Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Listen to the Man.

The following clip from The Charlie Rose Show features Alan Flusser (after watching some political stuff for the first 45 minutes...scroll fast) his own bad self.



Sunday, August 26, 2007

Click me, baby.

OK. My most recent wine column is up ovah at and I ask you to issue clickage duly.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

As someone who is fairly conscientious about being regularly en blogge, as well as normally cranking out 20-25 emails a day, plus missives to assorted online groups, computer-drafted reports and epistles, etc., I have an inordinate fondness for stationery and fountain pens.

[I have also just mangled my shoulder trying to prop up my pillows. Ouch.]

Anyway, because I'm bored and because I'm (among other things) an anachronism of sorts, I just spent a delightful and instructive spell rearranging my stationery and doing a little maintenance work on the fountain pens.

The stationery thing started ages ago, when I was a callow youth. Maybe 18 or so. I spied (through the shop window) a rather comely lass working in a (duh) shop just on the shadow of the Venetian winged lion. Bristling with the bravado that only youth (when flush with a reasonable dose of wine) can possibly have, I stepped through the doorway, the better to afford this young lady an opportunity to avail herself of the manly bounty that was Young Joke. It was my every intention, you see, to dazzle her in every respect, to intoxicate her with charm. I don't know exactly how much Valpolicella I had occupying space otherwise earmarked for hemoglobin, but I was fairly confident that within 20 minutes I'd have her loudly demanding to carry my child. (In contrast, these days my wife loudly demands I carry my child.)

What I had not counted upon was that she'd bedazzle me, and 20 minutes later I had transferred enough currency to her store's coffers to provide me with a small satchel of exquisite papers, cards, envelopes, and the like. All of which she had wrapped up expertly in a semi-glossy purple-pink paper, as if this were all one great Christmas gift. When I had envisioned her taking advantage of me, this walletectomy was not exactly among the highlights of my thought process.

But I, being the resilient optimist I am, took the whole episode in stride. I sauntered (as much as someone who has blown an shockingly high percentage of his funds can saunter) to a small bar-type place and ordered a carafe of what two honeymooner-types were having. I produced a cheap pen and started to muse upon what I might write on these excellent papers. My thinking was that I ought send lovely missives from this lovely spot to young ladies back home upon whom I had, er, designs. It struck me as a capital notion, when I was interrupted by my waiter.

Y'see, in Italy, people do not eat by themselves, let alone drink by themselves. Most of my tour (if you want to glorify it with such a term) had consisted of looking up at pretty buildings, occasionally peering inside, and more frequently, stopping at these bar-type counters where locals were loitering amiably and having a tipple of some local-ish wine or another. This was sociable and therefore acceptable.

So a guy with a stack of very expensive paper having a carafe of wine one late afternoon all by his lonesome, y'know, stuck out. The waiter, what with Italians being Italians, surmised that I was writing to Someone Special Back Home and before he deigned give me my carafe -- for which I was paying a 50% premium given that I was seated at a table -- he told me I couldn't possibly jot down anything on paper such as that with a cheap-o-matic pen. He was taken aback that I was perplexed. I was partly perplexed because he spoke in rapid-fire Italian and it toom me a while to process his Italian to my Spanish. At any rate, he claimed he had an uncle in the business and he took (!) me through a warren, along diminutive alleys, to a small shop which gave the impression of being The Smallest And Best Hidden Colored Pencil Museum In The World.

I was too stunned and cowed to ask what was happening to my carafe of wine. At any rate, Elio (the waiter) engaged Sandro (the colored pencil maven) in animated speech. As they discussed my predicament, Sandro nodded sagely. It was as if a general practitioner and a specialist were conferring. Looking around I saw all manner of inks, quills, pencils, etc. Sandro asked me, the way one would ask a lost and frightened toddler, what I liked. This was good because I could answer something and not feel utterly useless. I rattled off my hobbies and likes. I kept my more prurient interests to myself, although given the fact I was among Italian males they may have taken my silence to mean I had some sort of glandular deficiency.

Sandro nodded sympathetically, much like when a patient says "it hurts when I do this." Sandro looked at Elio.

Gravely, but sweating self-assurance, he uttered: "Omas."

I thought he had diagnosed me as heterophobic, but he produced a small box with a brushed aluminum pen, with a pleasantly discreet automotive motif. "This is the best thing for you," I understood him as saying. He then wrapped it up like a Christmas gift (along with an ink bottle, the color of which he chose and didn't bother to let me see), helped himself to my funds and bid me good evening.

Elio, looking as if he had saved me from ravenous marmots, led me back to our starting point, chattering effusively. Another, slightly older, waiter-type guy (Virgilio, I think) came up to us and handed me my stuff. My paper, my misfolded map which he had taken great care to fold properly, assorted brochures, etc. Elio then poured me a glass of wine and took his leave of me, returning to refill my glass with what must have exceeded the contents of my carafe and dropping off -- gratis! -- tiny plates of generally unrecognizable edibles.

That evening, dear reader, I started writing down for all the young ladies of my acquaintance some of the most frightful bilge imaginable. A young man on the cusp between high school and university, with his blood volume amplified by wine is capable of truly appalling stuff* in the quest to be (non-rockabilly) Romeo-like.

But the pleasure of feeling ink glide smoothly from a sleek fountain pen to the surface of a creamy off-white sheet has always stayed with me.

Unlike those poor girls to whom I wrote.


*That nobody struck me repeatedly about the head and neck is a small miracle.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Two-Buck Luck?

In the circles in which I travel, news broke out that shook the beliefs of many to their foundations. Not news about how Jesus actually became a management consultant and died at the ripe old age of 117; not news about how the sun actually revolves around the earth, not news about UV radiation being healthy. No, more stark than that.

No, starker.

These are the news, in a nutshell: Charles Shaw Chardonnay (a.k.a. “Two Buck Chuck” in the patois of the street…although it mysteriously retails for three bucks, perhaps people are being sensitive about Mr. Shaw’s possible orientation?) won The Very Super Duper Ultra Prestigious Wine Competition, defeating wines from 873 countries, including some which cost more per bottle than three space shuttles and a lease return NASA camper van combined. ABC News posted footage of this amazing David & Goliath feat all over the Internet. Of course, they also had to get some sort of expert to clarify it for all the benighted people who don’t scan assiduously. Somehow, the expert failed to agree with the panel of judges that awarded Charles Shaw the coveted Plutonium Triple Crown of All Time Best Wine, Ever! and she said the wine was so atrocious that it was almost as bad as the wine that cost 60 times as much.

Here comes the caveat. I am not picking on any wine because it costs three bucks. I am an ardent believer in wines that give you value for money. In fact, many (most?) of the seriously food-friendly wines will weigh in at less that $20 a bottle, often less than $10-$15. The problem is that even if a wine is “spectacular for the money” there is only so much room for spectacularness in $3. So what gives?

The crucial bit left out – until now – is the answer to “Yeah…so what’s this all mean?”

I’ll tell you what it means. It means that those who place a great deal of store in what judges say are also placing a HUGE deal of store in a couple of semi-hidden, mostly nebulous variables. You read things about Wine X that says “Winner of the Platinum Medallion at the Palookaville WineFest!” and you are inwardly very impressed. You rehearse, perhaps, saying same in a casual, offhanded way to dinner guests…especially if it’s only one guest upon whom you have designs of the basest sort. You are assuming, of course, the judges at the 2007 Palookaville WineFest are all competent, intelligent, and experts/professionals in the field, at the top of their form on the day of the event. You assume the panel is substantially the same as last year’s panel.

You further assume there have been no glitches with scorecards, computing, counting, or sorting. Beyond this, you also assume that all the bottles sampled were both accurately representative of the wine and stored and served in such a way as to keep it so.

Some events are more transparent in this regard than others. The judges are announced with plenty of time, they are known quantities who themselves have credibility and expertise. Some events don’t bother or do a poor job of it. Your job is not to rely on any one award in your decision. I don’t state these things to slight these event or to impugn the judges thereat, jointly or severally. Just to say this: Don’t assume that what a group of people (about whom you likely know little to nothing) decided about a wine is an immutable fact.

The fact the 2007 Palookaville WineFest chose the Chateau Sauvage Pipi du Chevre as their number one wine doesn’t relieve you of the responsibility to weigh that against other opinions including, most importantly, your own. This entails cultivating a relationship with your wine retailer, by the way. Yes, I know they all dress in invariably unflattering “aloha” shirts and those knockoff Panama hats. You’re not there to take sartorial advice, but rather, avail yourself of their expertise. If he (or she, I don’t discriminate) gets a handle for what your tastes are, what sorts of food you enjoy, your general budget then you are in a far more advantageous position for getting wines which will please you than using any other means of oenophilic discernment yet devised.

Above and beyond this, you may look at specific wine reviewers as a secondary source of guidance. While these reviewers – myself included – all may suffer from manifold flaws, including an appalling subjectivity, they bring a consistency to the table that is useful. Don’t fixate on a wine that got 98 points from Mr. Wine Q. Reviewer, rather focus on the reviewer first. Why? Because if you find a reviewer whose tastes parallel your own, then you can use those reviews to whittle down the near-oceanic quantities of wine available into a smaller quantity from which to choose…bringing us back to Aloha Tom and his wine shop and his invaluable advice. If most of the stuff that Mr. Wine Q. Reviewer suggests tastes to you as if it had been fermented through a weasel, then snapping up one he rated at 98 only means you will have paid exorbitantly for the opportunity to drink something your tastebuds will compare unfavorably to the renal output of most burrowing mammals.

Finally. There really is no substitute for training your palate. When you taste a wine, try to “look” for things. I remember vividly the first time I tasted a wine that had a clear, unambiguous “blackberry note.” I skipped and hopped merrily until my wife threatened to have me carted off. Once you have a palate that can taste specific aspects of a wine, you’ll notice you have less and less need for wines with awards.

After all, maybe some judges think certain wines taste best when spat out.


Saturday, August 11, 2007

All will be well.

My bespokes from Alan Flusser will arrive shortly. The MTMs from Purple Label will follow.

You may all exhale.



Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Not new, but new to me.

Something to seek out on my next trip to the UK:


P.S. Sir Basil, do you know anything of this establishment?

Friday, August 03, 2007

Deluxe Cheapness

If you are among the fortunates whose daily routine frequently finds you arrayed in suit and tie and also happen to be, er, frugal...I have good news.

Jos. A Bank's, an enterprise that for many years has been viewed as a Brooks Brothers manqué, has not only managed to find religion via pronouncedly upmarket offerings at suborbital prices, it has even managed to put some of these at super-duper clearance.

Uncle Joke wants you to pay particular attention to their "Signature Gold" line. Sure, the other stuff is nice, but Signature Gold is the money section. Normally this is retailed at up to $1300 and can be favorably compared to high-end off-the-rack suits weighing in around $3K, but for the next few days you can score them for $250. This means that you're getting $3K's worth of goodness for 90% off.

With the exception of reverse pleated trousers, there is really very little for even the most fastidious dresser to pick on. At $250, they are closer to free than they are to their real worth.

Oh, and shipping is free.


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Boys will be boys.

The estimable Mattis has written a great post on boyhood, spurred by the excellent "A Dangerous Book For Boys." I exhort you to read it.