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.



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




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.



We Square?

I took a break from wine buying. So I logged off the social media. It feels strange, like a psychic amputation. I have this false limb that keeps trying to share square-shaped* snapshots on the internet.



The winter solstice is prettier than the summer solstice. This is a fact.


*Did a voice in your head, or even in your mouth, utter a correction for this phrase? “OMG, what bad schooling, it’s called ‘aspect ratio’” Your virtue signaling is so ingrained, you are doing it even to yourself! 



Vine varieties – like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah – predominately serve as terms for a given wine’s stylistic character. Varieties – in our world – are also still implicitly used as markers of quality; some are noble, some proletarian. One unintended consequence is a distortion of demand for fashionable varieties, revelations about the constraints on supply, and the inevitable degradation of value. Of course this feeds a cycle of fashion, and many of the good things we drink today arguably illustrate the benefits of this creative destruction.

Varietalism has always been a gross simplification. And now, in the age of DNA testing, we are beginning to learn just how misleading this regime has been.

Continue reading

Italian Wines from Ryan White

This will be one of the greatest tastings ever hosted by Mudgie’s.



Producer: Ornello Molon
Region: Piave, Veneto
Grape: Raboso
Type: 2011 Frizzante
Link: Molon
Price: (Reg. $16) only $7 while supplies last

Producer: Adriano Adami
Region: Treviso, Veneto
Grape: Prosecco
Name: NV Garbel
Link: Adam
Price: $10, 375ml



Producer: Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona
Region: Montalcino, Tuscany
Grape: Sangiovese Grosso
Name: 2012 Rosso di Montalcino
Link: Indigenous Selections
Price: $22

Producer: COS
Region: Vittoria, Sicily
Grapes: Frappato and Nero d’Avola
Name: 2012 Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico
Link: COS
Price: $39



Producer: Paolo Bea
Region: Montefalco, Umbria
Grapes: 60% Sangiovese, 10% Montepulciano, 30% indigenous varieties incl. Sagrantino
Name: 2009 Umbria Rosso, San Valentino
Link: Paolo Bea great photos
Price: $39

Producer: Cappellano
Region: Langhe, Piedmont
Grapes: Nebbiolo plus natural flavors
Name: Barolo Chinato
Link: Sedimentary Wines
Price: $59
This is the original Barolo Chinato, made by the secret family recipe since the 1890s. An infusion of Barolo with neutral spirit, quinine bark, clove, wormwood and cinnamon and a small amount of cane sugar

Rachel’s Michigan

Image - Version 2

This Monday 18 April 2016, starting at 5pm, and lasting as long as the weather cooperates – probably the most important wine event ever to happen at Mudgie’s. I say that because nothing else we’ve ever done had the potential to transform so much jaded wine thinking and to expand and perpetuate all of the humane virtues associated with wine drinking and agriculture. And it is timed to coincide with a common service industry off-day. $15. Package deals available for restaurant and retail teams.


Michigan Wine

Are you like me? Did you want to love Michigan wine? Did you try and try and try? Did you find one or two interesting things along the way? I remember drinking a Mawby Vignoles blend under a lighthouse back when Larry still made still wine. And I consider Dan Matthias, Warren Raftshol and Jim Lester brilliant artisans, perhaps moreso due to their perilous grip with Quixote’s ghost.

But then there was the formative experience of touring the tasting rooms and leaving with a trunk full of wine. When I got home and began opening bottles I wondered what had come over me! Trillium? Really?! (It’s tourism bias, and it can happen in any region.)

I grew tired of getting beaten up by civic-minded wine educators for not jumping on the Michigan bandwagon. I even developed a response to the perpetual question: what do you think of Michigan wine, Putnam?

My answer: Michigan would be a perfect place to produce hard cider. (I used the conditional because this was 2004. Now we know.)


Rachel Van Til

Rachel Van Til is the sommelier at the celebrated Hazel Park restaurant, Mabel Gray, where her list includes daring and brilliant selections from all over the world. (The 2014 Chateau Simone Rosé was un-effing-forgettable!)

Rachel is also my oracle for Michigan wine.


Rachel embodies a rare combination of independence, intelligence, and experience. She worked at Trattoria Stella in Traverse City and at Bowers Harbor where the Black Label series of wines is produced. When she tastes them she allows herself to be rigorously critical without any cost to pleasure and sentience.

This is how a fertile mind drinks wine. I depend on such people, though I am not sure I can find an equivalence in this case.

On 18 April Rachel will guest-curate a selection of meaningful Michigan wines for Mudgie’s Detroit Deli. There will be about eight wines and we will meet on the big patio beginning at 5pm.

Prepare to have your mind blown. I’m talking to you, orange-wine-drinking slavophiles!


Know Your Importer/Curator

There is a theme developing throughout the series of Mudgie’s wine events. Of course we focus on the usual quality variables – the farmers, the microbes, geology, history, etc. But one of the most crucial variables is the act of selecting, assembling and delivering the wine. This is a creative process; if one wine has meaning, then a set of wines can have the potential to tell a story.

I probably wouldn’t drink much European wine if it weren’t for the curatorial brilliance of importers like deGrazia, Kermit, Dressner, and de Maison. And with Rachel’s help, I can finally love wines from my home state.



Reputable Rosé


Whither Rosé?

Rosé wine emerged from a near-death experience in the 1990s. Back then it was stigmatized by its association with White Zinfandel, a category embodying the race-to-the-bottom mentality which characterizes price-driven, low-information markets.

Something similar had happened to pizza before it got better.

But pockets of resistance survived, mostly in Provence in southern France. Vineyards groomed over centuries to produce great rosé wine simply continued doing so. Prices were stagnant, but what could a farmer do? Those with the weakest claim on quality jumped on other trending categories – like Merlot, and Chardonnay – and that had the effect of raising the average quality of the remaining pink-colored wines.

Smart drinkers with access learned to seek out these rosé wines and even make them a major part of the household diet. The booming sommelier culture eventually caught on, and then the journalists, culminating in a famous cover story in the New York Times Sunday Magazine in 2006, “The Summer Drink to Be Seen With.” Link here.

In the past ten years the pendulum has swung to a certain degree in the other direction. With a robust and expanding market for rosé wine, there is suddenly a supply without end. And it turns out there are all kinds of obnoxious ways to produce rosé. We are currently surrounded by harsh, manipulated pink wines, many of which result as a byproduct of complacent red wine production.

So has the circle closed? Are we back to an era like that of the industrial White Zin?


Two Hands

On the one hand, obstructing the decline is the fact that unlike the 1980s and 1990s, the average consumer has access to much more, and much more accurate information.

On the other hand, the dumbing down of rosé is intrinsic to the spirit of rose itself. Rosé when it’s great is inherently fun, beautiful, and humorous. This is just as true for Chateau Simone and Viña Tondonia as it is for Vin Gris de Cigare. How can the prosaic considerations of soil drainage and vine selection compete with the immediate euphoria of drinking the wine, with good company, and fresh food?

Essentially this is a question of markets. We are in an era when price differentiation is crucial to sustaining the production of the best and most interesting rose wines. We are also breaking away from the idea that all things called “rosé” must strive to resemble Domaine Tempier.


Drink and Decide

Tonight at 6pm at Mudgie’s we taste six exceptional pink-colored wines of diverse style.

These all come from a warm band of climate which promotes physiological ripeness. For these wines to be balanced the grapes must be harvested at a degree of ripeness that would be inappropriate for red wine production. Without support from skin tannins, they must have a certain degree of natural acidity.

A note about tasting order. You might notice that these are graduated from the most robust to the most intricate and delicate. You might expect the order to go in the other direction. However, for this lineup I am banking on the importance of pedigree. Always drink up the hierarchy, it’s the only way to fairly show all of the wines.

Here they are:


2015 A Proper Pink, Bonny Doon. $13 retail – $11.70 tonight only
Made with Tannat and Cabernet Franc, A big mouthful or berry flavors and just a hint of grapefruit. This is a brand new wine from Bonny Doon. more here

2013 Lake Michigan Shore Rosé, Marland. $18 retail – $16.20 tonight only
Cabernet Franc made by local hero and vin savant James Lester of Wyncroft. This wine has been groomed and extracted to function almost as a light-textured red wine. Don’t serve it too cold or you’ll miss the exuberant and sublime red fruits and spices. more here 


2014 Etna, Cottanera Barbazzale. $16 retail – $14.40 tonight only
Farmed on the northern slope of Mount Etna in Sicily and made with indigenous Nerello Mascalese grape variety. It is full-flavored and polished, and appropriately paired with southern Italian foods including spicy chiles. more here

2014 Toscana, Fattoria Sardi. $19 retail – $17.10 tonight only
Mostly Sangiovese, Merlot and Ciliegiolo. Sometimes it takes the resources of a big wine company to take the risks necessary and deliver the rewards possible with very good rosé. Notice how it charms your palate, requiring very little attentiveness to enjoy it. But go ahead and examine the flavors, they occur in layers exquisitely proportional and balanced. more here


2015 Tavel, Domaine Mejan Taulier, Canto Perdrix. $17 retail – $15.30 tonight only
Grenache, Cinsault, and other traditional Rhone grapes. This wine is kind of a secret still. The property had a very good reputation until 2007 when the second generation of the Mejan-Taulier line passed away. As sometimes happens in such transitions, quality and direction sometimes seemed questionable. Now a new winemaker has suddenly and dramatically put it back on track. The market will eventually realize this and both price and scarcity is likely to increase. This is quintessential and very youthfully fresh Tavel. It makes me laugh when I drink it. more here

2014 Côtes de Provence, Clos Cibonne. $26 retail – $23.60 tonight only
This is the darling of Detroit rosé wine drinkers. A small estate in Provence farming the heirloom grape variety known as Tibouren, the wine is aged in large wooden vessels and under varying degrees of fleurette, which is a naturally occurring aerobic microbial culture. This is a fascinating combination of delicacy and complexity. more here