Saturday, January 30, 2010
I like, or perhaps I should say I'm intrigued yet surprised by, the sinister feel of this ad for Hennessy cognac.
The woman is so obviously trapped, by layers and layers of things in the picture: the bottle and glass and hands, and the pouring liquid framing her of course, but also the record player, the dog, the lamp, the plant, the angle of the couch and the magazines on it, the angle of her own elbow. She might be some sort of creature in an experiment, and the mad scientist is the one measuring out a dose of something new, whose effects on the subject can only be guessed. Even the yellow color is sickly and unfestive.
And mind you, all this strikes me even though I'm not the type to see male chauvinist advertising industry bugbears everywhere.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Through Europe reflects a near-two year, early '60s sojourn on the continent. Woods and his wife traveled in style, back in the days when wealthy people sailed to Europe, and then spent months at a stretch motoring through Ireland or renting apartments on St.- Jean-Cap-Ferrat, because that winter in France had turned so cold and stormy. His tone grows a little bit monotonous and even prissy sounding at times -- lots of "and then Mrs. Woods and I stayed at this charming old hotel" -- but after all his purpose is to give recipes, and he does that with few frills. Many of the recipes are unusual, and all seem to be primary source documents taken from working professional chefs of the time. If some of the dishes, like spaghetti carbonara, are now standard cookbook fare, it may be because writers like Woods helped make them so.
Brussels sprouts with green grapes is not standard cookbook fare. Woods ate it, he says, in Belgium.
Prepare 1 pound of Brussels sprouts. (Pull the two or three darkest green outer leaves from each. They contain what Madeleine Kamman calls "the offending oils" that make this vegetable too strong for many people's taste. Woods asks you to soak the sprouts in heavily salted water for 10 to 15 minutes before draining them and removing loose or yellowing leaves.)
Bring 1 and 1/2 cups chicken broth to a boil, and then drop in the sprouts. Cover and cook over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, until they are almost tender. Then, stir in 1 cup of green grapes, 2 Tbsp butter, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes longer. Drain off any remaining liquid and serve.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
(Did I mention that this week, the store temporarily lost the satellite feed that normally pipes in the Muzak? Silence in a big grocery store is, after a while, eerie, so one day someone decided to tune in a local soft jazz radio station. Hearing "Let's get it on" at 9:30 in the morning in aisle 15 was comical to say the least, and even more so when the chirpy prerecorded announcements about sales in the meat department, etc., came through and drowned out Marvin. Later on the same chirpy, prerecorded ads drowned out some breathy sex kitten warbling about "the Sweetest Taboo." Then someone shut the radio off.)
Megan from TorreBarolo contacted me to suggest my readers might like to know about the property she owns in Italy's Langhe valley, in Piedmont, in the town of Barolo. Yes, that Barolo, where the grand, nebbiolo-based wine is made (though only in those years when the grapes are fine enough to deserve the name). TorreBarolo is a seventeenth-century five story tower, the top three floors of which Megan rents out to vacationers. At the moment, she is holding a giveaway: anyone who becomes a fan of her Facebook page before January 31st -- that's next Sunday -- is automatically entered for a chance to win a 3 night stay between February 5th and March 31st of this year. You'll find more details at her blog, here.
The Langhe is a little-visited area of Italy, she writes, blessed with gorgeous scenery, well preserved medieval hilltop towns, and a unique regional cooking style. Alba, famed for its truffles, is fifteen minutes away, and Asti, famed for its sweet moscato wine, is -- by the look of the map on her website -- perhaps another fifteen minutes beyond that. Hiking trails, wineries, weekend markets, and a new golf resort and spa ten minutes from Barolo will all keep any traveler as busy as he'd like.
Seriously: you might want to take up Italian golf.
For more on the Langhe, its food, wines, festivals, and sights, do visit Megan's website, and go to Facebook to take a chance on winning that three day stay in the tower.
You've got a week.
Saturday, January 23, 2010
"Fun and admiration all your life ... from a few mornings in the kitchen.
"You can be nine or ninety, rich or poor, a famous career woman or the queen of a little white house in the country.
"But when you go out into the clean, quiet kitchen and set forth your shining cake pans ... or shoo away a wistful man lured in by the oven's perfume ... or carry high a candle lit masterpiece to the strains of Happy Birthday (or maybe to wolf whistles and double O's) ... that's when you wouldn't change places with any woman in the world.
"And the secret of it all is just this: cakemaking really isn't one bit hard to learn!"
Opposite Miss Barton's text is this great picture:
The pearls, the dress, the coiffure, the candles, the cake, the silver ewer and the flowers, the plates and cups, the woman beaming -- this is an altar, and she is a priestess. And doesn't it make you want to go and learn all about cake?
The subject is more involved than you might think, perhaps more involved than I know. There are, it seems, at least four basic types of cakes. Butter cakes are those made with butter or some kind of fat, usually solid -- shortening, margarine, sometimes vegetable oil. They are leavened with baking powder or baking soda. These are the cakes most of us plan to make for birthdays and celebrations. They're also the ones we bake when we buy a box mix, and just add oil, water, and maybe eggs.
Sponge or foam cakes 1) lack this fat, and 2) get their leavening only from eggs, either separated or not. Angel food cakes are a special category of sponge cakes, made without even the richness of egg yolks. True angel food consists only of flour, egg whites, sugar, and flavorings. The classic European genoise, in its turn, is an extra special category of sponge cake that starts with whole, unseparated eggs, which are barely poached in warm water while still in their shells and then cracked open and beaten whole with sugar. Before the resulting batter can be made too fluffy with beating, flour and then melted clarified butter are folded into it, and then it's baked. It's quite a tour de force, as explained in Madeleine Kamman's New Making of a Cook. Read this post, at One for the Table, to relive one woman's experience of making genoise as a sort of entrance exam for a cooking class taught by Madeleine herself.
Chiffon cakes are a third basic type of cake. They've got a little American history behind them, which seems worth a nod since I am not sure how many people actually make the cakes themselves these days. The pamphlet Gold Medal Jubilee Select Recipes, published by the Gold Medal flour company in 1955, exulted in them. These were "the first new cake of the century -- new in taste, new in texture, and new in eating quality." The Gold Medal people justly exulted since they had introduced Chiffon cake to the world as a Softasilk cake flour recipe just a few years earlier, in 1948. In February, to be exact. They in turn got it from a California insurance salesman who, in 1927, had created a cake recipe that combined a butter cake's richness (and its guaranteed, baking-powder rising), with a sponge cake's egg-white lightness, and threw in ease of preparation to boot. His secret ingredient was salad oil, which to me means olive oil. Regardless, the use of any oil meant, as you began your baking day, no more softening and painstaking creaming of butter. Although, come to think of it, a liquid-fat, eggy sponge cake sounds a bit like that extra special genoise. Plus ca change, perhaps.
In any case, the insurance salesman who invented chiffon kept it a closely guarded secret for twenty years, even as it became something of a local (Los Angeles) sensation and he found himself called upon to prepare it for swanky Hollywood gatherings and famous Hollywood restaurants. The archivist for General Mills who answered my questions in an email last September picks up the story -- and by the way, we should remember that several of the characters in the story are all one. General Mills, General Foods, Gold Medal flour, Softasilk flour, the pamphlet writers for Cake Secrets and Gold Medal Jubilee, and Betty Crocker all, shall we say, took home paychecks signed alike. Oh, and the inventive, flour-bestrewn insurance salesman's name was -- wait for it -- Harry Baker. The archivist says:
"Over the years, Baker struck up a 'friendship' with Betty Crocker while listening to her radio programs. Deciding that she would be the one to share the recipe with American homemakers, Baker traveled to Minneapolis (home of Betty Crocker and General Mills) to share the recipe secret with the Gold Medal Home Economists. The home economists adapted the cake recipe to typical home-baking techniques, created flavor variations and introduced the cake recipe to the world." Ten years later, she concluded, "Betty Crocker introduced a Chiffon Cake [box] mix in two flavors (Orange and Cocoa)."
It seems almost bathetic to come down from these complex and exciting Jazz Age heights to the simplicity of the fourth type of cake, tortes or Torten. They are all Old World elegance and sophistication. Tortes are flourless, made with ground nuts, egg whites, and bread or cake crumbs. Madeleine Kamman in The New Making of a Cook writes that these cakes reflect the economical thinking of bakers who did not want to waste, on cakes, flour that should have gone into bread; so they baked with leftover crumbs instead. Vienna, she says, has been Torten's home since the 18th century.
Now by sheer delightful luck I happened recently to find and buy, at a library cast-off book sale, the December 1987 issue of Gourmet magazine. Among its terrific articles -- on nutmeg, some small museums of London, the rums of Puerto Rico, a Swiss Christmas tree shop -- we find Barbara Kafka's "Great American Cakes." She carries on our story, writing of the special place that cakes have in the American kitchen, along with other comestibles that are not just treats but great food: grilled steaks, corn on the cob, "extravagant tossed salads," pies, cookies, and more. "These are the cakes that are really ours," she writes, "and they don't exist in quite the same way anyplace else." And she agrees with Cake Secrets, and its be-pearled priestess in the picture above, that there was a time when fine homemade cakes "were a cook's special pride -- until the advent of cake mixes and working women."
She shepherds all our varieties together under the name layer cakes, and that makes sense not only because it's the vernacular but because it reminds us that most of these delights are meant to be stacked, frosted and filled, in all sorts of free form ways. There's a reason. "These endless creations were the home cooks' response to America's abundance of fine white flour, the invention of baking powder around 1850, and the development of freestanding stoves with easy to use ovens. What all this meant was that cakes would rise and bake evenly and could be produced relatively rapidly and reliably."
And then they could be stacked, filled and frosted. Gold Medal Jubilee also claims that in the Smoky Mountains, layer cakes were called stack cakes, and were traditional at weddings. Each guest brought a layer to add to the Bride's Stack Cake, the eventual height of which therefore reflected the bride's popularity. Rather a harrowing test to face on one's wedding day, surely. Perhaps people were kind, and brought extra.
Whatever cake you plan to make next, to reward yourself after all this rigorous study, you could hardly do better than to grace it with this chocolate frosting, which Kafka offers up as a childhood favorite. It leaped out at me because it calls for, good golly, a stick of butter and eight, eight squares of baking chocolate. I'm sure Harry Baker, and Miss Barton of the wolf whistles, would be proud.
Barbara Kafka's chocolate frosting, 1987
1 stick butter
8 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate, chopped coarse
3 cups confectioner's sugar
2/3 cup milk
1/2 tsp coarse kosher salt
1 tsp vanilla
Melt the butter with the chocolate in the top of a double boiler, stirring until smooth. Let cool.
Sift the sugar into a large bowl. Scald the milk, and beat it in to the sugar along with the salt and vanilla. Beat until smooth.
Add the chocolate mixture and beat until smooth. Then, either place the bowl in a larger bowl of ice water and continue beating until the frosting is cool and of spreading consistency, or chill the frosting, covered, for 30 minutes to an hour until it is spreadable. Makes 2 and 1/2 cups, enough to fill and frost two 8 or 9 inch layers.
Monday, January 18, 2010
There seems not much to say about it except that it's delicious, powerful, fairly easy to grow given long-lasting hot weather for its late ripening season, and that it makes wines of great, masculine class and recognizable quality anywhere it is planted. It also beefs up the attributes of other, thinner wines, and so is the go-to partner for shyer reds, especially in the New World. Oz Clarke writes, in Grapes and Wines:
"King Cab, they call it. King Cab the colonizer, the conqueror. Cab the corrupter of other cultures, laying waste other grape varieties and other wine styles round the world with the brutal power of its broadsword, from Tuscany to Bulgaria, from Chile to Spain.
"Yet at the same time Cabernet Sauvignon is the consumer's friend. It was the first grape to give such upfront flavours to red wine, flavours that were so easy to recognize and admire, that they turned on generations of drinkers who'd never come near a bottle of red before."
The flavors discussed by wine writers generally run to blackberry, black currant, cassis (same as black currant), plum, and in older fine cabernets, cedar wood and cigar box. If you taste something more like green pepper, you have a wine made either of underripe fruits -- that late ripening habit can be a problem if fall comes early -- or, according to Karen MacNeil, simply a poorly made wine (The Wine Bible).
With all due respect to the experience and judgment of these writers, I wonder about the constant comparisons they make, when speaking of cab, to these "black" fruits. When was the last time anyone ever tasted or even saw a black currant? Recently I was able to taste a black currant wine, and the last thing it brought to mind was cabernet sauvignon. I wonder if wine writers are not perhaps swayed by the color of the wine more than anything else. In an older book, Plain Talk about Fine Wine (1984), author and winemaker Justin Meyer suggests sharpening your palate by tasting wine from a black glass. See what you think, he says, when you have no clues about color. It would be a useful experiment. Pretend I'm the teacher, or rather Justin Meyer is, and this is a test question: "what does a cab taste like? -- do not use any visual descriptors." I do not, unlike the poet, drink with mine eyes.
Anyway, cab is king not only for all the above reasons but also for the devolutionary reason that it is one of the prime grapes of Bordeaux, and Bordeaux remains "the motor of the wine world" (Hugh Johnson's Pocket Guide, 2010). "To know wine, you must know French wine, and to know French wine, you must know Bordeaux" (Wine for Dummies, McCarthy and Ewing). The right soil, climate, grapes, and centuries of winemaking experience have all contributed to making Bordeaux incomparable, particularly that left bank, the Haut-Medoc with its famed classed growths, its Latours and Margaux; when you buy an inexpensive, easy-drinking cabernet from Chile or anywhere else, you are buying it because the winemakers there, who can only dream of miraculous Bordelaise style results, are at least testing for themselves the heft of that powerful, consumer-friendly French broadsword.
The grape itself is a child of interesting parents. A generation ago, when Frank Schoonmaker was writing his Encyclopedia of Wine, he said simply that there were two cabernets, our cabernet sauvignon and the more prolific cabernet franc, vinified in France's Loire valley and bearing on its labels, as it still does, Loire place names like Bourgeuil and Chinon. (Are you fond of history? In thinking of the Loire, think King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, circa 1200, think The Lion in Winter. " 'There's to be a Christmas court. Where?' " " 'At Chinon.' " In those feudal days the Loire was Henry's possession, as Aquitaine to the south was Eleanor's. Come to think of that, Bordeaux was Eleanor's birthplace and her capital.) And -- Schoonmaker explained -- the reader ought not to be confused by the California wine called Ruby Cabernet, made from a single grape, a new cross between a cabernet sauvignon and the lesser known carignan.
Today, Ron and Sharon Herbst are able to state, in The New Wine Lover's Companion, that our King Cab has been discovered to be botanically the natural offspring of Chinon's own cab franc and, curiously, the white (Bordeaux) grape sauvignon blanc. How on earth can a red grape plant and a white grape plant get together and produce a new, red grape that is better -- fuller of all the good flavors, plus the acids and tannins that promote ageworthiness in wine -- than either parent? A botanist I am not, so I can only guess that sometime in the late 1600s, which is when King Cab seems to have appeared in the fields, some enterprising French bee must have gone dashing about pollinating things, and so made us all the happier for it. The good people at the Viticulture and Enology Department, University of California at Davis, are the ones who have demonstrated this, via DNA splicing and mapping and so on. They are wonderful. Oenophiles know that place, incidentally, simply as UC Davis, and it's a holy of holies.
If you want one characteristic of this interesting, this kingly grape child to remember, to help you understand what it does in your glass, remember that cab is the small grape with the thick skin. Its ratio of solids to juice is therefore high, and this accounts for its high tannin levels and deep color -- and for the fact that it is not always one of the nicest wines to drink young (Jancis Robinson's Wine Course, 2003). In Bordeaux, it is blended and calmed with other reds like merlot and cabernet franc; where it swirls proudly unblended, as in Napa or Australia, it can prompt even in the most sympathetic wine lovers (here, Robinson), epithets like "initially monstrous in their tannins" or "more like cold remedies in their youth."
What's the answer? Buy now, drink later. Or, snap up a California cab on your grocery store shelf whose vintage date says 2006 or 2005 or even earlier. They are not too difficult to find, since many people avoid Napa cabs because of their expense (they tend to start at $20 a bottle). If you want to drink it now, even that few years' aging will probably prove a help, and another year might make it even more enjoyable. Of course there is no lack of "jammy," "friendly," "fruit bomb" cabernets, vintage 2009 -- that they are becoming the norm horrifies experienced wine lovers -- but drinking them now may just confirm Jancis Robinson's observations, and make you wonder how well Robitussin pairs with a meal. Michael Broadbent's phrase "global red" also comes to mind. Recall that ideally we're looking, among all our noble grapes, for that elusive quality ...
Image from The Pursuit of Harpyness
P.s. Have we actually completed our survey of the noble grapes? We seem to have forgotten chenin blanc, upon whose nobility both Michael Broadbent and Karen MacNeil agree. And Broadbent adds muscat to his list, which is unusual to say the least.
Friday, January 15, 2010
Naturally there has never been much that is newsy or local about baking. A cookie recipe is a cookie recipe. We Food and Drink Examiners prattle happily on, writing down recipes that work equally as well in Boise as in Chicago. "Most of what you guys are writing is not local," the hard-worked Channel manager tells us forthrightly. And lays out the new policy and the sanctions.
Faced with a sort of new Prime Directive, I have decided I don't care to really get into the job of volunteer journalist on the local baking industry, interviewing pastry chefs, keeping track of special sales, announcing where unique ingredients for a really local cookie recipe may be found, and so on. I'd rather just bake. So I'm retiring, and wish everybody in the Denver headquarters, and elsewhere, Godspeed.
But I've done some rather nice things at Examiner, and I feel like sharing. One of my proudest achievements so far, if no one minds my saying so, was this: Pecan torte with mocha filling and sauce Jose. As per Examiner.com guidelines, I broke the epic up into four installments. Trusting that my dear AFG readers have the requisite attention spans, here it all is.
And don't worry. This is still a wine blog. It's just a wine blog where, if no one minds, we also save room for dessert.
Pecan torte with mocha filling and Sauce Jose (a rum-infused whipped egg cream), is a convoluted 1930s-era set of recipes, coming from Edith Key Haines' Cookbook -- that's the whole title -- published in 1937 and sitting on the shelves of the Chicago Public Library's main branch on State Street (fourth floor).
Getting ready for the recipes means making a shopping list. By the way, you'll also need a nice, long, free Saturday or Sunday afternoon, and a willingness to dive in and have some fun with a cake that -- who knows? -- maybe not ten people have made since Mrs. Haines published her book seventy-three years ago. That, to me, is one of the mysterious, almost spiritual thrills of retro cooking. Who else has ever made this, who exactly? And when?
For the torte:
- 6 eggs, separated (you will beat and use the egg whites)
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 1 cup ground pecans
- 1/2 cup zwieback crumbs
- the zest of 1/2 lemon, grated
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 2 Tablespoons rum
For the mocha filling:
- 4 Tablespoons ground coffee
- 4 and 1/2 Tablespoons flour
- pinch salt
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 egg yolks (you will not need these 2 egg whites)
- 1 Tablespoon butter
For Sauce Jose:
- 1 egg, separated (you will beat and use the white)
- 3/4 cup powdered sugar
- 1 Tablespoon melted butter
- 3 Tablespoons rum
- 1 cup cream
Assuming you have kitchen staples like flour, sugar, powdered sugar, and butter on hand, the somewhat unusual ingredients you might need to run out and buy are pecans, zwieback, lemons, rum, cream, and more eggs. You'll need 9 in all.
- 6 egg yolks
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 1 cup pecans, ground
- 1/2 cup zwieback crumbs (graham cracker crumbs will serve)
- the grated rind of 1/2 a lemon
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 2 Tablespoons rum
- 6 egg whites, beaten stiff (save this step for last)
Butter and flour 2 cake pans -- Mrs. Edith Key Haines says 7 inch, I used 9 inch (and reduced the baking time, of course). Preheat the oven to 325 F.
Beat the egg yolks with the powdered sugar until thick and pale colored. Add the pecans, zwieback crumbs, lemon rind, juice, and rum, mixing after each addition. Beat the whites until stiff, and fold them in to the yolk mixture. Pour into the pans, and bake 30 minutes for 7 inch pans, 20 minutes for 9 inch pans. Remove from pans and cool on racks.
The mocha filling
In her Cookbook, Edith Key Haines also recommended an orange filling, but mocha seemed a better choice to me. She also advised, even insisted upon, the use of a double boiler here. For the sake of full disclosure, I'll admit -- well, let me just echo her advice. The experienced baker may think he can dispense with the slow-simmering bain-marie and use a heavy-bottomed saucepan instead, but Mrs. Haines was right. Use a double boiler. The alternative is having to strain out the lumps in your mocha filling, when all along you might have saved yourself the trouble.
- 4 Tablespoons ground coffee
- 4 and 1/2 Tablespoons flour
- 1/3 cup sugar
- pinch salt
- 2 egg yolks, beaten
- 1 Tablespoon butter
In a small saucepan, bring 1 and 3/4 cups water to a boil. Add the coffee, stir, turn off the heat, and let steep 5 minutes. Strain out the grounds and reserve the coffee.
In the top of a double boiler over simmering water, heat 1/4 cup of the coffee, plus the flour, sugar, and salt. Mix and stir until smooth. Add the remaining coffee and simmer, covered, 15 minutes.
Pour a little of the hot mixture into the beaten egg yolks to temper them. Then add the yolks to the rest of the coffee mix in the double boiler and continue heating for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat, and beat in the butter in small pieces.
When the filling cools, spread it between the pecan torte layers. The recipe does not make enough to fill and frost the torte as you would a conventional butter cake. For a topping, you'll make and serve the Sauce Jose.
The sauce Jose
- 1 egg yolk
- 3/4 cup confectioner's sugar
- 1 Tablespoon melted butter
- 3 Tablespoons rum (or a mix of 2 Tablespoons brandy and 1 Tablespoon kirsch)
- 1 egg white, beaten stiff
- 1 cup heavy cream, whipped
Beat the egg yolk until thick and light colored. Gradually add the powdered sugar, beating to make a shiny thick paste. Beat in the melted butter. Add the rum and stir. Fold in the egg white gently, and then fold in the whipped cream. The sauce will be light, thick, and rather loose.
Spoon it at once over the torte, one slice at a time. Refrigerate the remaining sauce.
Whipped heavy cream breaks down in 24 hours, so you should plan to eat up all this sauce soon. It is very good ladled over fresh summer berries as well as the cake. Sauce Jose is gluten free, although of course the torte and filling are not.
And congratulate yourself on your achievement. What wine will you have with this? People don't pair wine with desserts enough. A charming, sweet riesling? A gentle, companionable malbec? Your choice, no sanctions.
Monday, January 11, 2010
Saturday, January 9, 2010
I suspect the more important information on the label may be "Imported by Bivio wines, Sonoma, CA." This was a very pleasant little wine, albeit crafted I think with the American market in mind, from the bright orange label with the drawing of the Vespa scooter on it, to the jazzy fruit flavors masking what a stronger Chianti can be. If you like the gamy, horsy personality of Chianti, and the tartness, you may find that after a first promising whiff of the stables, Bivio has wandered off to the raspberry bushes and stayed there. But that's all right. It's even cute, because according to the label, Bivio means "fork in the road."
Retail: about $13.
Sunday, January 3, 2010
First day: "Surprisingly brownish, cinnamon-candy color -- charred (faint) aroma -- very acidic -- apple skins, caramel -- faint green pepper -- needs opening up?"
Next day: filled out, fruitier, more complex and elegant. Very good.
It was delicious with a hearty creamed dish for dinner, but I would be embarrassed to admit what exactly was the dish that was creamed. Let's just say your mom probably would have made it in the fifties, particularly if she was in a hurry to get something on the table for supper. I do think, though, that a cream sauce is a good red wine's best friend.
And on the topic of tasting notes, I wonder, would it be all right to compare wines to books? The fruit and flowers descriptors are getting tiresome and they put off newcomers who, often very sensibly, complain they "can't taste all that" in a wine. Straightforward reports of tannins and acids are honest but don't convey the pleasures in the glass. Abstractions like "fully evolved," "opulent," "harmonious," and "broad-shouldered" -- I have Michael Broadbent's Vintage Wine open to page 113 -- only serve the hugely experienced. I am sick to death of the 100-point scale: people obey it slavishly because it looks logical, wine wholesalers use it to sell wines even though in bandying it about, they might as well be talking Esperanto ("it's a great wine, Spectator gave it 89 points" -- And?), and anyway, as a savvy customer recently observed, the 100 point scale is not even really a 13 point scale, it's a 5 point scale. No one wants to hear about rated wines unless they score above 87; and yet, no wine floating in the stratosphere above 92 points is going to be available outside the palaces of Dubai, Tokyo, or Manhattan. Probably most of it is still in the cellar at Screaming Eagle. Their website, incidentally, is forbidding but fun. FAQ: can I visit the property? "No." I'm reminded of Steve Martin in Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid. "Well then, can I use your underwear to make soup?"
But as I enjoyed my merlot last night -- there's a spareness to merlots, it seems, a reticence that demands some patience to savor -- I thought, what's it like? And the image that occurred to me was of a good, serious, contemporary novel. Any one of quality, well made, complex, rewarding. More, if wines can resemble books, then what wines are graphic novels? Which are bodice rippers, which are fantasy, which are science fiction, which are Harlequin romances, which are Tom Clancy thrillers, which are Shakespeare? Which one is War and Peace?
Could such comparisons, such a rating scale, be as meaningful as the ones that rely on numbers, supermarket similes, or even emoticons? ("It got a 'Stephen King' at At First Glass.") I don't know, but I know where to start.
White zinfandel = can only be this. Or vice versa.