Real Live Wine Fraud

Not quite on the scale of the Jefferson bottles, but funnily enough the comment below appeared the other day on my earlier post about Nigerian Wine Spam.

Let’s see what “Julia” has to say:

Dear Wolfgang,
My name is Julia. I am from Moscow, Russia. I work for wine company. I have recieved a call from a man in London, who was seaking for Petrus wines for “VIP Party”. I did all the operation. I found the wines for him in France, the man from London  had sent the swift in order to confirm the payment.The french supplier had shipped 18 bottles of Petrus to London. Now the bank in France confirmed that the SWIFT is faked, the french supplier hasn`t got the money, the bastards had got the wines. I don`t know what to do….Could you advise me smth…. where to go…where do they usually resell the wines ? In London? To wine boutiques, restaurants…Any help would be appreciated. I am ready to pay the money for the help. The proforma was for 53000 euros. Julia

Interesting on many levels.

I wonder if it’s the same scammers, and this is their response to the original post? Do they like to target bloggers? Surly this is a person and not some web-crawling spam spider?

Anyway, as always folks, make sure to read through your comments. And anything about unloading some Petrus in London, Moscow, New York or anywhere else is 100% fake.

Side note: I guess this confirms that VIPs like to roll with Petrus.

Authenticity in Italian Wine: Notes from My Panel at VINO 2010

As I mentioned earlier, I was in New York for much of last week at the Italian wine extravaganza, VINO 2010. While it was great to attend seminars, meet new producers and taste their wines, the reason I was there was to speak as part of a panel (full disclosure: I was paid to participate). Our session was titled Transparency, Traceability, and Wine: the Italian Appellation of Origin System, and it certainly inspired a lively round of discussion.

I don’t have full notes on what was said, but I thought I would post the written text of what I’d prepared for the session. Feel free to chime in with discussion, comments, etc.

Note: Riccardo Ricci Curbastro, a Franciacorta producer and a representative of FederDOC, the body that oversees the Italian appellation system, pointed out that the rules for each appellation are agreed upon from the bottom up; in other words, the producers of a particular region determine the appellation rules amongst themselves. I overlooked this point but it did come rushing back when I recalled that members of the Brunello Consortium voted to not change the rules of the appellation and allow grapes other than sangiovese in the production of Brunello di Montalcino.

Anyway, here’s the text I prepared (after the jump):

Continue reading

Recent Search Strings, or, “Are Wine Writers Parasites?”

Like many bloggers or other new media junkies, I’m just a little obsessed with checking at my stats counter. Looking at the terms and phrases people use to navigate the internet can be enlightening, entertaining and, well, rather creepy. Below, a snapshot of yesterday’s and today’s (thus far) searches that brought people here.

Oh, internet. You’re so special.


These are terms people used to find your blog.


fixed gear
night sky
pizza on wheels
“the national” “concerts à emporter”
stickers per wine bar
mercato centrale firenze ore
al pastor
golden ratio egg
in seven wonders of the world roman colosseum


night sky
fixed gear
night sky stars
alta california mission trail
are wine writers parasites?
sky night
taco truck
“wolfgang weber”

Building Community


Above: The new tools of the trade?

One of my favorite aspects about the wine, specialty cocktail and food business is that it builds communities, from casual tasting groups to communal neighborhood gardens. And this is one reason tools like blogging, twitter, Chowhound and (gasp) even Yelp are so well-suited to the food and wine world, or at least to the people who get excited about those worlds. These are the tools that easily bring people together to form new (and hopefully lasting) communities.

A great recent example of creating a food or booze-centric community is San Francisco Cocktail Week, which just wrapped up the other night. I didn’t participate much this year because of deadline pressures, but the event was a success and I’ve heard from many people that this year’s was the best yet. I bring up SF Cocktail Week because in my opinion one of the main reasons San Francisco’s cocktail scene has evolved the way it has is because of the strong community ties among bartenders in this town. As local booze scribe Camper English puts it in his excellent essay, SF Cocktails: A Recent History, published on the SF Cocktail Week website:

What helps San Francisco bartenders stay current and at the top of their game is the fact that most of the top bartenders are members of the United States Bartenders’ Guild, visit each others’ venues, share information, value education, and collaborate on projects. We may see a flavor trend (yuzu, smoke) show up in a variety of bars, as we also see techniques (shrubs, fat washing) used across various types of ingredients. Good ideas don’t last long at a single venue in San Francisco- they spread rather quickly.

Recently I was invited to be on a podcast produced by Richie Nakano, aka linecook415. Richie and his friend and fellow cook Corey Nead (and their friend Amy) record an informative, fun and sometimes raucous podcast mostly about food, always about life in food, and sometimes about crocs. The three are all cooks at Nopa, one of San Francisco’s most popular and successful restaurants. I like the podcast – and Richie’s blog – because it’s not only a glimpse into the food community, it’s an invitation to join in the discussion.

I met Richie through blogging but the idea of doing this podcast came about via conversations on twitter between ourselves and Kevin Kelley of the Natural Process Alliance. And before Kevin or I could say ‘natural yeast’, we were sitting in Richie’s kitchen in front of a microphone talking wine, organics, natural wine and the aforementioned crocs. We covered other topics too, but you can listen for those yourselves. It’s a fairly long (and somewhat rambling) recording, so sit back and pour yourself something nice before digging in.


Above: Action shots!

Click here to listen or download the podcast.

Ramp fever, or some recent blog posts of note

Since we on the West Coast don’t really have ramps, I’ve satisfied my spring ramp fever reading my friend Jonathan Meyer’s delightful food blog, i8ny. After reading his post about making ramp butter, I might just have to smuggle a frozen stick back with me the next time I’m in New York.

And then David McDuff, one of Philly’s resident wine gurus, has a post and recipe up to make pickled ramps. Yum. David has also been consulting with me over buying a new bicycle to replace the one I had stolen recently from my garage. We both agree that it is, in fact, easier to buy Barolo or Burgundy than it is to get a new bike.

*Starting at the end of this week I’ll be traveling to Israel for a friend’s wedding and then New York for Wine & Spirits, so it will be quiet around here. You can always check in with me on twitter.

The New Ancient Anfora

I found myself in Sonoma County last week where I finally got to see one of the so-called ‘egg fermenters’ firsthand. Cast from concrete and inspired by the clay anfora vessels used in ancient winemaking practices (and most famously these days by Josko Gravner), the purpose of the egg is to maintain a steady temperature during fermentation. Concrete is also slightly permeable, so unlike, say, stainless steel, it allows for subtle interaction with oxygen. They also just look cool.

The fermenters below were made by Nomblot, a company located not far from Beaune. For readers of French, here are some tech specs. It seems the folks at Nomblot employ the golden ratio to design their egg. Nifty!

concrete egg 1.JPG

I kind of expected Robin Williams to pop out of the top in an orange jumpsuit. Didn’t happen.

concrete egg 2.JPG

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?


More Olfactory Delights

Following my recent post touching ever so briefly on the sensory experience of perfume and wine, I wanted to share John Lancaster’s excellent article from the New Yorker’s March 10 Style Issue. Maybe it’s already made the rounds, but since the New Yorker is something I have a hard time keeping up with, and since I’m usually less than thrilled to see the Style Issue in my pile of mail (I don’t think fashion and style are the magazine’s strong points), this was an easy article to miss. Check it out!

Here’s a choice excerpt:

“The idea that your palate and your vocabulary expand simultaneously might sound felicitous, but there is a catch. The words and the references are really useful only to people who have had the same experiences and use the same vocabulary: those references are to a shared basis of sensory experience and a shared language. To people who haven’t had those shared experiences, this way of talking can seem like horse manure, and not in a good way.

Consider product A, in which

layers of cedar and raspberry strike a sharp upfront note, while clove and creamy notes add body while contributing an exotic, sumptuous character that conveys luxury in its essence. Might there also be a trace of rubber, though?

And then there’s B, with

its aroma of underripe bananas, and the way the fruitiness opens up on my tongue with a flick of bitterness that quickly fades to reveal lush, grassy tones.

Product C, on the other hand, is

fruity (with a high-profile role for the deliciously garbagey, overripe smell of guava) plus floral (powdery rosy) plus green (neroli and oakmoss).

These are descriptions of, respectively, a chocolate, an olive oil, and a perfume, but you couldn’t possibly guess that.”

*Taken from Scents and Sensibility: What the Nose Knows, by John Lancaster (New Yorker, March 10, 2008). Link here.

Olfactory Delights


…Or maybe not if you fear a little funque in your wine.

I believe that the perfume and wine worlds occupy similar rings in the sensory universe (anybody read Patrick Suskind’s Perfume?).

In a move that reflects the sensory aspirations of both worlds–and which could make even the most flowery wine writer choke on his or her next descriptive screed–Paris-based parfumeur Etat Libre D’Orange has released a new fragrance called Sécrétions Magnifiques. The perfume, according to this post on Divine Caroline, features “the four S’s of raw sexuality: Sperm, Sweat, Saliva, and Sang (French for blood).”


Following up on a post over at Fermentation about niche-marketing (in this case, a sweet pink wine aimed at the gay community), I wouldn’t be surprised to see something like this trickle over into the wine world. And maybe it already has. Could this prosecco be flavored with the tears of Paris Hilton?

What’s next? If you know of other wine examples here, please leave a comment!

*Divine Caroline titled their post “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. So, no surprise where this is going…

Steal This Film


When I first met my friend Alan Toner in Rome in 2003, he was always toting around this oversized backpack that contained both a laptop and a digital video camera, and possibly a change of clothes. Last year, our paths crossed at VinItaly in Verona and we had a hilarious escapade on foot and bus through the suburbs trying to track down Critical Wine’s annual convergence.

At some point Alan told me about a documentary film he’d put together with two other friends called “Steal This Film”. Their film used the temporary shut down of the Pirate Bay in Norway to explore the complexities surrounding networked file-sharing and the distribution of content, particularly music and movies. Naturally, “Steal This Film” was available exclusively as a peer-to-peer download for free (although donations were accepted). In a relatively short period, it had been downloaded over 3 million times.

The group’s second effort, “Steal This Film II”, takes the ideas from the first film and seeks to look at the conflicts over the distribution of content via file sharing in a historical context. Think the introduction of the printing press and you’ll get the point. While I personally believe that content like music and movies is worth paying for, I harbor no loyalty towards the the antiquated distribution systems in place to distribute such content. There are major signs that this system is quickly disintegrating and what will emerge to take its place is anyone’s guess. Oh, Internet magic. To draw a more a vinous analogy, consider the three-tier liquor distribution system in the United States. Will anyone really miss that? Come to think of it, the three-tier system would be missed: See the comments section for more.

Download “Steal This Film II”

(Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing has a short write up of “Steal This Film II” here.)

(UPDATE: For another perspective on the implosion of the recording industry/RIAA, check out this article at the financial advice site Motley Fool. To wit: “…a good sign of a dying industry that investors might want to avoid is when it would rather litigate than innovate, signaling a potential destroyer of value. If it starts to pursue paying customers — which doesn’t seem that outlandish at this point — then I guess we’ll all know the extent of the desperation. Investor, beware.” Alder over at Vinography linked to this article in the comments thread to his excellent post on a recent shifty sting operation set up by Boo to them!)

What I want for christmas!

Okay, maybe not. And knowing my mother, she’s bound to spend hours looking for this thing were I to mention it. But here’s a link to a funny (and disturbing) little French video about technology and wine. At least, this sort of expresses how I sometimes feel when I see those two words together, ‘wine’ and ‘technology’.

(Originally posted at Dr. Vino, and you can read that post here)