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Readers, today, June 11, 2010, BiggerThanYourHead is the Featured Wine Blog on Foodista.com, “The Cooking Encyclopedia Anyone Can Edit.” You’ve already read the post — it’s Monday’s “Wine of the Week” — but follow the link to see what’s up on their website. Thanks, Foodista!

Lo, my children, such a thing has never happened in my many years of extracting corks from wine bottles, thousands of wine bottles.

Look at the picture. Yes, that’s my treasured Laguiole corkscrew, a gift, broken by the cork in this bottle of Bastianich Tocai Plus 2006, Friuli, which, as it happens, is a terrifically suave, layered and delicious wine. Now the bizarre accident didn’t occur as I was trying to lever the cork from the bottle. No, this happened when I was trying to insert the screw into the cork, which felt like iron. It took a mighty effort just to get the screw to scratch the surface of the cork. It was like trying to dig a hole with a shovel in dry, rocky soil. As I attempted to cope with this anomalous situation, I looked at LL, who raised her eyebrows and said, “Having a problem?” I replied, “Lord have mercy, this is the hardest cork I have ever seen,” meanwhile grunting with the effort and, naturally, swearing a bit. And then the screw part of the corkscrew snapped.

How do I know what the wine tasted like?

Later, I put the bottle in the sink and cracked the neck with repeated blows of a rubber mallet. I mean, what else?

This morning we’re tasting Barbera d’Asti from the Monferrato sub-region.

Here we go.

It’s snowing, and the roof of the building across the street wears a thick slope of pure white snow. A woman in a yellow house-dress just opened the double glass doors to her little balcony and used a broom to brush the snow off the plants in the box hanging from the wrought-iron balustrade.

I’m finding the Monferrato wines not stridently oaky, certainly not as much wood as the wines from Days One & Two. The acidity is certainly there; a couple of these so far have fairly screamed with acid, yet several examples strike me as being wholly satisfying. Of course my colleagues may disagreed; they’re a feisty bunch!

Again, though, the problem is inconsistency. One wine will brim with purity and intensity of fruit and penetrating mineral qualities; it’s the breath of fresh air syndrome. The next wine, however, smells so earthy that it feels unclean, so macerated that it’s sweetishyly cloying. And another will feature the whole box of dried spices and flowers and I think, “Very attractive,” until the acidity sears my palate. (After 25 years, my palate should get combat pay and Purple Hearts.) And I just wrote of another wine that’s it’s “so middle-of-the-road that it’s comforting.”

And I just wrote of another wine: “Dried spices, flowers and fruit, very attractive; v. intense, dense and concentrated, but fairly well-balanced, but very dry, now increasingly austere, does it need all this tannin?”

You, see? These wines are all over the map, and the map itself is not very large.

The most consistent aspect of this morning seems to be the snow.

I just saw that Imbibe online lists BiggerThanYourHead as one of 10 “bookmark-worthy” wine blogs that are “honest, outspoken, accessible and often funny.” I say “Yes!” to that. Here’s what they say about Yours Truly and BTYH:

“Sure, you’re initially drawn to this blog for its larger-than-life name, but one visit and you’ll be sold on Fredric Koeppel’s site which solely focuses on unfettered and unbiased wine reviews and tasting notes. Added bonus? He lists the U.S. importer of every wine he mentions, making it extra easy to track down a bottle of your own.”

To which I say “Amen” and “May a Thousand Blessings Fall Upon Your Bones.”

I’m happy to be in good, if not enviable company on this roster: 1 Wine Dude; Brooklyn Guy Loves Wine: Dr. Vino; The Good Grape: Good Wine Under $20; The Pour; Swirl Smell Slurp; Veritas in Vino: and Vinography. Wow, that’s pretty breathtaking.

Thanks again for the honor Imbibe, and thanks for getting it.

My former father-in-law, Ed Harrison — whom we saw last weekend at one of my daughter’s dance performances — at some point wisely bought a case of the Simi Reserve Vintage Cabernet Sauvignon 1974, Alexander Valley, a wine of which he was particularly fond, and with good reason: This is one of the great Simi cabernets. At the time, in Memphis, it sold for $16 a bottle. Winemaker in the early 1970s at Simi was Mary Ann Graf, with the legendary Andre Tchelistcheff serving as consultant. After passing through many ownership phases, Simi is now part of the Icon Estates portfolio of Constellation Wines.

I think it was the last bottle of the case that Ed opened for Christmas dinner in 1984, and what a superb wine it was, rich, mellow and flavorful at 10 years old. Here are my notes from that day:

“Wonderful wine, aged to perfection. Fading brick-reddish color; fragrant nose, lots of depth of fruit & currant undertones; soft tannin, bell-tone roundenss, elegant fruit, levels of berry undertones, dry yet with a hint of ripe sweetness. Long finish.”

Wow, I can almost smell and taste that wine now! Next time I see Ed Harrison, I’ll have to thank for for that experience.

The pizza had a medley of marinated and sauteed mushrooms — oyster mushrooms, shiitakes, chanterelles, criminis — with applewood smoked bacon as primary toppings, with some sliced Roma tomatoes, green onions, thyme, rosemary and oregano and then mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. Clearly a boldly flavored wine was required.

Filling that criteria with no problem whatever was the Two Hands Gnarly Dudes Shiraz 2008, from Australia’s Barossa Valley.

This is a rich, ripe, deeply saturated wine that bursts with black currant and blueberry scents and flavors imbued with a wealth of exotic spice, fruitcake notes, briers and brambles and granite-like minerals. Dauntingly dry but luscious and juicy, this shiraz comes close to being jammy, but its exuberance is just held in check by singeing (or singing) acidity and dense tannins that seem fathomless. Hints of brandied plum pudding and bitter chocolate draw in touches of lavender and licorice, all of which are etched on that circumference of pure earthy minerality. Oak is carefully done; the wine aged 12 months in hogsheads, that is to say large barrels, only 12 percent of which were new, so the effect is of tone and suppleness and resonance. There’s no denying the influence of 15.2 percent alcohol; innate ripeness and sweetness gather from entry to mid-palate, where they are subdued by immense tannins through the long, smooth, fruit-and-shale drenched finish. This is, in three words, quite a ride. Closed with a screw-cap for easy opening. Drink through 2012 to ’14. Excellent. About $25.

Imported by Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Illinois, which supplied this bottle as a sample for review.


Looking at this illustration, fellow wine-writers and bloggers will understand what came in the mail to me yesterday. That’s right, the funky little VW bus, observed here by a pair of astonished, ghostly salt-and-pepper shakers, accompanied bottles of the Beaujolais Nouveau 2009 and Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau 2009 from the ever-busy producer, the so-called “King of Beaujolais,” Georges Duboeuf. Ah, the perks of the job!

It’s astonishing indeed how Duboeuf, whose title should be “King of Marketers,” elevated what was once, in long ago simpler times, a simple, innocent harvest ritual, into a worldwide phenomenon in which hundreds of thousands of people stay up all night in restaurants from Japan to New Jersey waiting to taste the first Beaujolais Nouveau shipped by overnight shipping companies. Actually, the product is already on the ground in most countries, just waiting for the traditional third Thursday in November, the 19th this year, for release. This year’s vintage is reported to be excellent but smaller in quantity due to a warm, dry summer. In Japan, for example, according to JapanToday.com, bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau shipped totaled 4.8 million, or 400,000 cases, a reduction of 30 percent from last year. Perhaps that steep of a reduction also reflects lack of interest.

This is all silly and rather harmless stuff. The sad part is that people who so eagerly participate in this annual folderol will probably never try a bottle of the great Beaujolais wines produced at the cru level from the 10 named communes of the region or even a bottle of respectable Beaujolais-Villages, typically a quaffable bistro wine.

Normally, I would rather be strapped onto the hood of a speeding Escalade and have “The Moon and New York City” mainlined into my brain 24/7 than actually review any Beaujolais Nouveau, but this year I will go along with the game and hold off until next Thursday and make a few comments on the fresh, grapey stuff, thereby, of course, just adding to the visibility of the silliness.

This year’s red and gold label for the Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau and Beaujolais Villages Nouveau is one of the most garish in the annually changing series, resembling wallpaper in a Chinese restaurant. The wines will be priced at $10 and $11, respectively.


I am no great fan of the products of Folonari, a company that annually pumps out thousands of bottles of wine that rarely rise above the level of decent — not that decent is bad — so you could have knocked me over with a plastic pipette when I tried the Folonari Pinot Grigio delle Venezie 2008 and found it to be not only more than decent but downright delightful.

Made completely in stainless steel and distinctly a wine of the moment — I mean, drink it before next spring — the Folonari Pinot Grigio 2008 is a pale straw color with faint green highlights. The bouquet is quite grassy and meadowy, not a meadow of flowers but of a multitude of grasses and herbs, and then with an intriguing bottom note that’s damp, foresty and piney. A wafting of citrus turns out to be more like lemon-grass than lemon; in fact, the effect is of that startling earthy grassiness that we used to get when we were kids chewing on grass blades, the ones that made a little whistle or squeak when we pulled them from the earth. Ah, those days of innocence! In other words, this wine is all about freshness and immediate appeal and vibrant acidity, and when I say that it goes down easily, I don’t mean that (in this case) as a criticism. Drink and enjoy, as an aperitif or with light appetizers and seafood dishes. Very Good. About $8.50.

Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York

(This is the 500th post to BTYH since December 2006.)

BTW, Readers, I just looked at the counter program that comes with Blue Host, the hosting entity for BTYH, and I want to thank you for making August the best month this blog has experienced since its inception in December 2006. Typically the summer months, especially July and August, reveal lower attendance, as people go on vacation, I suppose, and don’t have the time or inclination to check in. Thanks to you, however, August saw 34,058 visits to this blog, as well as 107,427 page views and 357,089 hits, though as I have admitted before, I’m pretty sketchy on what constitutes the difference between a “visit” and a “hit.” Nevertheless, while 34,058 doesn’t measure up to the Big Name Wine Blogs — and you know who you are — I’m pleased as punch about that figure. My only caveat? Let’s keep it growing! And when you do visit BTYH, click on what may seem to be those annoying Google ads; those constitute the only revenue this blog generates, and believe me, it ain’t much.

Anyway, all mercenary thoughts aside, thanks again for helping to made BTYH a success.

Remember: Drink well, drink carefully, say a kind word or two.

The email message usually begins like this: “Dear Fred” — does nobody comprehend that I hate to be called “Fred”? –“This is Heather from glamzinewine.com in London. We’ve been following your blog and really love it! We think you have one of the coolest wine blogs around! How would you like to contribute to our website? We would really be happy to have your words of wisdom about wine on our pages because we’re getting lots of readers that want to learn about wine! We’ll make sure to provide a link and add you to our blog roll. Looking forward to our partnership! Thanks and cheers!”

I get proposals like this, heavily overdrawn from the Bank of Exclamation Points, about once a week. Recently I even got one from China. Here is my reply to all of you out there that want to utilize my hard-earned words of wisdom in exchange for a link and a hallowed place on your sacred blog roll:

“No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.”

Actually, Dr. Johnson said that, and I would acknowledge my debt to him with a link except that he’s dead.

I realize that we live in a brave new webworld of media, where creativity, marketing, advertising, self-promotion, readership and personality exist in a so-far uneasy (and rather queasy) relationship to the old-fashioned notion of having a job and making a living. Social media are changing everything in terms of communication and interrelationships and the conveyance of knowledge and ideas, as ephemeral as they may be. Even I — yes, even I — who for so long adamantly refused to get involved in social networking am about to hop on the wagon of Facebook and (OMG!) Twitter, because I have come to acknowledge their value as marketing tools.

But, you know, call me a Gin-Soaked Capitalist Drenched in the Misery of the Working Class, but there’s just something about getting paid for what I do that makes me happy. I labored for 17 years in the Halls of Academe, and guess what? I got paid every month for teaching Beowulf and grading all those thousands of awful research papers. For 22.5 years I toiled as an ink-stain’d wretch in the sordid mines of journalism, and, know what? Yes, I received a check every two weeks. When Mr. Mason comes to cut our grass every other Thursday, I hand him money for his effort; I don’t promise him a link and a slot on a blog roll. That’s the way the world of work works.

I devote a great deal of time to this blog because I have a lot to say, there are many wines to review and many issues to comment about and I believe that what I have to express is valuable. My remuneration is in the form of wine samples, which while delightful, do not, as LL points out pointedly, pay the bills. Friends, I was laid-off from my newspaper job back in March. I have to spend every moment when I’m not working on BTYH scrabbling for free-lance writing jobs that pay, you know, money. I mean, the Internet might be wonderful to the extent of miraculousness, but it still runs on electricity, and the utility statement comes without fail.

But more than that, it’s the principle of the thing. For 25 years I have paid my dues in the world of wine, first with a weekly newspaper column that was distributed nationwide, then with a website and, since December 2006, on this blog. Experience, knowledge, maturity, humor, insight, a way with words, an ability to turn a phrase, a fund of poetry quotations in the back of my mind: All of these attributess count for something. So, youngster, you want content for your “collaborative web wine magazine”? Show me the money and I’m your man. You won’t be sorry.

Image by Guerruntz from indypendent.org.

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