Wine is so Theoretical

What working in the wine trade taught me:

Humility produces an unlimited return and is non zero-sum.

This is why any phrasing which compares or measures humility is so deeply suspicious. As a signal of virtue it gains nothing and only obscures corruption.

On another subject (not really) – try replacing the phrase “conspiracy theory” with “convergence of interests.” What is the effect on meaning?

Much energy comes from the contrast of words “theory” and “interest.”

“Theory” has an axis of value. “It’s just a theory,” exemplifies one end, and the more strictly scientific usage exemplifies the other – Heliocentrism, Evolution, etc.

And yet, the word “interest” might be more interesting even than “theory.”

“Interest” is shrouded with a shallow semantic equivalence to “curiosity.” And it is stained with the vulgarity implied by the phrase “special interest.” Interest in this sense, unlike humility, is a zero-sum set.

An ideological framework which positions democracy as virtue implies that special interest is illegitimate. But even in such systems, it must be stitched into the fabric. I suppose the data demands it.

Is it a conspiracy or a convergence of interests that causes an insured warehouse full of trophy wines to burn down?

I know I said not to measure humility, but is this sentence legit?:

“I’d like to see at least as many conversational resources devoted to the humble disclosure of interests as to the declaration of virtue.”

In passing I’d say that doesn’t sound like it was phrased after drinking a bottle of wine.

Of course none of this has to apply only to the subject of wine and its appreciation.

wfm

 

(care to map the sarcasm, if any, in the above?)

 

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Pinnacle

What are the ideological implications of the word “pinnacle?”

In geometry “pinnacle” is the unification of surfaces – the making of singularity.

And the pinnacle of this piece – titled Detroit Restaurant of the Year: How we’re changing it up this time – occurs after a few initial paragraphs devoted to expansion and innovation.

To decide metro Detroit’s Restaurant of the Year, gone is the limiting variable of newly-opened status. A restaurant of any age can win.

The obvious question is whether that variable can ever be gone. It seems to me we now have two separate awards – best new, and best “not new,” both of which are determined by how new they are. Also, one can’t really obviate the variable of newness in deliberation. At best, a human might hope to offset it by introducing the competing one: endurance.

Still, the Freep will soon decide what “represents the pinnacle of dining in metro Detroit.” And to borrow another spatial metaphor, this is where the rubber hits the road.

I say with no irony that this is a high quality award. Resources are generously deployed to ensure its independence, and past winners show this. Furthermore, as imperial as its claim is, I know of no immediate competitor to the Freep’s ROTY brand. (Send me a link if you have one.)

And the concept of one restaurant of the year is legitimate. In a realm of enterprise so finely articulated with goals, it only makes sense to comment on concentrations of achievement. When done well, such an award can inspire an industry.

But how does the word “pinnacle” shape the reader? The singularity this word implies unfairly simplifies the person using it. A pinnacle of dining suggests a large universe in a rigid state.

In addition to “the position of Mercury in conjunction with the sun,” I’d like to suggest just one more variable: the company such an award keeps. This award filters the crowd so strongly, such that attending a winning restaurant can be like walking into a cognitive hall of mirrors.

If dining out is dramatic performance, then the ROTY diner is a stock character: the Trophy Hunter. What happens when the Trophy Hunters multiply and interact under one roof? Monoculture has a toxicology, and we should wonder about its influence on the food.

Hats off to anyone even attempting to define Metro Detroit’s Restaurant of the Year. The collective effort required to determine such a thing is enormous, almost as enormous as the freight load of assumptions that come with it.

Here are places I liked in 2016-2017:

  • Supino. Reheated slice. Doesn’t matter what’s on it.
  • La Rondinella. Now closed. Gnocchi. That pairing of anchiovata and a Monday glass of Boschis’ Pianezzo from a bottle opened prior to the weekend. Pulpete. Stuffed squid. Arugula salad.
  • The Gaelic League Fish Fry Fridays during Lent. It’s not wrong to join this fish with Slow’s remoulade and drink the best draft Guinness in the state.
  • El Rodeo. Shrimp tacos. Some say fish tacos. Definitely burrito de cabeza when mom is working.
  • Katoi. Green cocktail with hot chili. Mutton. Pretty much anything.
  • Supermercado La Jalisciense. This year I counted on the tacos de lengua, as well as the occasional torta de pollo milanesa.
  • Mabel Gray. I shouldnt have to tell you this. If Paul offers you a choice of raw shucked oysters and oysters baked with miso butter, you get the oysters baked with miso butter. James wouldn’t do something to a perfectly good oyster without a damned good reason. Also Rachel has the best wine.
  • Gold Cash Gold. Skurnik’s grower champagnes sold at the bar for retail prices. New chef of locally proven talent doing things with sharp knives.
  • Johnny Noodle King. Happy hour $2 over pour of Japanese sake with torched mackerel. Broth of pigs heads any time.
  • El Asador. Luis was nailing it this week. Charred red rib steaks with poblano cream. Lobster quesedilla, Queso fundido, Tacos de Cayos, Cazuela Mariscos, Guacamole en la Mesa.
  • Roast. Mr. Allerton worked on pairings with different styles of sherry, taking risks only to ace them in style.
  • Happy 4 Liquor. Best shawarma certainly within a bike ride.
  • Wasabi. One of the best thing about this place is the haters. They are not good people and I don’t want to eat near them. Comfort sushi, keep it medium-simple.
  • Chartreuse.
  • Selden Standard. Ritterguts Gose paired with any lunch food inspires the use of the the word “champagne” as an adjective.

bro

Bro!

Help Find a Word

I’m looking for a word.

This word should describe the feeling of abandonment/panic one gets when made to imagine living in a world of the known past, especially one fitted with a full range of obsolete communication technology.

Taken individually, the reintroduction of vinyl records, or cassette tapes, or antique video game consoles, can seem fun and ironic. (We might need to talk about that too.) But in a world made thoroughly of these implements – along with rotary corded phones, VHS tapes, Yellow Pages – there can arise a feeling of sickness, like a loss of the goal.

The nausea of lapsed technology.

A good illustration of this concept for a 1980s teenager is watching Napoleon Dynamite in 2017. I do remember watching it in 2005 and the feeling was of overwhelming cuteness. Now it is stomach-turning. Something about the alienation of this retroworld has intensified in the intervening decade.

Sure, many works of literature conjure worlds of the past, complete in every technical detail. But typically these aren’t claustrophobic. The typical period-piece pastiche of retrograde implements and patterns are part of a contract, part of the suspension of disbelief. It serves as authentication and insurance, and we engage with it only marginally.

The feeling I am describing may be related to an emotional pathway associated with other time vectors directed, for example, toward the future not the past: the panic of being failed in a school grade and held back while your peers advance; the sensation after the age of 30 when you are still at a party with beta type desperation-fueled radicalism suddenly evident as the only solution to being stuck.

But those are different words, for another post. This one is more specific.

Often help with such a task comes from German, that agglutinative aunt of English. 

Technikentfremdungekel?

… tesh-neek-ent-frem-doong-ake-el

Hm.

What do you think?

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Current listening

 

 

of Grace

…today is Easter in the western churches…

 

Know Your Importer, Vol. 3

Why should a consumer learn the name of a wine importer? Much has been written about this, and over a long time. Short version: know your importers because your wine purveyor knows them. An honest shop or somm has nothing to hide in this regard. Here are my current thoughts:

Making good wine requires two things.

  1. fortune – from the dirt, to the biome, to the bank – and,
  2. humanity – a cluster of virtues combining self awareness with selflessness, and  thriving in a medium of consciousness expanding.

Most important of all is the latter applied to the former: the awareness of one’s fortune and the ability to resist trying to capture it.

This can help explain why so many great wine properties change hands only to fail immediately and horribly. The new regime with all its vigor is no match for the old in situ. Stars in the eyes and rolls of cash are no substitute for experience making decisions with worms.

Wine requires grace.

Vino di grazia.

 

Know Your Merchant

Some people in the wine trade talk only about the the wine (points! gobs!), and if they are really smart, sometimes about the farmer (a personality cult), but never about the people selling, collecting and drinking it – and by doing so they are really talking only about themselves. It is selflessness serving an egocentric relationship with (the art form).

It is a fiction that great wines are like perfect jewels snatched from space and time, summoned before our poses of supplication, and grandiose tithes, by faces so dim as to be blank. The act of enjoying wine is elemental to its existence in the first place.

Wine tells a story, and the people building collections of it are also telling a story. It might be a remix, a collage, a mosaic, a pastiche or an ekphrasis. Often these people are in the studio mixing the paint.

Ponder, there are 26 letters in the alphabet and never a shortage of new ways to combine them.

 

A Quotation from the Fine Art Racket

“I select the selectors, so I control the operation,” she says. “You don’t keep a dog and bark yourself. But I know what they know and I know where they go.” -Gill Hedley on her team of curators for the CAS

Emphasis added.

 

Missing the Point

It used to madden me when I would suggest that a distributor of the great French wines from Louis/Dressner should also carry the newer, but just as thrilling, Italian wines from the same source.

“But we already have Italian wine,” was the answer. Sure,they had a couple things, and a lot of filler, but not these. I was suffocating from Italian wine starvation!

It wouldn’t have been so bad, but at the time I was also lacking steady access to the  reigning portfolio of great wines from the nation of Italy: Marc deGrazia.

Marco de Grazia began importing Italian wine in 1980, a first of its kind in that it eschewed anything but the most gorgeous and authentic of estate wines. By the mid 1990s Marco was a star in his own right – or at least he was amongst the masses of sommeliers and buyers who would attend his tastings and patiently await their allocations of rare and limited items.

If you didn’t know about deGrazia Selections already, please let me introduce you. These are dynamic, diverse, humorous, numerous and sincere wines. Based on the prices they fetch, I can only conclude that the American market is absurdly unaware of their merit as a group of drinks.

 

Unsolicited Advice

Try sharing credit. It feels good. Maybe it can prepare you emotionally to identify with your guests.

Or don’t share credit. Or share it only with your protected objects of exploitation.

 

Credit where credit is due.

The Art of Collecting Art. It exists.

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Personally, Yes

A few weeks ago I read a wine list for a new restaurant in LA and I knew it was time to quit my job.

There I was, enjoying my seventh year serving in a deservedly famous restaurant called Slows Bar BQ.

Not only did Slows play a role in saving my life – whatever it’s worth – Slows was also a really fun place to work. I was there, to soak up the lightning.

And then I saw the wine list for Hatchet Hall, and the storm of vitriol and hurt feelings it inspired. As I read the list I smiled. Then I laughed. I was not alone, but nor did everyone get the joke. Someday I hope to explain the comedy in very dry, analytic terms, but for now I am still laughing a little.

There are two dining establishments local to me which are experiencing periods of dynamic innovation. Alphabetically, they are Gold Cash Gold and Mudgie’s Fine Deli-ing. Gold Cash Gold has been open barely a year on a city block shared by Slows. Mudgie’s inhabits a bucolic corner of Corktown where it has recently expanded to include its own wine shop.

As I wrote lists of wine for each place this week I had a sensation of liberation not related to the usual between-job butterflies. The language had opened up. The old rules existed to preserve the feelings of the most uptight of critics, and these were in decline. I hasten to add, I sincerely wish no harm to the feelings of the most uptight of critics, just as I wish no harm to anyone. The problem lies in the fact that these rules can mislead everyone else.

What is Chablis? Is it Chardonnay? Is Raveneau Chablis? Who is ladling guilt over our usage? Who’s language is it? If wine makes people nervous, and O does it, that may indicate a wealth of potential comedy.

Wine lists – besides containing inspiration, value, clarity, focus and comfort – should be funny! If your wine list isn’t funny, it just may be a waste of your time and resources!

I hope to demonstrate in future posts.

Certainly there will continue to be brooding, scrupulously lexical and boring wine lists. And they will tend to be stocked with boring wine, at ridiculous prices, yet not worth the first dollar. But these are on the way out. So I am so glad to be back.

What can you do?

Come to the gala debut of the new wine list at Gold Cash Gold this Monday. Chef Stockton has five courses in store, each of which will be paired with two wines. You can rediscover miraculous coq au vin and drink dry-farmed Pinot Noir from the Cancilla Vineyard. Huet is scheduled to appear as mousse and with mousse. Amphora-fermented Sicilian red wine shall warmly embrace 2015 Pumpkins, and a relaxed group of people who know how to have fun – even with wine! Follow this link.

Do it.

See you there!

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photo courtesy of Jacqueline Dickow

Arguments to Follow

Artificial selection – like dog breeding, or grape farming – is a subset of natural selection. Artificial selection is natural selection with a layer of rationalism. Rationalism is necessary to orient and fix the behavior of the humans.

So economy is a subset of ecology. I think it’s interesting that the word “economy” is older than the word “ecology.” Economy was discovered by the ancient Greeks. Ecology was discovered in the 19th century, along with … natural selection – and bottled beer. But geologically ecology existed long before economy did. Knowledge expands outward and inclusively as it accrues.

Symbiants can be arbitrarily divided into three classes based on their effect on the fitness of their host or co-species: Parasite. Comensal. Mutualist. Daniel Dennet expands this model to explore cultural symbiosis. Which memes are harmful, neutral or beneficial to the host? Religion. Agriculture. Baseball. Presidential elections. Twerking. The internet is consumed with situating these in a hierarchy of value – in order to favor one over another. Because of competition.

Wine culture sits at a tangled intersection of selection processes, natural and artificial.

Gallery curators, DJs, subscribers to dating websites, bloggers – how do their selection processes work? How direct or symbolic, how mutual or parasitic? What is the ecological impact?

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