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The gods appeased

An offering to the gods at Stonehenge
… though we definitely high-tailed it out of there before they discovered it was Merlot…

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Taintsgiving

Not a bad dinner, as Thanksgivings go when you’re cooking at someone else’s house. In my mother-in-law’s kitchen I found a terrifically sharp knife, mirabile dictu, and we had enough time to go for a walk in the Jackson-Frazier Wetland and still have food on the table by late afternoon. On the downside, an inaccurate meat thermometer led to a slightly overcooked duck, and I broke the gravy, partly because the glass-top stove remains a pain in the ass to use. Worst of all, though, was that the Garagistes 2009 extended-maceration Cabernet Sauvignon, which tasted so good after the last press of 2010 just last week, was unmistakably corked.

I don’t know what my fellow Garagistes’ experience has been; I’ve come across only three or four corked bottles of our own wine that I can recall. A good record, given estimates of the prevalence of cork taint that generally run much higher, but a disappointment at a family gathering for which I’d brought one bottle. Even for a glass-half-corked kind of person, though, there’s sometimes an upside, and in this case it was that seated next to me was the chemist husband of my sister-in-law. We got to talking about corked wine, and he mentioned that he’d come across this article about recent advances in the Global War Against Taint. The short version is that the authors of a study recently published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry have identified a microbe that produces 2-methoxy-3,5-dimethylpyrazine, or MDMP, one of the compounds principally associated with cork taint. As they say on the interblogs, read the whole thing—especially if you thought the culprit was just 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, or TCA, because boy are you behind the times.

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Finally, for reasons

The inscrutable East, the mysterious Orient—it’s a pervasive prejudice, and you don’t have to read Edward Said to know that it’s orientalist, occidentonormative nonsense. It turns out that the ineffable Other drinks wine for exactly the same reasons we do:

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The Littlest Winemakers

Before we had children, I planned to plant a small vineyard in the back yard. All that remains of my noble intentions is now a single vine, which despite its fine pedigree—it’s a descendant of one of John Thomas’* vines, itself a descendant of one of David Lett’s—has been left to sprawl in a corner, untended. We usually just eat the fruit it produces, but this year Siobhán had a better idea. When I spotted her taking the potato masher out of the utensil drawer and asked, “Sweetie? What are you doing?”, she replied with the distinctive determination of a five-year-old, “I’m going to make wine.”

An excellent child! So we went out to harvest together, and she spent about an hour manually crushing and de-stemming the crop into a bowl while we talked about the rest of the steps it would take on the way to becoming wine. We deposited the must in a plastic container, and after it began fermenting with ambient yeast, she punched it down at the kitchen table; when the time came, we pressed it through a sieve into a couple of bottles.

A month on, we racked it off the lees and gave it a taste. It’s acidic and minimally fruity, obviously from massively overcropped and under-ripe fruit, and could probably use a dose of copper sulfate—in other words, kind of like Les Garagistes’ 1997 Pinot Noir, only better in that it can bear an “estate” label. In the meantime, however, both Siobhán and Maura have been to LG world headquarters to learn about economies of scale by punching down much larger quantities of wine in fermenters big enough for frolicking naked in (note to consumers: no naked children were actually immersed in this wine). As you can see in these awesome photos**, courtesy of Matt, they were delighted.

Having done their first vintage at five, they’ll have as many as a dozen under their belts by the time they apply to college. By then, the average school will cost millions per year, but what should I care? My daughters will be offered a free ride in the oenology program at UC Davis. That’s long-term thinking, my friends.

*I know, funny. Cf. Marcel Pagnol in La Gloire de mon père, writing about his uncle: “The most astonishing thing was that he was not called Jules at all. His real Christian name was Thomas. But my dear aunt having heard it said that country-people called their chamber-pots Thomas, had decided to call him Jules—which is, in fact, an even more usual name for the same utensil.” Of course, “John Thomas” doesn’t mean “chamber pot,” IYKWIM. I hasten to add that he’s a great, understated guy who makes great, elegant Pinot.

**Stupid WordPress won’t let me lay out or caption the photos the way I wanted. The intended caption for the first was “Winemaking: a must for children.” So clever, n’est-ce pas?

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David Lett 1939-2008

Sad news marking the end of an era: David Lett died Thursday of heart failure at home in Dundee.

Lett earned the nickname ‘Papa Pinot’ for introducing Pinot Noir to Oregon, for introducing Pinot Gris to the United States and, some say, for his resemblance to ‘Papa’ Ernest Hemingway, whom he resembled not just physically but also in his tough, terse, no-nonsense style.

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Wining Children

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Asimov posts this week on how, when, and whether to introduce minors to wine. Could it be that, as a place to learn about drinking, the family home beats the frat house?

“The best evidence shows that teaching kids to drink responsibly is better than shutting them off entirely from it,” he told me. “You want to introduce your kids to it, and get across the point that that this is to be enjoyed but not abused.”

He said that the most dangerous day of a young person’s life is the 21st birthday, when legality is celebrated all too fervently. Introducing wine as a part of a meal, he said, was a significant protection against bingeing behavior.

What is the evidence? In 1983, Dr. George E. Vaillant, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard University, published “The Natural History of Alcoholism,” a landmark work that drew on a 40-year survey of hundreds of men in Boston and Cambridge.

Dr. Vaillant compared 136 men who were alcoholics with men who were not. Those who grew up in families where alcohol was forbidden at the table, but was consumed away from the home, apart from food, were seven times more likely to be alcoholics that those who came from families where wine was served with meals but drunkenness was not tolerated.

Put that way, it seems obvious, but the post is thought-provoking, and I’m not the only reader who thinks so. The Pour normally sees 30 or fewer comments per post; this one had over 300 in a day. Among them are plenty of anecdotes and arguments pro and con, including not a few sobering perspectives from alcoholics. This being the Interwebs, there’s also plenty of sanctimony, hysteria, anger, inapt analogies and rhetorical overreach—the Human Comedy as it plays out in comment threads.

Puritanism and hedonism are the yin and yang of the American Way, so drinking, and thinking about drinking, will always be good blog fodder. But reasonable people such as ourselves can draw a couple of modest conclusions from this particular go-round: to the extent that parents can influence teenage drinking by providing a model of appreciation over intoxication, they should; and—it is delightful to report—adolescents who develop discriminating palates are more likely to turn up their noses at rotgut. Turn your kids into wine snobs, people. It’s the responsible thing to do.

The McQ household is a few years away from universal wine consumption, though Siobhán, one of our five-year-olds, will sneak a taste if given the opportunity, and proclaim it good. Smelling is permitted without restriction, however, and I am pleased that my daughters’ noses are keen. Offered a whiff of a 2005 Mission View Zinfandel, a full-bodied wine redolent of overripe red fruit, Siobhán noted that it smelled “like a thousand rotten strawberries.” That’s my girl.

(Photo nicked from here)

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Citizen Keen

Competition in the American Wine Blog Awards is apparently tight, which leads us to wonder if there’s something we might be missing, something no respectable wine blog should be without, something that says we’re serious about being the go-to URL for all your vinous bloggy needs. Ah, yes. How could we have forgotten?
Why Paul Masson didn’t run these outtakes as the final ad is a mystery; they’re among the most compelling work in Welles’ entire oeuvre.

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