Waiter: Bring Me the ’66 Thunderschewitz!

Here at the Spume HQ, we’re passing some rather cold San Francisco nights revisiting, chronologically of course, Matt Groening’s awesome animated series, Futurama. While I was once a strong Simpsons fan — and those first few seasons of the Simpsons are brilliant — Futurama it seems has held up much better over time, both in terms of comic delivery and timeless subject matter.

It’s also an amazing food & wine show it turns out. There’s the spice-weasel bamming chef Elzar (a spin on Emeril Lagasse), and tons of references to cooking, eating and drinking — in a sci-fi futurey animated comedy kind of way. We recently watched the first season episode, A Giant Ball of Garbage, which included this wonderful line from the alcohol loving robot Bender as he orders wine during a banquet:

I’ve been perusing your fortified wine list, and I’ve selected the ’71 Hobo’s Delight, the ’57 Chateau Partay, and the ’66 Thunderschewitz.

Check out the audio clip: Bender ordering wine

New Harvest: Anderson Valley on the Mind

(Above: Anderson Valley as seen from Handley Vineyards, spring 2005.)

California’s Anderson Valley has always had a special place in my heart, ever since I first drove through on highway 128 during a road trip from San Diego to northern Vancouver Island in 1996. I make it back to Anderson Valley once every year or so, and each trip is inspiring. From the awesome beauty of the place and the sense of community that exists there, to the wines — among the most honest wines made in California — it’s hard not to say I *Heart* Anderson Valley.

As it turns out, there’s a lot more going on in the local community these days than my short visits have allowed me to witness. Thankfully, the California Report recently posted an excellent radio segment about life in Boonville, the area’s main town. It’s a quick yet fairly thorough look at the region’s current social, economic and environmental situation, and includes a substantial amount of reporting on the local wine industry.

Listen – New Harvest: The Future of Small Town, CA: Boonville & Anderson Valley

(NB: The Boonville segment is the second part of series on the California called “New Harvest: The Future of Small Town, CA”. You can learn more about this promising series, view slideshows and listen to additional broadcasts, at the project’s website.)

Plenty of things in the Anderson Valley broadcast caught my attention, but of note was local David Severn’s mention of regional water issues with regards to the wine industry, such as the affects of grape-growing and vineyard development on the local watershed. This is an important issue throughout California, and certainly well-reported, but I’m glad to see the it raised in this radio piece. It’s something the wine industry should be talking about as often as possible, and in a way that’s completely public and transparent.

Is Corkscrew a Yoga Pose?


(Above: My new favorite corkscrew.)

I spent most of last week in the Napa Valley at the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers, to which I’d won a fellowship. The symposium takes place at Meadowood and the Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone (CIA) campus, and like other retreats of its kind, it’s an opportunity to step out of the whirlwind of deadlines and day-to-day stress to focus on the craft of writing.

It also gave me the excuse to wander around the CIA and check out their collection of wine-related historical knickknacks, such as the mermaid corkscrew above. I believe the worm really is coming out of her breasts, although her creator felt the need to position her hands just so in order to maintain some modesty.

Later on, I found myself thinking of the mermaid when I read an account of the Sixth Annual International Yoga Asana Championship on Slate. (There’s some amazing, if freaky, video at that website, not to mention a yoga disco soundtrack; check it out). Anyway, I do yoga regularly, and while I’m the first to admit that the physical and mental aspects of it are deeply rewarding, the whole thing can seem rather culty, especially here in California. But I had no idea there was a competitive circuit of yoga!

As you might imagine, the whole thing sounds strangely, wonderfully bizarre. From the article on Slate:

To those of us who’ve spent years practicing yoga in an atmosphere of soft-lit candles, chanting, and nonjudgmental good vibes, the idea of a yoga competition sounds about as absurd as the idea of competitive prayer. On my way to the 6th Annual International Yoga Asana Championship, held at the Westin Hotel LAX on the weekend of Feb. 7, I steeled myself to bear witness to some sort of whacked-out yoga circus, and that’s more or less what I got. But a lot of yoga culture feels weird and circuslike to me anyway, so I would have felt disappointed if it had ended up being otherwise. I can now also tell you that there’s a chance competitive yoga will soon be an official event at the Summer Olympics.

At the center of the weekend, wearing flashy suits and various fedoras, stood Bikram Choudhury, the animating force behind the competitive yoga circuit. Here’s a man who’s copyrighted his style of yoga (26 postures, repeated twice, in a room heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit), sends cease-and-desist letters to those who dare flout the copyright, and, in interviews, summarily dismisses all other forms of American yoga while also bragging about his love for McDonald’s and his large fleet of self-restored Rolls-Royces. He once famously told Business 2.0 magazine that his yoga was the “only yoga.” When asked why, he said it was because he has “balls like atom bombs, two of them, 100 megatons each. Nobody fucks with me.” Not surprisingly, other yoga circles view him and his particular craft with everything from mildly dismissive amusement to a disdain coming close to disgust.

Continuing on to the competition itself:

When I returned the next morning, the room had been transformed into a legitimate athletic stage, with no evidence of the previous night’s variety-show nuttiness save a few stray red balloons in the rafters. Everything ran with precision and efficiency. The video and audio were of professional quality and the emcee had a classy, sonorous voice. Most impressively, the competitors, judged under strict and consistent standards, continually wafted into beautiful and magnificent yoga postures.

I should add that in the display case next to the one containing the mermaid corkscrew, there’s a collection of various non-corkscrew wine openers, mostly gas and or air pump numbers. A casual glance, however, could easily lead one to an entirely different set of conclusions. Was I at the Culinary Institute of America or Good Vibrations?


Sustainable Seafood, Hipster Street Food & More

Faced with a lack of creativity or inspiration at the moment, I’ve decided to do what blogland does best and link to stuff by other people! I know, hardly original, but whatever.

Iwashi – Best Choice Sushi

Last week, Peter Liem mentioned the release of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s new guide to sushi from its Seafood Watch program. If you aren’t familiar with Seafood Watch, it’s an excellent program that publishes a series of guides to help consumers make the best choices regarding sustainable seafood. Given the popularity of sushi — especially here in California — it’s nice to see this new guide added to the program. Sadly, some of my favorites are on the list: Bye bye, tai, toro and unagi. Fortunately, iwashi (sardines) and aji (spanish mackerel) are in the ‘Best Choice’ category. Check out the new guide to sushi here.

What’s the fastest way to open your own restaurant in San Francisco? Start with a taco truck!

San Francisco has some pretty killer street food, a lot of which gets overlooked but that’s just fine. More for the rest of us who don’t mind ordering food from a kitchen or refrigerator with wheels, often parked next to a sleeping bum. Anyway, this past October saw the street food concept taken to an entirely new level (I don’t know why somebody didn’t think of this sooner; also, watch for copycats). Anthony Myint, a line cook at Bar Tartine, rented an Antojitos food truck every week on Thursday night to dish up delicious flatbread sandwiches to hungry SF foodies lined up at 21st and Mission (check out past menus here). After a few weeks and a number of hiccups, it seems that Myint and crew are migrating from the truck to an “actual restaurant“:

To make this change possible, we’ll be moving from the truck into an actual restaurant. We’ve been talking with some local restaurants about sharing space, and we’ll announce the details in a few days. We’ll be closed this week for planning and will re-open somewhere in the Mission on November 6.

The new format will also feature guest chefs/contributors. No word yet as to where Mission Street Food will relocate, but it will be well worth checking out!

How to open a bottle of wine using only a clothes’ hanger, a spoon and a Bible

Boozehound and writer Camper English shares a funny little anecdote about trying to open a bottle of wine while suffering from jet lag at his hotel in London. If you’ve made it this far, you’ve probably got some idea of how he eventually got the cork out. For the full story, click here.

And Camper, one word for you: screwcap.

Speaking of London:

‘Action’ by St. Etienne, from their 2002 album Finisterre.

Bumper Sticker Brunello

The other day a colleague of mine expressed his surprise to me when I mentioned that there had been, and continues to be, a scandal of sorts in Montalcino. I meant to get back to him on the subject but owing to the most current and vicious deadline of our publishing cycle, I totally forgot. Fortunately now I don’t have to, because my fellow italophile Jeremy Parzen has given an excellent summary over at the always enjoyable Do Bianchi. And not just a summary, mind you, but an engaging account rooted in the fresh perspective of an inquisitive and concerned americano who loves that whole Italian wine thing.

My favorite part of the post, what I feel people should take away:

Now, more than ever, Brunello and the folks who live in Montalcino — and especially the honest producers of Brunello, traditional and modernist alike — need our support. As summer comes to an end, get out that BBQ one more time, grill up a mean piece of meat, and decant that Sangiovese.


So thanks, Dr. J, now I can just forward a link to my colleague and be done with it. And then fire up the gril and bust out that decanter…

Does Terroir Matter?

(Above: I image googled ‘terroir’ and got this abstract painting* back as a result)

A challenging question apparently, and while I would answer in the affirmative, that yes it does, there are people out there who might disagree. And that’s fine.

But I did drink a syrah the other night that had me wondering for a moment, really, if terroir does matter. The wine in question came from Bolgheri on the Tuscan coast–the 2001 Scrio, a syrah from Le Macchiole is, frankly, pretty awesome wine. All savory and peppery, too, with the density of Cornas. But if I think about it for a minute, I realize that the wine (a French grape on the Tuscan coast), and my reaction to it (to think of Cornas, which is neither coastal nor anywhere near Tuscany), are somewhat contradictory to the commonly accepted notion of terroir. Did it matter where this syrah came from, or just that it was good syrah?

So it was with great delight that I read Joel Stein’s article at Time, “Fifty States of Wine”. His premise is simple: Now that all fifty states make wine, why not try a wine from each state and see if and how the concept of terroir works here in the US. In other words, can you make good wine anywhere? Or as Stein puts it: “Great wine keeps coming from surprising new places–New Zealand, Lebanon, Slovenia–so why not Nebraska?” He does seem to disregard winemaking style–a glaring omission if you ask me, but considering that this is Time Magazine, probably a moot point.

One of the more choice sections:

In reviewing somewhat randomly selected bottles priced around $15 to $20, I learned a few general truths. White is easier to make than red. Wines made at golf courses are not good. And the importance of terroir is definitely questionable, since no region of the country seems ill suited for winemaking except the Deep South, all of which I think Sherman salted. Though I didn’t touch the dirt on these vineyards, my impression is that it’s more a matter of finding the right grape for your climate. (Michigan’s riesling was one of my favorites.)

(Go here to read the entire article)

* – painting by Clay Vajgrt

Bubbles & Boom

So I had a delicious Cava last week, the German Gilabert Cava Brut Nature, which I picked up at my neighborhood shop on the way over to a friend’s place for dinner. Prosecco is usually my inexpensive bubbly of choice but for some reason I went for the Cava instead. Maybe it was the geeky label, done up as it is in a Brady Bunch font?

(I’m a closet label whore. Shhh…)

Or perhaps it was the tag ‘brut nature’, which in bubblespeak means no dosage–that popular, Champagne hipster approved style where zero grams of sugar have been added to the wine. I’m not sure if there are other terms to indicate this method on a label, but ‘brut nature’ seems to show up the most often. Peter (or anyone else), care to elaborate?

Anyway, the German Gilabert is dry as you might expect, but also quite refreshing in the same tingly way that Dr. Bronner’s soap is. Like, it’s searing at first and then suddenly you feel cool and relaxed. Probably not the most ringing endorsement, but damn, it was a nice Cava.

Meanwhile, onto the boom. It seems that some crazy winemaker in Limoux in southern France blew up his winery with his own homemade bomb. As of yet, it’s undetermined if he belonged to CRAV, a group of militant winemakers in the region, or if he was, I don’t know, trying some new technique to soften the tannins in his wine… Gives a whole new meaning to ‘fruit bomb’, now doesn’t it? There’s an article at Decanter all about it.

Oh, and some car is cranking ‘Funky Town’ outside my window. That’s how you know it’s Friday in San Francisco. Check it:

Biodynamics and Classic Japanese Cars

I couldn’t resist that title, sorry.

Maybe it’s because I grew up in the southern Californian auto business, but I’ve always had a place in my heart for classic Japanese cars. I even drive one, the 1976 Datsun 280 ZX seen below pulled off to side of highway 128 in Anderson Valley.

Anyway, the New York Times ran an interesting little article on the increasing collectibility of old Datsuns/Nissans (read it here). While I would love to own a 1972 240 Z, my little ’76 is pretty damn reliable, to say nothing of being quite fast. It’s also yellow. We won’t speak of gas mileage.

(There’s also a nifty slideshow at the NYT showing a few cherry Datsuns from over the years.)

Changing the subject from my wine country getaway mobile to something more vinous, over at Wine & Spirits you’ll find a series of short profiles and tasting notes on wines featured at Josh Greene’s seminar on biodynamics and natural wine at this year’s VinItaly. The seminar itself was lively and fun, and the audience–including some representatives of the Italian edition of Vanity Fair–really dug the proceedings. Anyway, the post will be updated Wednesday and Friday to include all 8 wineries from the presentation. Read the first batch here.

Lastly, my friend and colleague Peter Liem has been profiled by Tom Wark over at Fermentation (thanks for the shout out, Peter!). For those of you not familiar with Tom’s Bloggerview feature, it’s a somewhat regularly updated collection of profiles of the many bloggers posting in the eno blogosphere. I’ve found many a distraction here, and I’m sure you will too.

Bad California Pizza, Killer LA Taco Trucks and Parasite Wine Writers

Golden Gate from Marin Headlands

(Above: The Golden Gate Bridge and entrance to San Francisco Bay as seen from the Marin Headlands.)

I snapped this picture about a year ago during a long ride on a day much like this past Saturday–no big container ships this time, although my friend and I did see a beautifully restored B-17 Flying Fortress soaring over the SF Bay (turns out it was on tour; info about this particular plane can be found here).

I love riding in the Marin Headlands, easily one of the best cures for the doldrums I can think of. Now, if only I had a helmet-mounted video camera, I’d record the fantastic downhill that’s the reward for reaching the summit. But wait, someone beat me to it. Oh well, have a look–it’s a great ride.

Anyway, I had every intention of posting all these links on Friday but an afternoon of glorious sunshine–and a call from a friend saying he was holding down the end of a picnic table in the beer garden at Zeitgeist–convinced me that I had better things to do with my time than sit in front of a computer screen.

Mario Batali thinks California pizza sucks

And you know, he’s about 90% right. I’d rank Pizzaiolo, Pizzeria Delfina, A16, Arinell’s, Tony’s and Mozza (Batali’s LA restaurant in partnership with Joe Bastianich and Nancy Silverton) as serious counterpoints to his argument as outlined in Wired’s homage to New York pizza. Still the piece is a fun read although what it’s doing in a tech-culture magazine is beyond me. Oh wait, now I get it.

I love taco trucks!

If you’re not already reading Jonathan Gold’s award-winning food writing for the LA Weekly, then I suggest starting out with this wonderful article on hunting down the best taco trucks in Los Angeles (and therefore arguably the best taco trucks in the world–where else would the car and Latino cultures mash up so perfectly?).

Taco trucks are dear to me, and while I’ve got a my favorites here in San Francisco, I urge you to hit the comments section with your favorite taco truck in the Bay Area (and beyond).

Meanwhile, I’ll be in LA later in May for the Wine & Spirits Hot Picks event, and in my downtime I plan on seeking a few of these trucks out.

Those Pesky Wine Writers

Like many in the wine world, I took the widely circulated report of remarks made recently by Jancis Robinson with a hulking grain of salt. Actually, make that a salty, puckering Muscadet. Anyway, two interesting comments here from Ray Isle at Food & Wine (go here) and Jim Gordon at Wine Enthusiast (go here).

OMG–it’s Prince covering Radiohead!!!!!

Forgive me this internet indulgence, but I just had to share. During the encore to what was apparently a kick-ass set at this past weekend’s Coachella festival, Prince played Radiohead’s song “Creep”. Well-worth a listen/watch (although the sound quality kinda sucks, sorry. Bootleg video and all If this doesn’t work, try searching on You Tube before it gets taken down)