Sat 4 Oct 2008
I came upon a term in a press release: bar chef. WTF, readers, does the world need this?
At first I assumed that the author of the press release made up the term, but no, some Google research revealed it in widespread use.
A bar chef, if I may interpret for the naive, is not a person who cooks for the bar menu, it’s the bartender under a new guise. Even the hideous “mixologist” isn’t enough anymore. I mean a mixologist could be the guy at Sherwin Williams who blends the paint for your living room walls.
Jonathan Miles, author of the “Shaken & Stirred” cocktail column for The New York Times, informed us in his last column that “bar chef” was concocted eight years ago by Albert Trummer, now the, um, barkeep at Apotheke, a recently opened joint in Manhattan. Trummer indeed takes an almost pharmaceutical approach to making a drink, utilizing as well as the typical ingredients like vodka, gin and rum an array of 80 house-made herb and flower infusions and oils; a drink he made for Miles included oils of elderflower, hibiscus and verbena. Permit me to say “Yuck.” Trummer is the sort of fanatic that disdains using the traditional simple syrup; no, he has a sugar cane press in the back room and when a cocktail calls for simple syrup, he cranks out a little pure sugar cane juice.
Bartender, could I just have a martini, please, up with one olive? And hold the hibiscus. Behind your ear.
Nothing is too trivial to carp about, so I’ll mention that I deplore the use of “luxe” instead of “deluxe” to describe objects “of special elegance, sumptuousness, or fineness; high or highest in quality” (as The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, Second Edition, Unabridged defines “deluxe”). Not that “luxe” is not a word; it’s just a pretentious, trendy, hipper-than-thou word, which must be why writers for food and travel magazines use it so often. You know, “luxe ingredients,” “luxe accommodations”, “luxe light fixtures.” In terms of etymological history, “deluxe” follows “luxe” by about 250 years. “Deluxe” was coined or first came into common use around 1810 or 1820; it’s French, of course, and meant simply, “of luxury.”
“Luxe,” on the other hand, goes back to the middle of the 16th Century, and while it conveys much the same meaning as “deluxe,” it has a Latin root, luxus, which means “excess.” So if words remain true to their roots, and in some sense they always do, just as our hearts remain true to our schools, using “luxe” instead of “deluxe” implies a hint of cloying extravagance and annoying over-striving.
So don’t do that again.
The trouble with “fun” wines is that they’re not very much fun. I mean, for me a wine is fun when I pay $10 for a bottle and it’s so good that I wouldn’t have minded paying more, say $15. Now that’s fun. The wine industry and its marketing arms, however, mean by a “fun wine” something you don’t have to worry your pretty little head about; the implication is clear: “Let’s bottle some anonymous wine, pump it up with a cute name, label and back story, charge $10 for it and hope that people who don’t actually care anything about wine with make it popular.” Cue photos of great-looking babes and hunks having a wonderful time in hip surroundings drinking fun wines.
Riesling is regarded as the fun wine of the moment, replacing pinot grigio, which was getting weary of the responsibility. Remember Pink Pinot Grigio, the vinous equivalent of chick lit? That was fun! Now it’s not!
A primary promoter of riesling as a fun wine is Schmitt-Sohne, owner of several fine labels (Schloss Vollrads and Markus Molinar) but a company that doesn’t mind tapping into the nether reaches of the common denominator. One of the firm’s fun wines is Fünf, a non-vintage Tafelwein from the Rhine region. In Germany’s complicated hierarchy of wine classifications, Tafelwein is the bottom rung, though less than 5 percent of the country’s wines are thus categorized. In German, fünf means “five,” the idea of the wine being that fun starts at 5 in the afternoon, and how convenient that “fun” is the first three letters of fünf. What’s the wine like? It’s unobjectionable, it’s palatable, and it would do in a pinch, depending on who’s doing the pinching and where. Fünf sells for $7 and is available only in the United States of America. It gets a Good rating from me.
Schmitt-Sohne also markets the “Relax” label, of which I have tried the Relax Riesling 2006 and the Relax Cool Red 2006, and the reason why the name of the grape does not go on the label of the Relax Cool Red is that the grape is the dornfelder, a cross-breeding of — are you ready? — helfensteiner and haroldrebe. The creators/marketers for this wine wisely understood that nobody is going to say, “Oh, honey, while you’re at our friendly neighborhood wine and liquor store, would you pick up a bottle of Relax Dornfelder.” That would definitely not be fun. The Relax wines are QbAs, which put them a rung below QmPs, which is where the fine German wines actually start, theoretically. Relax Riesling 2006 is identifiably riesling; it’s clean and crisp, just off-dry, with hints of pear, quince and lychee bolstered by vibrant acidity. It’s not all that much fun, but I’ll go up to Good+. The price is about $11. Relax Cool Red ’06 isn’t quite as much fun. Other than a rather startling color of intense ruby-purple and an aroma of crushed wild berries, well, that’s about it. Good enough, I suppose, but good enough for what, I don’t know. I didn’t find the wine very relaxing. About $10.
The New York Times tells us this morning that the very wealthy are economizing by selling their private jets and drinking cheaper wine. Well, drop a tear and all that, I suppose. The best-selling wine at white-glove Sherry-Lehmann, purveyor of wines to Manhattan’s Upper East Side, is a $20 Medoc 2005. What surprised me, though, was Sherry-Lehmann’s price for a bottle of Chateau Ausone 2005 — are you ready? — $4,500. Now Ausone is at the top of the best wines of St.-Emilion and is one of the top wines of a spectacular year for Bordeaux, but $4,500 for a single bottle of this wine? I mean, back in March the Wine Spectator listed the price for Ausone ’05 as about $2,000 a bottle. Has the situation changed so much in six months? The answer is “No shit, Sherlock,” and Sherry-Lehmann’s price turns out to be fairly, um, reasonable. A check on wine-searcher.com produced prices of $4,595 (Manhattan Wine Co.), $4,800 (Morrell & Co., Manhattan), $5,525 (Wine Commune, Berkeley) and an astonishing $6,000 at Zachy’s (Scarsdale). Does anybody have to be told not to make that drive to Scarsdale?