Monthly Archives: November 2012

“Winespeak”: In Vino Veritas

Wine Amphorae, Pompeii, 79A.D. (Courtesy: Victoria-Albert Museum)

“Winespeak:” The art of impressing others with your wine knowledge and expertise by using arcane, florid, and over-the-top language to describe both the wine and the ritual of consuming it.”

I just made that up, but I think it’s close enough for our purposes.

In 1987, wine expert Frank J. Prial, wrote that “Winespeak can be traced to the Gothic piles of Oxbridge where, in the 19th century, certain dons, addled by claret, bested one another in fulsome tribute to the grape.”

Florid references to wine go back 7,400 years. The Bible tells how Noah took vine cuttings onto the ark and planted vineyards as soon as the land surfaced again.

The Greeks and the Romans reveled in wine, and even had a god, Bacchus, who both watched over the grape and enjoyed the occasional quaff himself.

In 74 A.D., the Roman historian, Pliny the Elder, visited the doomed Pompeii, buried by Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D., and reviewed their wines. He wrote that Caecuban wine, from Latium, was the best, but no longer available. The good stuff always goes first. The then current wine choice was Falernian, from the slopes of Mt. Falernus. It was an amber colored, white wine, sweet, with an alcoholic content of 15% – 17% (vs. today’s 13%). Pliny recommended mixing it with water to dilute the sweetness and avoid hangovers.

Storefront public house abounded in Pompeii, and wine price lists and testimonials were written on the walls. Mulsum wine was said to be “the drink of Zeus.” How’s that for a celebrity endorsement? One bar in Pompeii posted this wine list, based on a bronze Roman coin called the “as” (which I roughly estimate at .25 – .50 in US modern currency):

“For one ‘as’ you can drink wine.

For two ‘as’ you can drink the best.

For four ‘as’ you can drink Falernian.”

There are modern era vineyards now that claim to have rediscovered the secret of Falernian, and are offering it for sale to a 21st Century clientele.

There are also references to Mamertime wine, from Messina. It was served by the Emperor Julius Caesar at his public banquets. It was a good wine, and  people drank it freely. No one complained, for obvious reasons, but current wine scholars consider it the “Two Buck Chuck” of its day.

Wine has a lot of history behind it, and people today still fill the need to talk about it in esoteric terms. But what is left to be said? You can get away with “…an interesting little vintage, and I’m amused by its pretensions…” only so many times.

I have decided to address this major societal issue. I have created my own “Winespeak Buzzword Matrix.”

If you already understand that a good wine need not be strained through bread, know the difference between a cork stopper and a screw-off cap, never drink anything from the original paper bag, and can tell a red from a white just by looking at it, you are ready for the next step.

Never again will you ask to see the fortified wine list, order Sparkling Thunderbird, or request “Whit-ay,” hoping your companions won’t realize you’re asking for “White.” Your awkward days are over. Using my “Winespeak Buzzword Matrix” will make you sound like the oenophile that Ernest and Julio Gallo meant you to be.

Here’s how it works: Pick any 3 numbers between 0 and 9 and you can come up with appropriate descriptive comments that are guaranteed to intimidate your average neighborhood wine snob. As you grow in wisdom and knowledge, you can toss in a few references to Cote Chalonnaise in Burgundy Country, Haut-Medoc in Bordeaux, and the Chenin Blanc grape grown on the low, chalky hills of the LoireRiver at Tours. Never forget the lingering after-taste of Petrus. That’s the only wine Frank Sinatra drank. Frank said you could get a late dinner reservation in any restaurant in the world by simply saying: “My party will drink only Petrus.” It goes in the better clubs today for $3,000. to $5,000. a bottle.

Ain’t nobody going to hassle you, buddy. Behold:

0        Elegant                          0        Opulent                0        Finish

1        Oaky                                1        Aristocratic          1        Overtones

2        Classic                           2         Plummy               2        Aroma

3        Distinctive                   3          Earthy                  3        Flavor

4        Fragrant                         4      Intense                 4        Finish

5        Spicey                             5        Robust                 5        Body

6        Meaty                             6        Textured             6        Character

7        Delicate                          7        Scented                 7       Bouquet

8        Crisp                              8        Contemporary     8        Bloom

9        Subtle                            9        Flinty                       9        Nuance

You might start with your Social Security number: Your first 3 digits, “030”, becomes “Elegant Earthy Finish.” Your telephone exchange, “285”, becomes “Classic Contemporary Body.” If your age is “102”, you can rave about the “Oaky Opulent Aroma.”

If anybody starts to wise up, just take home a wine list, and add some new terms of endearment to your Matrix. I found these updates recently:

A       Deep                              A       Complex              A       Soul

B      Vibrant                          B       Layered                B       Nose

C      Dusty                             C       Sensual                 C       Vintage

There is just no end to it all. You can even write and memorize little paragraphs (or lift them from wine columns) and create your own “Wine-Libs”: “We wine lovers quickly realize that whether it be the (3 numbers) of an Alsace, the (3 numbers) of a Loire, of the (3 numbers) of a Rhone, the sampling process is of paramount importance and is the responsibility of the host.”

Then, while you have them on the ropes, wrap it all up with a little toast. Perhaps something taken directly from the Bible  to make you feel better about drinking in the first place: “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake.” (Timothy 5:23).

There will be no stopping you now. Salud!

*”In Vino Veritas” = “In wine there is Truth.”

Be careful: That’s a warning as well as a promise.


Wine Speak



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The New Reality: Bread, Milk, and Other Complications

When I was a kid, my mother would send me to Tucker Brothers, the neighborhood grocery store, with instructions to pick up “…a bottle of milk and a loaf of bread.” I knew exactly what that meant. It was a straight forward instruction that required no explanation or discussion. Not so today.

I recently visited our local mega food market to claim a similar order, and found over 65 types of milk, and nearly a hundred different kinds of bread. In the milk cooler we have skim, 1%, 2%, lactose free (in a variety of strengths, some with extra calcium), fat free, Buttermilk, Silk, all in a variety of dairies and brands, and we haven’t even reached the shelf with chocolate, coffee, and strawberry milks, – all premixed for the busy family’s convenience.

As for bread, there’s a variety of wheat, oats, rye, honey this-and-that, multi-grain, light, low cal, gluten free, dietetic,  thin sliced, sandwich size, sourdough, Italian, organic, oatmeal, pockets, bagels, roll-ups, buns, and rolls (dinner and finger). Let’s not forget cinnamon, cinnamon with raisin, and plain old raisin bread.

Now I’m told to pick up “…a 2%, lactose free milk, in the blue carton, with extra calcium, and don’t forget to check the expiration date.” What? No lot number?

And it’s not just the supermarket where our lives have been needlessly complicated by choice. Go into Starbuck’s some day and just order “coffee.” They’ll look at you as a refugee from some far away place and time; or, try ordering a “doughnut” at Dunkin’ Donuts. They’ll wave their hand across the sweeping display cases of doughnut offerings and suggest that you “pick one.”

The rest of our lives are spent in similar unnecessary complication: The IRS tax forms are so complicated that nearly 80% of all American tax payers have to hire a tax professional. The Wall Street collapse that cost so many jobs and pensions was partially due to greed, but also due to complex financial instruments and mortgage packages so complicated that neither the people selling them, let alone the people buying them, fully understood what they were doing.

Congress tries to pass reasonable sounding laws and regulations that most of us can support, only to learn they have riders on them authorizing someone’s home state $50 million dollars to study why dogs bark and bees buzz. So, the responsible person has to vote against the entire package, and the partisan fights are on.

A friend of mine in state office tells me of the stacks of bills he gets delivered each day which he is supposed to read, understand, and vote on. As one national politician said in a rare moment of candor: “We’ll understand what they’re about after we pass them.” Yes, and maybe we’ll understand that gas is flammable after we pour some on a fire.

I have a PC using Microsoft’s Word Software. They keep updating it with features and benefits I don’t want or need. They change, if not discontinue, the standard I had worked with and make me use my time to learn their new, profit increasing, more complicated system. I don’t want features and benefits. I want simplicity, consistency, and support.

And that goes for my phone too. I use it to send and receive phone calls. I don’t want it to be a camera, a music player, a flashlight, a texting machine and I will never use it to watch television or movies. I just want a telephone.

Why is all this happening? The first reason is because we can do it. I read recently where the computing power contained within one of those talking Hallmark holiday greeting cards exceeds the computer capacity of the Eagle space module that landed on the moon in 1969. If they can make computer chips that cheaply, it’s no wonder they’re in everything from car keys to sneakers to wine coolers.

The second reason is sales and competition. If you’re making electric camping lanterns, you better add an AM/FM radio, a highway blinker, siren, and a compressor to inflate tires before your competition does. After all, you’re only adding pennies to your manufacturing costs and dollars to your sales price and profit margins.

The third reason is natural curiosity and the innate human instinct to forge ahead. If we can build industrial robots, we can build them for the home too. They can do the daily menial chores, and by night we can make them sing and dance and do entertaining impressions. Oh, and maybe, after we’re in bed, they can just sit there in the dark for the rest of the night and wipe out any evil doer who breaks in. Cool.

When I started work in 1960, our company hired a Futurist who told us that by the time we were in the 1980’s, we would be looking for additional ways to keep ourselves busy because, while our income would be steady and sufficient, most of what we’d be doing would have been taken over by technology. We’d be living like royalty. Well, that didn’t happen.

Then in the 1970’s , I went to a trade show exhibition of the “paperless office.” Everything would be recorded on computer files and not a shred of paper would be found in the modern office. My boss commented: “We’ll see the paperless toilet before we see the paperless office.” He called that one right.

In the turbulent 1990’s, we were told: “You will never see less change in your business and private lives than you see today. It only gets faster and more complicated.” That one has worked out.

And, of course, medical science promised us healthier lives and longer life spans. They delivered on some of that. Our kids don’t get polio or TB like they once did, but where did autism, invulnerable viruses, and peanut butter allergies come from? As for extended life, they can indefinitely prolong the last 10% of life. Myself, I would have preferred a few extra years in my prime.

Where does it all lead? Some fear it all leads down the garden path to a sheer cliff, with rocks at the bottom. That’s not fair. More likely, it leads to more discoveries, improved processes, more knowledge, more advancements, and more changes at an ever increasing rate. It’s neither bad nor good. It depends on what we decide to adopt, what we do with it, and how we handle it thereafter.

All we can do is be aware, keep up as best we can, read, listen, question, discuss, and train ourselves to better judge the outcome and value vs. the cost and complexity.

This is the New Reality, and it’s here to stay.

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Facts, Statistics, and Other Lies for Our Time

“Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics!”  Mark Twain accused 19th century politicians of this, just as Disraeli accused 19th British parliamentarians. There is not much new under the sun. It might, however, have grown worse.

We live in an age when Trust has been threatened at almost every level of our existence. We have been lied to by our governments, churches, employers, unions, lawyers, drug companies, the military, media, family members, and the people next door. We have grown cynical; but, as Voltaire famously said: “Cynicism is betrayed Idealism.”

This is partly due to the fact that we know more about what’s going on topside, and around the world, than ever before in human history. We have a 24 hour news cycle, social media, whistle blowers galore, and the ability to fact check almost anybody and anything we take the time to Google. As new technologies bring us more information, and new techniques to check out that information, the situation will become more intense. We run the risk of sensory overload.

It is a bad time to tell each other outright lies. First, because it’s wrong. Second, because we’ll get caught. But as we have seen in the recent political debates, one does not have to tell outright lies. One can misrepresent an issue by simply massaging, or “spinning” it, to achieve the intended purpose. It can also be done by telling the truth, but only that part of the truth which supports a position. I’m reminded of the old saw: “Statistics don’t lie, but if you present them properly, it’s almost as good.”

For openers, it really helps to have a competent and devoted staff. These people can sift through hours of taped speeches, transcripts  and interviews, looking for the slip or error that can used to raise questions in the public’s mind. Everything anybody says, writes, and does is on record somewhere, waiting to be discovered.

As I watched the recent political debates, I jotted down several ways that someone can gain an edge, and how the truth can be manipulated to serve one’s purpose:

1. Quote out of context: This is the most common effort to deceive. You just take one isolated phrase or sentence, regardless of the language and intent surrounding it, and quote it to make your point. Suppose I was a candidate and I said: “There’s no reason for me to be a citizen if I can’t vote, exercise my God-given freedoms, and support the Constitution.”

You might report: “Candidate renounces America saying, ‘There’s no reason for me to be a citizen…'”

Or, you might try a teaser line: “‘There’s no reason for me to be a citizen.’ Did candidate renounce America?”

2. Pick the most favorable study: We all know that God made too many MBAs, and there’s not enough useful work for them to do. So, they find work  like annoying people at home during the dinner hour conducting public opinion polls. Suppose they asked someone: “Will you vote for Senator Blitz?” And the correspondent replied: “I’ll vote for Senator Blitz when it snows in July.” Given the anti-Blitz organization the pollster might be working for, they could record that answer as: “I’ll vote for Senator Blitz….”

You can find all sorts of such biased survey efforts on-line and on YouTube. I recently saw two well made videos which proved conclusively that a certain presidential candidate is “The Anti-Christ” (supported by Biblical prophecy no less; taken out of context naturally). There was another video on there proving, also conclusively, that this same candidate was really Osama Bin Laden, who had faked his own death and was now vying for the Oval Office). As they say: “Really?”

You just find the survey that you like on-line, the one that plays to your own fantasies, opinions and biases, and quote it loud and often.

3. Take a new view of the statistics, or rebut them with anecdotal evidence. Let’s say I’m mayor of a city of 50,000 people, and that due to my administration’s efforts, 99% of the adult citizenry is employed, housed, cared for, and well fed. I’m untouchable, right? Not at all. You just show a picture of one hard luck family and say (truthfully): “Over 500 families in our city, our friends, and neighbors, are going to bed hungry and cold tonight.” That 1% who are below the line might well do me in.

4. Make stuff up. I read somewhere that over 92% of all statistics quoted in presentations, debates, and arguments are made up on the spot. I just made that up, but the point is valid. Why would someone do that? To prove a point or win an argument, knowing that somehow their “win” tonight may be headline news tomorrow, while the later correction next week may appear on page 6.

Think the statistic through. What if I told you that 50% of all marriages end in divorce but, worse yet, the other 50% end in death?

5.There is a dark side to everything.  Find it. Emphasize the downside. When it comes to your record, Point with Pride. When it comes to your opponent’s record, View with Alarm. Remember the joke about how Jesus’ enemies reported His walking on the Sea of Galilee: “Alleged Savior Can’t Swim!”

6. Take umbrage at accusations you  cannot answer. Drawing oneself up in a dignified way and responding: “That you would say something like that about my staff and supporters, family and friends, and the American public, is offensive and  indefensible. I won’t dignify that with an answer.”

7. Create a Strawman: Exaggerate your opponent’s position on some controversial issue, and then attack your own creation. Let’s say your opponent favors a path to citizenship for undocumented aliens. One might say: “My opponent supports illegal immigration. Maybe he thinks we should just throw open the borders and let everyone come here. Maybe he thinks it’s fair to punish the legitimate immigrants who have followed our laws and tried to come here in a responsible and fair way. What happens if everybody comes here as they please? There will be no jobs, more crime, overcrowded cities, and you won’t be able to complain about it because no one speaks English!”

8. Attack the speaker: If you can’t attack the message, attack the messenger: “Isn’t that typical of a man who moved to Canada to escape serving his county? A self-proclaimed intellectual who flunked out of  college? A “family values” man, with 3 failed marriages behind him?”

9. Go for the one-liner: People love a crushing line, especially one that seems spontaneous: Lloyd Bentsen’s, “You’re no Jack Kennedy,” is a classic example. As was Ronald Reagan’s “There you go again.” Don’t overdo it. Such lines are a rich spice and cannot be overused, but having a few in reserve never hurts.

10. Finally, wrap yourself in the flag, faith and family. Back in the Fifties, they used to say: “Support Mom, Apple Pie, and the Flag. Viciously attack the Killer Shark.” Thank everybody in sight. Remember to honor “those who serve.” Toast freedom, opportunity, and remind everyone to keep God and Country first in their hearts and minds.

Smile, look confidant (as though you’ve won), and stay on for a bit to press the flesh. Then go home and get out a news release heralding your victory: After all,  you won.

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