A blog about life, language, writing, and other trivia.

Monday, August 25, 2008


Hello, semester.

We have been in the ring many times now, and I admit that you have won a few rounds over the years. And while I have won many myself, you keep coming back, strong as before. You have the tenacity of a badger and the craftiness of a fox. But I am getting both older and wiser. I know your moves, and I know how to handle them.

I will neutralize your offense by cleaning my inbox twice a week and not waiting until Monday to submit Tuesday's photocopy requests. I will chip away at you with jabs and quick body shots, writing for an hour here and a half-hour there as time permits (though you should look for a few haymakers, too). Between rounds I will get plenty of sleep instead of staying up late watching Iron Chef or Mythbusters. And I am going to stick so faithfully to my gameplan of working out regularly that people might mistake me for a Drago-like superhuman instead of a mere man.

I must break you.

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

I'm No Miles

It's the most famous line about wine in recent film history, and maybe in all of film history:

"If anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving. I am not drinking any fucking Merlot!"
The film, of course, is Sideways, and with these words Miles--the self-loathing writer, Pinot Noir lover, and arbiter of taste for would-be wine snobs across the nation--sounded the death-knell of the Merlot glut of the 90's and issued in the Age of Pinot. (Though in acutality Merlot sales went up after the film's release--go figure.) Nowadays, one can hardly go to a party or a tasting without someone proclaiming, "I'm not a big fan of Merlot. I like Pinots." True, maybe some of them came by their opinions honestly. But I hear that same sentiment uttered often enough to make me think there are lots of wine drinkers out there who just do what the latest screenwriter or best-selling author tells them to do. (By the way, one reason Merlot is so good for any occasion is that it tends to have lush but not cloying fruit and a soft, supple texture, making it easy to drink with or without food.)

So why should we care? Normally, I wouldn't, but the law of supply and demand says that the more people who want to drink Pinot Noir, the more money wineries, distributors, and merchants can charge for it. That's why you can hardly find a decent--not great, mind you, but decent--bottle of the stuff for under $20. (Well, that and the fact that the Pinot Noir grape is notoriously--and, I should add, literally--thin-skinned and, so, temperamental.) Fortunately for me, I happen to like Merlot (bane of party goers everywhere, it would seem). I also like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Malbec, Carmenère, and Pinotage, to name a few of my favorite reds. In fact, the one thing I do come close to wine snobbery about has nothing to do with the price of the bottle, the prestige of the winery, or even the quality of the wine (the evaluation of which is very subjective). Instead, I'm snobbish in my conviction that, if you want to call yourself a wine lover, you should at least try to appreciate a range of colors, bodies, styles, and flavors. Besides, when you don't have a mint to spend on wine, broad-ranging taste is an assett.

Still, I do like a good Pinot. But what I consider to be a "good Pinot" doesn't mesh perfectly with popular or critical tastes. I prefer the softer, rounder, more full-bodied style (the Sanford below is a good example) to the more elegant, crisp-almost-to-the-point-of-effervescence style. (The Beaux Freres below isn't this way in the extreme, but it does flirt with it.) Don't get me wrong--a good Pinot Noir has to have a solid backbone of acidity, and the best ones will be infused with seductive, earthy notes. It's just that the austere snap that makes Pinot so exciting for many wine lovers can, for me, be taken too far.

In sum, I will gladly drink fucking Merlot, along with all the other varietals I mention above (not to mention the gamut of white wines, all of which can be delicious--in fact, I just had an oily, petrolium-laden Alsatian Gewürztraminer that was super fun, though not something I drink often). And, of course, that includes Pinot Noir. To come at wine from any other direction is, to my mind, to come at it sideways.

Now, the notes:

1. Leroy Bourgone 1999 ($44.99/bottle)
This basic Burgundy has a nice, balanced nose of baked plums, dried leaves, damp earth, and spice and has a light-medium body on the palate. A very earthy core is infused with black cherry, licorice, and spice notes, with fine tannins and a long, peppery finish.

2. Sanford Santa Rita Hills Sanford & Benedict Vineyard 2002 ($49.99/bottle)
The nose is ripe, rich, and plummy, with some woody and sweet tar notes. Medium bodied, with a smooth, silky mouthfeel, this Pinot boasts flavors of dark plum and berry, toast, and new leather, all strung on a taught but not overwhelming rope of acidity. The long finish is pure black tea. Spectator gave this one 87; I'd bump it up 5 points. Excellent.

3. Taz Fiddlestix Vineyard 2005 ($36.99/bottle)
This silky, medium bodied Pinot offers aromas of cherry and raspberry cola and a lightly floral perfumed note. Snappy acidity gives lift to flavors of cola, tea, and smoke. The finish is dark and herbal. Nice.

4. Etude Pinot Noir 2004 ($42.99/bottle)
The nose is pure Old World, dominated by wild mushrooms, minerality, and barnyard notes. Medium bodied, with black cherry and plum fruit, mountains of black soil, and cigarette tobacco on the palate. This is a beautifully sensuous, seductive wine.

5. Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post Highlighner 2005 ($44.99/bottle)
Smooth and medium bodied with sprightly acidity, this Pinot offers aromas of straight cola, peppery spice, and flowers, and flavors of sweet dark berries, tar, cola, and a hint of earth. This is a nice, solid wine.

6. Beaux Freres Ribbon Ridge Vineyard 2006 ($79.99/bottle)
Black cherry, toasted wood, and rich perfumed spice aromas give way to a medium bodied palate. Flavors of sweet cherry, red and black licorice, and spice seem to jump around on your tongue, so kinetic is the acidity. As my introductory comments imply, this is not my ideal style of Pinot. But becuase it has some richness for balance, it is a very good example of that style. If you like your Pinots lively, you will love this one.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Confessions of a car-crazy

Bill listed ten pop culture phenomena he just never got into, and as I toyed with developing my own list, my mind roamed instead to things I do get into. I won't lay a list on you (though I enjoyed Bill's, and, for the record, I'm a big Pink Floyd fan), but I have to share what may be my all-time favorite piece of dialogue in a film. In The Right Stuff, John Glenn (Ed Harris) describes himself using a line that originally appeared in the book, and which Thomas Wolfe used to describe Glenn (instead of Glenn referring to himself). Lying in bed, Mike and Carol Brady-style, Glenn and his wife are talking about the space program, and Glenn observes that his fellow astronauts think he is a "Dudley Do-Right." When his wife laughingly agrees, he says, "Well, that's me, I guess--a lonely beacon of restraint and self sacrifice in a squall of car crazies."

It may be forced. It may be hard to believe that Glenn would have said such a thing. (He didn't, apparently.) But in the context of the film, it has a calm, resolute simplicity that is a perfect contrast to the carnival atmosphere that pervades much of the rest of the movie.

I didn't see The Right Stuff in the theater until Roger Ebert picked it in 2003 for his annual "Overlooked Films" festival in Champaign-Urbana, but I saw it pretty close to its release on cable. And I've never forgotten that line.