Archive for the ‘Things American’ Category

Madeira and the 4th of July revisited: More about America’s “First and Most Patriotic Wine”

July 3, 2015

written by Michael Oudyn

“I should prefer to an ordinary death, being immersed with a few friends in a cask of Madeira.”
Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography



The 4th of July is here and so I once again suggest that we patriotic Americans celebrate our birthday with a glass of Madeira, “America’s first” and ” greatest patriotic” wine. Last 4th of July I wrote about Madeira‘s relation to Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock,  the Constitutional Convention, the Louisiana Purchase, etc.

Since then more curious Founding Fathers/Madeira lore has come my way. Here is some of it.

This post’s lead quote comes notorious Madeira lover Benjamin Franklin who was said to have had more than a thousand bottles of Madeira in his private stash. In his Autobiography Franklin relates how “three common flies…that had been drowned in the Madeira bottle…fell into the first glass (of Madeira)” that was being poured at a friend’s house. Having heard that “drowned flies were capable of being revived by the sun” world-renowned scientist Franklin set up an impromptu experiment. When (more…)

“You can’t tell a wine by its label. Or can you?”

October 18, 2014

written by Michael Oudyn

Glasses at Buellton tasting

Hundreds of wines await, so let’s grab a glass and… check out those labels!

After Paso Robles (see previous post) I was a little wined out. So I grabbed a glass and set out to savor… the labels. Here are four I found intriguing.  Some because of their catchy and original graphics.  Some because they were in some way true to the winery’s story and essence.  Some just tickled my fancy.   Here are excerpts from interviews with the winery´s representatives.

urban legend

URBAN LEGENDS CELLARS: Oakland, California

“I’m Marilee Shaffer. I’m part of the winemaking team at Urban Legends Cellars Winery in Oakland.” (more…)

Absinthe, part 1: Alive, well, and legal in Maine, a visit to Tree Spirits Distillery

September 30, 2014

Written by Michael Oudyn

While vacationing this summer in Maine I came across an add in the local paper. Just up the road in Oakland someone was making

The "decadent muse" is back.

The “decadent muse” is back.

absinthe, “the decadent goddess.” Yes, “the green fairy,” the drink of choice of Parisian fin-de-siècle bohemia was back, alive and kicking, and once again legal. The notorious “muse extraordinaire” could be got at Tree Spirit Winery and Distillery. So off we went to check it out.  The place which housed the tasting room and the distillery was very small, not much bigger than a garage. We sniffed the herbs used in absinthe which it turns out don’t smell like much of anything until soaked in alcohol.

Tree Spirit's traditional absinthe maker

Tree Spirit’s traditional absinthe maker

We admired the traditional absinthe maker. We tasted the green fairy with the traditional four parts water, which reduces the alcohol level to 16%, and some sugar, which cuts the bitterness of the wormwood. Well I really liked the stuff, and the whole mystique.  Then we were treated to a fine, informative  tour of the place with the owner, Bruce Olson, who gave us a  little of the history of absinthe, a bit of his own personal story, and a peek into the workings of America’s alcohol and tobacco bureaucracy.   Here are some excerpts from that interview.


Llamas in the Vineyards of Paso Robles: Wine Bloggers visit Wild Horse Winery

July 31, 2014

Written by Michael Oudyn


I share a snack with Floyd, head of the Wild Horse Winery clan of llamas

I share a snack with Floyd, head of the Wild Horse Winery clan of llamas

We from the Wine Bloggers Convention 2014 are at the Wild Horse Winery and Vineyards, in Paso Robles, California.We have sampled a few tasty high-octane Zinfandels at the neighboring Dusi Ranch.  We have had an excellent buffet lunch and  tasted a few more wines, some unique. Like their “Pink Floyd” a highly original rosé blend of pinot noir, cab franc, and sangiovese named in honor of Floyd, the godfather of Wild Horse Winery’s  hard-working llama clan. Unlike the brutish llama, I have done very little spitting today; I am ready to meet Floyd face-to-face.

“Llamas in the vineyards?”

“Of course. To protect the sheep.”

“To protect the sheep?”

“Yes, from the coyotes.”


The villain of the story, the  coyote

The villain of the story, the coyote

Let’s let the winery explain: “We actually have three llamas… Floyd, the (more…)

Madeira: “America’s First” and “Most Patriotic” Wine for July 4th

June 28, 2014
Toasting July the 4th  with Madeira and Tom

July the 4th with Madeira and Jefferson

written by Michael Oudyn

July the 4th is just around the corner. So what should we patriotic Americans be drinking to celebrate our birthday?

Well, Madeira, the fabulous fortified wine from off the coast of Africa, gets my vote. Called “America’s first wine” and “America’s great patriotic wine” Madeira was immensely popular during colonial times and keeps popping up at key points in our early formative years.

One reason for its popularity was a tax loophole. British law forbade the colonists from importing goods directly from Europe; they had to pass through England and pay taxes and shipping costs. But Madeira was conveniently located off the coast of Africa and therefore exempt. And we all love a tax break; this much hasn’t changed. (more…)

Robert Parker and the rise of the great American taste bud

September 18, 2010

written by Michael Oudyn

Robert M. Parker is still the  most influential wine critic on the planet.  His power  is mind-numbing.  “When Parker spits, the world listens.”   So, where does the secret lie? His personal traits? Chance historical events? “The spirit of his times”?  I pulled Elin McCoy’s The Rise of Robert M. Parker, Jr. and the Reign of American Taste off the shelf  looking for answers and this is exactly what McCoy, international wine judge and wine columnist of Bloomberg Markets,  explores.

She portrays Parker, both the man and the myth, as typically American.  Raised on meatloaf and soft drinks in Monkton, (more…)

Wine Book Review:Billionaire’s Vinegar

March 18, 2010


written by Michael Oudyn

In 1985 a bottle of 1787 Bordeaux wine is sold at Christie´s auction house for $156,000.   Benjamin Wallace tells the story. It starts with Thomas Jefferson, America´s third president and first world-class wine geek.  He is leisurely travelling through France´s major wine regions compulsively taking notes despite the awesome challenges facing his new country and the mounting turmoil of revolutionary Paris. At one point he methodically orders caseloads of the great wines of the time (Haut-Brion, Latour, Margaux, Lafite) but, due to the political chaos, they never arrive. Or do they? Fast forward to the 1980s. A substantial stash of 18th century wine is found in Jefferson´s old Paris neighborhood. The bottles are engraved with Jefferson´s initials (“Th. J.”).They find their way into the hands of secretive German wine expert Hardy Rodenstock who keeps the facts  hazy.  The resulting mystery gives rise to dark rumours of Nazi bunkers turned wine cellars and/or smuggling rings from Communist Russia. Of course none of this is in the catalog description, but it all adds to the mystique–and dollar value—of the Jefferson wines. At the auction Kip (more…)

Persimmon Solera: Organic wild-fruit sherry from Illinois

February 28, 2010

Written by Michael Oudyn

I was at the Wine Pleasures´ Wine Tourism Congress near Barcelona. This is serious cava country and we visited local winemakers and tasted Irish whiskeys and Catalan bubblies; Italian, Hungarian, and Rumanian reds; local eno-innovations  from Terra Alta, Rueda, and Alt Penedes.

So what am I writing about? You guessed it. Persimmon Solera, a fruit wine made in the Spanish sherry style in the southern Illinois town of Birds. No, this is not some joke, but rather a sweet dessert wine from Brian and Joy Neighbor´s White Owl Winery. And it is not just some weird curiosity; Persimmon Solera has won the award for excellence at the Illinois Governor’s Cup, a silver medal at the AWS Wine Challenge at Vienna, and a bronze medal at the Japan Wine Challenge where it was one of only ten American prize winners. (more…)

Obama and the “White Revolution”

November 23, 2009

written by Michael Oudyn

Obama "White Revolution" Rioja tshirt

“White Revolution” Rioja style

I was covering the Wine Future congress in Logroño, Spain with It was being billed as “the greatest wine congress ever.”  Wine´s  heavy hitters  and glitterati were present: Robert Parker, Jancis Robinson, Gary Vaynerchuck, and Barack Obama.  President Obama? Well, yes. His  “yes, we can”  face was everywhere: on T-shirts, posters, everywhere.  But with a new-twist second slogan: “The White Revolution.”   Our first black president linked to a white revolution?  Was this some kind of weird, surreal image rip-off?  Had I wandered  nto the Rioja chapter of the KKK by mistake?  Was last night´s red Rioja messing with my head?

None of the above.  Not only were these two slogans a brilliant bit of catch-your-attention marketing, they actually made coherent sense. I interviewed Ricardo Amarbarri of Castillo de Maetierra a family-owned (more…)

What do our politicians drink?

September 23, 2009

written Michael Oudyn

Francois Rabelais, the bawdy 16th century satirical novelist and wine philosoGeorge-Bush-Toastpher says “When I think, I drink.  When I drink I think.” (read previous post)   Well, sometimes when I drink, I think about drinking.  Okay “thinking” may be a bit glorified. “Idle speculation”?

Anyway, the Alabama pornographic-wine-label bruhaha (read previous post)  and a nice merlot from St. Emilion got me and some friends “thinking” about wine drinking and politics.  Hubert de Montille,the Burgundy winemaker and one of the salt-of-the-earth heroes of the great wine documentary/ melodrama “Mondovino”  came up.  This free thinker, when not stubbornly standing up to the evil forces of wine one-worldism, is a bit of a philosopher; “Wine goes hand-in-hand with progressive (more…)