Tag Archives: #MWWC

#MWWC36 – The Environment? You Bet

19 Nov

Love Marvin Gaye. This version does him justice. “How much more abuse from man can she stand.”

There is a monthly event that wine bloggers subject themselves to called the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge. I have been absent for quite some time. I enjoy writing so I’m not sure what the barrier has been. Last month’s winner, Jeff of The Drunken Cyclist – or should I say Jeff, The Drunken Cyclist? won the challenge and as is the rule, he got to choose the theme for this month’s challenge – Environment.

I couldn’t let this one go by without an effort. I’ll try to keep it short and not too preachy.

Wanted Poster

As I’ve waxed on about far too often here, I was a hippy in university. I wore the uniform of hippiedom – jean shirt with dome snaps, frayed bellbottom jeans with colourful patches installed by yours truly, work boots or sandals depending on the season, a copy of Neil Young’s After The Gold Rush  permanently affixed to my hand, and hair down my back. I did hippy stuff – smoked up, read Timothy Leary (if you know what I mean), followed the Grateful Dead, watched Ingmar Bergman movies, argued whether Eric Clapton or Jeff Beck was the Best Guitarist Ever, and raised the alarm on social/political issues. I marched on Parliament Hill protesting the Vietnam War with my conscientious objector and deserter friends. I mean I wasn’t even involved in the war nor was Canada (besides harbouring my friends) but it was imperative to march or I’d have to cut my hair. I stole Abby Hoffman’s book, Steal This Book, and didn’t trust anyone over 30. I was in to being a hippy. Big Time.

One of the ’causes’ that my friends and I got in to was the ecology. It was “Far out, man.” Yes, even way back then, ecology/the environment was a pressing issue – to use today’s lexicon, it was ‘trending’. I bought all the Paul Ehrlich books, had a brain crush on Rachel Carson, and firmly believed that we were doomed as doomed can be. Since then, I’ve tried to be aware of my contributions to the world’s condition and done ‘little things’ i.e. buying local, composting, recycling, managing a greening social enterprise for several years, and wearing the same housecoat for 10 years without washing it. TMI? Let’s face it, I’ve become part of the problem. But, in my defence, I care, I pay attention, I believe, voted for the Green Party, and I do still try. And that’s apparently not enough.

So, what does this have to do with wine? Well, one of the biggest trending topics on wine social media and wine media generally in North America is the California wildfires and whether the state wine industry is devastated or surviving remarkably well thank you very much. The consensus is that it has generally survived with some sad casualties and we all need to support the industry there.

First, let me say that I agree wholeheartedly with that approach – support our fellow (wo)man – particularly if they’re doing the wine thing. I’ll will do my part on that score. However, I do believe that we are missing an opportunity. Let me explain.

A few years ago, one of my Wine Spectators talked about the business end of climate change in Napa. It spoke of investments in planting in cooler areas – Atlas Peak, etc., technical approaches to deal with warmer average temperatures, managing the prospect of earlier ripening fruit, and other stuff I’ve forgotten. The point of the article, I think, was to talk about climate change and the adaptation required to stay in the business of making good to great wine. It was a good read.

It, along with this month’s theme, did get me thinking, “What if moving chairs around on the Titanic works and we can still get really good wine from the Denali AVA? Does climate change really matter then?” See how I went from a reasoned, rational discussion to panic? Although to be fair, that scenario is viable as the cool evening temperatures at Denali in 2070 would make for some great Pinot!

Furthermore, I was in Sicily in September and people there told us that they were just coming out of the biggest wildfire season on record. And yet, despite a preponderance of evidence (and, please don’t argue with the science. Regardless of the ‘why’ it is happening. It is indeed happening), there is a half-hearted and not universal effort to either adapt to and/or change the trajectory of our planet. Campaigns with pictures of polar bears floating off to oblivion, winds whipping through a newly created desert, icebergs slipping into Greenland waters, and F-A-C-T-S haven’t worked.

Southwest facing slope perfect for cool climate Pinot Noir in 2070

Here’s what I’m suggesting: The wine media empire further raises the alarm. Yup, a little less “Berries on the attack”. And more, “Holy shit! Wineries in Virginia unsustainable past 2070!” That last one might even get someone’s attention, if you know what I mean. Let’s help wine enterprises who now have to invest their hard earned money in adaptation strategies and technologies or patiently wait until the next wildfire to have people ‘support’ them.

There are many commercial and non-profit initiatives underway to assist them in dealing with climate change, reducing their own footprint, etc. So, let’s seed our narrative from time to time with the imperative. Maybe the key to action on the big issue is getting wine swilling politicians, corporate leaders, and generally the 1% to fear that their wine will be effected. If we won’t do it for polar bears, let’s do it for our grandchildren. Because I’m a good Grandpa and I want those kids to get great Pinot when they grow up just like I did. And let’s do it, even if, and in full disclosure I have shares in Denali Cellars, we do have the Denali project in our back pocket.




50 Shades of Pleasure – #MWWC24

17 Apr



There is a strangely masochistic exercise that wine bloggers participate in each month – the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge. It’s a hotly contested fight between bloggers for bragging rights, a bump in site visits, the right to show an image on their site that they are a winner (if I could figure out how to put that on my site, I would – ’cause I’m a winner, baby), and an excuse to open something really, really nice to celebrate victory. Oh, there are a lot of losers and the losers do not, as is de rigueur these days, get a medal for just participating. The winner gets to choose the theme for the following month. Last month’s ‘challenge’ was won by Ted masquerading as The Drunken Cyclist and he chose “Pleasure” as a theme.

nakedcameWhen I was in first year university, the writers at Newsday, feeling that anyone could write a porn, er, erotic novel, decided that they would write such a work by each writing a chapter with no knowledge of what the other writers were doing aside from there being one main character. They would then pull all the chapters together and publish it under a nom de plume – Penelope Ashe – without declaring that it was a farce. The book’s title? Naked Came The Stranger. It was hilarious and did pass for a serious attempt at erotica. Years later someone else did the same thing and called it Fifty Shades of Grey. Probably amounted to nothing. Right?

Well back then, the guys in my little suite of rooms in res, decided we were going to similarly write an erotic novel too. Each guy would write a chapter. Mine starred Stavrous Popitlouse a Greek voyeur and his young, sexually inexperienced understudy Gloria Minx. It was dark and chronicled the struggles of ………..

What does this have to do with the theme? Well, erotica is pleasurable if it’s done right even though most of us wouldn’t admit it. And, here we go.

This Last Saturday in February

She had seen him downstairs with the others a thousand times. He had always remained quiet and aloof as she approached. That didn’t fool her; she knew he was playing hard to get. Underneath it all, his power beckoned her. But it never seemed the right moment to choose him for her pleasure. She chose others instead to sate her desires. Why did she hesitate? So many times before she had thought that she had found ‘the one’ only to get distracted with his individual traits and nuances – his body, his nose. In those moments, she didn’t allow herself to get lost in fleeting ecstasy rather she was distracted by it. Be it the lingering tastes in her mouth from her partner’s core or the later task of analyzing and populating her personal journal with tales of conquest.

In his case, she just knew that he demanded her full attention – no reflection on past conquests, just full surrender to him. Could she ever commit to total subjugation? It frightened her and it also excited her. Control had been hers but what would happen if she let go? Her body ached when she considered that possibility.

The last Saturday in February in 2016 was a cold day. She had decided that she would crawl inside her solitary world and reflect on her loves, her life, her needs. But, she couldn’t concentrate. In front of the roaring fire, her loose clothing felt constraining. She tore off her sweater, her toque. She was on fire. She could feel his heat – his allure was calling her downstairs. As the wind rattled the dining room windows, she fought with her inner demons. Why? Why couldn’t she resist him? What hold did he have on her very soul? Why now? What did this day, the last Saturday in February, have to do with her unbridled lust for him? What would she lose by being one with him, surrendering to his perfection?

She rose from her chair, kicked off her slippers to feel the cool of the tile floor on her naked feet. And, she slowly descended the basement stairs with lights off. She didn’t need the naked glare of the swinging light bulb (that’s ‘naked’ twice now) to know where he hid – urging her to find him. In the dark, she reached out among all the others; communicating to him with her touch, and then tenderly grasped his naked (3 ‘naked’s) waist with her shaking fingers and pulled him to her quickly in a violent act of need. He could not possibly understand her lust. Or, could he? As they ascended the stairs together, her heartbeat accelerated. It was pounding in her ears, her silkily clad breast heaving, throbbing, throbbing. Oh yeah it was throbbing, baby.

Her arousal increased seemingly beyond her physical control. How could she stop the throbbing (promise I won’t use ‘throbbing’ again)? Her hand brushed across the sweat on the nape of his neck. She could feel his power even then. She sensed his taut muscularity, his stoney resolve, the seductive potential of his unfettered explosion in her mouth. Oh, he had remained cool and aloof so long that she had trouble concentrating on the task ahead. She was yearning to taste his juices. How would she open him up to her need? She must.

But she paused. Then what? What would this conquest leave? No more possibilities of a moment with him. No what ifs. No more mysterious ‘him’. It would be done. Over. She would know him and he would be gone as all the others before him. Her fantasies of what could be – gone.

Oh hell, she pushed on – possessed. Held him close. Felt him hard and stiff against her cool skin. She knew that he could sense her need. She had bared her very self to him and he was teasing her, taunting her.And then she became impatient. She wanted to dominate him, own him, consume him. She violently ripped the blood red covering off his neck. But how to open him to her advances? He wanted it too.

Editorial Note: The protagonist’s knowledge of the target’s participation is portrayed in this account as consensual for literary purposes. Those at home should seek and gain clear consent before violating the seal of their prospective partner. No means No. OK, where were we? Oh yeah.

Kinky pleasure device

Say no more. Say no more.

She grasped his neck and forced (read editorial note above) her steel device into his mouth subjecting him to her need. Twisting, twisting with no complaint from him – just a tantalizing squeak, squeak – sweaty, slippery acquiescence to her desires. Her heart raced, her lips wetted in anticipation. She needed him inside her. Then she tugged on him, tugged again and then a gasp from him. YES, YES, NOW! She couldn’t hold out any longer. She needed to find her climax. She tilted him to her mouth. His essence poured out over her.

Thunder boomed and lightning flashed to reveal two bodies entwined as one. She let out a low throaty sigh as she realized her goal. He was inside her! He was hers! “Oh my”.

As she lay back exhausted, emotionally and physically spent on this night she strangely didn’t feel alone. There was a sensation that others across the globe had that night experienced the same thing as herself. But then again, let’s face it. It’s pretty well chronicled what a great bottle of white Burgundy can do for a woman on a cold night. Who the hell needs a man?


Even A Bad Wine Deserves a Second Chance – #MWWC22

17 Jan


There is a strangely masochistic exercise that wine bloggers participate in each month – the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge. It’s a hotly contested fight between bloggers for bragging rights, a bump in site visits, the right to show an image on their site that they are a winner (if I could figure out how to put that on my site, I would – ’cause I’m a winner, baby), and an excuse to open something really, really nice to celebrate victory. Oh, there are a lot of losers and the losers do not, as is de rigueur these days, get a medal for just participating. The winner gets to choose the theme for the following month. Last month’s ‘challenge’ was won by Jill of L’Occasion and she chose “Second Chance” as a theme.

Now, I haven’t been entering an effort into these challenges lately. Not sure why………OK I do know why. I’m lazy, distracted, thinking that blogging isn’t helping me self-actualize and become the man I’m supposed to be. Question: what the hell will? Help me self actualize, that is. But, this theme hit a nerve. It woke up my creative juices, my imagination and two finger typing urge. Here I go.


I used to organize and lead wine tastings with a bunch of work colleagues and friends. For each evening, we had themes – regions, varieties, just about anything that allowed for some semblance of order. I’d choose the wines based on theme, price point, and a little adventure.

For one such tasting, we had decided on a broad exploration of Italy. So, I trundled off to the mother ship and picked up the usual suspects – among others, a Prosecco, a Sicilian Grillo (love the Grillo! Can I convince you to try a couple?), a Verdicchio, a Chianti Classico, a Primitivo di Manduria,  a Valpolicella Ripasso, a Moscato d’Asti, a Barolo, and a Brunello. The last two I picked from my cellar. Now, here’s the risk all wine ‘guys’ run. We all think that there are wines that are better than others based on wine geek celebration, price, and cache. We fully expect other people, if left to blind taste them, will agree with our assessment- roughly at least. So, by bringing in one of MY Barolos (about a decade old I seem to remember) and one of MY Brunellos (probably about the same age), you run the risk of your snobby bias being exposed – ’cause I love those wines. No, you must understand that I truly love paying the price for these wines. And, who wants to be wrong when they have a cellar full of evidence of the fact of their error.

Well, we began with the whites. Moved on through the reds. When we started to experience and talk about the Brunello (we were to discover it’s identity later), the person next to me, after a quick sniff, said, “This is horrid. It smells like my son’s hockey bag.” I tend to dismiss much of what this woman says – apologies to JT – but……it did smell horrid and reminiscent of my son Nathan’s hockey bag. And, consequently, not a soul at the table took a sip.

timhortonNow, in Canada, there are universal experiences: weather is a classified topic of discussion (premiere eeew, duexieme eeew, etc.); we seemingly only hang at one coffee shop which we call by a dead hockey player’s first name; and, we have all smelled the inside of a hockey bag. It’s a right of passage for a parent who can afford to equip a young child with armour-like apparel, get up at 5:15 am to take his/her aspiring NHLer to a freezing arena (as if a machine crafted coffee is going to comfort you there), and struggle amid tears and protestations to get the skates that you thought were the right size on this bitchy reflection of yourself. I’m sure soccer parents, football parents, etc. have the same type of stories. But, they do not…..I repeat – do not….have the bag.

I’ve since checked out my numerous wine books, Jancis, Hugh, Karen, etc. but I haven’t found the term, “hockey bag”, in any of the tasting notes. That could be because it takes a highly trained and experienced nose to pick the nuanced notes of leather infused with the body odour of a teen male. Or, just because it’s only truly evident in a certain wine – a Brunello improperly stored too long? Or, a wine needing a bit of a breath before it says,  “Hello”?

So, wait. What usually happens at these events is that as a few people wander off (short hitters), the remaining folks keep talking and it becomes a bitch-about-work and drinking event. And, usually, there’s enough wine left to feed that beast. So, about an hour and a half after the wines were poured, some brave soul (probably mistaking it for the remaining Barolo which was friggin’ fantastic), took a sip from the glass that contained the Brunello. “Hey, folks……….” “(Louder) Hey, shut up and taste the Brunello.” Which we all did. The funk, if I can lovingly call it that, had blown off and the wine was exquisite – deep, leathery, cherry pie. OK, I lie about the cherry pie – I can’t exactly remember. Suffice it to say that the wine was a beaut. And if not the unanimous ‘fave’ of the night, the second ‘fave’ for sure. Lesson learned.

So, if you bought several bottles of a certain wine only to discover on opening the first that it was shitty – relegating the remaining bottles of it to sit scorned by the rest of your cellar. Or, you open a wine to discover that some aroma or taste is interfering with its enjoyability factor. Just be patient and give it a second chance. You have nothing to lose and you might learn something – I just hope it isn’t that you discover the o-dear of the hockey bag. Because that is not the lesson here.

#MWWC14 – Screw Tradition

26 Jan

wine-stain1-3There’s a self-abusive yet strangely entertaining monthly event in wine writing circles called the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge. This month the theme is “Tradition”. Now, before you suggest that it may seem unfair that I’d choose the theme and then write a post. I feel like I have something to say about traditions in wine. I read with interest The Food and Wine Hedonist’s take on the theme of “Tradition” – traditions with wine that we should keep and ones that we should discard. The Drunken Cyclist spoke of three overdue traditions. You can read it here. It got me to thinking, “There sure are some very bad wine traditions that need changing. Let’s form a protest group”

First let me say, that I am of the generation that had the luxury of protest without consequence. Protest was valued. We marched on Parliament Hill to protest the War Measures Act carefully watched by soldiers with really big guns. We protested the Vietnam War by traveling south and joining even though our connection to it in Canada was  based on friendships with conscientious objectors, dodgers, and deserters in our dorm. We marched against subdivisions being built at the expense of trees, and we protested the rise of tuition to, wait for it……… gasp….$600 a year! These weren’t necessarily all big protests but we saw the establishment as something not to be trusted. There even was a saying, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” And, we believed it. The truth? We were mostly privileged white kids in the age of the sexual revolution and acid. I won’t tell you if I participated in either but that might be why I seem to talk about wine in terms of it’s acidity and Italian actresses. Ya think?

Protest is viewed differently now. How does Occupy get ignored, dismissed and fizzle out while the 1% is still the 1% and at the same time, we’re making movies glorifying protest moments like Selma? What does this have to do with tradition and wine? I’m glad you asked.

There are numerous traditions in wine that we need to change. And change doesn’t come easily. We need to force change through taking up arms, throwing tea overboard, taking a petition, non-violent protest, or if you’re a Canadian, seeking compromise and then after that fails asking politely. OK, pour me a glass of heavily taxed wine…….here goes.

The tradition that I want to change is government monopoly wine sales. For me, this Liquor Control Board of Ontario tradition started when I turned 17 (age of majority was 21) and I strolled into the local LCBO, with fake ID, to pick up a very cheap  ’mickey’ of rye –  an acquired taste for sure. You had to fill out a form with the stock number of the product you wanted and hand it to a clerk who walked back into the stock room finally emerging with your bottle wrapped in a plain brown paper bag. Then, I coolly sauntered out to the car full of my buddies with a big smile on my face. Oh, I was cool – passing for 21, man. Now, if the acne would just behave.

The LCBO is significantly more user friendly now. But, we still go to the LCBO instead of Bubba’s Liquors and Hastymart. I can’t speak for every jurisdiction where this happens but I can talk about our elephant mother ship.

First let me say that there probably isn’t a state run liquor agency that runs a better business than our dear LCBO. In almost every community, they provide a good selection of wine, craft beer, and hard liquor. They are clean, well staffed, and have reasonable hours and locations (shout out to Washago – Wahoo!). They have regular glossies with stories of wine and the people that make it. The point isn’t what they do. It’s what they can’t do or won’t do.

Ontarians want to be able to order wines that we want. When we want them. Not just from the current in-store stock or on-line shopping offerings! We want a salesperson to sell us wine – help us connect with available wines, try and get what I want or point me in the direction of fulfillment elsewhere.

We want tasting events that don’t start and stop at the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum) but serve the needs of all Ontarians! We all vote don’t we? I’m doing my best to put London wine consumption on the data map and want a reward. Why can’t I taste the Bordeaux Futures in advance in London?

We want to be able to get delivery to our house not the nearest LCBO outlet. Even if it means that it’s delivered while we’re still in our housecoats at 2 pm (TMI?).

And, most importantly, we want our own guy! Now, there are guys and gals at the mother ship but really do you develop a real relationship with them. Do they know the last 4 digits of your over-the-limit credit card? I think not. We want a Steve, who just happens to be a wine freak (this you can tell from the faint odour of 2000 Chateau Lagrange emanating from his pores – Steve has good taste). I want Steve to help me understand the wines that are on the shelves.

And, maybe most importantly, (wait I already said that but I mean it this time), we want to see more of our Ontario wines available. Maybe have a store in town that offers Ontario wines only and not at the supermarket check out?

And, I get that the price is a bitch here. I’m not even asking for lower prices on wine. What? I repeat, I don’t care about the prices we pay in Ontario. I mean we have to pay for universal health care and lousy transit.

Here’s the problem with the LCBO meeting our demands. They can’t. If they could have, they’d have done it already. They are big, rule bound, and big. And, they’re big. Built for big – cookie cutter big. There are certain truths about big. One: it isn’t small.

Small strains to meet customer demands because if they don’t, they’re dead.

Small is Steve spending time with you to talk about a new winery that he’s discovered and brought in to try; “Here Bill, try a bit of this excellent Aglianico from Campania.”…………”yes Bill, I guess you can have a second glass.”

Small is developing relationships with a few Ontario wineries and bringing in the stuff that is hard to get to promote local excellence – not in all 450 stores – just at Steve’s.

Small is having tasting events at a location (like London!) that big data wouldn’t support with the goal of broadening the acceptance and interest in wine. Build it and maybe they’d come.

Small is extending some credit to a regular customer like yours truly. I mean some of us need a fix of Gran Reserva Rioja and are waiting on our monthly cheque.

ratSo, what can we do to get what we want? Well, protest. Did you read the top of the post? Vote the issue. Sign a petition. Write your member of the legislature. Vote the issue (did I say that already?). And, this might just do it, support alternative access to wine. That means buying from wineonline.ca, ordering through an agent, smuggling, buying directly from the winery. I know that the LCBO still probably gets a cut as they have to warehouse every drop of beverage alcohol in Ontario, it seems. A rant for another time. Or, meet me this Saturday morning at 9:30 am at the Masonville LCBO. Bring your placards with WE WANT STEVE on them. If I’m late, start without me.

So, that’s the tradition that I want to drop kick to the curb. I think that we still need a retailer like the LCBO. I get that we make thousands of billions of tax dollars through these franchises. And, I’m not too fussed about simply exchanging the LCBO for huge retailers like Costco (a rant for another time). But, I want some competition that provides what they can’t.  I want some of the things that small could bring. How about this compromise? And I did say that was a Canadian’s first choice. Why not allow Steve to set up shop in Old North London within walking distance of my house? Steve’s Wines. Please. That’s asking politely. And, warning – I might discuss this again.

Now, all we need is a protest song………..

“Imagine there’s a Steve’s

It’s easy if you try

Below us only wine cellar

Above us only sky

You may say that I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one?”

I’m kind of stuck there. Help me out.



Nudge, Nudge #MWWC14 – Tradition

20 Jan

wine-stain1-3Just a reminder that the time is running out on #MWWC14. Here are the rules. The theme this month is “Tradition”. Having chosen the theme, I feel somewhat compelled to nag. Oh, yeah, of course to help…..and nag. In that spirit, here are some great ideas to break writer’s block.

You could talk about your traditional bottle opening techniques. Say for example, you always open your Clos Vougeot by expertly wielding the corkscrew you picked up on a jaunt to Beaune. It always causes memories to flood in. That day you were lost on a narrow twisty street and stumbled into a little store for directions. Your eye caught sight of an unusual corkscrew on the counter. The owner, a small man in traditional French attire (worn jeans and crumpled linen shirt) who spoke no English saw your interest and insisted you take it gratis. That night you opened your first bottle of Clos Vougeot (was it a 1990?) with your newfound tool. Epiphany. Since then, you always laugh about that wonderful day and the corkscrew. And, you use only that corkscrew for overpriced Burgundy.

Cool tradition? No? Not helping?

How about this? You could tell a wine making tradition. For example, how each and every year on the remote island of Pentalleria prior to the harvest of the rare varietal “Usaxelaun” (yes, it is a grape), the vineyard workers at Chateau Demento partake in a feast of mushrooms dug from the roots of chestnut trees. Magic mushrooms. At midnight, they dizzily and confusedly climb the treacherous cliffs to pick the perfectly ripe grapes on the terraces above. In the dark they deposit the grapes in wicker baskets that were made in the 6th century by prisoners. Why not stay straight, pick in the daytime, and use a harvester and crates? Tradition, of course. Well, that and a meal of magic mushrooms, duh.

Last idea and stay with me on this. When people come to your house they always bring wine because you are a ‘wine guy’ and you’re easy. In the beginning, you opened the wine they brought as soon as they were seated – as a courtesy and an effort to show that you are not a snob (but you really are). But (choose one): the wine was usually bad; the gesture did nothing to dispel the belief that you are a snob (BTW, you are); or, you didn’t want the homeless bottle collectors that go through your recycling bin to doubt your wine street cred – heck, they’d stop reading your blog. In any event, you decided that something else must be done with these host/hostess gifts. You can’t drink them. So, you stockpile turduckenthese full bottles. And then every Thanksgiving before you sit down to your meal of Kobe beef, turducken, and organic kale (another tradition), you gather up the kids and trudge down to the local Food Bank with several cases of wine. Wine is groceries, you know (Quote credit to Richard Betts). You’re all about setting a positive example to those formative young minds. Each and every Easter, yup. Why? Tradition.

So, that’s enough of me writing your entries for you. Brilliant ideas that you’re welcome to plagiarize. But, I have to keep some ideas for myself. Come on, get to work! If you’ve thought about entering the challenge in the past and thought, “But, I don’t think that I can compete against these other bloggers.” Hell, I won last month and you’ve read this post. Go for it. You can read about the challenge and again the rules here.

Good luck.


#MMMC14 – Tradition

22 Dec

wine-stain1-3There’s a self-abusive yet strangely entertaining monthly event in wine writing circles called the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge. Last month the theme for #MWWC13 was “Serendipity” as chosen by the previous month’s winner, Anatoli of Talk-a-Vino. I had the good fortune to secure (read: buy) enough votes to win this prestigious challenge. Hey, no chortling, I really did. It meant that I used the prize money to splurge on a new font, a bottle of 2010 DRC Richebourg, and a pair of wild dress socks. That’s the good news. The bad news is that I have to choose this month’s theme.

The theme for #MWWC14 is …………drum roll (well, you probably read it in the title)………Tradizione, Tradition, 傳統 ,ਪਰੰਪਰਾ ,Tradició

From Mr. Mirriam-Webster: tradition (noun)

  • a way of thinking, behaving, or doing something that has been used by the people of a particular group, family, society, etc. for a long time
  • the stories, beliefs, etc., that have been part of the culture of a group of people for a long time.

Have at it. The Drunken Cyclist and I will figure out the schedule and let you know via the MWWC blog. Until then enjoy your holiday………..umm…….. traditions! Beware, there will be nagging and harassing involved for the heel draggers and blocked writers out there. About the prize money? There really isn’t any. And the DRC purchase that I mentioned above? That was a lie. Although I’d like to make buying DRC a tradition.

#MWWC13 – Serendipity is Fantastic!

8 Dec

MWWCThere’s a self-abusive, yet strangely entertaining, monthly event in wine writing circles called the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge. I’ve copped out the last few themes but was recently shamed and frankly harassed by last month’s winner, Anatoli of Talk-A-Vino. As the worthy winner, Anatoli got to choose this month’s theme – Serendipity. Serendipity – I distinctly remember a children’s book about a sea creature called Serendipity but that plagiarized story might not qualify. After all, unlike me, the sea creature did not partake of the grape in it’s quest for purpose. So…….

About 20 years ago, I became inspired to learn and experience wine – which, for me, is somewhat the same thing. I learn through experiencing as much as reading, listening (I’m a notoriously poor listener), or taking courses. I was mistakenly looking for the experience that warranted paying more for a wine. What qualities can you experience with wine? Does price matter? Is quality all just marketing hype to justify higher prices? Is quality discernible only by those that make wine their life, that truly understand wine? Or, could a schmuck like me discover it? I’ve since realized that those were the wrong questions but.

Let me explain. I grew up in a family that valued quality over price. Not that they’re mutually exclusive, or that we lived in opulence – we certainly didn’t. It’s just that my parents always discussed ‘stuff ‘ (as my father would call things) in terms of how good they were. Oh, we still got the car serviced at Crappy Tire and we collected green stamps but quality was king – not cash. In fact, price was never mentioned out loud. Boasting about a bargain was gauche. And, I realize that might be more a generational thing than about my family in particular. Or, maybe it was just life before Costco and recreational shopping – a rant for another time.

So the concept of quality being intensely personal, I wanted to know what quality wine smelled, tasted, and felt like on my terms just for me.

Well, in this market way back then (I believe I started this during the Summer of the Short Corn), I thought the easiest place to bump quality without bankrupting myself was Australia. It was immensely available here. Plus, the labels had the name of the varietal, the region and that’s about it. That theoretically meant that I didn’t have to take a correspondence course in French label nomenclature to move my quality needle. The predominant thinking at that time with neophyte wine wannabes in my world was that Wolf Blass Yellow Label was the best wine on the planet. Seriously, stop chuckling, people told me this. After I got over the fact that a wine could be called Wolf Blass, I tried it. If it was a little better than Le Piat d’Or, what was it that made it that way? After a couple bottles (not consecutively), I thought, “This stuff isn’t thaaaat much better. It doesn’t have a quality that I can clearly identify or that I value more. I don’t really like it much either.” I guess it just wasn’t meant to be. Chalk it up to following the herd and failing. Did I give up? No, I picked myself up and surfed the shelves for wine in the $15-$20 range with high scores. That shotgun approach not surprisingly didn’t work either. Well, maybe I just couldn’t afford quality and should go back to making my own screech and porch climber. Maybe I wasn’t able to decipher wine – identify quality, get my head around wine. Or, maybe quality wine is a myth perpetrated on us all by the cult wine industry or the bloody Bordelais like the myth that McDonald’s food is actually made from……….food.

But, wait, there was a new product line at the mothership (the Liquor Control Board of Ontario for those that don’t follow me) called “Vintages” – wines and spirits that have some caché, may be in small supply, and unfortunately, in most cases, cost more. So, I wandered out on one of the first days of the new releases for Vintages and stumbled around following the masses. Correction: there weren’t masses, there were about six of us. It is there that I bumped into a guy in the middle of the aisle. I’d like to remember that he was about my age, handsome like me, with my regal bearing. But, the fact is he was about 45 with a baseball cap on backwards – covering, I believe, a balding pate. Now, the acceptable age for backwards baseball caps in my world is 35. Any older and, dude, you’re working too hard. He was loading a single wine into his cart – maybe a dozen already in there when I stopped him from his mission and asked, “What is so special about that wine?” He straightened up and said, “This stuff is fantastic, man.” That was it. No, “This brilliant straw-coloured, Marlborough single vineyard wine’s nose carries fresh cut grass and a hint of grapefruit, the latter replaying intensely on the mid-palate”? Nope, instead, “This stuff is fantastic, man”. Fantastic? Hell, that’s what I’ve been looking for! Wine can be fantastic? It was a bit out of my price range at $21.95 a bottle but I thought (and here’s a sample of the twisted rationalizations that wine buyers the world over utilize):

  1. ‘Fantastic’ is what I’m looking for:
  2. It comes from New Zealand and we Canadians identify with Kiwis – we both sleep with an elephant;
  3. Marlborough is a cigarette but, on balance, I need this wine; and,
  4. I really need this wine!

cloudy baySo, I picked up a bottle of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc. Can’t remember the vintage. I can say now that it had such a sense of tension, power, and place. But back then, I thought, “This is freakin’ fantastic!”

The neat thing? I found quality. Let me rephrase that – I found something that was a ‘quality’ experience in my opinion at that time in my life. It might have had something to do with who I had it with or when I had it. Scratch that too – it definitely would have had a ton to do with all that. And although it was priced higher than I was used to, I experienced that it was worth the extra. I was cool with that too.

So, there began the never-to-be-completed journey. Of course, I realize that wine’s a bit more complex than “It’s fantastic, man” and I don’t exactly feel the same way about Cloudy Bay now. But the point is that that’s when I became a believer. I believed that great wine was out there  and, more importantly, that I could really experience and recognize it as such. And, it encouraged me to try and learn as much about wine as I could. Because when it’s good, it’s really fantastic, man.

To paraphrase Mr. Webster, ‘Serendipity’ means finding something of value where you don’t necessarily think you’ll find it – a nifty happenstance. I started a search for quality on the wrong terms, with the wrong ideas, and the wrong tools. In my search for ‘quality’ I bumped into it lurking underneath the word – ‘fantastic’, spoken by a guy with his damn cap on backwards. Who would have thunk?

Anyone else who went looking for noses of fig paste and long finishes end up finding fantastic?


Images courtesy of: http://www.goodreads.com ; http://www.vintages.com

#MondayBlogs – Can I Get A Friend?

15 Sep

I didn’t contribute to the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge last month. I just couldn’t get my fingers moving to type out a treatise on “friend” – the theme. I thought that it would be too random, way too serious, and therefore fail to earn me any love from the voting community. Having been rejected several times already, I couldn’t risk the humiliation. And, it has nothing to do with a lack thereof – friends, that is. I am surrounded with some of the best friends a person could have. But, here’s the thing. I struggled with the word. See, how it works with bloggers like me is that to figure out what to write on a theme, I start with a little word association game. And I discovered that friend, as a word, has seemingly morphed into something…………..different. And I’m not sure that I like it. It’s a function, I think, of language’s constant evolution and social media’s impact. Here’s what I mean.

There are words that just so capture what they mean to you when you say them. For some that might be complex like ‘right’ or ‘left’. For others it might be something as simple as ‘green’ or as powerful as ‘hate’.

Well, that word for me is ‘friend’. There is only one meaning. Growing up, I knew exactly what a ‘friend’ was; what we’d do for each other and how much we meant to each other. Not only that, I knew all my friends. It’s not just that I knew their names or their profile (the essential deets – those having asterisks beside the text box). But, I knew the names of their siblings, their parents’ names and what those parents did for a living, and (when such things mattered to a young man) what cars their dads drove. I knew who they wanted to date, who they wanted to dump, and if they (or I) was buying the beer that weekend. And, yes I had a friend who seemed to never buy the beer. Didn’t we all? But he was a friend. I liked my friends a lot. Trusted them. People say, “In bad times, you learn who your real friends are”. Well, I’ve had some pretty dark times and I knew who my real friends were going in and they were the same ones I had coming out. I didn’t learn anything that I didn’t already know. I guess by now you get it – I really knew the people that I called ‘friends’. And, channeling Sally Fields, I really, really loved them. And nothing’s really changed in the intervening years, I still do – know them and love them.

friendship1Years ago as Facebook took off, I expounded obnoxiously. “Why do I care to “connect” (visualize me a la Dr.Evil using hand signals for parentheses) with people using Facebook that I don’t care to connect with in my real life?” You can see that I can assume an insufferable attitude, really. Not my best feature. But, and here’s the rub, Facebookists, Facebookers , or whatever the term you use for the buggers, had hundreds of friends. What? I’ll say that again – they had hundreds of friends! While poor Bill had eight to ten. OK, ten is a bit of a stretch. Hundreds of friends? How can that be? Unless ‘friends’ were no longer really friends, that is. My word ‘friends’ got high jacked to serve another master. Other words have been similarly repurposed. ‘Like’ has a new meaning – it happens, liking that is, when you click on an icon. That’s it. I do it all the time – I like stuff on-line. I truly like it but not in the same vein as someone going to the Kellogg’s website and liking them, whoever them is, so as to, perchance, win a trip to DisneyWorld. That ain’t a true ‘like’.

Then there’s the word, ‘influence’. Recently in the social media circles I travel in, there was a serious spat about whether a certain social media entity could be on a list that spoke to the influence certain other social media entities had in the wine social media world (stop and take a breath) as defined and measured by services that supposedly measure influence. Confused? I was too. It was like Dale Carnegie was on acid and trapped in cyberspace. It caused a little binge drinking in the wine blogging community. OK, maybe only in my little corner thereof and in Oz. And I know what you’re thinking. It doesn’t take much at my place. But, what it illustrated to me was that we haven’t quite found social media’s place in our intimate and personal world. The world where DuffsWines is Bill, not a social media entity. The world that matters and uses such words as influence, friend, follow, like. A world where those words are personal not virtual. At least, I haven’t. How Twitter and WordPress, for instance, play in my head, heart, and day-to-day life. I realize that people are working on it – somewhere there’s a strategy being developed to turn my social media Brand Awareness into buying Depends. But, that’s not what I mean. Now, before I dig a bigger hole with the above-mentioned influence listees, let me say that many people and services that made this list are influential to me. And, I don’t doubt to others. They really are, as per my personal definition of influence. I read them, trust them, believe them, and am comfortable acting on their recommendations and suggestions. It’s not the idea of a list that I’m talking about but the use of an algorithm to measure influence in the absence of ‘real’. It’s drone science and not something to squabble over. To my 17 followers, “No I did not make the list”.

For me, it isn’t quite ‘real’ yet – social media that is. Attempts to substitute it for the personal world or elevate it to matter to us all are a bit premature, I think. For example, having news segments like, “Let’s see what’s trending on Twitter” is just lazy 24-7 journalism. It’s like eavesdropping on me leaning over my fence and shooting the shit with my neighbour. It doesn’t matter to anyone but me and him. It’s not news. Please stop scrolling Twitter feeds masquerading as content!

How I’d suggest we deal with this at this point in time is to Stay Calm and Use a Little Restraint (T-shirts available). Have fun with it. This will all work itself out – this social media meeting real world expectations, accepted nomenclature, and the human condition. We are not there yet. At least, I don’t think we are. But, there will soon be an app. Cue: Scarlett Johansson.

For my part, I follow, comment, interact, and share within social media regularly in such a positive way for me that I ‘like’ these people with whom I exchange stuff. I like ’em a lot. But, to remain theoretically consistent with the above, I cannot call them ‘friends’. Not until we meet at the Wine Bloggers Conference next year in the Finger Lakes. And, then after sharing some real time drinking wine, getting to know each other, talking wine, and drinking some more wine, we’ll become BFF’s, I’m hoping. Which in my paradigm of friendship means that I can call them regularly late at night with little regard for time zones, borrow money from them during my weekly rough patch, stay in their apartment if I’m stuck, and, most importantly quaff those bottles of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche that they have in their cellar. Screw Facebook, that’s the kind of friends I’m talking about, baby!

Now that wasn’t too random and serious, was it?

Paying For Amy – Value and Wine #MWWC10

25 Jun

There’s a self-abusive, yet strangely entertaining, monthly event in wine writing circles called the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge. Last month the challenge was won by The Sybarite. And, as is the custom, he got to choose the theme for this month’s challenge – Value.

MWWCWe hear all the time about ‘value wines’. Wine Spectator and the other trade publications have an annual “Value Wines” edition. Frankly it’s a tall order for anyone to land on what wines might provide value for others. I used to studiously pour over the lists and compare to my local availability. Sure, it’s how I twigged to some of the wines that I’ve come to love in most vintages. So, it is a start to finding wines that taste good and within their definition don’t cost as much as they deliver. But I believe that’s a narrow definition of ‘value’. How does anyone, expert or not, determine what wine is of ‘value’ to me? And, does it have anything to do with price? I’m sure other bloggers will talk about this very thing in their value discussions. It’s not possible to set a value on a wine for me or anyone else – in monetary terms or otherwise. Each of us gets to decide a wine’s ‘value.’ And, how would we do that?

It’s kind of like paying for Amy. Wait, that came out wrong – it’s kind of like ‘paying’ Amy –that’s better.

galway pubLet me explain. We were recently in Galway, Ireland. One of the coolest cities I’ve visited in the last while – vibrant, youthful, pubs and music everywhere, great food, and loads of opportunities to experience what the city had to offer – few barriers to enjoyment. One of the things that we did was take a walking tour of the city. Amy, our guide, introduced us to a new concept – Free Tours! The way this works is that you take the tour and at the end, pay what you think the tour was worth to you. Sounds pretty simple – but think about it. How many times in your life have you been afforded the opportunity to set the tariff for a service or product that you receive? It isn’t easy to determine what to pay. Do you pay what you imagine Amy believes she should net for her efforts? I mean Amy has had to master the skills of storytelling, learn all the things that might be needed on the history of Galway and spent 2 hours of her time wandering you around. Or, do you pay based on what you learned against a previously determined schedule of objectives developed in concert with your annual personal growth plan? Sorry, couldn’t help myself, I used to be a bureaucrat. How about based on how many times you turned to your significant other and said, “Man, this is good?” What is the value of the tour to you – just you – because you have to attempt to translate that value into a dollar, or in this case, Euro figure. And you’re the one to reach in your pocket or man-purse.

Back to wine. We can’t drink a bottle of wine, say, take the figurative tour of a California Pinot Noir, and then, like in Galway finally determine what we think we should pay for it. I get that. Let’s just admit that the relationship between quality and cost QPR (Quality Price Ratio) is just one way to measure ‘value’. Maybe cost is the least of your considerations when asking yourself, “Do I highly value that wine?” So if it’s not cost that determines a wine’s value, what is it?

Good question, le Professeur Grand Fromage. Maybe the best way to explain my muddied thinking is by discussing some of the wines that hold my highest value ratings ever and trying to figure out why that is so.

In no particular order:

Morellino di Scansano (vintage and producer forgotten)

We enter a small ristorante in Rome – basement kind of place, staff in cool suits and none under the age of 50, passing a pile of the made-that-day mozzarella as we drift by the kitchen to our table. Once seated, I order a plate of ravioli with butter and sage. The wine? A Morellino di Scansano – maybe the third least expensive red on the wine list. Let’s just say, “I loved this wine.” The ravioli was superb – the best pasta I’ve ever had. I mean the situation was top drawer. Did the wine hold great value to me? You bet. But, why? Along with the meal (I’m not sure this wine was a match in any accepted matching paradigm) and the ambience, it held very high value for me. So, great food and ambience for me can contribute to the subjective value of a wine.

1999 Ch. Leoville-Barton, 2002 Ch. Montelena Napa Estate

We have a place in what we call God’s Country. It’s 300 feet of lakeshore on a Muskoka lake – surrounded by trees. You’re immersed in nature and family memories. So, one of our great pleasures is having friends visit us and share our favourite space. And, should one of those friends love wine too, there’s a bit of a pressure placed on them and me to deliver a good to great wine experience while on the lake. Last year we had a great day with friends. I can’t even remember the meal. The wine, however – 1999 Ch. Leoville Barton and 2002 Ch. Montelena Napa Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, I remember. Now, both these wines carry a bit of a price tag in my circle. I mean that they are more expensive than we usually drink. But, really. I mean, REALLY. There are moments that tell you seeking, finding, splurging on, and drinking wine is a very good thing. Very good. This was one of them. These wines held disproportionate value too. But why? Well, they were exquisite, beautiful, and that beauty was enhanced with friends. So, we have meal (accompaniment), ambience, the subjective experience of the wine itself, and friends all creating value in wine.

Last one: Assyrtiko

While in Santorini, we visited a winery whose name I can’t remember that perched high on the edge of the cauldera. If you’ve been to Santorini you’ll know what magic that place carries. As we sat by the edge (and, I’m not big on edges), sipping a glass of Assyrtiko, it all made sense. In my view, there are few, if any, wines that tell you where they come from more than Assyrtiko. It couldn’t come from, say California, south of France – maybe Sicily – nope not Sicily either. Assyrtiko is pure Santorini in a glass. Wine geeks call it terroir. Not sure what I’d call it. But, this wine provided such a connection between what we were experiencing at the edge of the cauldera and the swish, sip, and swallow. After all, winemaking is agriculture and when a glass of wine connects you to the land from which it comes it is an experience brimming with value for me.

So, there you have it IMHO. Food, ambience, objective experience of the wine, friends, and connection to its source, for me, all contribute to the value of a wine. And, even better in combination. And, unless, I’m not paying attention, none of those include a sterile evaluation of the wine against cost in the midst of a tasting room full of a hundred or so other wines. How much would I pay for those valu’able’ wines? If I took the “tour” in advance, it might have been expensive. But, alas, we can’t experience the wine first then determine, like with Amy, how much we will pay. So, instead, I pay attention to the when, with whom, with what, where from, and where of a wine that I’m thinking of buying or pulling from the basement. And, hopefully, the value takes care of itself.

BTW, Amy was great. Fun, informed and personable. Highly recommend both Galway and Amy. What did we pay? That’s a secret.


#MWWC9 – Slowly Step Away From The Elderberries

22 Apr

The Monthly Wine Writing Challenge is an opportunity for wine bloggers to lay bare their writing skills before their peers. Last month’s winner, The Drunken Cyclist chose this month’s theme: ‘Fear’. I was afraid to try a response. Cowed by past failures to work my clever short pieces into a lucrative book deal. Anxious that I didn’t present a ‘new voice’ on the topic. A fear that I worked through with the help of, well, a glass of wine or three.

I’ve found that people are generally motivated by two things: the possibility of success and all that comes with it and fear. I’m sure that there’s a pop psychology book and charismatic leader (Wayne Dire?) out there that claims to help you move from fear to striving for success – something like Forget Your Fear and Rule Your World – monthly FYFRYW magazines going out to little George Bushes everywhere. Well, I’m here to confess that on many things, I’m motivated by fear. Why do I hate squirrels? Because they will break in to my house and gnaw on my stuff. Why do I shake over a 3 foot putt for a $10 Nassau? Because, of course ridicule will be heaped upon me by even those that claim to be friends, I will never play golf again. Abide by the law? Because I might end up in prison as Bubba’s little sex toy – OK, that’s an image that doesn’t work, I admit. But, you get the idea – fear motivates me on many fronts – but one deviation from that exists – Wine. Here’s why I think it works like that.

As a blossoming adult who, in retrospect, was working hard to develop issues with alcohol, I decided to make my own wine. Cheaper would mean – more for me. After all, my father was an amateur winemaker. Glorious cuvees from grapes that are rare in today’s commercial world of wine – Niagara, Lambrusco, Catawba, Chancellor, and others that I can’t remember. My father would confidently state that his wine was, “as good as that fancy stuff from the LCBO that costs $1.50 a bottle!” I don’t recollect that the bottles that I snuck lived up to that claim. My former father-in-law also made cherry and elderberry wine and held the same opinion as my dad, “you know what that one tasted like, Bill? Another.” So, it was with this background that I embarked on a short-lived experiment in fruit fermentation. I just can’t bring elderberriesmyself to call it ‘winemaking’. In late spring, I wandered abandoned rail spurs looking for elderberries in blossom so that I could come back and harvest on the Labour Day weekend. Then, it was my son Nathan (losing interest after about 5 minutes) and I picking, de-stemming (a tortuous process that eliminated the poisonous stems – the poisonous part being something to pay attention to up front) and crushing elderberries. Then, since elderberries have the tartness quotient of alum, adding the right amount of sugar -which was measured in shovelfuls. Long story a little bit shorter – my elderberry wine was what a friend likes to call Screech and Porch Climber – absolutely without a redeeming quality – broo-dal. I have never spent as much time on the bathroom floor as I did after a bottle of Bill’s Purple Passion. The whirlies came to visit with no sign of departing.

So, what does this have to do with fear? Well, I believe that fear is related, in part, to lack of experience. We fear the scariest imaginings of the unknown. The Boogieman Syndrome. I haven’t had squirrels in my house gnawing on Arlene – so, it still motivates me. I never miss a short putt (OK, so that isn’t exactly true but bear with me) – so the ridicule is still in play. And, although I spent 5 years working in prisons, I still haven’t shared a cell with Bubba. But, and I’m using bold caps here, I have experienced THE WORST WINE EVER. And, I survived to drink again. And again. Oh I’ve still had missteps with wine – the consignment vintage Nuits-Saint-Georges I purchased in Saint Germain being the most instructive experience, lately. But, to quote Reginald Dwight, I’m still standing.

Life Lesson? When I see an unknown, interesting looking wine, I need only remember that it cannot, cannot; it CAN-NOT be worse than that elderberry of old. And those ‘new’ wines have almost always proved to be interesting, bordering on wonderful – it’s wine after all. And, repeat after me, “Wine is Good.”

My motto – fear not the wine!

What does scare me though is, if I follow this reasoning to its conclusion, I need to let the squirrels in, miss a putt and, gulp, have some quiet time with Bubba. I’ll give it some thought and share my progress with the group next session, Dr. Dire.

*Elderberry image courtesy of http://www.wikipedia.org

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