Archive for November, 2012

November 30, 2012

Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln (2012 film, not wine)

image004What to drink while watching Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.  It’s a statement, not a question.  If you must give up two and a half hours of your life to this drudge masquerading as both art and history then you must get drunk.  There is no other way to tolerate it.  But what to drink?  I suppose that depends on what major artistic figure lured $18 out of your pocket and into the theatre.  Fortunately, I have spared you the difficulty of making choices by listing the appropriate wines for the appropriate hangover.




Tony Kushner.  Once upon a time there was nothing but meaning and metaphor.  Everyone spoke eloquently and even in a temper with wit and wisdom.  There was barely time to eat, drink or procreate.  It was called President Lincoln’s America by Tony Kushner; witness the White House gala that begins and ends at the reception line, the Tommy Lee Jones (spoiler alert) conjugal visit with his maid cum wife which couldn’t be colder at absolute zero.  In one scene, a character runs to the exit to avoid hearing Lincoln regale the rapt room with another multidimensional anecdote.  That was but a whisper of the number of people in the theatre that ran out earlier, in real time.  If you’ve ever arrived at a party only to discover you’re one of three guests and there’s no way out, that is pretty much the opening scene.  And if you stick it out, well, yes, it does get better, but with an inertia that makes Last Year at Marienbad a rollercoaster.  Once upon a time there was nothing but meaning and metaphor but then Ernst Lubitsch came along and made the world a better place, but you will have to go back in time to witness such delight, not here, not in the imagined past constructed out of “Krishnamurti for Dummies” and pained historical sincerity.  You will need a deep, dark, uber-alcoholic quaff to get this script down.  Any old California Zin under $20 will do.


Steven Spielberg.  He was young and brash and full of confidence and changed our lives with Jaws.  He was introspective and brought a new dimension to a much considered subject, changing our point of view with Schindler’s List.  Now, welcome to your fusty old uncle who goes antiquing on the weekend, his home full of olde worlde charm, and not a mote of dust that isn’t authentic.  Please don’t touch the doilies!  From the faux light streaking out of the White House fireplace to the oppressive omnipresent blue tint that creates mood but is more akin to pigeon shit on copper, this is just like going to the museum after dark, removing the stanchions in front of historical displays and taking tea in a diorama.  There was more life in the empty hallways of The Shining than in the bustling queue which teems through the White House corridors.  More extras!  More extras!  The only booze that will do is something that brings back memories.  In my case, it was the kosher wine I tried as a teenager that sent me reeling.  Er, sorry, I meant good memories.  Try a Huet Vouvray.  It will cost you more than you want to spend but will drink like something you’re not expecting and you will invoke the ghost of Robert Shaw and all will be better in the world.


Tommy Lee Jones.  Some people, the only thing they know about The Wizard of Oz is that Dorothy’s ruby red slippers went to auction.  Some people, the only thing they will ever know about Lincoln is that Tommy Lee Jones’ wig went, at some future date, to Sotheby’s, and fetched an enormous sum.  I don’t know what to tell you to drink as I think whatever it is must disappoint which is only to say that from start to finish I begged and hoped and wanted the old school vintage TLJ but instead had to live with mere pastiche.  I’ve had a fair number of 05 Bordeaux’s turn out corked.  Give me a call; maybe we can open another bottle of high expectation and bemoan the wine that might have been.


shoesDaniel Day Lewis.  I have stood by this actor since 1982 when I bought tickets to go see Another Country in the West End starring Rupert Everett and DDL took over.  And was, arguably, better (if only to compare RE in the film).  DDL could do no wrong, and I even found his wacky bent towards cobbling (that’s being a cobbler, not cobbling as in My Left Foot) endearing.  I cringed as he did the daytime chat shows after the nightmare of Nine, but, still, he’s the man with the credible career that (unlike many other actors who have become lazy post-Oscar) continues to soar.  So, sigh, it was sad to see him play a metronome rather than a person, to see him more costume than character, and (for all the chat about the voice, none of which bothered me) to tread water instead of anchor the story.  When you try this hard to treat a character with respect he, the character, comes off false.  But you can get over it: Discover Alsace, some of the finest wines on the planet, crisp and fresh and as likeable and appealing as DDL in My Beautiful Laundrette.




Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  Jesus H Christ.  Who blew who?  Some actors, they have a breakout role.  Some actors, they tend to steal scenes.  Here, JGL does the reverse of both.  Using what I can only imagine is dedicated method, he invokes the cultural keystones of performances past:  He brings the petulance of Peter Brady to the screen, the assertiveness of Greg Brady (think of the episode with Greg locked in Sam’s freezer), and softens them both with the growing pains of Bobby Brady, cleverly all pre-curl permanents, into a camp version of what might have been an actual person.  The only thing missing was Don Pardo with voice over and JGL stumbling against the off-screen teleprompter.  You will need to hunker down for this one.  First, get yourself some Blowfish for Hangovers; they say it really works and in fact I can attest that it does.  Then, if you tend towards the white, try Blue Nun or Black Tower.  If red is your wont, anything with the Yellow Tail label.  They should all be available at your local gas station.


Sally Field.  It might have been more plausible to put Harvey Fierstein in a skirt.  If you sit Lincoln out start to finish, if you can bear it, there is a priceless scene over the hump of the first hour with Lincoln and Mary Todd in a buggy where Sally Field, waving her fan like Robin Williams in La Cage says something to the effect of “You better get those votes, or you will have Mary Todd Lincoln to deal with.”  So, yes, maybe only Sally Field could truly ruin such a line and

Also historical.

Also historical.

make half the audience laugh and bring some much needed hokey levity to what could of been so much more, and then only Sally Field could go on record as saying that it took her a decade to get into this role.  I thought more of Miriam Hopkins than Mary Todd Lincoln, and that is a sincere compliment, to Miriam that is, but I was thinking how so many great actresses missed out on this opportunity and that Spielberg may really be better off hosting Antiques Roadshow.  There is no drink that will get you through this performance, at least nothing that’s ever touched my lips, but I saw in a drug store a chocolate wine—that’s right, chocolate and wine—and perhaps that is exactly what you need, something that takes two beautiful achievements of culture and marries them to no demonstrably decent effect.  (If you think I am making this crap up, see pic at top.)


The Supporting Cast: No fewer than a dozen roles for Paul Giamatti but not to be seen.  Shurely shome mishtake?  In fairness, the supporting cast is wonderful, Harris, Hawkes, Spader, the lot.  But it’s like stepping into an over-decorated parlour cluttered with reproductions only to notice an original cornice that shines above the dross.  Accoutrements, no matter how fine, can’t save this single-hulled disaster.  I think the ideal drink is a bamboo, a cocktail almost as old as Lincoln.  Take some vermouth (which is, essentially, bad wine, gussied up) and some basic dry sherry (which is, essentially, a lot of wines of mediocre quality blended to create a decent whole,) and pour equal amounts on ice with a twist.  Voila, the effect that the chocolate and wine hoped to be but couldn’t touch, a higher greatness.


Price: Too dear to tell.


Market Liquidity: Life of Pi was but a boy and a boat but my god at least it was beautiful to look at…

November 28, 2012

Pieza El Coll, Garaje Blend, 2008

Wow.  Deeply dark.  Darkly deep.  The potent potable of Jeopardy clues.  Leather, currants, cherry, smoke, hay, coffee, minerals, and a slight skank which really could be a barnyard.  Although there is dark fruit flavour this is not in any way a fruity wine.  It’s colossally masculine, and forward.  Not a sipper.  A red meat drinker.  This is to Gamay what heroin is to khat.  Remarkably, all this heft comes in at 14 per cent alcohol: Take note New World vintners!  Seems the Spanish can get a heavyweight out three per cent less than California or Australia…


So there you go: An impressive, inexpensive, superb and thoughtful blend.  But, you know, it’s not really my cup of tea.  Bad metaphor.  Rather, it’s like cup after cup of espresso; one is enough.  It has a long finish but not delicate or nuanced.  I will give this blend its due, in fact it’s rather brilliant, but not, say, the everyday red I’d like ready on the shelf.  It will impress though, and for the price why not?


Price: An extremely well priced $19.99 which we scored on sale at $15.99 at the ever friendly Everything Wine.


Market Liquidity: A lot of John Wayne in Red River, just, unfortunately, no Montgomery Clift.

November 23, 2012

Château D’Agassac Haut-Medoc, 2005

From the cellar: Another in the ever unimpressive 05 Bordeaux’s squirreled away in the wine cellar.  To be fair, this was probably the most impressive and satisfying yet, although Parker only scored it 88 and for the price I would happily open a fine Spanish Rioja.


It drank best with air but I must state up front: There was immediate gratification, out of the bottle, before aerating or decanting, and that was impressive, as I took a half glass “just to check.”  Smooth, approachable, tobacco, a nice spicy kick, not much if any oak.  But at the same time if we were blindfolded I would have guessed it as something much lighter: There was no heft, no lingering majesty, and in fact the fruit erred towards maraschino cherry, too cloying.


With a pork roast (brined in maple syrup and rosemary, roasted on a bed of apples and onions and basted in a sweet maple Dijon glaze) it was pretty darn good.


A truly lovely wine, but light, and too-Beaujolais-ish to impress.


Price: A lot.  That’s just how it goes in BC.


Market Liquidity: Ah, the mysteries of terroir.

November 22, 2012

Argyle Willamette Valley Chardonnay, 2010

We anticipated a low-alcohol, fresh, lively and zesty simple chardonnay.  And while this delivers on the low-alcohol (thank you Argyle, I’m sure you don’t get enough thanks for the French touch), it is unfortunately quite forgettable as chards go.  Maybe not banal, but simple to the point of being inconsequential, and nowhere near the gushing reviews you will find all over the place (on fruit, spice and finish, say, across the Net; we found the finish to be, well, cut and dried).  Argyle makes a single vineyard chardonnay, Nuthouse, which is more expensive, and presumably much better, but after a bottle of the base model we are disinclined to spend any more.  We opened it as a sipper and were unimpressed, then drank it with a gorgeous vegetarian main of baked stuffed acorn squash with nutted quinoa.  Great dinner, mediocre wine.


(Their sparkling wines are actually good festive bottles to have around.)


Price: $18 USD; could only source their Pinot in BC.


Market Liquidity: To each his own.

November 14, 2012

Drinking Wine in London

A week of not bad wines, higher expectations than necessarily came to pass, and even higher prices.

Chicken with white Burgundy at Bar Boulud; touch of heaven.

The most interesting was by far a 2000 Vernaccia Di Oristano Contini, extremely rare to my eyes—in other words I’d never seen a bottle.  Sardignian white.  It was dry and, I guess, dessert-ish, but I had it as a starter at L’Atelier, and it was the perfect aperitif.  To which I’ll repeat, the perfect aperitif. Take that you Aperol Spritz.  (£9/$14.50 CDN a glass).  This is the sort of wine you want to see (by the glass) in a good restaurant; this is the sort of compliment to food that reaches another level.


Over the course of the same dinner at Joel Rubuchon’s tony Michelin starred restaurant I also had a dry, and interesting, but not exceptional, Touraine Sec Cuvee Henri Domane de L’Aumonier, 2010.  It was bright and fruit based but somehow a little one-dimensional. (£9/$14.50 CDN a glass).  Sometimes I feel French chefs overlook better wines than French wines, or give French wines a pass where they would be more critical if it was, say, Italian or Spanish.  I think there are many new world wines in the same price and quality that would have been superior.


To finish off that dinner, with a superb saddle of lamb, I took the sommelier-recommended 2010 Cotes du Ventoux “Terres de Truffes” Cave Terra Ventoux.  I am a big supporter of CdV, it’s a value wine in Canada, or at least relatively speaking it’s a value wine, under-appreciated and rarely on average wine lists when it should be.  But although I was hot with anticipation this bottle didn’t have the legs to stand up to the lamb (£7/$11.25 CDN glass).  Little bit of a letdown.


On a drizzly cool evening in north London, I hunkered down with an old friend and a bottle of Barbera D’Asti “Mon Ross” doc, 2010 in a quiet Italian bistro.  It wasn’t as smooth and supple as some Barbera’s can be, or as the menu promised (“velvety”), in fact it paled to the wonderful Sandhill Small Lots Barbera I discovered in BC a few years ago, but it was pleasant and food friendly and warming.  (£38/$60.50 CDN bottle).


At Bar Boulud, a chi-chi joint in the basement of the Mandarin Oriental, I started with a fruity, floral, and quirky Greek white, Gerovassiliou Malagousia, Epanomi, Greece 2010 (£8.75/$14 CDN glass); a mere 8.5 per cent alcohol, and exquisitely aromatic.  A wine I would, again, love to source in BC.


Then we shared a white Burgundy—it seemed like the right thing to do, given the depth on the wine list.  Denis Bouchacourt, Macon-Solutré, 2009.  It was tasty, a little sauv blanc sharp, fruity, not quite as deep or majestic as you expect with Burgundy, but with a decent finish.  (£38/$60.50 CDN, more than I would like to spend quite frankly…).

Antipasto and a glass of Barbera. Touch of the good life.

November 1, 2012

Scott Family Estate Chardonnay, 2010

California chardonnay in the French style.  Nothing wrong with this fine bottle.  None of the piercing oak-highs you expect from a Monterey chard.  Tropical fruit, maybe even coconut, and superb balance.  Extremely food friendly.  A great restaurant choice if you ever have the choice.


We had this with some beet salad dressed in minted raspberry vinaigrette, vegetable soup, walnuts and crudités.  Wowed on a weekday eve.  From the same family as Rutherford Ranch, a bottle we were less keen on.


Price: $19.99 USD; still trying to find in BC (not to be confused with NZ Allan Scott wines…)


Market Liquidity: Not bad for not Burdundy.