30 January 2015

It’s easy to make fun of the wine-critic word salad Robert Parker invented, all layers & ripeness & things leaping from glasses–easy, too, to talk about ‘Parkerized’ wines, the style of winemaking that he is said to represent. Did he do a service, when he began to write about wine for Americans stressed out over buying $40 birthday presents for their bosses in more or less the same way that Consumer Reports reviews washing machines? In a very specific, very real way: yes. Has the idea of rating an idiosyncratic, living agricultural product in the same way as a washing machine done measurable harm? Well, yes.

And in the decades that have followed, and with all of the objections to for example the point system pretty much canon now, the wines that he got most enthusiastic over and the way he wrote about that enthusiasm have been caricatured so thoroughly that sometimes instead of attempting to parrot received wisdom it really truly is instructive to just survey & report. To put in another way: I could not write a better parody of Robert Parker’s prose, or describe the kinds of wines I’m told he liked, better than presenting his own writing with as little commentary as possible.

I came across this particular collection of text while looking for something more or less unrelated. (How a particular vintage of a modernist Barolo producer was received a decade and a half ago, if you’re curious.) So! Here are some words & phrases used by Robert Parker when he likes something. They appear, all of them, exactly as written, on a single page of his 2002 Buyers Guide. A dozen or so wines, all told. And without me saying anything more, maybe you can decide for yourself what he values in a bottle of wine, and what kind of things he likes to drink, and how he likes to write about drinking them:

up-front, sexy
sexy, in-your-face
a provocative bouquet
a luxurious bouquet
a hedonistic, explosive nose
big sweet perfume
supple and velvety
velvety and forward
ripe, and attractive
aromas jump from the glass
flavors cascade over the palate
Powerfully, unctuously textured
awesomely layered texture
with additional levels of glycerin and flavor
layers of glycerin
stunningly concentrated
fabulously concentrated
decadent level of richness
Pomerol-like lushness
Full-bodied, ripe
Full-bodied-and lush
opulent, lush, fleshy
fleshy and flamboyant
sexy, hedonistic, seamless
Rich, full, fat, opulent, and decadent
copious spice, glycerin, and alcohol
fleshy, and flamboyant, with huge glycerin levels
this textured, full-bodied, fat, lush wine.


25 October 2014

“The sheer profusion of qualities that Americans discovered in the apple during its seedling heyday is something to marvel at, especially since so many of those qualities have been lost in the years since. I found apples that tasted like bananas, others like pears. Spicy apples and sticky-sweet ones, apples sprightly as lemons & others rich as nuts. I picked apples that weighed more than a pound, others compact enough to fit into a child’s pocket. Here were yellow apples, green apples, spotted apples, russet apples, striped apples, purple apples, even a near-blue apple. There were apples that looked prepolished & apples that wore a dusty bloom on their cheeks. Some of these apples had qualities that were completely lost on me but had meant the world to people once: apples that tasted sweeter in March than October, apples that made especially good cider or preserves or butter, apples that held their own in storage for half a year, apples that ripened gradually to avoid a surfeit or all at once for an easier harvest, apples with long stem or short, thin skin or thick, apples that tasted sublime only in Virginia and others that needed a hard New England frost to reach perfection, apples that reddened in August, others that held off til winter, even apples that could sit at the bottom of a barrel for the six weeks it took a ship to get to Europe, then emerge bright and crisp enough to command a top price in London.”

The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan (p. 48–49) touring the Lake Geneva Plant Genetic Resources Unit.

Year in review

2 July 2014

From Twitter, between January 1 and December 21, 2013. Question for the day: how do you archive & resurrect experience of the digital over time?


My sister at breakfast: “Do you know what the German word for birth control is? ANTIBABYPILLEN.”
4 January, 3:44 p.m.

On the Difficulties of Recollecting the Plots of Novels One Has Partly Read While Drunk. #unwrittenessays
10 January, 12:48 a.m.

“…but those who believe, that Abel lived an hundred and twenty nine Years, think it improbable he should die a Batchelor.
10 January, 1:06 a.m.

“If you put front vowels in your language, nobody will take it seriously as a language of Orcs.”
11 January, 4:47 p.m.

Tarantino films that feature scenes in which characters literally give each other acting lessons: Django Unchained, Reservoir Dogs.
17 January, 1:28 a.m.

“There you are, like butter in sunshine.” Martin Luther insult randomizer:
20 January, 12:50 p.m.

RT: Thank God for technology. Before Twitter, I just used to go up to strangers and whisper in their ears. @tejucole
26 January, 1:42 p.m.

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Primo Levi on distillation

26 February 2014

Distilling is beautiful. First of all, because it is a slow, philosophic, and silent occupation, which keeps you busy but gives you time to think about other things, a little like riding a bike. Then, because it involves a metamorphosis from liquid to vapor (invisible), and from this once again to liquid, but in this double journey, up and down, purity is attained, an ambiguous and fascinating condition, which starts with chemistry and goes very far. And finally, when you set about distilling, you acquire the consciousness of repeating a ritual consecrated by the centuries, almost a religious act, in which from imperfect material you obtain the essence, the usia, the spirit, and in the first place alcohol, which gladdens the spirit and warms the heart.

— p. 62, The Periodic Table


14 February 2014

Some seasonally-appropriate tunes for all of you who are trapped inside walls of ice and already opening the second bottle. Here’s love as: something you can lock out, or be invulnerable to if you’re cold enough, or not human; a curse, a poison, a way to get revenge; ten gin-and-tonics; some kind of joke; a hungry bear.

1. Unbelievers // VAMPIRE WEEKEND
2. I’m gonna lock my heart // BILLIE HOLIDAY
3. Nothing but a heartache // THE FLIRTATIONS
4. Misery loves company // BLACKFEET BRAVES
5. Aftermath // SZA
7. Standard bitter love song #8  // THE MOUNTAIN GOATS
8. We sink  // CHVRCHES
9. Stepping over hearts  // INSIGHTFUL
10. Get lucky  // DAUGHTER
12. No one’s gonna love you as much  // NICOLE WILLIS & THE SOUL INVESTIGATORS
13. I don’t believe you  // THE MAGNETIC FIELDS
14. Don’t fuck around with love // THE BLENDERS

Download here.

November’s facts

2 December 2013

fact checking in action

Fact-checking detritus from various freelance assignments last month, culled from a lifetime in service to the truth.

From Matt Warshaw’s Encyclopedia of Surfing: “Raised in a Kauai geodesic dome by two surfing parents, Keala Kennelly has an untouchable reputation as the sport’s most fearless tuberider. […] Breaking rank from the girlish ‘surfette’ look that all but defined women’s surfing in the ’90s and early ’00s, Kennelly was a leather-clad and tongue-studded nightclubber who moonlighted as a DJ and often looked, as surf journalist Alison Berkeley put it, like ‘a sinister Disney cartoon character.’”

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18 September 2013

card catalogs, NYPL
Room 100, including card catalogs, 1923. New York Public Library Archives.

I like book indexes because of the tantalizingly incomplete sense they give of a large, impossible object broken down into its constituent parts. And because I like lists of words.

Anyway I was at the wine store the other day paging through the Jancis Robinson-edited Oxford Companion to Wine (it is as crazy authoritative as the title would suggest), and next to the introduction there’s a two-page double-column list of 300 new entries added to the third edition. If you like, it gives a rough sense of how the canonical wine world might have changed between 1999 and 2006—you know, black-magic big industrial processes in commercial production on the one hand, formerly forgotten regions and nerdy, nearly-extinct indigenous grapes on the other. (Also, the Internet: websites finally have an entry!) Did I mention I like lists of words? Like so:

Asian Lady Beetle
black dead arm
California sprawl
diotomaceous earth
direct shipping
flavour scalping
glassy winged sharpshooter
Gorbachev, Mikhail
Kangaroo Island
Lacrima Nera
macèration pelliculaire
philosophy & wine
plastic corks
reverse osmosis
vegetarian & vegan wine


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