Tuesday, November 3, 2015

UNCORKED -- The Series Starts November 10th

Next week on November 10th, UNCORKED, a new series about Sommeliers premiers on on the Esquire Network.

UNCORKED follows six people in New York as they prepare for the Court of Masters Sommelier exam. The show employs all the standard reality TV techniques and manufactured drama we’ve come to know in the Bachelor and Housewife franchises. Fortunately, UNCORKED is far less tawdry as we follow the individual eddies of triumph and disaster that ebb and flow in each persons back story.

I previewed the first three episodes back in September and it’s very similar to the documentary SOMM. (The directors of SOMM, Jason Wise, and Christina Wise, and Peter Goldwyn also serve as Executive Producers for the series.)

The six candidates range from the likable and compentent Jane, to the overly casual Dana. I suspect Dana’s too-cool for school attitude is really just his attempt to cover his introversion and social anxiety. Yannick is the wild-card, the set up is that it’s his last chance/attempt to pass the exam with the added burden that he is in a wheel-chair. Rounding out the group are Josh, Morgan and Jack each with their own personality quirks that emerge under pressure.

The best performance is by Geoff Kruth, MS, and President of Guildsomm.com who does his level best to be friendly and supportive to the candidates and soften the oft times harsh criticism of his colleagues. Kruth has an easy manner, a bloakish affability that’s revealed as he offers endless facial expressions of empathy to the harried, stressed out sommeliers when they botch their practice sessions. He’s like a silent and loyal emotional support dog looking after them.

Some scenes gave me the feeling that a Master Sommelier candidate’s success is hinged to a secret ballot that allows the guild to approve those they deem worthy of their exclusive ranks, and deny entry to those that may have the skills but perhaps not the right personality in their view. Much of the feedback given by a handful of gatekeepers make it feel more like a Fraternity/Sorority Rush Week or hazing than a professional development path.

Nonetheless, If you loved SOMM the film, you will probably enjoy UNCORKED too. As with the majority of reality series, the most entertaining parts are provided by the real-time chatter of viewers on twitter. So grab a glass of wine (or a bottle) and tweet your comments as you watch next Tuesday.

Oh, one more thing. I think the show could use a snappy theme song--here’s my suggestion:

All My Friends Are Somm’s
(sung to the tune of California Dreamin’*)

All my friends are Somms and they drink all day.
I love to taste their wine and hear what they have to say.
I'd be safe and warm if I had a magnum of Cabernet
California dreamin' on such a vintners day.
Stopped into a wine bar I passed along the way.
Well I sat down at a table and saw some bottles on a tray.
You know the Somm gave me the wine list;
She hopes I'm gonna pay.
California dreamin' on such a vintage day.

*California Dreamin’ actual lyrics. Click link for video of actual song.
All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray.
I've been for a walk on a winter's day.
I'd be safe and warm if I was in L.A.;
California dreamin' on such a winter's day.
Stopped in to a church I passed along the way.
Well I got down on my knees and I pretend to pray.
You know the preacher liked the cold;
He knows I'm gonna stay.
California dreamin' on such a winter's day.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Slow Lazy Circles

Friday, September 25, 2015

Straight Outta Corning -- Highlights of #WBC15 Finger Lakes Part III

Ageability of Finger Lakes Wines
I learned a lot in the session led by Brandon Seagar who was funny and engaging and the wines he selected for the tasting supported his points well. The best thing about WBC in recent years have been the educational sessions devoted to aspects of the wines from the particular region. Last year in Santa Barbara, the Syrah panel comes to mind, and in Finger Lakes this session was top notch.

Three Birds Cornerstone Dinner
I’m always honored to be invited to the Cornerstone dinner and Craig Camp’s Cornerstone wines are a pleasure no matter where in the world you are. This year the dinner was held at Three Birds in downtown Corning. The food was quite good and a well suited to showcase Craig’s wines.

Wine Blog Awards Corning Museum of Glass 
What is with the two Allan’s/Alan’s -- Alan Kropf and Allan Wright? They have a special kind of bromance for sure for Allan to get Alan to delay his honeymoon to present the Wine Blog Awards.

Alan Krop pulls out all the stops for his annual awards show

I find the Wine Blog categories are still a bit weird, but I’m sure if I ever won one I’d be knocking people aside to get mine and singing their praise in a heartbeat. Plus that handmade glass trophy??? Whoa, that beauty should win a wine blog award for best wine blog award.

WBC16 Announcement
Drum roll please for the worst kept secret ....

WBC16--We’re going to LODI!!!
Yay, We’re going to Lodi!

After the last two sessions we had, in my opinion, one of the best WBC meals by far: chicken spedinis, salt potatoes and fresh husked corn, a Hudson style repast prepared by Sommelier/Winemaker/Chef extraordinaire--Christopher Bates. Mr. Bates deserves some kind of medal for the work he put in over a hot grill keeping hundreds of hungry bloggers fed. What the heck was in that secret sauce? It was the best chicken, actually the best anything on a skewer, I’ve ever tasted. Yeah, it was way too hot outside, yeah, it was way too long a line to get food, but yeah, it was incredibly delicious.

Corning Museum of Glass Tour
You will need at least all day, if not two days, to explore this amazing collection. The new wing of the museum is a work of art in its own right with soaring spaces, undulating lines, and an abundance of natural light to showcase the exhibits.

Celestial Scat at the Corning Museum of Glass

By the way if you find yourself in front of this exhibit shown above at the Corning Museum of Glass and see the term “celestial scat” in a placard describing the work, you can thank me. Huge thanks to Kimberly Ford for the Museum tour and especially for taking the time to escort Regine Rousseau and me through the 100 Years of Pyrex exhibit. It was a true blast from the past.

Thanks Finger Lakes!
Big shout out to Ann Crook, Director of Aviation at Elmira Corning Regional Airport for coordinating blogger shuttles to the airport. That was greatly appreciated and of course enormous thanks to all the sponsors and especially to Laury Poland and her entire team at Finger Lakes Wine Tourism for hosting a memorable and engaging Wine Bloggers Conference.  I’ll be back!

But first I had to try and leave....

Last Chopper out of Corning
After all the flight delays, lost bags and missed connections; WBC15 may go down as the conference you check in to, but can never leave. Cue Hotel California... But if you have to get waylaid in an airport, getting stuck with fellow wine peeps makes it much more tolerable. And if those peeps include the Canadian Delegation...all the better.

After a two hour flight delay getting out of Corning, I was re-routed from ORD to PDX then to SFO the following day.

Last call for Peter Rabbit

While waiting In ORD with April Yap-Hennig for our (delayed, of course) flight to PDX I heard the announcement:

“Last call for Peter Rabbit, Peter Rabbit, gate 27 last call.”

I looked at April and said, “It’s a little early for Easter jokes don’t ya think?”
April gave me a long withering look -- “It’s last call for Cedar Rapids, Marcy, not Peter Rabbit!” Oh...well it sure sounded like Peter Rabbit to my exhausted ears.

Finally made it home, a DAY later!
I got home on Monday, 18 hours after I was originally scheduled to arrive.

I am so looking forward to DRIVING to Lodi! See you all in 2016.

Cornerstone Cellars
Corning Museum of Glass
Lodi -- WBC 2016

Related Links:
Straight Outta Corning -- Highlights of #WBC15 Part I
Straight Outta Corning -- Highlights of #WBC15 Part II

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Straight Outta Corning Part II--Highlights of #WBC15

Part II -- Highlights of #WBC15

WBC Keynote with Karen MacNeil
Karen was a hit. I’m not surprised her talk was rated one of the highest in WBC history. Her story of how she got her start writing and forged her career in wine was compelling and inspiring. I’m looking forward to the release of her revised and updated 2nd Edition of The Wine Bible in October.

Speed Tasting White Wines -- 
All the wines poured at speed tasting were from the Finger Lakes region and I was impressed with the majority of what was presented. My top three were the 2014 Keuka Springs Dynamite Vineyard Gewürztraminer; Dr. Konstantin Frank, 2014 Gruner Veltliner; and the hipster orange wine of the day--a skin fermented, unfiltered Chardonnay from Atwater Vineyards on Seneca Lake.


I was on Bus 4 to Keuka Lake with stops at Chateau Frank and Pleasant Valley Wine. We sampled a few of the Chateau Frank sparkling wines and admired the view of the lake and also tasted wines from Ravines and Heron Hill. Fred Frank of Dr. Frank Wines showed us around the cellar and we met Meaghan Frank, the fourth generation family member to carry on the Dr. Frank legacy, who lives in the home. We could have stayed here all evening as far as I was concerned, I was very happy with the wines and the view. But off we went to the next location.

After a short drive, we arrived at the first US bonded winery, Pleasant Valley Wine Company also known as Great Western Winery, where we had dinner in the vaulted cellar room and enjoyed more wines from Dr. Frank, Ravines, Heron Hill and Pleasant Valley Winery.

We had a 2013 Chardonnay and 2012 Pinot Noir from Ravines which I really liked. The Ravines Pinot had a light rose petal nose with flavors of tobacco, spice and dark berries with nice medium tannins. It seemed to be a hit all around the table.

The best part about the excursions is you get a chance to hang out with the winemakers and winery owners and hear first hand about the wine and their operations. I learned that Heron Hill has a very innovative approach to keeping labor costs down. For harvest they “raffle” off the chance for people to work the vines and pick grapes. They also have an interesting program for local homeschool kids to help keep the winery clean and shining. And don’t even ask about how the labels get attached to the bottles--but rumor has it they are hand applied by girl scouts working on their winemaking merit badge! The folks at Heron Hill are staffing geniuses. (I joke here of course, well sorta, kinda.) But no matter how the labels were attached--I really loved the Heron Hill Reserve Cab Franc, it was a standout of the evening for me.

Rockwell Museum Wine Reception 

I was knocked out by the collection in the Rockwell Museum, I’m a huge fan of Western American art and the sight of so many great works by American artists in one place was quite a sensory overload. Add to that the chance to sample a selection of NY State wines and I was practically overcome with Stendhal Syndrome, the condition of being overwhelmed by art.

Hand + Foot again for cocktails before the after-after parties. Word was out and the place was now the ALT WBC hangout.

Chateau Frank 
Dr. Konstantin Frank
Heron Hill Winery
Ravines Wine
Pleasant Valley Wine Company / Great Western Winery
Rockwell Museum

Related Link: Part I Straight Outta Corning -- Highlights of #WBC15

Next: Part III --Straight Outta Corning -- Highlights of #WBC15

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Straight Outta Corning (NY)-- Highlights of #WBC15 Part I

As much as I love the camaraderie of WBC (see my post on that here), I don’t particularly love the noise and cacophony the event generates especially when it comes to wine tasting. I need some quiet time to contemplate the wines. I’ve even suggested WBC offer isolation booths for tasting in this post here.  But one thing I’ve learned over the years is even though the WBC hotel is convenient and the locus of all the after parties, I prefer to stay off site if possible just to maintain some sense of sanity.

This year I stayed at the Inn at the Gaffer Grille just above the Gaffer Grille and conveniently located just a few blocks from the conference hotel in downtown Corning, NY. My room was quite spacious with a small sitting area, galley kitchen, and a very comfortable bed. Oh and the rate I paid of all this was far, far, less than the Radisson. I highly recommend it.

I arrived on Wednesday and met up with Robert Larsen and Laura Fontana of Rodney Strong Vineyards and Regine Rousseau first time attendee and scholarship winner. We went to The Cellar for an opening glass of Riesling, then ended up at the Gaffer Grill for dinner. You know you are in the presence of fellow wine lovers when you spend more time looking at the wine list than the menu and select the second and third bottle of wine before your entrées arrive.

After dinner we strolled across the street to Hand + Foot for a nightcap. Over the next three days I would go toe-to-toe at Hand and Foot seven times. I guess you could say I had affection for the place or maybe it was an affliction. But I was instantly at ease there. I felt like Goldilocks, everything from the food, to the wine and cocktails, the music, and especially the welcoming vibe of the staff was just right. Hand and Foot became the ad hoc blogger hangout and Friday night the place was packed with badge wearing conference attendees.

I had the day to myself and took advantage of the time to wander about downtown Corning and visit many of the art galleries, shops, and a few of the restaurants including Pocoleum and Donna’s that had a great collection of vintage corning ware and pyrex on shelves above the tables. In addition to the many art galleries, hair salons seem to be plentiful in Corning, so if you arrive with your hair mussed you are in luck as the town had at least six hair salons that I passed on Market Street.

Galleries abound. One of the many works of glass art.

Center way Square Plaza was full of activity--on Thursday there was a farmers market and free music. Friday there was more live music, and on Saturday an Indian festival with music and a belly dancing demonstration was taking place.

The only weird thing about Corning is late at night it felt like a movie set, like it was a façade. At one point Regine and I both compared it to the Twilight Zone episode where a man gets off a train to find he is in a tiny town that turns out to be a kid’s doll house. Some of the storefronts seemed like they were not really open for business, just widow dressing. But the places that were open were more than welcoming and full of real life and hospitality. I walked back to my room at the Gaffer Inn many times late at night when I was the only person on the street and I felt perfectly safe.

Wines of Virginia Dinner--
I had the pleasure of attending the Early Mountain Vineyards dinner hosted by Frank Morgan at Hand + Foot. The last time I tasted through any wines of Virginia was in 2010 when I hosted a blogger tasting with Frank Morgan prior to WBC11. Dang, what a difference five years can make.

I was very impressed with the wines presented at the dinner, particularly the Veritas Viognier, Linden Chardonnay, and the Barboursville Cabaret Franc. I guess Virginia is not a region I can write off as being on the wrong coast anymore.

Sommelier Neal Wavra did an excellent job leading us through the wines and answering our (my)  questions about the region. And the dishes Hand + Foot matched with the wines were pitch perfect. Each course elevated the wines to their full potential and enjoyment from the fried buttermilk-brined poussin, to the country ham, hush puppies and boiled peanuts. The entire meal was a delight of Southern inspired flavors. Yes, there was kale, and it was divine with bacon and white beans.

Opening Reception Centennial Park -- 
Excellent set up with local Corning restaurants and winemakers pouring Finger Lakes wine. Ever since Penticton raised the bar on what makes a memorable event, subsequent locations have had their work cut out for them, but Finger Lakes set the tone for the weekend and delivered with grand style.

Len and Judy Wiltberger, Keuka Spring owners
One of my favorite wines at the reception was the Keuka Spring Gewürztraminer 2014, Dynamite Vineyard. Actually I liked all the Keuka Spring selections that owners Len and Judy Wiltberger poured, including the captivating Dry Rose that was a blend of Lemberger and Cabernet Franc; and the Vignoles, a hybrid grape that I’d never had before.

Canadian Wines After Party--
Canadians and Canadian wine. What more do you need for a great time? Add Jeff the Drunken Cyclist aka Sabering Fool into the mix and you get some drama (and blood) along with a decibel level approaching a jet take-off, and security knocking at the door.

Liquidity and Time

Inn at the Gaffer Grill 
Gaffer Grill
Keuka Spring Winery

Stay Tuned for:
Part II Straight Outta Corning WBC15
Part III Straight Outta Corning WBC15

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Summer Reading 2015: What I Read on My Summer Vacation

When I was kid, my older sister Maggi and I spent our summer days hanging out at the public library in South Miami. It was our ad hoc clubhouse. The building, constructed from large blocks of coral rock, was an oasis of cool inside the thick walls--a welcome respite from the pushing South Florida heat.

Every year the library held a summer reading program and contest for the kids with a big chart on the wall that showed how many books everyone read. In order to get your star you had to sit down with one of the librarians and tell him or her about the book you read. My sister and I read so much they put us on the honor system and had us write up the book reports ourselves.

Then, a month into the program, the head librarian told our mother we were making the other kids feel bad and that we should scale back. WHAAAT?!? {Cue sound of needle scratching across record.}

I was not about to curtail my reading to spare some other kids feelings. But for the rest of that summer we only got one star for every three books we read. My sister just stopped keeping track. I kept reading and submitting my reports, but I never quite got over the unfairness and ridiculous charade of that incident. I went on to win the prize for most books read that year, a plaid book satchel with real leather straps on the flap. I gave it to my sister.

This year in memory of my sister, and as a way to deal with the lingering grief, I decided to re-connect to those lazy carefree days we spent reading for sheer pleasure. I started my own summer reading program beginning on Memorial Day and ending on Labor Day. I read at the beach, in the park, in airports and on planes, trains and busses.

I spent the past three months with a book and glass of wine as often as possible and it was the best summer I’ve had in years. My final tally came to seventeen books read over fifteen weeks. Now where’s my book bag? ;-)

So, what did you read this summer? 

Here’s what I read:

The Vacationers by Emma Straub-- I’m always game for a family dysfunction pop-sociological modern manners tale. I was expecting something like the pitch perfect Where’d You Go Bernadette, but this did not deliver for me in the same way. *

The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink-- Fascinating and weird and utterly compelling. This story had an odd trajectory careening past several topics including birds, working in corporations, and environmental political acts but it all came together for me within a structure that was almost no structure at all. I know several people who throughly disliked this book, but I quite enjoyed it. ***

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews-- Stunning, deeply moving, and chock through with Toews complicated and piercing humor. I am still thinking about this months later. Toews story of grappling with the bi-polar illness of a talented sibiling hit close to home for me. I found it both uplifting and devastating at the same time. I read it in small chunks so as not to ovewhelm myself and then could barely cope with it coming to an end. I kept wanting to call my sister and say- “You gotta read this!” (Sigh.) *****

What Comes Next and How to Like It by Abigial Thomas -- Loved this. I found it flawless and timely. A meditation on life and loss, enduring friendships and the inevitable encroachment of time. Presented in sparse yet richly flowing chapters. Thomas can say more in one sentence than many do in an entire book. *****

On the Move by Oliver Sacks -- What life! Motorcycled obsessed, travel junkie, (drug junkie too) fitness fanatic and plagued in his early years by unrequited love, Sacks tells his story with great honesty, humor and alacrity. A glimpse into one of the most curious minds of our time. Insightful and tinged with a wistful nostalgia. I finished this just a few days before Sacks died in August. ****

Panic in a Suitcase by Yelena Akhtiorskaya--I was expecting this story of a Russian emigrant family’s experience moving from Odessa to New York to be something similar in nature to Gary Shteyngart’s books. It was and it wasn’t. While it was very funny at times with vivid and descriptive passages that gave a true sense of place, it was also rather uneven.  But I did admire greatly, the construction of the prose. ***

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing by Anya Von Bremzen - Entertaining account of the authors relationship to food and family (particularly her grandmother and mother) with a large dollop of soviet history that gives weight and depth to what might otherwise be just another immigrant memoir with recipes. ***

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett-- I started reading this and it felt very deja vu and then I realized I’d already read several of the essays in the collection. But the stories about the writing life and opening her bookstore were most interesting to me. ***

Barbarian Days, A Surfing Life by William Finnegan-- This was not the deep meditation on surfing as deliverance that I expected after reading a pre-publication excerpt. Still it was an absorbing dip in to a world and sport well outside my experience, and I learned a lot about the component parts of a wave and the mechanics and dynamics that make it surf worthy. It is a lengthy book and many parts dragged considerably, but I enjoyed the travelogue aspects as the author pinged about from California to Hawaii to South Africa, Bali, Australia, Portugal (Madeira), Singapore and other locales in search of surf. **

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James-- I had to switch to audio book format on this epic tome with so many characters I could not keep track. The story spans several decades starting in Kingston Jamaica in the late ’70’s to tell the story of a gritty, violent and turbulent time of uprisings and power struggles predicated by the attempted killing of Bob Marley. At 26 hours the audio book is quite a time commitment but worth very minute. ****

Confessions of the Lioness by Mia Couto-- Timely read given the Cecil and the Dentist headlines. A story about a hunter hired by a small village to kill a lion that is stalking the villagers and the relationships that develop. A fable like narrative based on real events. While I found the story worthwhile the narrative felt overworked and at times flat. **

Killing Monica by Candace Bushnell--Bleh, if this is not a thinly veiled take down of SJP, I don’t know what is. But I read it in the spirit and tradition of the trashy Beach Read. *

Another Great Day At Sea, Life Aboard the USS George H.W. Bush by Geoff Dyer-- When I’m reading Dyer I always have the odd sensation that he has hacked my email or has been observing me from afar, for I know of no writer that captures the same weird self-conscious, ODC, crazy-ass thoughts I have, as well as he does. It’s uncanny. I read this on a flight to New York and was laughing so hard I had tears in my eyes and the flight attendant asked me if I was okay.
Note: For bonus laughs check out the angry comments on the Amazon page by readers who thought Another Great Day at Sea was going to be an ode to the military. Hilarious.  *****

The Anthropology of Turquoise: Reflections on Desert, Sea, Stone, and Sky by Ellen Meloy-- Gorgeous tone poem like narrative that made me want to take a road trip to the Southwest and watch the light move across the desert plain. ****

Around the World in 50 Years: My Adventure to Every Country on Earth by Albert Podell-- I loved the idea of this book and Albert has indeed traveled far and wide. The early part of the book when he and his pals head out to set a record for the longest automobile journey ever made around the world is the most interesting part. He captures a moment in time, the sheer naiveté of that epic journey certainly could not be attempted today. And the insights in regard to sponsored travel and the strings attached, still hold. But the way he wrote about his many female companions was grating and the boastful accounts of his playboy ways grew tiresome. **

Driving Hungry, a Memior by Layne Mosler--Mosley recounts her time in Brazil, New York and Berlin. I thought there would be more food in this blog to book memoir. But the parts about how to get a taxi license and what it is like to drive a cab for hire were intriguing. I was oddly distracted by how many times the author mentioned wiping sweat from her brow--but then again she was frequently in hot situations. I wonder if this was pitched as Tango, Taxi, Love as comp to EPL? ***

Everybody Rise by Stephanie Clifford--I finished this just before Labor Day, to make it the end-cap to my summer of reading. Everybody Rise was like a mash-up of The Devil Wears Prada meets The Social Network at The Great Gastby’s house party. A modern manners tale that serves up class dynamics on a silver platter and depicts social climbing as a blood sport. But for me it got strained at the half way point and by the final third and I just stopped caring about the characters. I absolutely loved the fabulous cover design, but unfortunately the story did not rise up to same level. *

Rating Key:

Meh *
Okay **
Good ***
Very Good ****
Most Excellent *****


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