Fer Gawd’s Sake!


You know F.K.’s Laws of Blogging, right?

1. Be honest.
2. Be fair.
3. Don’t be an asshole.

Well, honestly, I don’t want to be an asshole, but how can people be so abjectly ignorant of language, especially the language and vocabulary of their field?

There’s a recipe in the March 2010 issue of Bon Appetit, a magazine we cook from sometimes, that calls for a bag of frozen shelled edamame, “unthawed.”

Where are the freaking editors?

The word is “thaw,” past tense or predicate adjective, “thawed.”

“Unthawed” is a folk locution, a back-formation based on the mistaken notion that transforming an entity from one state to another requires “un-ing” it. Not so. Frozen is frozen; the act of unfreezing something, a TV dinner, a bag of edamame, a game hen, is “thawing.”

“Unthawing,” theoretically, would mean “freezing,” as in, “Man, it’s so cold outside that my hands are totally unthawed!”

Sheesh.

Last night, LL and I attended a lavish fundraising event for a local nonprofit spay and neuter group. We support several dog organizations, both monetarily and by fostering puppies, two of which we have now.

A couple had generously donated their large Midtown house for the event. In the dining room, an elaborate spread of hors d’oeuvres filled the table and sideboards, while someone poured a selection of red and white wines. In the living room, another station offered Scotch, bourbon and cognac. And in the adjacent den or sitting room, to accompany trays of cookies and chocolates, was an array of cordials and liqueurs. The whole affair was well-organized, and the food and various beverages were excellent.

A small silent auction had been set up in the living room. The host, who has a beautiful wine cellar — he gave LL and me a tour — had donated four bottles: Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon 1997, Napa Valley; Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon 1998, Alexander Valley; Cakebread Cellars Merlot 2002, Napa Valley, and Hartwell Vineyards Misté Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2003, Stags Leap District. This is an interesting quartet of California wines, the Silver Oak cabernets being especially desirable. So about 8 o’clock — the event ended at 9 — I entered bids for three of the wines, excluding the Silver Oak Napa Valley. I was probably more munificent in my bids than I would ordinarily be, but I assumed that I was helping to spur the bidding in the name of a good cause. And I assumed that people looking at the bid sheets would think, “Oh ho, if Koeppel wants these wines, they must be good. I’d better put down a bid.”

Well, Readers, as you know, pride goeth before a fall. Apparently people who move in dog and cat rescue circles are unaware of the vinophilic prowess that the name Koeppel carries. As I would, every 10 minutes or so, cruise by the table and observe that no one — as in not one person — had bid after me, I began to have a premonition that I was going home with the wine. And indeed, when bidding stopped at 9 o’clock — as if it hadn’t stopped long before — mine was the name attached to those three wines.

When I was at the registrar’s table, ponying up, someone came by and said, “Oh, you won all those wines!” To which I replied, “No, I didn’t win them. I bought them.”

To the tune of $245. Added to the $150 it cost us to attend the event. Cats and dogs all over town better be thanking us.

Now I have to decide which of the bottles I’ll open with the pizza tonight.

“Discover the Eco-Chic Wine Choice!”

Ha, what a slogan! And “Eco-Chic” describes precisely the relationship to ecological concerns that many Americans of a certain class — white, affluent, subtly guilty — aspire to: an itemization of easy cures to the world’s ecological problems, some of which, as you no doubt are aware, pose dire hazards to the continuation of life on earth. The French call this class le gauche caviar, “caviar leftists.” I call them “Emo-Environmentalists.”

On the other hand, the phrase “eco-chic” itself exudes boundless cynicism. The slogan comes from PR materials sent out by Boho Vineyards — “We were Boho before it was chic” — to promote the Boho Vineyards Chardonnay 2006, Central Coast, that comes in three-liter “eco-friendly” bag-in-box packaging made from 95 percent recycled kraft paper using only soy-based ink. This “Premium Cask” — notice how each of those words is meaningless — presses to Mother Earth a “carbon footprint … 55% smaller than the four 750ml bottles it replaces.” The Boho wines are distributed by Underdog Wine Merchants, a division of The Wine Group, Inc., the country’s third largest wine producer, after E&J Gallo and Constellation.

The way the wine inside this “eco-friendly” packaging is described, however, makes evident the fact that this is plain old regular “non-eco” chardonnay: “We selected the grapes for our Boho Chardonnay from our cool climate vineyards specially selected to emphasize the crisp and aromatic character that are [subject-verb error] so important to the Boho style. The grapes were harvested cool and fermented at cool temperatures in the winery to maximize the fruit flavors.” Etc. Etc. In other words, the box is “eco-friendly”; the wine is not.

I read this Boho chardonnay material just after taking a gander at the “Eco Checklist: Easy Ways to Live Better” in the August 2008 issue of Food & Wine magazine — right, the issue in which wine-writer Lettie Teague actually wrote that “when picking a wine, I care more about the integrity of the people making it (or for that matter selling it) than the method they chose,” yeah, and I’m going to stop reading books written by assholes — a publication that tries so hard to be hip that sometimes it’s cute and sometimes, as now, it’s just freakin’ annoying. I mean the cliche-detector at the magazine operates at nil level! These people make themselves so easy to parody that it’s like shooting free-range, organically fed fish in a barrel fashioned from trees grown in sustainable forests by workers who wear only clothes made from recycled paper.

Talk about eco-chic/emo-environmentalism! Of course there are the usual admonitions to abandon plastic water bottles for reusable aluminum containers (such as the ones designed by Japanese artist Shinzi Katoh) or the compostable plates made from fallen leaves (VerTerra, $9 for 10 plates). You can “upcycle” — a new cliche — stained shirts by baking them in the oven (330 degrees) with blueberries and sugar, leaving your friends and colleagues to wonder, “Where did all the fruit flies come from?” You can “Set a Stylish Green Table” by using Dansk’s resurrected “Classic Fjord” flatware that uses sustainable teak ($100 for a five-place setting) or handblown pitchers made in a wind-powered studio in Portland, Ore. (Esque, $200). Or you can drink Del Maguey Minero Mezcal, a “warm, smoky mezcal … made from organic agave by independent family producers” ($70).

In your kitchen, you can choose Michelle Kaufmann’s mklISLAND, “ideal for small, energy-efficient homes (from $5,250).” Or you can “Take a Green Vacation,” such as one through Aventouras, which books “intimate trips in seven countries [that] include stays at a guesthouse in the Andes and dinner with a Costa Rican family” that no doubt serves only organic food on plates made from fallen leaves. The State Department, by the way, reminds us that for safety reasons the American Embassy in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, places official visitors in large suburban hotels rather than in hotels in the center of the city, and further advises Americans to avoid “areas of high concentrations of bars and clubs, especially at night.” Just so you know.

Am I being a total bastard here? Sorry, but being able to tell your dinner party guests that every item of food or decor on the table comes from sustainable or organic sources isn’t the same as 1. Not driving. 2. Driving a lot less and driving more slowly. 3. Using public transportation as often as possible. 4. Writing to your representatives in your state capital and in Washington and telling them that they will no longer receive your vote if they don’t support efforts toward weaning America from fossil-fuels and if they don’t support efforts to find alternative fuel and energy sources, like wind power. Wind is there, and those wind turbines are pretty damned beautiful. 5. Supporting Human Rights Watch in its efforts to see that the people (for example) who work in those organic agave fields in Mexico receive decent salaries and health care. 6. Thinking about the big picture in terms of urban culture and the local livability of urban and architectural design. Get a seat on your architectural and design review board. Attend meetings of design and zoning boards. Be vocal; become an annoying busybody. And wear your sustainable clothes.

Man walks into a bar, settles on a stool and says to the bartender: “You know, what I would like at this moment more than anything on earth, what would set matters right in this weary, godforsaken world, what would make me happier than fame and wealth and glory is an ice-cold Tanqueray martini, up, with one olive.”

Bartender: “Comin’ atcha, sir!”

This, thinks the man, will surely be a golden moment in the sordid history of my life, because, for once, the cocktail glass has been kept in the freezer, along with the gin, and the vermouth emerges from the refrigerator, and for once the bartender, ruminating on his time in school, remembers that cocktails with fruit juices are intended to be shaken but all other cocktails are stirred, and he performs this action correctly, and in a few minutes, he places before the man that epitome of elegance and chaste power, that inverted cone of pure, crystalline transparency, with its inviting fullness and astringency — the perfect martini.

Patron: “Thanks, barkeep, that’s swell.”

Bartender: “A great pleasure, sir.”

Patron: “By the way, could I get a little bowl of little snack thingies, you know, some mixed nuts, even some peanuts, or some of that cocktail mix, you know, Chex cereal mixed with nuts, pretzels, chili crescents and wasabi peas? or just a bowl of Goldfish mixednuts.jpg crackers. I skipped lunch today, and I don’t want to pour this perfect martini, perfect as it may be, into a completely empty stomach.”

Bartender: “Certainly, sir, here’s the menu.”

Patron: “No, no, barkeep, I don’t require a menu, just a bowl of cute little nibbles to absorb some of the alcohol.”

Bartender: “Sorry, sir, we don’t provide bowls of cute little nibbles at the bar. Here’s the roster, however, of what you may order.”

Patron: “But, this is the dinner menu. I don’t want dinner, just a wee snack, a handful of nuts or crackers, bestowed not merely for convenience but for the sake of conviviality.”

Bartender: “Try the pecan-dusted grilled quail with sunchoke puree and mango-radish salad. Many customers find that agreeable, and as an appetizer. it’s not too filling.”

Patron: “That’s $16!”

Bartender: “Well, look at the seared day-boat scallop with flash-fried okra and limoncello beurre blanc.

Patron: “That’s $15! Can’t I get something quick? And another martini!”

Bartender: “Yes, sir, of course, sir.”

The bartender makes and brings the second martini, but for some reason, this one doesn’t seem to glow as the first one did.

Bartender: “All right, sir, people in a hurry often order the Individual ‘Cassoulet’ de Brian.”

Patron: Why is ‘cassoulet’ in quotation marks?”

Bartender: “Ha-ha, that’s Chef’s little joke. It’s actually his version of pork and beans.”

Patron: “So why does an appetizer of pork and beans cost $14?”

Bartender: “Well, sir, that particular dish is outsourced to Mumbai and Fedexed to the restaurant every night.”

Patron: “Look, what’s happened to bars? They used to be nice, friendly, comfortable, welcoming places where you could get a drink and a handful of nuts or a bowl of popcorn and feel, well, maybe not cosseted but certainly taken care of. Now they’re all sleek and slick and chic and ambitious and if all you want is a drink and a snack, you’re here for an hour and it sets you back $40. Now could I just get a fucking bag of Fritos and another martini?”

Bartender: “Sorry, sir, I don’t think I can serve you. You’re getting pretty agitated. You shouldn’t have drunk those martinis on an empty stomach.”

Image of mixed nuts from Wikipedia.

I have lived in Memphis for most of my life, but I usually don’t think of myself as living in Tennessee, except at election time. I mean, it’s such a long state, and West Tennessee, where Memphis occupies the far southwest corner, is the most liberal section of the state; there are also Middle and East Tennessee. On the other hand, to read the letters to the editor of the newspaper where I work and especially to read the comments on the paper’s website, you would think that Memphis is about as liberal as Myanmar. When I travel and people ask me if I’m from Tennessee, my first impulse is to say, “No, not me,” but then I catch myself and say, “Uh, yeah, but I live in Memphis.”

These ruminations are prelude to offering some facts about selling and buying and obtaining wine in Tennessee, whose nickname is the Volunteer State.

Now, Tennessee is a felony state, which means that it’s a felony to ship wine to an individual inside the state; the penalty goes against the shipper, so a winery could lose its license to do business in Tennessee. Last spring, the Tennessee state legislature, for the umpteenth time, voted down proposals that would have allowed grocery stores sales of wine and shipping of wine to tennessee.jpg consumers in the state without going through a wholesale distributor. It’s the same old story: The lobbying efforts of the retail and wholesale associations and the state’s fundamentalist religious element defeat these bills every time, though since the U.S. Supreme Court decided that states could not allow wineries in-state to sell directly to consumers if they didn’t allow out-of-state wineries the same right, if don’t see how that notion can stand much longer.

Each county and municipality in Tennessee can decide, by vote, whether it will be “wet” or “dry” or in what degree. Memphis did not get liquor-by-the-drink until 1972; people brown-bagged their bourbon and paid for set-ups. Some entire counties are dry; some towns allow certain alcoholic beverages to be sold and not others. It’s a puritanical patchwork designed to diminish the simple (and moderate) pleasure of consuming alcoholic beverages.

While wine and liquor stores in other states are allowed to sell wine glasses and cork-screws, may hold wine tastings in the stores and can even sell gourmet food items and other comestibles, none of these are allowed in Tennessee. Think of that: In Tennessee, a wine store cannot hold an event that brings in a winemaker or producer to introduce new products to customers. The motivation seems to be to allow as little contact as possible between those who make the wine and those who sell the wine.

An example of this retrograde philosophy occurred recently when a winery in California wanted to send me some samples. “No problem,” I said, “I’ve been getting samples delivered to me for many years.” “Yeah,” said the winery, “but Tennessee is a felony state, we don’t want to take a chance. How about if we send it to the wholesaler?” “Well,” I said, “that’s OK, but I may not see the wine for six months, or I might never see it. Wholesalers get lots of wine all the time, and they don’t necessarily look at who the box is addressed to or in care of.”

I thought perhaps the winery could ship the samples, in my name, in care of a local retail store, but to make sure, I called the owner of a store in my neighborhood and asked: “Can you accept a box of wine for me in care of your store?”

“No can do, F.K.,” said the owner. “That’s against the law in Tennessee. The ABC wants to keep contact between suppliers and stores to a minimum. So I can’t call a winery and ask to have some samples sent to the store. And that means that we only get to try wines that the wholesalers bring us, we can’t ask the wholesalers to bring in wine we’ve sampled here. We,re trying to get the law changed.”

That particular situation may be a minor annoyance, but it fits an age-old pattern of a seemingly paternalistic government making matters as difficult as possible for adults to enjoy alcoholic beverages that are legal to sell and consume and, in fact, to make the selling of those legal adult beverages as difficult as possible.

Did you know that in New York City, wine and liquor stores can be open on Sunday if they choose? Holy moly, what blasphemy, allowing alcoholic beverages to be sold on the Sabbath! New York certainly lives up to its reputation as the New World’s center of sin and decadence!

This was mentioned in The New York Times food section last week, a “carpaccio of tomatoes.” carpaccio2_01.jpg

Now friends, you may slice a tomato thick or you may slice it thin, but no matter how thin you slice it, it’s still just a sliced tomato. And a sliced grapefruit — not an easy matter anyway — is not a “carpaccio of grapefruit,” which I have seen on menus; it’s just a sliced grapefruit.

Most people who love food, especially Italian food, know that beef Carpaccio is a dish that consists of paper-thin slices of raw beef served with olive oil, arugula and Parmesan cheese. It was invented by Giuseppe Cipriani of Harry’s Bar in Venice and named after the great Venetian artist Vittori Carpaccio (1460?-1525/6). The point is, I mean my point is, that “carpaccio” is not a technique; it’s a dish, which could (one grants) have some acceptable range of variation — one pictured here has truffles, carpaccio1_01.jpgwhich seems like over-kill — but still must necessarily operate within its proper sphere. I could see lamb Carpaccio, for example, treated in the regular manner, but I have also been served shrimp Carpaccio and octopus Carpaccio, and I would say that those concepts are beyond the pale.

Today, you see, carpaccio has become the new napoleon. What I mean is that 10 to 15 or more years ago, witty (or desperate) chefs expanded the notion of the luxurious dessert called a napoleon — layers of puff pastry alternating with pastry cream, whipped cream or jam and topped with fondant icing, traditionally with combed brown and white stripes — to mean any group of napoleon1_01.jpgingredients stacked in layers. Hence, lobster napoleons, hence sweetbread and foie gras napoleons. The limit, for me, was reached at La Maison Blanche, in Paris, in March 1990, where I was served a “napoleon” that stacked, carefully, eel with eggplant and zucchini. Sorry, but that sounds like vertical ratatouille to me.

(What I chiefly remember about the restaurant is that a large white German shepherd-like dog was sleeping right inside the front door, blocking the way in or out. Nobody paid attention; they just stepped over the dog. The French are sort of lovable after all.)

The connection between the dessert and the short Corsican conqueror seems to be the remarkable resemblance that the pastry napoleon bears to Napoleon’s Tomb at Les Invalides. Ha-ha, no, I made that up, it’s probably an association with tomb2_01.jpgnapolitain, the French adjective for Naples.

All right, F.K., you’re saying, you’re on one of your tears again.

Well, hell, yes, of course, because words have meanings and they matter, and the names of things, the names by which we know them — napoleons and carpaccio — have meanings and they matter. When those words and names are blurred and forgotten, we have lost something irreplaceable. When some master chef of the “Slicing and Dicing” class at the Culinary Institute of America blithely says, “O.K., apprentices, carpaccio those tomatoes for me and napoleon them on the plates,” we have doomed ourselves a little.

I’m just trying to keep that from happening quite so soon.

The image of the beef carpaccio at top is from abc.net.au; the second carpaccio (with truffles) is from atmospherebistro.com. The napoleon is from grahamdavies.net; Napoelon’s tomb is from sagarmatha.com. Thanks to all.

Here’s a test. What kind of wines do these descriptions, from the June 15, 2007, issue of The Wine Spectator, refer to? winespectatorlogo.gif

1. “Superripe and exotic, with layers of rich tropical fruit and hints of apple, melon and pineapple.”
2. “Unctuous and nectarlike, with layers of ripe apricot, peach, vanilla and butterscotch flavors.”
3. “Rich and concentrated, with a mix of buttery pear, fig and melon flavors.”
4. “Intense, spicy … with lush flavors of butterscotch, ripe peach, honey and golden raisin.”
5. “Ultrarich … with lots of depth and concentration to the fig, toasty oak, hazelnut and melon flavors.”
6. “Spicy and rich, with loads of ripe apricot, candied orange and pineapple flavors.”
7. “Rich, creamy … with vanilla, pear and fig flavors.”
8. “Very elegant … with lots of ripe peach, pear, baked apple and spice flavors.”
9. “A rich … core of pear, apple and spicy fruit, … roasted marshmallow taste on the finish.”
10. “Very spicy … with dried fig, baked pineapple and ripe apple flavors … flanked by floral and creamy notes.”

Ready? The answer is that 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 describe highly-rated chardonnays from California; 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 refer to top-rated dessert wines from Austria. That’s right, dry table wines meant to be consumed with food like salmon or tuna and luxurious sweet wines meant to be savored at the end of a meal with dessert (or by themselves) are reviewed in much the same terms.

Perplexed? Puzzled? Nonplussed?

Don’t be. The tasters at WS have always preferred their California chardonnays to be so over-oaked, so super-rich and creamy, so tropical and toasty, so filled with pies and cakes and roasted fruit that to sensible folk they’re undrinkable travesties of what chardonnay should be. But WS gives the high scores; winemakers pay attention; people who like wines that pay homage to the grapes they’re made from lose.

Whew, I’m getting bored with California chardonnay. I’ll stay off this topic for a bit.

Imagine that you are a bottle of Chianti, created from grapes won by soil and climate and human sweat from a mori-chianti03.jpg well-tended vineyard on a picturesque Tuscan hillside, nurtured in a winery with educated craft and hard-earned knowledge, bottled and corked and sent out into the world with hopeful expectation.

How do you — the bottle of Chianti — get from that sun-burnished hillside, that ancient stone winery, to a table in a city in the United States of America? mori-chianticastelrotto01.jpg
You take a circuitous path. There’s the broker in Florence who makes the deal with the importer in New York that brings the wine on a boat and, if you’re lucky, in a refrigerated container, called a “reefer,” to these shores. The importer has contracts with wholesale distributors in many states, though perhaps not all over the country if it’s a small importer, and ships the wine by truck — and if you’re lucky it’s a refrigerated truck — to various cities within its territory. The wholesale distributors in those cities, in turn, sell the wine — you, the bottle of Chianti — to retail stores, restaurants and bars with whom it has dealings. And in one of those stores, somebody buys you and takes you home.

Think of the costs involved: The cost of farming the grapes and making and aging and bottling the wine; the cost of trucking it to a seaport where it’s loading onto a ship; the cost of unloading the wine and taking it to the importer’s warehouse; the cost of promoting the wine, paying the marketing firm for advertising or at least for setting up a few lunches for journalists and retailers and restaurant people; the cost of shipping the wine inland, to Albany and Baltimore, to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Louisville and Atlanta. The cost to the wholesaler of storing the wine — and too many wholesalers, by the way, do not have chill-rooms for wine — and paying their employees who are out hitting the stores and restaurants to sell the wine, and finally the retailer, who has rent and insurance and overtime and so on.

It seems like a miracle that we can still buy nifty little Spanish and Italian wines for $8 and $10. It also seems as if the guy getting the short end of the stick is the farmer working in the vineyard.

Anyway, I bring up these matters, and specifically the bottle of Chianti, because I recently bought at a retail store in Memphis, a bottle of Chianti 2003 produced by the firm of Giacomo Mori. Let me say this right now: In almost 23 years of writing about wine, this is the best “basic” Chianti level wine I have encountered; it’s a model, an exemplar, of what Chianti ought to be.

Let me remind readers, briefly, that three levels of Chianti exist: First (and so familiarly) is Chianti, produced in a large area of that name between Florence and Siena, large enough that quality varies widely. The image of Chianti as a light, cheap acidic wine consumed in inexpensive Italian restaurants, dripping candles stuck into the empty bottles, persisted for generations and perhaps has finally faded, because quality is improving. Next is Chianti Classico, a smaller region (though perhaps too large for consistent quality) in which the blend of grapes and barrel aging are subject to regulation, as is the case with the smaller and theoretically more prestigious category, Chianti Classico Riserva.

So, the point is that I bought this Giacomo Mori Chianti 2003, and it turned out to be terrific. It’s packed with spice, black fruit flavor and floral elements, all of these of the fresh and dried nature, as well as black tea, orange rind and soft, chewy well-integrated tannins. Unlike so many red wines in Tuscany today, this one is aged in large casks, not small oak barrels, so there’s little oak influence. The chief character here: Lovely purity and intensity, balance and integration.

The average retail price for this wine is $19 or $20, though an Internet search revealed princes ranging from $15 to $23. Whoa, FK, you’re saying, I like my Chianti to run about $12 or $14. I mean, we’re talking about a simple, basic wine here.

I understand that, but there’s nothing simple about the quality, the authenticity or the integrity of this wine. I think it’s definitely worth $20.

On the other hand, I paid $34, and I’m pretty steamed about that.

As I have pointed out in this post, myriad factors contribute to the cost of a bottle of wine in its progress from birth to the customer’s wine-glass, and I don’t expect a wine made in California or shipped in to New York to cost the same in Memphis as in those places. But a little better ratio would be nice. I recently wrote with high praise, for example, on this blog and on my website about the Logan Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Chardonnay 2005, from Monterey County. The suggested retail price is $18; I paid $20. OK, two bucks more. I can live with that.

However, charging $14 more for a bottle of wine than the average national price seems not just, well, downright mean but counter-productive. The retailer may be justified in passing on his expenses and the cost from the wholesaler to the customer, but how many consumers, realizing that they have paid 70 percent more for a wine than the average price, will decide not to shop at that store?

The Giacomo Mori Chiantis — there’s also an excellent single-vineyard “Castelrotto” — are Marc de Grazia Selections imported by Vin DeVino in Chicago.

I’m in the grocery store, standing at the fish counter, there’s a little sign:

“Fresh Farm-Raised

Atlantic Salmon

$9.99 lb

Chile”

Wait, I think, wasn’t I taught …? Don’t I seem to remember…? Didn’t I make an A in geography? Or a B? salmon2_01.jpg
Drive home, drag out the atlas, blow off a little dust, find South America, let’s see, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, right, here it is.

Just as I suspected, Chile is on the Pacific Ocean, not the Atlantic. Well, gosh, that’s a relief.

What madcaps, trying to confuse me that way.

Still bought the salmon, had it for dinner.

I’m a great admirer of wine importer and food entrepreneur Dan Philips, whose The Grateful Palate in Oxnard , California — http://www.gratefulpalate.com — is a trove of edible treasures, including the well-known Bacon of the Month Club. Philips is one of the best American importers of Australian wines, specializing in small producers with big aspirations; among several dozen labels he imports are Burge Family, Hazy Blur, Henry’s Drive, Kay Brothers, Lengs & Cooter, Lillypilly, Trevor Jones and The Willows. Philips was also partner with Sparky Marquis in the widely acclaimed Marquis Philips label, an enterprise that broke up last year.

So I was enthusiastic when a clerk in a local retail store recommended the 3 Rings Shiraz 2005 from Australia’s Barossa Valley (about $16 to $20). The label is another Philips partnership, this time with grower David Hickinbotham and 3rings.jpg winemaker Chris Ringland. I assumed that this would be a pretty bold expression of the shiraz grape; I didn’t expect a travesty.

Five or six years ago, I was in Los Angeles for a comprehensive tasting of Penfolds Grange — yes, it was an extraordinary event — and before the tasting began, Australian writer and wine-maker James Halliday rose to his feet to say a few words, and the first sentence he uttered has stayed with me: “The three most important elements of wine are balance, balance and balance.” I think this aphorism should be tattooed on the backs of the hands of every wine-maker and producer in the world as well as hung, in the form of embroidered samplers, in every winery, chai and chateau.

Halliday was not calling for well-mannered, wimpy wines, holding little fingers a-curl as they sip milky tea. He was asserting the fact that the greatest wines, at every price range, should reflect harmony and integration in all their components: fruit, acid, tannin, alcohol and — the most dangerous factor — oak. (Well, alcohol level has become a vital issue too.) Even deep, large-framed young wines intended for aging, Bordeaux classified growths, California cult cabernets, Barolos and so on, however tannic they may be in infancy, should display a sense of innate balance and order; the balance may shift and change over the years, but it’s always there.

Which brings us back to the 3 Rings Shiraz 2005.

This opens with a super-ripe, fleshy, meaty bouquet that teems with scents of macerated and roasted blackberries and blueberries as well as a touch of zinfandel-like boysenberry. In the mouth, the wine is exceedingly plush, velvety and voluptuous and, at 15.5 percent alcohol, offers a considerable amount of that high-alcohol raisiny plumminess and jamminess. The wine is starting to taste, in fact, like something you might rather spread on toast than drink with a meal with the other grown-ups. The spicy factors increase as the wine slides over the tongue, becoming not only dominant but strident and austere, and the wine concludes unpleasantly in a welter of incoherence.

My palate was not grateful.

I single this wine out, because of its origins, as a prominent example of what happens when producers value power, intensity and simple-minded texture over wines that balance feeling good and tasting good. It is not, I assure you, the only example.

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