Lucky Number Nine

IMG_0018Yesterday, I learned how to say “wine” in Chinese.

This valuable linguistic tidbit came my way just in the nick of time, given that this week I also finally managed to crack into the wine scene here in Shenzhen. It must have been fate that included this term in the lesson plan for only my second language class. (Or maybe the fact that the word doubles as the number nine.)

I’ve been pretty quiet on the subject of vino since leaving California; most of my energy has been spent navigating the early stages of expat life with a toddler in tow. It hasn’t helped that the beverage options in mainland China are just as limited as I’d been led to expect, consisting primarily of watery beer, overpriced (and possibly counterfeit) Bordeaux, and big-brand liquor. It’s taken me time and persistence to track down the good stuff. And given that I have a higher threshold for bland beer than boring vino, I’ve consumed enough cerveza over the course of my research for it to show in my waistline. But I’ve been here long enough now to connect with some of the right people. So, I’ve decided that it’s time to get back to work.

With the help of my new friend Antonio Panetta, cinematographer extraordinaire, I’ve begun developing a series of videos called “Where to drink wine in Shenzhen.” I’ll be exploring the best wine lists in town, starting close to home here in Shekou. So stay tuned! We hope to release the first one in a couple of weeks.

Heresy

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*Back by popular demand, the following is a re-post of my research into the truth behind kosher wine. Originally written in 2007 as one of my first wine related pieces, I enjoy updating it every so often around the Jewish holidays and sharing with new friends. Chag Sameach!

Last night, Wifey, Little Dude, and I took part in a lovely Passover seder here in San Diego. (Well, Wifey and I participated; we stashed the little guy in a vacant bedroom and blasted the white noise machine as loud as my iphone could go.) Amidst the matzoh balls, gefilte fish, and talk of freedom, the subject of wine came up – after all, tradition obligates us to to consume four glasses each as part of the passover meal. And who are we kidding; wine almost always enters the conversation when I’m around. In this particular setting, somebody inevitably asks: what’s up with kosher vino?

Every spring as Passover approaches – and also in the autumn around Rosh Hashonah – wine shops begin to set aside a bit of extra shelf space for products that have been certified Kosher. Perhaps in an attempt to balance out the ridiculous amount of bacon consumed by Jews in this country, even those of us who do not normally play by the rules seem to feel the need to “go Kosher” on the holidays.

For years my father and I would prepare ourselves for our twice annual pre-holiday showdown: do we drink my favorite new rosé with our chicken soup, or the pasteurized Merlot that appeases his sense of Jewish guilt? I couldn’t help but wonder – what is it that makes wine Kosher? I mean, we’re talking about an agricultural product here. Do you know many secular Jews who go out the week before Pesach on a quest to track down some Kosher OJ? (Tropicana is certified Kosher, incidentally, but I’ve never seen it marketed as such.) You mean to tell me that this bottle of dry-farmed, organic Grenache somehow contains bacon bits? Were both milk and meat blended into that Beaujolais?

Although there was a time when bull’s blood was commonly used as a fining agent, these days none of the ingredients that usually go into wine are directly non Kosher (or even potentially so). So what gives? Over the years of talking to winemakers – as well as to relatives who are more observant than Julia and I – I’ve gained a bit of knowledge on the subject. And while I’m certainly no student of religion and may be prone to hyperbole, I decided to look into the matter further in an effort to end our family squabbles once and for all. I hope not to offend any of you who truly do observe the laws of Kashrut in their lives, but perhaps for some of the fence-sitters out there, this will set your minds at rest. (Bibliographical note: what I didn’t already know here was mostly gleaned from Wikipedia and JewFAQ.org.)

You see, as it turns out, grape products hold a unique place in the Kosher world: other than certain vegetables which require certification that they have been properly checked for insects, grape derivatives represent the ONE agricultural category that is not Kosher by default. Contrary to what one might assume, this has nothing to do with how they are made, and everything to do with who is making them – even who is serving them.

Despite the place that wine has in many Jewish observances (such as the aforementioned four cups at the seder table) the fact that it was also used for pagan rituals apparently made many of my ancestors deeply uncomfortable. In an effort to distinguish one kind of wine from the other, they decided that the simplest course was draw a line based on who picked the grapes and made the wine. Thus, Jewish-made vino was “Kosher” by default; that touched by pagan hands was as traif (non-kosher) as pork.

Now, disregarding for a moment how little this distinction may be relevant in my (more-or-less secular American) lifestyle, let’s assume for a moment that you more closely observe Kashrut and it’s more relevant in yours. So we’ll take this one step further: what happens when a Kosher wine is served by a non-Jewish sommelier? (And anyway, how is this avoidable? Can’t a restaurant get sued for discrimination for hiring only Jews?) The answer presents a nice Catch 22 to Jewish wine lovers: unless it’s “Mevushal” – meaning it has been pasteurized – the wine in this scenario becomes immediately un-Kosher. Sadly, to my palate at least, pasteurizing wine strips it of a great deal of its character and idiosyncrasies.

You’ll have to decide for yourself what your priorities are. I just tell it like it is.

Lessons

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The Monday before last, I made what is perhaps my most dubious parenting decision so far: I brought Little Dude to his first blind tasting. He’s already attended a few of my own Le Metro wine events around town and toured a handful of wineries – he even learned all about sparkling wine production at Gruet when we visited New Mexico. But this represented his first academic, sit-down-and-swirl-and-totally-geek-out kind of event. I hadn’t tasted with this group in months – since before he was born, in fact – and I’m constantly testing the limits of what I can and can’t get away with in my new life as a father. So I figured, what the hell.

Oops.

For one thing, the timing of this particular scenario turned out to be less than ideal. I’d thought that my guy’s sleep patterns were regular enough to anticipate a 9:00 nap (mistake #1). I also thought that by showing up late to the tasting I would be able to quietly join the group with my (slumbering) son in his stroller (mistake #2). Instead, I arrived as the table was being set, and in the very moment that my little angel woke up starving. Of course.

So my friends began tasting one by one, and I moved myself to another table so as to distract them as little as possible while I gave the baby his own beverage to enjoy. Then I had to burp him, and we took a nice little stroll around the restaurant (which was still closed and therefore empty, thank God). When my own turn came to taste, my hope was that he would hang out on my lap relatively quietly as he often does at home. (Mistake #3.)

20140226-103304.jpgLuckily our host and my good friend Maurice DiMarino is as gifted a dad as he is a Sommelier, so I did get a bit of a reprieve. He took the dude off my hands for a bit so that I could give my presentation, and it actually looked like Micah was having more fun with Maurice than he usually does with me.

But the fun was to be short lived. Fussiness quickly progressed into a total baby melt-down, which led me to a frenzied bathroom-floor diaper change and a rather dramatic exit. Covered in sweat and with a shrieking monkey in the stroller, it wasn’t my finest moment.

I love bringing my baby where he is least expected, and to be honest I often get a real kick out of watching people’s reaction to him. I enjoy pushing my own boundaries as well as others’, but I’m certainly not out to make folks uncomfortable, and I try to quit while I’m ahead. If there’s a point I’m trying to prove it’s more about gender roles than anything else: If Mommy can bring the baby wherever she goes, why can’t Daddy? (This of course assumes good behavior on the part of the baby, without which none of us should be there.)

Granted, I don’t expect many mothers OR fathers are crashing practice tastings for the Court of Master Sommeliers‘ exams with their four-month-olds, but you know, we’ve all got our own thing. I do think I’ll wait a couple of months before giving it another shot, though.

 

Bubbles

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Wait, that’s not what you meant by “bubbles?”

I’m not sure that these are the kinds of bubbles kids are supposed to enjoy. But this is my son we’re talking about here.

Thanks to the celebratory gifts we’ve been receiving from our generous friends, he’s already had a lot of exposure to bubbles – of the good kind. As The Winedad, however, I think it’s important that he understand even at this early age that not all bubbles come from Champagne, France.

Luckily, the timing is right – I’ve got plenty of bottles around to prove the point. To further Micah’s education I’ve even themed an entire wine collection from Le Metro – Wine. Underground around it – our first annual holiday bubbles collection (Volume VII: “Underground Bubbles”) will be available December 1.

I thought it would be fun to take a moment and briefly expose Little Dude to some of my favorite sparkling wines. Perhaps you’ll learn something too. This list is by no means definitive – it’s just here to turn you on to some styles that I personally love.

  • Lambrusco is one of my favorite sparkling surprises. An effervescent red wine from Emilia-Romagna, Italy, it ranges from sweet to completely dry and runs the full quality gambit. My love of this style was cemented a few years ago when a certain Lambrusco producer accompanied me to Bologna on the hunt for wedding shoes. (He will remain nameless for now as one of his wines is included in Le Metro Volume VII).
  • Moscato comes in all shapes and sizes. Not always sparkling – and not always Italian – it’s usually delicious, although it can sometimes be cloyingly sweet (and industrially produced). The best news: traditional sparkling Moscato comes in at only around 7% alcohol by volume. This is what I like to call “breakfast wine.” 
  • Prosecco is one of the best-known sparkling wines in the US, and is reputed for great value. Every Italian restaurant in the country serves at least one (except for New York City’s Dell’Anima, L’Artusi, and L’Apicio, where my old buddy Joey Campanale buys the wine and bucks trends; by being a bit of a rebel, he’s assembled some of the best wine lists in the country). However, inexpensive doesn’t have to mean un-tasty. There’s some wonderful Prosecco to be found if you know where to look. (hint, hint…)
  • Crémant de Bourgogne represents perhaps the closest alternative to true Champagne. Burgundy and Champagne share their two main grape varieties – Pinot Noir and Chardonnay – and although the former is famous for wine made without bubbles they sure do know what they’re doing when it comes to secondary fermentation. Like Champagne, Crémant is produced in both white and rosé styles.
  • Sparkling Torrontés from Argentina is a surprise entry on this list; honestly, it probably wouldn’t have been here a month ago. Although I was aware from my time in Mendoza that there are a lot of awesome bubbles down south, very few of them make it to North American shores. However, shortly before Micah’s birth my friend Kent from Vinos del Sol sent me home with a special bottle to enjoy. The whole family loved it – myself included. The rest is history.

Now, are you thirsty yet? I’m going to go have a glass of Moscato for breakfast with Little Micah. But if you want to learn more or try any these wines, please check out Le Metro or contact me directly!

Tradition

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I’ll admit it: my son’s first glass of wine was Mogen David.

Despite having some fun on his first night home with a bottle of my favorite Etna Rosso (from Le Metro Volume IV, of course) it wasn’t until we held his “Brit Milah” (circumcision ceremony) last week that we were really ready to test out his wooden leg.

Wine geekiness aside, I’ll be the first to admit that there is a time and place for ritual and that it usually falls when both family and religion are present. After all, the Jewish people have been circumcising their sons for roughly 5,000 years; while Concord grapes haven’t been around for nearly that long, they’re sure to have been the main variety in the wine that my immediate ancestors and I each partook of on our own respective eighth days. (It’s also what I caught my first buzz off of at that long-ago Passover seder – sorry Mom and Dad.)

I did feel a little bad drinking my father-in-law’s grower champagne while Little Dude was sucking Mogen David off a napkin, but it seemed appropriate for each of us to take the edge off in our own way. Although it’s been years now since I finally won the great kosher wine debate with my father, sometimes you’ve just got to follow the lead of the man holding the scalpel to your son.

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Hands Off

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Week 40.

We’ve made it to the official end of month nine; Little Dude will be arriving any day now. As Wifey and I try to stay busy and struggle to keep our anticipation in check, I figure this is as good a time as any to finally start reintroducing a bit of wine back into winedad.com.

In hopes of a graceful segue I wanted to start with something that’s been very much on my mind these past few months: Believe it or not, I’ve found there to be a lot of conceptual crossover between winemaking and baby-making. The subject of “natural childbirth” is an explosive one, as is that of “natural winemaking,” so I’ll do my best to steer shy of the more controversial aspects of both. But they’re thought-provoking any way you look at it.

For mothers-to-be, “natural” generally refers to unmedicated birth with no drugs to dull the pain or speed the process along. You could say that the word is used pretty much the same way in the wine world – as far as most folks are concerned, “natural wine” is that which is produced without the intervention of outside yeasts, extra sulfites, or other foreign compounds to alter its chemistry. (By implication it’s also usually considered to be organic.)

In both arenas, the primary case to be made for “natural” lies in the the existence of countless precedents for end-results that were healthily conceived/born/guided with no scientific intervention whatsoever. The counterargument is equally straightforward: despite all of them, things can and do occasionally go wrong. Whether it’s the fruit of your loins or that of your labor that’s at risk, wouldn’t you want to leave as little to chance as possible?

At the end of the day, I myself don’t have that much experience either making wine or birthing babies. My exposure to the production side of vino has been broad but still relatively shallow, and the part I played in baby-making was neither drawn-out nor painful. But I do know from the little that I’ve seen so far that barring dramatic and unforeseen circumstances, both processes seem to go more smoothly the less we mess around with them.

Na Zdorovie!

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Week 29.

Now that we’re “safely” into the third trimester, I’ll be honest – it’s pretty awesome to share some wine with my wife over dinner once more. Little dude is pretty well cooked at this point, and his mother no longer wrinkles her nose when I hold a glass under it. In fact, she seems to be very much enjoying the wines I share with her. (All Le Metro selections, of course!)

You should’ve seen it when when I poured her glass of Champagne from a six liter bottle of Veuve Clicquot at a birthday party a couple of weeks ago; that’s an image I’d very much like to show my son someday. However, this seems to be quite a touchy subject for a lot of people. It’s been fascinating – and a bit contradictory – to gauge the reactions of those who see Baby Momma with a glass of wine in hand. Like so many other aspects of pregnancy, everybody offers advice and/or passes judgement. However, for each person who looks at her in disdain, there is at least one other who cheers her on.

Last week I came across an interesting article in the Daily Mail outlining a recent British study on the subject, examining the effects of wine consumption by pregnant mothers. Kids whose mothers had consumed various amounts of alcohol during pregnancy were studied up until the age of 10, and the results showed that low to moderate levels of drinking during pregnancy had no effect.

This may never be proven definitively, and it’s incredibly frustrating. It’s kind of like using electronics on airplanes: there’s no proof that reading your Kindle during takeoff will cause any harm at all, but there’s also no verification that it won’t. If there’s even the remotest chance that this is within your control – do you want to be responsible for that??

One thing we do know for sure is that both pregnancy and birth go more smoothly when a mother is calm and relaxed. If a glass of wine now and again helps Wifey maintain her zen, I’m not going to be the guy to withhold it. It’s not in my nature to say no when a beautiful woman asks me for vino – especially/even when she’s carrying my child.

Nobody is advocating binge drinking by pregnant mothers – I’ll resist for some more time taking her down to our local dive for shots of Jameson. (She wouldn’t touch them anyway, without at least a pickle back). But it’s funny how prone to culture the “rules” are, and how quickly they change over time. For example, today’s pregnancy experts recommend regular exercise throughout the course of pregnancy; in Victorian times women were prescribed “confinement,” meaning they were restricted to their beds.

My babushka-in-law summed it all up rather nicely over dinner the other night: “I guess some wine is all right for her…  but I understand why they didn’t let us drink back in Russia… we would’ve all been chugging Vodka!”

Babushka, I have just one thing to say. Na Zdorovie!

Tastebuds

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Week 18.

A couple of weeks ago, the baby books and apps that my wife and I regularly refer to informed us that our baby had developed his taste buds. Coincidentally – or perhaps not – it was right around this time that his mother began enjoying the scent of wine again for the first time since his conception.

I like to think that the little guy has finally developed a taste for vino. They say it’s an acquired taste, I know, but this is my kid growing in there.

Now now, don’t worry, she hasn’t had anything to drink in months, but as part of my ongoing enological experiments I’ve asked her to smell every wine I’ve had open. Really I should say forced her to smell – everything I’ve put in front of her, from Champagne to Barolo, has gotten more or less the same “eww, get this shit out of my face!”

Until, all of a sudden, a wine buddy of mine showed up for a visit from the east coast with a rather esoteric – and incredibly aromatic – Viognier from Ardèche, in France’s Rhône Valley. Wifey’s face lit up at the bouquet, and I almost had to fight her to get the glass out of her hand.

Not only does baby dig vino, he digs funky vino. I love this kid already.

Of course, in proper Winedad fashion, I pushed the point too far by also encouraging her to taste the bottle of mead that we opened on a whim. While it did launch a nice historical discourse on the world’s most ancient fermented beverage, it was probably not the best thing to use on Mama’s newly re-awakened palate.

I guess I got a little ahead of myself with this one. But that’s ok, there’s still 5 months left to play around with.

 

 

Solidarity

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Now that I’m spending a fair amount of time reading, writing, and discussing the subject of pregnancy, all kinds of advice has started coming my way from parents out there (both current and aspiring). Some have gone so far as to suggest that I place my own vices on hold for the next months out of solidarity with my lady wife – apparently, there are guys out there who have set such a precedent. (Those mother fuckers, ruining it for the rest of us!)

Clearly, none of those dudes work in the wine industry.

While I’m usually the first person to point out that I truly don’t spend all day consuming vino (really, I don’t, I swear!) the fact remains that it comes at me from all angles over the course of my work week. Besides being victim to an unquenchable thirst for more wine knowledge – always more, always just a bit more, I promise I’ll spit! Just a little bit more… I’m also in the process of actively developing my own wine business. So, call it what you will, but I’m not even pretending. That doesn’t mean I don’t feel guilt about it, though. My Jewish mother raised me well.

The irony is – as I’m sure many men can attest – I actually find myself drinking more. While I won’t deny that some of this is the result of a certain male instinct to numb oneself in the early stages of adapting to major life changes, much of it is purely logistical. There simply aren’t nearly enough half bottles on the market. Once the 750ml is open, what’s a boy supposed to do, pour that shit out?

I think not.

So hell yeah, bring it on. I’ve got my own personal limo driver, DUIs won’t get me down! However, I do sometimes fear that my odds of conceiving a second child may decrease with every sip I take.

 

Growth

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Yes, that little astronaut is my child. (The right side of the image represents his/her heartbeat.)

What appears in this photo to be a short person in a spacesuit seated on some kind of cool-looking rocketship chair is actually our developing baby, 22 mm long from “crown to rump” at the time it was taken last week. (“Crown to rump” being a term I can honestly say I’ve never heard before, but which I assume I will quickly be getting used to.)

While doctors tend to speak in metric terms, all of the books, apps, and blogs that Wifey and I are reading these days like to use their own thematic reference points to measure the developmental process. Her favorite app of the moment, My Pregnancy Calendar by The Bump, uses a different fruit or vegetable every week – all the way from poppyseed to jackfruit (with stops at pomegranate, rutabaga, and coconut along the way). My “man app,” mPregnancy (“for Men with Pregnant Women,”) uses, well, “man stuff:” a match, beer cap, cigarette, beer bottle (12 oz, presumably), football, and eventually a large pizza.

I don’t smoke cigarettes, and I’m not really into football; this is, after all, Winedad.com. So guess what we’re going to do??

First, though, a few disclaimers:

  1. All of the below measurements are totally estimated (I primarily used The Bump for basic reference). Please don’t take this exercise too seriously.
  2. For the sake of ease, I am disregarding the weight of packaging, which is extremely difficult to evaluate accurately without some pretty complex mathematics (or actually weighing each bottle). This is supposed to be fun, and that kind of math is not. However, remember that this skews things pretty heavily – I don’t recommend that you start using actual bottles for reference, as you may scare the shit out of your partner. (Sometimes, the glass weights a lot.)
  3. The images I am using this time around (with the exception of the one above, of course) are not my own. (If you’re interested, each links back to the source.)

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1 shot ≈ .83 oz ≈ right around week 13. (Which happens to be when most people start spreading the word about their pregnancy. I got a little ahead of myself with this one, but when our baby is this size – in just a couple of weeks! – I will put my name on here.)

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50 ml “nip” (AKA “airplane size” liquor bottle) ≈ 1.67 oz ≈ week 14.

After that point, things start to look a little more like this, relatively speaking:

  • 187 ml “split” (also usually found on airplanes, and/or sparkling) ≈ 1/2 pound ≈ week 18.
  • 375 ml “half bottle” ≈ 1 pound ≈ week 24.
  • 500 ml bottle (most likely dessert wine) ≈ 1 1/2 pounds ≈ weeks 25 – 28.
  • 750 ml bottle (standard wine bottle) ≈ 2 pounds ≈ weeks 25 – 28.
  • 1 L Carafe ≈ 3 pounds ≈ weeks 29/30.
  • 1.5 L Magnum ≈ 4 pounds ≈ weeks 32/33.
  • 3 L Jeraboam ≈ 8 pounds = now that’s one bigass baby.

I hope this helps provide some context. Now, next time you want to get fucked up with your buddies at the local wine bar, you can tell your wife you’re “studying your baby’s development.”