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

Friday, September 26, 2008

Critique With Legs

In "Education for Irrelevance," Kurt Spellmeyer maintains that print-based academic cultural critique tends to reach such a tiny audience that it has essentially no effect at all on the culture being critiqued:

Let's say it's still 1999, and you've just finished watching a movie, and your outrage is so great that you set to work on a critique--an 'intervention,' as we say, in popular culture. In your critique, coyly entitled 'Saving Ryan's Privates,' you demonstrate that Steven Spielberg's seemingly anodyne film is in fact deeply complicit with the same patriarchal ideology that undergirded the Third Reich. . . . By the time your intervention rolls off the presses, something like two hundred million people will have seen Spielberg's film at least once. Now consider the impact of your response. For the journal that prints your article, even a prestigious one like Cultural Critique or Social Text, the print run is about eight hundred copies, most of which lie moldering on library shelves until they get decently interred in microfiche. Assuming that most people don't read every article in every edition--and they don't, to say the least--then you can expect a readership of about a hundred or fewer. (80)

In short, Spellmeyer says that such solipsistic, self-indulgent and -satisfied academic writing "has no legs: no one will ever read it who is not actually compelled to" (82). Ignoring for the moment that the essay in which these claims appear exudes condescension and superiority, and ignoring also (if you can) the fact that almost every example of inconsequential academic work Spellmeyer offers involves feminism, Marxism, or a combination of the two (he ridicules "feminist recoveries of Hypatia" and "Marxo-feminist unmaskings of The Simpsons," and he discounts the importance of the "mere exposure of impressionable young minds to John Berger or Gloria Anzaldua" [81]), I would find these numbers compelling even if Spellmeyer had underestimated readership of academic journals by a factor of ten. And, for those of us who identify more with rhetoric than cultural studies, it wouldn't be much of a stretch to extend Spellmeyer's argument to rhetorical criticism.

So I am heartened by the fact that there are some very visible, and very good, rhetorical critics out there, even if they aren't academics:

Work Cited
Spellmeyer, Kurt. "Education for Irrelevance? Or, Joining Our Colleagues in Lit Crit on the Sidelines of the Information Age." Composition in the New Millenium: Rereading the Past, Rewriting the Future. Bloom, Daiker, and White, eds. Carbondale: SIUP, 2003.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Tasting Notes

My latest notes, from the "around the world" tasting:

1. Chateau Haut-Bailly 2005 (France/Bordeaux; $130.99/bottle)
This is one of those wines you're excited to drink even though you know it's a crime to do it a mere three years after the vintage. Still, this very nice Bordeaux has a beautiful nose of currant, dried cranberry, leather, earth, and a touch of gravel. Despite being a young, tannic beast, it still gives hints of what it will be in 8-10 years: a dark, rich, earthy, silky beauty of a wine. Definitely one for the cellar.

2. Mateic EQ Syrah 2005 (Chile; $29.99/bottle)
This syrah immediately puts one in mind of the wines of the northern Rhone (though at a fraction of the cost of most good ones): medium-bodied, with meaty, peppery, and dusty berry and mineral flavors, it simply screams for a nice roasted leg of lamb, or even beef kebabs.

3. Scala Dei Cartoixa 2001 (Spain; $59.99/bottle)
This one is an all-around beautiful wine. It starts with aromas of blackberry, licorice, coffee, and a hint of fragrant toasted almond. Medium-full bodied, with a wonderfully satiny mouthfeel. Enticingly earthy and aromatic flavors of dark, spicy fruit are framed by a bolt of anise up front and a dash of new leather on the finish. Very good now (think steak), but should continue to harmonize for another 3-5 years.

4. Ascheri Sorano Barolo 2001 (Italy; $59.99/bottle)
The brownish tint gives this wine away as the consummate old-world red, with a very sensual nose of barnyard, crushed violet, and chocolate, and silky smooth, full bodied flavors of black plum, cedar, tobacco, and a hint of dusty cocoa. Nicely integrated tannins and surprisingly buoyant acidity will give this very nice wine another 2-4 years' cellaring potential, though if it were in my cellar right now, I'd pop it tomorrow with an equally indulgent plate of duck ragout with wild mushrooms.

5. Showket Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (California; $89.99/bottle)
This Cab's very ripe, fruity nose is underscored by subtle earthy notes. Full bodied, with nice grip and flavors of cassis, blackberry, dark chocolate, bramble, and mint. This is a very nice wine.

6. Schild Barossa Shiraz 2005 (Australia; $28.99/bottle)
This is not your run-of-the-mill Aussie Shiraz, with an intensely musky nose and flavors of super-ripe blueberry, black olive, smoke, and musk. While it might not be my first choice for a day-in, day-out quaffer, I have to give it credit for taking a chance and actually being a sensual, even sense-challenging, wine. Definitely one to pop with grilled red meats.

7. Adelsheim Pinot Noir Deglace 2006 (Oregon; $34.99/bottle)
Dessert wines seem to be en vogue right now, so we shouldn't be surprised to see American producers trying them with grapes not normally associated with sweet wines (for another fun example, look for Meeker's Fro-Zin, a Zinfandel-based dessert wine). Such efforts tend to be hit or miss, but this one--while not earth-shattering--is quite nice, with aromas and flavors of baked cherries and enough acidity to keep the whole affair from being too heavy.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

what he said

Adam McKay tells it like it is. Why aren't more people hearing this message? Oh, yeah.


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Tasting Notes: Semantics Edition

This is cross-posted from Grape and Grain, which explains two things about it:

1. It explains why I talk about the wine tasting as if you had been there yourself (most of Grape and Grain's readers were there, I suspect).

2. It explains why I assume that my reader hasn't spent a considerable amount of time reflecting on the shifting semantic terrain of words like "literally" and "decadent," as well as why I talk about rhetoric as if to laypeople instead of others who are in the biz. (For more on "literally," see Debbie's post on the abuse of words.)

Still, it seems like a good piece to post here, too, for anybody who may have access to these stellar wines.

Tonight’s tasting theme was “decadence defined.” Now, it just so happens that "decadence" is one of those words I’ve been keeping my eye on. In the last 30 or so years (in other words, since I’ve been old enough to pay attention), there have been a few words whose meanings have changed right before our eyes. Take “literally,” for example. I have always been taught that it meant "actually." But, to a number of people—and it sure seems like that number has been steadily increasing, though I’ll concede that, as I’ve become a more astute observer of language, I may simply notice it more—“literally” is essentially a word that marks an extreme or intense state. So, for example, the statement, “I was so mad I literally hit the roof,” could be taken to mean that you really went on top of your house, made a fist (or perhaps you’re a martial arts, open-hand type), and smacked your shingles. But for most people it just means “I was extremely mad.”

And so it is with “decadence.” At some point during the Reagan ‘80’s (probably about the same point it seemed like a good idea to make the film Wall Street), the meaning of “decadence” shifted from “being in a state of decay, either caused by or symptomized by (or both) conspicuous and extreme excess” (think Roman vomiting troughs and orgiastic parties) to “extremely desirable—due to conspicuous and extreme excess.”

Obviously, it’s this second term that applies to tonight’s tasting. But I can’t help wondering what it says about our culture that conspicuous, extreme excess continues to be considered, almost thirty years after the Reagan era began, a sign of fine living rather than an indication that the whole idea of the rags-to-riches American Dream has jumped the shark.

As for this tasting, what saves it for me in the end is that, despite its title, the wines in the lineup really aren’t decadent so much as they are rich and full-bodied (Ok, the prices may be decadent, but that’s why we have small samples of these wines and then go buy a tasty $9.99 bottle of Chilean Cab Sauv.) The Standish Shiraz comes closest—Wine Advocate calls it “opulent”—though even it cannot touch the outrageously syrupy, oozing nectar that is Mollydooker’s “Carnival of Love.” Talk about decadent. (As I said when I reviewed it, you should try it if you have a chance, but it’s almost too much to take.) In fact, the next closest wine in the lineup to being decadent—the “Clio” from El Nido—is definitely ripe and rich, but it is also so superbly balanced and precisely focused that it does not seem excessive at all when you drink it.

I don’t mean to quibble with Bill about terms: a) it’s his store, and he runs the show, and b) I’m sure the actual name for the theme of the tasting is of exceedingly minor importance compared to the formidable task of assembling such a marvelous lineup of rich, full-bodied wines. Indeed, this post may seem like a lot of energy to devote to something as ho-hum as word choice for a wine tasting theme, and you might even be thinking by now (if you haven’t stopped reading altogether), “Who cares?” I do, for one. Before I was a half-cocked amateur wine critic I was, and am, a professor of rhetoric. It’s in my nature to pay attention to the sometimes extraordinary meanings that inhere in mundane language, as well as to share what I find with others. And, if you have made it this far into this post, then I have done what I set out to do: there’s no way, after today, that you’ll ever hear the word “decadent” again without giving it at least a second thought.

Now, the notes:

1. Merryvale Profile 2002 ($99.99/bottle)

This wine has a great nose, with cassis, baked cherry, leathery spice, and just the right amount of toasty oak. The full-bodied palate reveals young, dark flavors of black cherry, bitter leather, chocolate, and spice with big, scratchy tannins dominating the profile (no pun intended). This is a wine to come back to in 3-5 years to see if it has come into balance, because if it does, it's going to be a knockout.

2. Lagier Meredith Syrah 2005 ($54.99/bottle)

The nose on this mountain-grown Syrah is big and fruity, with ripe plums and berries supporting secondary notes of spice and creamy vanilla. Full-bodied, with wonderfully bright acidity, it offers flavors of dark berries and black pepper with an enticing eucalyptus note on the finish. The tannins are nicely integrated. Try this syrah with grilled meat.

3. Conn Valley Right Bank 2005 ($54.99/bottle)

"Right Bank" refers to the right bank of the Gironde river in Bordeaux, where blends tend to be based on Merlot instead of Cabernet Sauvignon. And this wine is surprisingly Bordeaux-like, with earth and leather coming through on the nose and flavors of tart but ripe plum, tobacco, soil, and a hint of black licorice. Full-bodied with soft tannins, this is a beautiful wine that would pair perfectly with lamb or prime rib.

4. El Nido Clio 2005 ($59.99/bottle)

The nose on this very rich Monastrell blend from Jumilla, Spain makes you think it's going to be way over-the-top, even (dare I say?) decadent, with aromas of super-ripe crushed blueberries, vanilla, cream, and toasty spice. Nevertheless, the voluptuous but well-structured palate displays breathtaking balance, even finesse, with an almost refreshingly minty finish that makes you want another sip. You could drink this masterpiece of a wine with food, but why would you want to?

5. The Standish Shiraz 2003 ($79.99/bottle)

This Aussie Shiraz is big, thick and almost over-ripe. The nose offers pronounced aromas of caramelized sugar, smoke, and soft black olives, while the palate shows dark flavors of ripe blackberry, black olive, and a blast of black pepper. This wine is definitely indulgent, and it does a nice job as such, but it would be hard to justify buying a bottle when I know it's in the same price range as D'Arenberg's nearly perfect Dead Arm Shiraz and a number of other stunningly rich and balanced Aussie Shirazes.

6. Caldwell Red Wine 2004 ($104.99/bottle)

This nice, dark, full-bodied red shows flavors and aromas of very ripe, smoky plum, oak, and black olive, with some licorice on the finish.

7. Presidential NV 20-Year Port ($46.99/bottle)

Once you get past the formiddable alcohol (20%), there is a beautifully aromatic and tasty blend of caramel, vanilla, and orange/gran marnier waiting. A definite choice for those NW Ohio winters.

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