website to promote this activity. It’s still out there and it can be found at: http://www.decoratewithmusic.com. I thought it was a decent little information only website and I e-mailed the reporter/hack about the site telling her to feel free to use anything from the site she wanted.

Well, to make a long story short you would have thought I had spit in her face. She said something to the effect of “I can’t believe you went and did this. I can never use you in the article now. This is really a case of the tail wagging the dog.” (I have since come to expect such trite expressions from hacks of this ilk. I think that’s how you get the Times to notice you.

So, let me now ask the obvious question of all of you gentle readers, “Can someone tell me what in the hell I did wrong?” As promised she published the article finally — two days ago to be exact, and I, of course, am nowhere to be found although I would say I supplied a lot of the direction used in forming the article. I couldn’t feel more used if I was a $2 prostitute in Houston (which this hack may do to supplement her income since she doesn’t write worth a damn).

With all of that said, let’s all have some fun at the expense of this writer and the N.Y. Times. Here are some fun things you can do to help me on my mission of forgiveness and to tweak their nose.

  • Subscribe to the paper, but make sure you do so under the name of somebody you hate. Just tell them to bill you. If their circulation department is anything like their reporting staff then you can probably talk them into letting you have multiple subscriptions for different addresses. Let’s see who can be the most original and get the most deliveries without ever receiving a bill.
  • Feel free to sign them up for every mailing list you can think of. Overwhelm their servers and their mailroom. If you make their internal cost structure increase enough they will do what all print news organizations do, layoff their hacks.
  • Sign them up for free net porn. See I’m not going to be totally mean to them.
  • Feel free to make up urban rumors about the paper and their agenda. E-mail their attorneys about what all you’ve read. Make sure you drive up their internal cost structure to the point where their attorneys spend all of their time checking out rumors and they have to hire more attorneys to write threatening letters.
  • Come up with a plausible story about how they use certain stories to relay messages to terrorist organizations. Report them to Homeland Security.
  • Start a website that lists all of their retractions on a daily basis and then make it a point to advertise your site as the only place where you can find out just how sorry the reporting is at their excuse of a newspaper. How are they going to argue with you. Heck, I might even do the first one.
  • If you have a subscription, cancel it. They will give you their sorry publication for free since they need more readers in order to sell ad revenue. Even if they quit sending you the paper you can always read the articles online for free.
  • If you can think of anything else, please leave a comment here. They owe me several hours of my life back and they really should think about reprimanding their excuse of a hack.

If and when the editor’s issue an apology, I will be happy to remove this blog. In the meantime feel free to show this blog to all of your friend’s friends. Let’s find out how original people can actually be in getting even.

A Note On the Subject Of Spontaneous Combustion

October 21, 2008

“It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” – Mark Twain

“Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.” – Ernest Hemingway

As a rule, I usually try to remember these two quotes before I blog. Well I recently “got after” (a Southern expression) a friend for having too many rules in her life, so not wanting to be a hypocrite I’m now in the process of removing most of the rules from my own life. Just don’t any of you get any ideas about getting rid of The Finn Social Code since it brings order to chaos. In other words, it contains worthwhile rules and not rules for the sake of having rules (like I give to my children).

With that said, I thought I would relate a story I recently heard about a very close and dear friend. Once upon a time this friend, let’s call him Chuck (‘cuz Chuck’s a good manly name), was dating a rather mean spirited woman who he would later marry. Let’s call her “that woman”. Although Chuck’s friends tried to warn him about her, he would not listen to them. Probably because he was both stupid and in love. (Please note it is not unusual for these things to go together since we’re talking about matters of the heart and not of the mind.)

Anyway, Chuck and his girl went out with a large group of “that woman’s” friends one night to a prominent eating establishment. Maybe it was because there was a three-for-one margarita special going on, or maybe it was because Chuck didn’t like “that woman’s” friends, or maybe it was just because Chuck knew we were right about “that woman”, or maybe Chuck just needed to get his drink on, but regardless of the cause Chuck ingested a whole lot of tequila-filled margaritas that night, and by that I mean A WHOLE LOT OF TEQUILA! Put it this way, he was thinking he could speak fluent spanish later that night and was trying to pick a fight with “all the stupid gringos“. Fortunately for him the gringos could not understand his slurred spanglish.

So after a full night of drinking and filling the night air with multiple lies as Southerners are wont to do, Chuck and “that woman” headed back to her apartment to do all of those things drunks do. Once they arrived at her apartment complex they found most of the parking spaces were already taken and they were forced to park all the way across the complex. This meant the most direct route back to her apartment involved passing by the community swimming pool.

Well as they were getting close to the pool, Chuck noticed he was feeling very hot and he started sweating profusely. In fact, he started feeling like his head was going to catch on fire at any second and to top it off he had recently been reading about several urban legends concerning people who just spontaneously combusted. Not wanting to end up as a pile of ash he knew he needed to act quickly to put out the fire that would start at any second. Knowing that water will put out most fires, he immediately turned and laid down on his stomach and stuck his entire head into the pool. He described in great detail to me how great it felt to have the fire sensation leave him.

The next thing he felt was “that woman” pulling his head out of the pool by his hair (it was the 80s and he had a mullett)  and screaming at him “you idiot, you’re going to drown.” He described this as a “sobering moment” and he said he just sat there staring blankly at her, because he realized there wasn’t anything he could possibly say that would remove any doubt about his being a fool.

Since that day, Chuck has refrained from drinking all forms of tequila and from marrying any more of “those women”. As such, I’m pretty sure all of mankind (not including all of you ladies) owes Chuck something. Unfortunately for Chuck I’m pretty sure the collective debt only amounts to about a nickel and a thank you.

The Finn Social Code and The Social Calendar

October 15, 2008

Whether held at Maison Finn (yes, I realize it is combination french-irish in name, but it’s my casa and I’ll call it whatever I want) or in a more interesting locale, I always enforce the Finn Social Code at my social events. If you ever have the privilege of being invited, I would encourage you to be familiar with the Code before attending the event.

These rules of etiquette are basically another form of the social contract, and after all, what is a society without rules — anarchy, that’s what it is. I am actually old enough to remember the entire punk rock movement. In spite of what today’s children think, it was not a wonderful time. Oh yeah, much of the music was great, but the whole spitting on one another was just gross and nobody, not even the members of Devo, want us to devolve back into a time like that. With that said, here is the Code in its summary form:

  • At “seated” events, never be seated next to or across from your significant other, and whenever possible, we prefer to have members of the opposite sex seated next to one another.
  • Be entertaining and charming. If it is a seated event you will probably be asked to play “Five Questions With C.H.” Do not fear this. All answers will have something to do with you. It is not only an opportunity for the other guests to get to know you better, but it is also a chance for you to shine by showing your personal prowess in the areas of wit and charm. Always remember when partaking in polite conversation sometimes less is more.
  • If it is a seated event you will probably be seated close to others who are very different from you. Remember we are all enriched by engaging conversation. Don’t be a wallflower, but don’t force your views on others. They are an intelligent group and I assure you they are capable of drawing their own conclusions.
  • Do not experience “slush mouth”. This is usually caused by imbibing too much.
  • Do not experience “potty mouth“. Although we do appreciate an occasional colorful use of the King’s English in its proper context, its overuse will not be appreciated by our gentle guests. (BTW, I had a bet I could use the term “King’s English” in a blog within three weeks of Noah Webster’s – author of the first non-King’s English dictionary – 250th birthday.) 
  • There is to be no unwanted physical contact of any type. No means no. If you are a good looking female remember, in my case, that yes means yes.
  • Meet at least several new people. This rule is really for your own benefit. Keep in mind, sometimes I do allow mob rule when filling out an invitation list.
  • Feel free to arrive late, but don’t expect the party to wait for you. The party waits for no one.
  • Feel free to stay as late as you like, however, if I say I’m retiring for the evening you should feel free to show yourself out or onto the host’s sofa. I really do not care which one you choose. 
  • Do not EVER bring “white zin” to my house. Not ever, ever, ever. You may think it’s funny at the time, but I’ll think it’s even funnier to never invite you back.
  • If you don’t have children or a pending emergency turn off your cell phone. If you have either of the aforementioned then situations then use good judgement in answering your cell phone.
  • RSVP – Know what it means. Follow the appropriate rules of etiquette even when regretting.
  • Savor the moment. Time with friends is special and short.
  • Leave your cares and worries at the door.

And now that you know the code, here is the anticipated listing of official events which I will be either sponsoring or co-sponsoring during the next twelve months:

  • There will be five wine parties this year. Six if there is enough demand. I’m really going to actively try and hold myself to this one.
  • The Kentucky Derby Party is the first Saturday in May. As previous attendees already know I have developed a parimutuel wagering model and the house odds are set by you and your fellow attendees. Of course we don’t gamble with real money (wink, wink). Volunteer workers will receive first consideration.
  • The Crawfish Boil – New to this year’s calendar. It will be held sometime around the Ides of March and may be named Rites Of Spring.
  • John Hiatt and Lyle Lovett are playing at The Orpheum Theatre in Memphis tonight. If you want to go you really need to hurry up and get tickets.
  • Sip Around the World Wine Tasting Benefitting the National Kidney Foundation of West Tennessee – This one is not my event although I feel like I own it in some ways. It’s a lot of fun and much of my “cru” will attend. November 7, 2008 at the Memphis Botanic Garden
  • Vanderbilt Homecoming – Obviously this isn’t my event either, but we’re the best story in college football this year. October 25, 2008, Vanderbilt University Campus, Nashville, TN
  • Birthday Parties – There will be four this year. Closed to the general public.
  • St. Patrick’s Day – Sometime in March. May be combined with the Crawfish Boil.
  • Eve Of New Year’s Eve – Occurs on the weekend between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Lots of sparkling wine types of drinks.
  • Cirque du CMOM – Hasn’t been scheduled yet. This party benefits the Children’s Museum Of Memphis.
  • Holy Apostles Charity Auction – Hasn’t been scheduled yet, but always a great time for a great cause — the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
  • Drinks In the Pool Party a/k/a The Summer Soiree – Haven’t started looking for a host yet. Do you have a pool capable of holding 25 people? Do your neighbors love semi-loud music? Would I find you entertaining? If you answered “yes” to the above questions then e-mail me.
  • Rites Of Fall – Still being developed. I will invite at least a couple of wiccans to this party and will make sure they hug at least one tree.

Should you be interested in attending any of these events, you should send me an entertaining and original e-mail expressing why I should invite you. Preference will be given to people who are different in some way from the members of my current social circle. Out-of-town people wishing to attend a specific event will also receive preferential treatment.

Now, in the words of the philosopher Brad Hamilton, “Learn it. Know it. Live it.