Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Jean-Claude DeBeaune Brouilly

Country: France
Region: Brouilly (Domaine Des Nazins)
Variety: Gamay Beaujolais
Year: 2006
Price: $15
Where I purchased it: Total Wine & More

This is the first bottle I cracked from my virgin run to the Glendale Total Wine & More. Before I get into the wine, let me make a hearty recommendation for Total Wine; I have trouble believing I'll be buying wine anywhere else for a while. Not only does it have an incredible selection, its prices are probably the best you'll find, anywhere.

As for the wine, it is exactly what I hoped it would be: Delicious.

Beaujolais is the wine I most often recommend to casual wine drinkers because it's the most accessible and versatile red on the market. It goes with just about anything in terms of food, and is light enough that most anyone can drink it without food at all. Plus, it's an excellent value for those looking for an inexpensive quaffing vino that doesn't smell and taste like turpentine.

Despite the fact that Beaujolais will only appear on this label in smaller print, it's still a Beaujolais in spirit. But where your standard Beaujolais or Beaujolais-Village will usually be a sweeter red with little in the way of body or finish, Brouilly comes in with a little more personality. This particular variety is among the lightest Brouillys I've had, but the essence is the same: Crisp, rich flavor that feels fresh on the palate but disappears almost immediately after the swallow. It's a totally enjoyable weekday wine for a small, light meal (I had it with a capicolla sandwich), and works best chilled (it came out of my cooler at 60 degrees, which is right in the middle of its ideal delta).

All in all, an excellent value and a definite recommendation.

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Monday, August 25, 2008

My weekend in soccer, Aug 23-24

I think I did a pretty good job of keeping my shit together, all told. I watched the first 20 minutes live, and then paused it after 20 minutes because it was too early (10 a.m.) to ruin one's day. It wasn't like I knew Arsenal was going to lose to Fulham — that kind of predictive ability only comes with a cosmic bath of gamma rays, or something — but I had a feeling that win, lose or draw, I was going to be pissed. And unlike that hirsute fraud Nostradamus, I actually nailed my prediction.

When I finally watched the game in Saturday's dusk, I had already resigned myself to disappointment, so its arrival was not met with shrieks of indignation. Instead, ever the adult, I sat and watched the remaining, sorry 70 minutes in the dark, drinking heavily but nonetheless silently. When the ridiculous showing was complete, I turned off the TV and went to bed.

It was 8 p.m.

This is fully my fourth year of being a serious soccer fan, though it's really only the third in which I find myself watching an extreme amount of it on TV. I still haven't shaken the feeling that I'm a mere poseur, a user of the sport as a method of allowing me to claim some higher level of worldliness over those who exclusively watch American sports. But the truth is probably more embarrassing: I now care much more about Arsenal and AS Roma than I do about the teams I've followed most of my life, and in turn soccer has become my passion. And, often, that passion turns me into a whimpering fool when one of my two sides dares not get three points.

But I made a solemn oath to myself, this season, to stop being such an idiot. I do not want my life to turn into a much less authentic version of Fever Pitch, especially since I'm watching the games a world away and often on my DVR. I cannot lose another week to despondency as I did earlier in 2008 when Arsenal was eliminated in the Champions League by what could only be considered the most sinister of officiating circumstances. I will not wish death upon Frank Lampard anymore, or at least not until he provokes me again by being such a whiny bitch. I will not be that guy.

With all that considered, I was proud of my behavior this weekend. I have not broken out into hives, I've not written 3,000-word missives on how Arsenal can save its season if it would just sign a complementary central mid (though I've probably composed 2/3rds of it in my head while showering), and I have yet to consider taking a golf club to my television. But I will say that my arm has mysterious blotches I can't stop scratching, that Aston Villa's Gareth Barry is still available and THE ANSWER TO ALL THAT AILS THE GUNNERS WHY WON'T YOU FUCKING SPEND THE EXTRA FIVE MILLION YOU CHEAP FRENCH COCKSUCKER ARE YOU TRYING TO GIVE ME A STROKE and I've, as a preventative measure, started leaving my clubs in the car. You know, just in case.

Heaven help me if Arsenal and Roma lose in the same weekend. I'm not stupid enough to think it can't get worse than this.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

This man is a god in Italy

Sometimes I wonder why I want to move there so badly.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

North America's ode to sodium

Montreal has the best food in the world. This is a point that cannot be disputed unless you are a vegetarian, in which case there's likely not much point in differentiating between various regional cuisines. I could be wrong about the vegetarian part, but I am most certainly not wrong about Montreal.

Most of you already know about the smoked meat. And the smoked meat is better than even the most hyperbolic statements you've heard about the smoked meat. I have abstained from red meat since the beginning of the year, but at no point subsequent to cementing my travel arrangements did I even consider not having as much smoked meat as I possibly could during my time in Montreal. And every bite I enjoyed in Montreal was accompanied with the knowledge that none of my friends were eating anything close to that delicious.

(Important smoked meat note: There are few things in this world more intimidating than a question about foreign food preparation asked by someone who is clearly disgusted by the fact that he's being forced to speak English. So save this in your memory for the first time you have the smoked meat: NEVER EVER EVER EVER ORDER IT "LEAN." To use a steak metaphor, it's like asking a $100 fillet mignon be prepared well done. I am positive that anyone in this world who does not like smoked meat has only ever had it "lean," and has that thus determined it's really no different than pastrami.)

But when I think of Montreal and food, it is not the smoked meat I think of. It is, instead, gravy.

The island of Montreal might as well be surrounded by a sea of gravy (it's actually called sauce, or BBQ sauce, there, but it's really just a slightly thinner and tastier version of regular brown gravy). Gravy is everywhere, and served with virtually every meal. Any dish at KFC (known as Poulet Frit Kentucky) is served with gravy, because every meal involving chicken in the city is served with gravy. And it's not the normal, shitty gravy we get at KFC in the states. It's fucking delicious gravy, the kind of gravy that makes you want to drop the pretense and just start drinking it directly out of the styrofoam cup.

It's not only chicken that gets the gravy. Fries get the gravy. You can get Poutine, which is gravy and slightly melted cheese curds on top of fries. Don't like cheese curds? No worries; you will never be looked at funny if you just order gravy with your fries, because that's how the Frenchies roll. Gravy. For. Everyone.

There is not much in the way of nice things one can say about Montreal. The people are shit, and fairly unattractive to boot. The women dress like they're stoned and the sun is a giant black light, and the city serves as the capital of those horrible stetch jeans that look good on approximately 2 percent of the female population. The locals not only speak French exclusively, but they speak a disgusting dialect of French. The drivers are insane, perhaps because one isn't allowed to take right turns on reds anywhere on the island (it's the only part of Quebec, if not the known universe, in which this is the case). The weather is awful, and the mosquitoes are the size of Arizona cockroaches.

But you will never, ever have to feel ashamed if you want to have gravy with your meal. Any meal. Montreal means never having to be sorry for taunting hypertension.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Unexpected layoff

I have ended up spending three days longer in Montreal than originally expected, and internet access is spotty, as is the ability to have five minutes to myself. However, to make it up, I'll be posting a Montreal-centric missive upon my return.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Getting the bully's back

Baseball Prospectus' Joe Sheehan came out swinging today against MLB's arcane slotting system for the amateur draft (subscribers only, unfortunately). Key quote:

The draft is a broken system, one in which Major League Baseball openly and unashamedly restricts the career options of hundreds of young men in order to save itself millions of dollars each year, and everyone nods and smiles. We accept the concept of a draft in sports because it has largely been sold as a mechanism for increasing competitive balance—the worst teams get the highest picks. In fact, drafting high and drafting well are completely different things, as any fan of the Pirates—or, at the other end of the spectrum, the Braves—could tell you. That the draft may help competitive balance in a league is a tertiary factor in its existence. What a draft actually does is keep teams from competing for the services of the best talent on the market, and keeps that talent from having any options when it comes to choosing their employer for their prime earning years. It’s a beautiful system…as long as you’re not a supremely talented baseball player trying to have a career.

That about sums up my opinion on the draft and slotting system itself, but I actually want to apply a broader question here: Why are American sports fans, who are prone to sympathizing with labor concerns in just about every walk of life, so pro-owner when it comes to athletics?

It bears mentioning that the average fan wouldn't perceive his or her knee-jerk opinion on drafts or salary caps as being pro-ownership; instead, they'll usually perceive it as a pro-fan, because they're gullible enough to swallow the tired line about escalating player salaries driving rising ticket prices.

Just in case you actually feel the above to be true, consider the following syllogism:

A) The Florida Marlins have a team payroll of $21 million this season. That is less than the team will receive in revenue sharing, general fund, and local television contract revenues; B) Ticket prices are set as to offset player salaries; thus, C) The Florida Marlins are not charging for tickets this season.

I realize I'm being a little ridiculous there, but the belief that owners — in an effort to fade the incorrigible greed of players — reluctantly pass on the cost to the hard-working fan is even more ridiculous. In fact, it's the converse that's true: Player salaries have exploded because owners, in response to the sport's popularity, have continued to charge as much as they reasonably could for tickets, and the people who were actually attracting the fans decided they wanted in on the action.

This is not meant to demonize owners: If a product has value to consumers, the producers of that product should derive as much economic benefit as possible from producing it. When fans are unwilling to pay the freight to attend a game, the prices will either plateau or drop. But since that's not happening — baseball is enjoying unprecedented attendance levels these days — expect the prices to continue rising. And, in turn, expect the players to look at the massive revenues produced by baseball, and expect a commensurate increase in wages.

So why are fans still so reflexively anti-player/pro-ownership? I think I've narrowed it down to two possible answers (they are not necessarily exclusive of each other):

1) The media is generally pro-ownership thanks to the pro-authority bias that exists in all forms of media.
This may sound like the same old sports writer baiting from me, but I actually don't even feel a pro-authority bias is worth condemning, because it's so goddamn inevitable. Local beat writers have a much easier time forming relationships with administrators who will be in place for much longer periods of time than the players on the field. Plus, players and writers make for natural adversaries, since writers are often asked to be critical of bad performances and most athletes handle criticism like pre-adolescents. Ownership/management has a much bigger motivation than athletes to maintain a healthy relationship with the media, since it's only the former that really has to concern itself with a bigger picture that involves ticket sales, television coverage and a rather ornery commissioner.

2) The egocentricity of your average American.
I'll only speak for Americans here, but I assume that all human beings on this here planet are as incapable of empathy as Americans. We look at our paycheck and shake our heads. We look at the salary of ballplayers — guys who are playing a game we'd play for free! — and shake our heads even more violently. The envy is understandable. But that doesn't mean it's justified. The bottom line is that we'd play the game for free because we suck at it, and players deserve the same opportunity each of us would demand in our own life: To make as much money as we can for the labor we offer. If someone suggested to you that you should take a pay cut because someone else would be willing to do your job horribly (but gratis!) just to have your corner office, you'd laugh your ass off. Unless, of course, you're so awful yourself that you have no reason to expect job security.

Thanks to this perspective, the vast majority of sports fans are in agreement with the market restrictions that are already in place in sports. Amateur drafts are the rule, and all sports have implemented either a hard or soft cap on the salaries that can be offered to draftees. While free agency is celebrated, no one seems to care that unfettered free agency is almost universally held back until a player is well into or past his prime (and that most players' careers will end before then). Two of the three major American sports leagues employ a salary cap, and my gut tells me most baseball fans would support one in the third.

As Sheehan suggests, the powers that be claim these market restrictions promote "competitive balance," and that's a concept most fans embrace (whether it's actually desirable is a subject for another day). But it's never actually been about competitive balance. It's about the constant financial tug-of-war between the athletes and the owners, and it's never really been a fair fight since owners, by nature, are more experienced in the battlefield that is business and labor issues. Marvin Miller is celebrated because of his ability to win the players a fairer shake, but he's also probably one of the most despised figures in the history of the game for the same reason.

When the signing deadline for draftees arrives in a couple of days, it's almost certain at least one first-rounder will remain unsigned (Allan Dykstra, selected by San Diego) due to a contract disagreement between player and club, and there's likely to be a couple more. Management will tell fans that the player was asking for too much money, though they'll be loathe to qualify that statement. And, on the whole, fans will turn their ire toward the players and lambaste them for being so audacious as to ask for that much money before "earning" it. To this day, J.D. Drew can't step foot in Philadelphia without being excoriated, and all because the Phillies refused to meet the contract demands he clearly outlined before the fucking draft took place. That Drew stuck to his guns and refused to capitulate — which led to him wasting a year of his career in an independent league — requires the sort of fortitude that most would consider admirable in different contexts. But he's one of baseball's least popular players because fans decided to side with what was one of baseball's worst-run franchises instead of the player who, despite being slagged constantly by just about everyone, was worth much more to the Cardinals over the course of his first contract than the $10 million the Phillies refused to pay.

So, essentially: Go kids. Get that money. And don't accept a penny less than you believe you're worth.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Primaterra Primitivo Puglia

Country: Italy
Region: Puglia
Variety: Primitivo (Zinfandel)
Price: $12-$17
Where I purchased it: Costco ($14)

The label claims this wine is "strong, vigorous, with a lot of personality," but if you're imagining it to be anything like the California Zinfandels you've had in the past, you'll be surprised. While you won't find real Italian table wines (vino da tavola) in the States — as the third-class of wines in the country, they're essentially reserved for domestic consumption — this wine will give you a pretty good idea of what you're likely to drink when you visit Italy, minus the slight hint of carbonation that's the trademark of fresh, local wines.

Almost nothing stands out about this wine, either good or bad. It starts off fairly sweet, and doesn't linger on the palatte very long. A slight hint of dryness on the finish is the only indication of the variety's relationship to its robust Zinfandel cousins, but it's gone in a flash. The aftertaste is pleasant and sweet with predominant berry flavors.

Good for: Pretty wide range of foods, though it's the kind of red you'd probably want to pull out with some grilled food like chicken or burgers. Good match for spicy red sauces as well. Light enough that you could drink it on its own.

Buy it again?: Probably not. There's nothing wrong with it, but there are cheaper French and Italian table wines that come to play with a little more in the way of personality. But I wouldn't kick it out of bed, either.

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