Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Jujubes on SFist

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Photo by Melissa Schneider.
What on earth is a jujube? Find out in my latest SFist piece.

History and Taxonomy of Distilled Spirits

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Advice for Bloggers Turned Writers

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In a literal sense, I'm a professional food and wine writer; I earn money from my articles. In a figurative sense, it's a bit more vague; it's not my day job, and I've only been doing it for a few years.

But I'd like to offer some advice to fellow bloggers who have begun to write for pay. These are of course guidelines, but worth keeping in mind.

Don't Write For Free

It's a Catch-22. You need clips to get clients, but you need clients to get clips. Lots of writers solve the problem by writing for free, or pennies. We've all done it.

Stop. As soon as you can. A year ago, a potential client told me their fee for articles, and I balked. The publisher told me that they had writers willing to write for a lot less than a reasonable rate. (My retort—to the editor who pushed for a higher fee for me—was "Are those the writers they want?") This is the fight you will face. Every time you work for free or close to it, you propagate a system that you will come to hate. For the record, my first assignment was paid work that I got in part from writing samples from this site and a food writing class I took.

I do have some clients who don't pay me what I'm worth, but I have other motivations in those cases.

Don't Write On Spec

Let's say I asked you to do a day of labor-intensive yardwork for me, but told you that I'd only pay you if you met some criteria that I wouldn't reveal. Would you do it? Probably not. (If so, send me an email.)

But lots of writers send in pieces on spec, which means they write the entire article, send it into the publication, and hope that the publication will buy it. In the world of fiction and poetry, maybe this makes sense, but in the nonfiction realm, this is a waste of everyone's time. Editors don't get to steer your story in the direction they need, and writers waste time by writing a piece that might not get bought. Pitch an idea, get an assignment (ideally a contract), and communicate with the editor to get a clear idea of what s/he wants.

I refuse to write on spec. Every time I meet a Wine X editor at a tasting, I ask if they still only take articles on spec. Every time they say yes, I say, "Too bad. I have so many good ideas that I think would work for you. Oh, well." (It's the publisher's call, but I figure if I keep telling editors, the message will bubble back.) I've heard of publications that will ask different writers to submit a piece on spec for the same subject. Then the editor chooses the best, and all the other writers get shafted. I don't want to support that system.

Treat Your Client with Respect

You want good money and a real agreement? Be a professional.

I have a succinct description for my job as a writer: Making my editor's life easier. They have to edit my work and several other pieces. They have to coordinate the production of a periodical with paying subscribers and advertisers, keeping to a tight deadline. They're overworked and underpaid. Editing isn't just red ink on your draft.

Edit your piece, check for typos, and read it out loud from a printed page before you send it. If an editor gives you a date, turn in your work on that date. If they give you a word count, hit as close to the mark as possible.

If an editor wants the impossible, say so. When I sold my first piece to The Wine News, they asked me to turn it around in a week or so. I couldn't do it, but we negotiated for a date that allowed me to deliver a quality product and allowed them to print it in a relevant issue. Two months ago, a magazine wrote me to ask if I could write a piece about dessert wines. The assignment overlapped my trip to France, and the editor and I tried to figure out an arrangement that would work. No can do. I lost the assignment, and maybe a new client, but I will not lie about it if I can't deliver a good product on the given date.

Protect Your Rights
MS-NBC pays well on a per-word basis. I've had fun with my assignments for them, and the staff seems like a good group.

But I don't do any work for them beyond the small blurbs. Why not? Because MS-NBC buys all rights to your work. I can't reprint it, and if they want to reuse it in other realms, they don't have to pay me any more than they did for the initial work.

My work is an asset. I want to retain the ability to republish it in my much-anticipated memoirs, and I want to get paid extra if a magazine wants to put my content onto the web along with the magazine.

That's not always possible, but I negotiate for whatever I can get. On another note, check out Neil Gaiman's advice to get a literary will.

Writers? Editors? What advice would you give?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Book Review: The Oxford Companion to Wine

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Most people aren't wine geeks. Most people shouldn't be: That way lies madness.

But even casual wine enthusiasts enjoy learning a bit about the bottle they're drinking. For the bulk of the wine-loving population, Karen MacNeil's The Wine Bible is a good book, despite being out of date and not always as thorough as one might want. It gives casual wine enthusiasts solid answers to most of the questions they might ask.

For the nerds among us, there is The Oxford Companion to Wine, recently gussied up with a new edition. Wine writer extraordinaire Jancis Robinson edits the exhaustive and monstrous volume, which includes contributions from specialized experts: David Schildknecht, probably the English-speaking world's foremost authority on German and Austrian wine; Kym Anderson, Lead Economist of the World Bank's Development Research Group; and a host of Masters of Wine and other entrenched grape gurus (including Tyler Colman of Dr. Vino).

I wouldn't normally think the book needs a review; it's the ultimate resource for the vinous expert in the household. But I've been using it quite a bit in recent weeks, boning up on arcane bits of data I might need for my class, and I'm struck anew by its depth of information. Some of my books could tell me the name of the red-tinted soil under the vineyards in the Rheinterrasse portion of Germany's Rheinhessen region (Permian red shale) but few could also tell me Hungary's name for Grüner Veltliner (Zöldveltelini).

Like any good reference book, this encyclopedia's cross-references—paper hyperlinks, if you will—can take you on a journey of exploration that will last as long as your eyes stay glued to the book. Oddball grape varieties, every trellising system known to wine growers, and of course larger portraits of regions and general subjects fill the 800+ pages. As I've surfed the tome, I've learned new things about the regions I thought I knew so well. If you ever have a wine question that other books can't answer, take a look at this book the next time you're at your local independent bookstore. If you use the old edition with any frequency, it's probably worth shelling out the $65 to upgrade. The new volume has current information and discusses recent discoveries in wine science.

This book was sent to me as a review copy.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Arizona Sows May Get Bigger Pens

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The state of Arizona is considering a law that would require larger pens for pregnant pigs and calves being raised for veal, according to this article at the Arizona Business Gazette. Not large. Just larger. Industrial producers are nonetheless battling the bill, for obvious reasons.

The article quotes Jim Klinker, the executive secretary of the Arizona Farm Bureau Federation, which opposes the bill. "'The idyllic Wilbur image of the free-running pigs, the free-ranging chickens, the free-ranging dairy cattle is not the way that production is occurring in this country,' he said. Klinker said operating that way would cause food costs to rise to more than 10 percent of average wages." So he can't give a subset of his livestock room to lie down, because then food production costs would skyrocket?

Later in the article, we get another look at the gulf between Klinker's views and those of ethical eaters. "Klinker said it's not a conspiracy to keep the meat-eaters ignorant of where their food comes from. 'Maybe they don't want to know where food supply comes from,' he said. He maintains that factory farming is the only economical way to produce food."

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Which Glass is Best for Kool-Aid?

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Last Friday, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a big ad for Riedel stemware, disguised as an article about the way that the shape of a glass affects the taste the wine. I love my Riedel glasses, but author Richard Hacker forgot to ask some interesting questions.

What of the research that Daniel Zwerding described in Gourmet two years ago, when a clinical, scientific trial found the Riedel claims to be bunk?

What of the superbly untested and unquestioned Riedel claim of a tongue's "flavor map?"

If glass shape is so specific, why didn't Riedel change the Spiegelau shapes after acquiring the competitor?

For that matter, why do Riedel's many product lines have different shapes? Todd Wernstrom, my editor at The Wine News, once noted that the same wine tasted different in each of the lines. And not necessarily better in the better glasses. So does Riedel actually know what they're doing?

Finally, does the world need another Riedel puff piece?

These Silly Tastings

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Numerous people have mentioned yet another wine tasting in which California wines beat out the French. What I keep wondering is not "why do the French keep losing" but "why do this at all?"

Napa Cabernets. Bordeaux. Despite some surface similarities, these are different beasts and should be judged within context. Napa Cabernets will be single-variety bottlings instead of blends. Each region will have different ripeness levels for the fruit, different climates, and different soils.

I've heard one theory that higher alcohol levels always show better in these tastings, and so, what a shock, California wines keep winning. Should we congratulate them for having monstrous alcohol levels that seduce a wine critic but don't go with your dinner?

California wines tend to be more sculpted than their French counterparts (though this is less true when you're talking about high-end Bordeaux estates; reverse osmosis shows up in France the same way it does in California, though it's used to concentrate must before fermentation instead of de-alcoholize the final product). Should we praise that?

What were the alcohol levels in these wines? Which of the wineries use Vinovation's reverse osmosis or Conetech's spinning cone to adjust alcohol levels in the wine? How many use Enologix to custom-tailor their wines to a critic's taste buds? Or their predecessors, since the wines were from the 1995 vintage (though Vinovation existed by then and Leo from Enologix was actively consulting as well). Does this tasting prove that California's a better wine region if everyone on the list had to fiddle with the wine's profile? (I should note: I think these companies are doing some interesting things, which is perhaps obvious in light of my upcoming article about Vinovation).

I understand tastings that try to identify the best in a group, but these inter-group tastings baffle the mind. Why not compare Zinfandels and Alsatian Rieslings? California Chardonnays and New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs? Think of the possibilities.

How about you? Do you think these results mean anything?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

How Do You Say Scheurebe?

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Scheurebe is one of Germany's most successful attempts to cross the noble-but-finicky Riesling grape with a high-yield variety, in this case Silvaner. It makes a pretty, floral white wine that I enjoy quite a bit.

I'm pouring some tonight in my class, and I remembered this amusing page on Weingut Lingenfelder's website. The estate, which has tirelessly promoted the charms of this grape, interviewed famous figures in the international chapters of the worldwide German-wine-loving community.

Possibly Melissa and I found this site funny only because we know some of the people behind the voices, but everyone can appreciate Terry Theise's rendition (his cat's, not so much). Those who know Bill Mayer will laugh out loud at that version.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Dashe to the Tasting Room

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Dashe Cellars, based in Oakland, has finally opened a tasting room. Michael and Anne Dashe have been building the tasting area for most of the year, and I plan to visit as soon as possible.

The Dashes make some of my favorite Zinfandels, keeping the alcohol to a "low" 15% or so. If you like California Zinfandels, often with high alcohol and jammy fruit, the Dashes tend to make well-balanced versions.

From the announcement: "Beginning October 28 (yes, that's next Saturday!), the Dashe Cellars Tasting Room will be open to the public 12pm to 5pm, Thursdays through Mondays."

I imagine the new tasting room will also pour wines from JC Cellars, another great producer in the same building. Jeff Cohn, the wine maker and owner, produces wines more akin to the Rosenblum style (where he served as the wine maker until recently). Jeff's Ventana Vineyards Syrah won the Syrah Shoot-Out at the Hospices du Rhône two years in a row.

Here are some tasting notes that I wrote when I researched the two wineries for my "Legacy of Rosenblum" article.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Book Review and Interview: What to Drink with What You Eat

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Note: I don't usually involve OWF in these PR things, but I liked Culinary Artistry, an earlier book by the authors, and decided to agree to be a stop on their "virtual book tour."

Review
I'm wary of books that promise to teach the reader how to pair wine with food. I work off the belief that a few simple rules give everyone the tools they need, and that anything more intimidates and confuses.

But Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page's new book What to Drink With What You Eat offers an interesting middle ground. Less a book-length primer—though the first chapters offer general advice—and more a catalog of proven pairings, the bulk of the book lists foods or cuisines and the drinks that go with them, or drinks and their complementary foods. A batch of ripe figs called your name at the market? Open a bottle of Vin Santo to accompany the dessert. Someone gave you a bottle of Madiran and you don't know what to eat with it? Try duck confit. Fans of Culinary Artistry will find the book's layout familiar: simple lists under easy-to-find subheadings, with bold entries indicating well-worn pairing classics. I couldn't find any pairings I disagreed with, when I knew enough to assess the idea myself.

Casual wine drinkers will probably get the most from the book, as the listings make connections between wines that might not be obvious. Muscadet has similarities to New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, for instance, but that kinship is only obvious when you've tasted each, not when you're staring at an unfamiliar bottle in the wine store. Each drink's subheading gives a quick primer: "Dolcetto (Italian light-to-medium-bodied red wine from the Piedmont region)." But even obsessive wine enthusiasts with our own opinions about pairings will enjoy the ideas for food to serve with tea, sake, beer, and more—even water. Wine dominates the book, but these other listings offer some interesting tidbits. I wouldn't think to pair root beer with foie gras, for example.

I do wish that the authors had been able to print the rationale behind individual pairings. I don't know how they would have fit that into the format, but without a thought process from one of their experts, it feels like a missed educational opportunity.

Overall, though, this is a useful tool for someone looking to fill glasses with as much care as they turn to their plates. I've already recommended it to friends and acquaintances. Dornenburg & Page have provided an extensive list of pairing suggestions that will inspire rut-bound pairers and comfort casual drinkers.

This book was sent to me as a review copy.

Q & A

As part of their virtual book tour, the authors agreed to answer some of my questions, and I've reproduced that e-mail interview here.

What prompted you to do this book?
We wanted everyone to be able to experience and enjoy the same peak pairings of food and drink that have blown our minds while dining out or even eating at home. We also wanted to create a book that you didn't have to be a master sommelier to get something out of—one that allowed even an inexperienced wine drinker to glean some ideas by simply looking up various ingredients, dishes, or cuisines, with the same ease with which they might look up a word in the dictionary or a thesaurus.

Our book Culinary Artistry, which is the first known reference on culinary composition and flavor compatibility, used this format to effectively communicate compatible flavors, although its emphasis is primarily on food as opposed to beverages. (We were pleased to hear that Gourmet magazine's #1 restaurant of the year Alinea's chef Grant Achatz cited Culinary Artistry as his #1 most-used culinary book in Chicago magazine.) What to Drink with What You Eat is essentially "Culinary Artistry for food and beverages."

And since eating and drinking is something that most of us already do three times a day, we thought, "What could bring the average person more pleasure than being able to turn every meal — breakfast, lunch and dinner — into a peak experience?"

Isn't a good wine and food pairing largely a subjective experience?
Absolutely—just like everything from art to sex. Who's to say that what one person finds appealing will be found appealing by another? Yet there are classic paintings, and even classic sexual positions. We've gathered pairing recommendations that include many classic "Holy Grail" pairings we think every self-respecting foodie might want to try at least once in their lifetime.

But not even the experts always enjoy a classic pairing. For example, cheese guru Steven Jenkins of NYC's Fairway Market—who brought Epoisses to the United States—doesn't like the combination of foie gras and Sauternes. He prefers Calvados (which is less sweet, for any readers who aren't familiar with this dry apple brandy). But in deference to the popular classic match, he'll have sweet wine on hand to serve to guests who might not share his taste.

How did you choose your experts?
Based on our previous books and our dining experiences, we knew which professionals were responsible for some of our peak pairings in a restaurant setting. We interviewed many of them first, then asked each of them who they thought were some of the best pairers they knew. When some of the same names started being mentioned over and over again (e.g. Joe Catterson of Chicago's Alinea), we sought them out for interviews. We ended up interviewing arguably the largest group of sommeliers (60+) and master sommeliers (10) that has ever been interviewed for a wine book. Most wine books reflect a single expert's opinion (whose personal taste you may or may not share); ours features a synthesis of more than 70 experts' opinions, so you're far more likely to find recommendations that are in line with your own.

What were your biggest surprises pairing-wise?
We've both earned sommelier certificates (Andrew through the Sommelier Society of America, and Karen through the Court of Master Sommeliers), and consider ourselves to be wine lovers first and foremost. But while researching this book, we developed tremendous respect for the pairing potential of other beverages—including beer, sake, cocktails, and non-alcoholic beverages, all of which are covered in What to Drink with What You Eat.

After interviewing Garrett Oliver, brewmaster of the Brooklyn Brewing Company, we ordered in enchiladas mole from our neighborhood Mexican restaurant and paired the $10 with a $2 bottle of Porter that we bought at the deli on the corner. The Porter and the mole were absolutely magical together! We'd like to see it become commonplace for people to take two minutes to think about what they should drink with their meal to create this kind of magic three times a day.

What's your advice to someone who's trying to pair a wine with a dish that has a number of elements—protein, side, etc.?
In the past, the general rule was "Red wine with meat, and white wine with fish." That worked in the days when foods were served simply and unadorned.

But in this day and age, it's even more important to look to the dominant flavors of a dish—whether they're in the form of the protein, the sauce and/or a side dish. It's typically the sauce, or the herbs or spices or other flavorings that accent it. For example, if there are habanero peppers in a dish, we'd imagine that counterbalancing that kind of heat is going to be a lot more important than virtually anything else!

One problem with wine-pairing books is they often encourage people to fall into dogmatic ruts. This goes with that, and that's all there is to it. How do you work towards giving readers creativity and courage to try their own pairings?
We designed the book to be as useful to a novice as to an expert in serving as an idea generator for pairing options to consider. Roget's Thesaurus is an extraordinarily useful reference book, but its usefulness is largely determined by the writing talent a novice or expert brings to it. The same is true of What to Drink with What You Eat. Novices without much depth of experience will probably tend to use the book literally, relying on the most popular pairing recommendations (which are indicated in bold and/or CAPS and/or with an asterisk). Experts with greater food and drink memory can use the book more intuitively, reinterpreting recommended pairings ("Oh, these are all fruity reds listed...I think I'll try this with the fruity Merlot I picked up around the corner last week....").

What do you think of the trend towards higher-alcohol wines, with regard to their ability to pair with food. And the kinds of food they can pair with.
In general, we think this is a disappointing trend. It's especially sad to see it happen with delicate wines such as Pinot Noir, which lose the essence of what makes them great when they're pumped up with too high of alcohol levels.

In general, we suggest that readers avoid pairing high-alcohol wines with either very subtle (e.g. delicate) dishes, which are overwhelmed by them—or with very salty or spicy dishes, which clash with them.

In issue 64 of The Art of Eating, Ed Behr wrote this in response to a letter from David Schildknecht that commented on Ed's earlier statement "most wines don't go particularly well with food." He intended it to be provocative, but I'd be curious to hear your thoughts:

"Not that there is a better drink with food than wine, but the two don't complement each other nearly as much as we are almost everywhere led to believe. Yes, some foods go extremely well with wine: a roast chicken goes with almost any wine. But perfect matches are extremely rare. If, at a meal, you take a bite of food and pay close attention to its flavor, and if you pause to clear your palate and then take a sip of the wine in your glass and carefully note its flavor, and then if you taste the two together, you'll find that each usually diminishes the other."

Hey, Derrick, remember those "Magic Eye" pictures that were all the rage in the early 1990s? You'd stare into them a certain way, and some people could see an almost "magical" 3-D image. Other people could stare and stare and never see anything more than the colors and shapes on the surface of the paper. We ourselves make no value judgments for or against people who can or can't see the 3-D image. But others who can't see the image might argue that it doesn't exist.

Our personal gastronomic experiences are most in line with those of the late Italian wine critic Luigi "Gino" Veronelli, whose words open What to Drink with What You Eat: "The flavor of a food almost always reveals the quality of a wine and exalts it. In turn, the quality of a wine complements the pleasure of a food and spiritualizes it."

We hope that What to Drink with What You Eat helps to open the door for everyone to experience more pleasure than they might have previously thought possible through pairing food and drink. For those who'd like an educational and entertaining first-hand tasting experience, we invite them to join us on October 30th at Draeger's - San Mateo; November 6th at Dahlia Lounge - Seattle; and/or November 9th at Cru - Vancouver for a taste of some extraordinary food and beverage pairings that just might make a believer out of anyone!

And, by the way, Derrick, many thanks for hosting us today on our "Virtual Book Tour." We're grateful that you extended the courtesy as a gesture of your appreciation for Culinary Artistry. Thanks for making it such a pleasure!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Blemished Marble in the Chronicle

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Congratulations to Bonnie of The Ethicurean for her piece in today's Chronicle, which exposes White Marble pork as commercial pigs dressed in artisan clothing. It's a nice piece of investigative journalism, and I hope the Food section runs more in-depth looks at our food supply.

Edible East Bay, Fall 2006, Contra Costa Vineyards

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Photo by Melissa Schneider.

The latest Edible East Bay is out, and features my story about "The Unexpected Vineyards of Contra Costa County." I've only recently learned about the great growing region through the Caldecott Tunnel, and so I was happy to explore the area's wine growing history, terroir, and growers' struggles with urban development.

I also discovered another vineyard for my "interesting sites" list: Viano Vineyards in Martinez not only has 118-year-old Zinfandel vines, but the Viano family neither irrigates nor trellises any of their vines. That's not a combination you often find in the U.S.

Other topics in the new issue: gleaning, pomegranates, persimmons, tortillas, and much much more. You can find the magazine (probably starting later this week) at farmer's markets, Market Hall, Andronico's, Zocalo Coffeehouse, Vintage Berkeley, and elsewhere. Or make it easy on yourself and subscribe.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Book Review: United States of Arugula

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If you're like me, biographies and memoirs pepper your food and wine library, a mishmash of the lives of culinary luminaries. And if you're like me, you're waiting for some imagined block of spare time to read the ones you haven't yet pulled off the shelf.

David Kamp is not like me. In tracing America's culinary evolution—with a focus on the last five or six decades—for his book The United States of Arugula, he's read all the biographies. And the articles. And he's interviewed every foodie figure of note. Whether he's quoting Paul Child's letters about his new girlfriend with the odd voice or describing the Newsweek cover with Paul Bocuse, it's clear that Kamp pored through the literature and kept careful notes.

The result is a well-drawn map charting America's gourmet movement. Kamp starts with James Beard, Craig Claiborne, and Julia Child—the Big Three—even while acknowledging their predecessors. He tracks them and the bastion of French chefs, including Pierre Franey and Jacques Pepin, who arrived in 1939 to work at Le Pavillon, the World's Fair monument to French cuisine. He shifts his gaze to the West Coast in the late 1960s, detailing how Alice Waters and Jeremiah Tower built Chez Panisse on a bed of casual sex and heavy drug use, while Michael McCarty and Wolfgang Puck captured the eyes of the Hollywood set. Kamp drifts into the foodier-than-thou attitude of the 1980s and the rise of prepared-food vendors as women entered the upper realms of white-collar careers. Finally, he ends with today's mix of internet forums, the Food Network, and champions for sustainable agriculture. Throughout, he details the relationships amongst the chefs and writers who have shaped our cooking consciousness.

Kamp navigates this history with a breezy, colorful prose that keeps the reader moving. At times, the slightly flamboyant text feels too exuberant, too caught up in the romance of his topic. But he doesn't dodge the less pleasant aspects of the gourmet movement: Claiborne's depression, Beard's manipulations, and the inevitable back-biting that comes with any person's rise to fame.

Even for those who were in the food industry through the last few decades, Kamp's book will no doubt offer insights. For those of us who arrived recently to the food-loving game, The United States of Arugula offers a thorough look at the influences that shape us today.

This book was sent to me as a review copy.

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Salad Days on SFist

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Photo by Melissa Schneider.

Prompted by some women I heard at a recent farmer's market, my SFist column urges you to check out interesting lettuces.

Cloned Animals Coming to a Store Near You

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The FDA is set to approve milk and meat from cloned animals for human consumption, says an article in the Seattle Times. The decision comes on the heels of studies that have demonstrated the safety of these foodstuffs. That research is probably right, but no one thought anything bad would come of feeding cows the spines and brains from other cows.

Bioethics may be a bigger obstacle, as consumers shy away from cloned food. But Americans have rolled over like eager pups about genetically modified food, so I can't imagine why they'd have a problem with this.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Restaurant Review: Quince

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Gasps and outrage escorted Michelin's new Bay Area guide onto local shelves, but few took issue with the tire company's decision to bestow a star upon Quince. The small, elegant restaurant sits near the top of many local foodies' must-eat lists.

Add it to mine as well after my friend Sabine organized an outing for six of us. Happy murmurs, louder as wine refilled our glasses, wafted above the table and its load of French-Italian "haute rustic" fare: tender rabbit wrapped in prosciutto, meaty pig's feet croquettes, succulent squab with figs. I don't think any of the dishes fell short of our lofty expectations.

The wine list is large, which usually suggests more money than focus, but I concede that the large inventory allowed them to feature an aromatic 2003 Movia Ribolla that we used as an opening wine. We moved onto a 2004 Selbach-Oster Zeltingen Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett and then a 2003 Merry Edwards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. (My friends joke that whenever I choose wine for a group, we end up with Riesling and Pinot Noir.) Given the Italian influence on the menu—there's a separate pasta course—I was surprised that the famous peninsula occupied a relatively small piece of the wine list.

Service was gracious, even as we became that table. You know the one. We stood outside for half an hour, out of the swirl of nearby operagoers, waiting for dawdling diners, but the staff apologized with a delicious intermezzo course that featured guinea hen and spinach pasta.

Quince lives up to its hype, delivering noticeably good food without the pretentious air found in many restaurants of its caliber. While it might be a bit leisurely for a pre-symphony meal, it's well worth a trip on another night.

Friday, October 13, 2006

News Bits

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McDonald's has disposed of its holdings in the Chipotle chain, even though the fast food giant used to own the biggest piece of the burrito bar's pie. Chipotle uses and actively promotes Niman Ranch pork.

Tyson Foods faces a class-action lawsuit that claims the poultry giant lowered wages by hiring illegal immigrants. Ethical food producers don't just treat their animals well; they take care of their employees, too.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Blogger Named as Chronicle's Wine Editor

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Earlier this year, Linda Murphy left the editor's desk of the San Francisco Chronicle's Wine section. She launched the section, and stayed with it for years as it grew.

I recently found out that they've named their new editor, and he's a blogger! Granted, Jon Bonné just left the equivalent position at MS-NBC's award-winning lifestyle section (and thus has been my editor for my small MS-NBC contributions), but I'm sure his amuse-bouche blog earned him his wine editor street cred.

Congratulations to Jon. You'll see his hand on the helm starting October 30. (Does this make amuse-bouche a local food blog now?)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Musical Ode to Vegetarianism...

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... at least until the chorus hits. Here's the link.

We all know vegetarians like this, don't we? Thanks Chris!

Cream Soda Tasting from Long Ago

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In the summer of 2000, my friend Pete stumbled onto the massive list of cream sodas available at Pop The Soda Shop, ultimate purveyor of all things soda.

Pete was so excited that he bought a bottle each of 20 different sodas, and nine of us converged for a blind tasting. (After which we could barely move because of the sugar coma: This was well before I learned about spitting at tastings.) Our friend Sarah compiled the results into an elaborate spreadsheet that sat, hidden, on Tim's hard drive until I asked if I could repost an abridged form here for the world to see. The list doesn't reflect the current inventory of cream sodas at Pop the Soda Shop, but it's a good start. I continue to buy Pearson Brothers whenever I can, though it's hard to find. Henry Weinhard's, however, has a larger production level and a more widespread distribution.

SodaScore  Comments
Pearson Bros. of SF4.9Pete wanted it stickier
Henry Weinhard's4.6With honey and natural vanilla
Moxie3.4Not flavored enough, too carbonated
Pirate's Keg3.3Notes of vanilla and caramelized sugar
IBC3.1Astringent and too sweet. Not enough vanilla.
Jones Soda Co.3.1Burnt marshmallow taste. Nice aftertaste.
Jack Black's Blue2.9Windex blue, good flavor for some, too artificial for others
Original Stewart's2.8Not enough vanilla, too carbonated.
Hansen's Signature Vanilla2.6Brief taste and smell
Hansen's Signature Orange2.6Orange-ish aroma with a weak orange taste
Hot Rod Magazine Sweet & Sticky Burn Out2.4Boring, artificial, caffeinated
Thomas Kemper Honey Vanilla2.3Musky taste/smell, metallic aftertaste
Henry Weinhard's Orange2.3Tasters loved it or hated it.
Journey Twisted Bean2.1Chai flavor that few liked. No vanilla.
Outlaw Hemp Butterscotch2.0"The cream soda of despair."
Dr. Brown's Original1.9Broad spectrum of opinions
Boylan Bottle Works1.9Baking soda/chalk taste. No vanilla flavor.
Dad's Classic Creamy Red1.8NyQuil. Unsubtle, artificial, bad aftertaste.
Journey Caribbean1.4Rental car smell
Pirate's Keg Orange & Cream1.4"Stale rotten taste."

Monday, October 09, 2006

A Love Song for Old Rieslings

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It doesn't look like a white wine as it oozes into the glass. Instead of a bare tint of yellow, the 30-year-old liquid has become saturated with a hue of light caramel. Instead of apple, pine, and almost-harsh mineral aromas, you smell wax and lanolin and cream. The difference is so profound that wine lovers use different terms for the scents: "aroma" as the wine comes onto the world's stage, "bouquet" as it meditates from its middle age.

Melissa and I fell in love with old Rieslings as we toured the Mosel. Wine makers would pluck dusty bottles from the cellars, eager to play the "Guess the Vintage" game. We always guessed too young, surprised when the wine maker grinned and told us about vintages in the early 1980's or late 1970's. Most wines don't age well, but good Rieslings are an exception. They remain aquiver with the acidity that keeps them intact and they are generous with the complex flavors that evolve as the wine matures.

We got another taste recently when our friend Tim Patterson invited us to share a few old samples from his cellar. He had received them from his doctor—"Because my friends don't drink Riesling," he told Tim, echoing a common experience among Riesling lovers. The wines were older than our Mosel samples. Older than Melissa, too, but younger than I. The star of this little sample was the 1971 J.J. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Riesling, a convergence of thoughtful producer and sun-kissed site that still has floral and fruit character even as the deeper notes have begun to emerge. The higher sugar level in the wine helps preserve it.*

We always taste these old Rieslings with a sigh. They offer a glimpse at another universe of wine, not just a beverage to accompany dinner but something mysterious that provokes silent contemplation among the tasters. These wines are a benevolent Ghost of Christmas Future showing you the gifts waiting decades from now in your storage facility. You see why wine lovers bury bottles in their cellars like pirates hiding loot. Can one wait 30 years to drink a wine that has been tucked away? It seems so far from now, but each infrequent sip of an old wine reminds you of your goal, even as it urges you to seek out other old bottles in the meanderings through life.

* In theory, kabinett, spätlese, and auslese merely tell you how much sugar was in the grape at harvest, not how much sugar is in the wine. In practice, unless you also see trocken or halbtrocken or feinherb on the bottle, the terms often map to increasing levels of residual sugar in German wines.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

New York Times on rBST

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Jack sent me the link to this New York Times article about the issues surrounding rBST, a growth hormone used to boost milk production in cattle. Consumers have begun to shy away from milk with this hormone, even though the FDA has found no health issues with the milk from treated cattle. The untreated milk costs more, because farmers need to recover the cost from lower yields, but consumers have still created enough demand to scare Monsanto, the hormone's producer.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Two Weeks Until Class Starts!

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I know you're tired of hearing about it, but I'll mention it one last time: There are still some seats in my upcoming Wines of Germany and Eastern Europe class through UC Berkeley Extension (the class itself is in downtown San Francisco).

You'll enjoy six weeks of tasting through Rieslings, Grüner Veltliners, Plavc Malis, Tokaji Aszùs, Zweigelts, Scheurebe, and anything else I can scrounge up. My outline is coming together, and I'm going to be figuring out my per-class budget and working my wholesale contacts. Expect at least six wines per class (probably more), plus an in-depth lecture about the regions I'll cover.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Back in the Kitchen

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The SFist test kitchen fires were dormant during September, but now that we're back, I've resumed my biweekly column. Today's entry: Pan Sauces 101.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Eat, Drink, and Be Charitable

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Nothing builds an appetite like giving to charity, don't you think? Fortunately, a couple of upcoming Bay Area events allow you to eat food, drink wine, and contribute to the community.

My good friend Tim is very involved with San Leandro's Davis Street Family Resource Center, and he sent me a note about an event they're having on October 8th. The event features a wine tasting and art auction, and local artists will be showing off their work up and down Bancroft Avenue. Wines will change halfway through the event, though Tim will get back to me on which bottles you can expect. Buy tickets at Zocalo Coffeehouse (if you see Tim or Mitch, the owners, say hi for me).

And don't forget about the Taste of Petaluma festival on October 21. Restaurants and other local food producers will be showing off their best work for ticket holders. I'll be one of the judges, so you can come boo or applaud my choices, all while helping the town's Cinnabar Theater.