Beware of Dogs with Full Bladders.

My little dog Woody has a big dog hatred for the postman.

I have that same deep contempt for the food and wine media – often getting the urge to snarl and pee all over their stories – preferably while they are sitting at their laptops.

There was an article on Slate a week or so ago week by Brian Palmer on why you should be drinking cheap wine. Brian thinks that people should only be drinking cheap (and I mean really cheap – $3 to $6) wine. Palmer states: “there are plenty of reasons to go back to our 1990s habits and to start using 15 bucks to buy four or five bottles instead of just one”. Palmer believes in some sort of wine conspiracy in which wines costing $12 or $15 per bottle are not only a rip off but that people are wasting their money buying wines in this price range because they can’t tell the difference between a $5 wine and a $15 wine  – or even a $30 bottle I presume.

My problem with this article is not only that Palmer is wrong. My issue is that this article is another in an endless series of phony, anti-intellectual, straw-man, anti-elitist wine articles that are contrary – mainly for the sake of being contrary. I am not sure that Palmer even believes half the things he writes about. In a way writing about his article plays into contributing to a sham controversy – one of the main hazards of the media and the internet in particular.

Palmer’s article is misleading. There is just enough correct information in it to be unhelpful to those who are less knowledgeable about wine or who are at the start of their wine learning curve. Palmer chooses to leave out critical information that doesn’t conveniently fit into his premise:  He fails to detail all of the reasons why wines may cost more some places than others (E.g. Pennsylvania, Utah and the ins and outs of state by state pricing); he leaves out information on what it actually costs to put juice in the bottle and how the difference in the level of care that goes into vineyard maintenance and the making of wine at different price points can affect the cost; he doesn’t even mention the negative impact of corporate farming on the environment.

Palmer specifically negates an individual’s ability to learn to distinguish between manufactured, commercial wines and those that are handcrafted and that (ideally) impart a sense of place – something that a $5 wine can never do. To say that at the $12 to $15 price point, variety and the likelihood of improved quality doesn’t improve is disingenuous at best and a lie at worst. Articles like Palmer’s pretend that all there is to wine – is drinking wine you like. In reality, learning to know just what it is that you like in wine can be one of the most difficult things there is to learn. It is more than just knowing what level of crap is acceptable to you – Pepsi or Coke, Sonic or McDonalds, Two Buck Chuck or Yellow Tail.

Wine can be enjoyed and understood on many levels. Sometimes it is simple and easy. Other times it is extraordinarily nuanced and complex. Sometimes it is a little of both. Like so many other things in life – one can dissect it (and talk ad nauseam about it) or you can taste it and just move on. If your idea of great chocolate is Russell Stover – fine – but I think you can do better, appreciate it and still not spend your kid’s college money on your chocolate habit.

Articles like Palmers don’t educate – they pander and misinform.


Nel Centro invites you to join us in welcoming Lilly Lo Cascio of Tasca d’Almerita winery in Vallelunga Pratameno, Sicily. This special event includes reception, dinner, wines and dessert. Chef/owner David Machado will cook a traditional five course meal inspired by the cuisine of Sicily. The menu and selected wines are listed below.

The cost is $85.00 and includes gratuity. The dinner will be held on Thursday, October, 6, 2011 at 6:30 pm.

The photo was taken by Chef Machado when he visited and cooked at Tasca d’Almerita last March, accompanied by Nel Centro barman Giovanni Artale and general manager Daren Hamilton.

Joe Dressner

Joe Dressner, the rough around the edges, individualistic, free thinking wine importer, died on Saturday at the age of 60 due to brain cancer. I only met Joe Dressner a few times. My only real personal connection was when a few years ago my company partnered with him and co-hosted a wine event here in Portland – along with a dozen or so of his producers who had traveled here from France.

The wines in the Dressner portfolio were and are some of my very favorites. For a number of reasons, they had not been in our marketplace for over a year. Just recently a new distributor, PDX Wine, has brought them back into Oregon. While sampling a small selection the other day, I was again struck by how special and unique the wines in the Dressner portfolio are. Tasting them is like falling in love all over again.

I can’t say I ever really knew Joe Dressner, but I am going to miss him. All of us who have loved the wines he introduced to us owe him a debt of gratitude. You could learn more about wine from just tasting a dozen wines in his portfolio than you ever could from any book, person, course or trip.

36 Hours Portland,Ore. – Groundhog Day and the New York Times

I enjoy the New York Times Travel section. It’s not my favorite part of the paper, but it ranks higher than the sports section, style section, weddings and obituaries.

The Times featured  36 Hours in Portland Ore. today – for the umpteenth time. I’m sure that’s good for the local economy. But these “36 Hours” features on Portland read like a scene out of Groundhog Day. Same restaurants, same clichés, same alliteration – same sentences. If it wasn’t for the good vocabulary and the fact it isn’t a reprint from another publication, the article reads like something I would expect from the Oregonian.

But then the Times is not much different than other national publications. Most go to the same sources for information – usually marketing and public relations firms – a dangerous thing to do if you want to avoid Portland’s trademark “follow the pack” mindset. There is nothing wrong with any of the places, restaurants, or suggestions in these 36 Hours Portland, Ore. features. My objection is simply that it’s the same stuff, the same perspective over and over again – that creeping sense that it’s been done before.

What I really would like is to see is some fresh, honest, unpaid for, non-public relations influenced reporting on Portland. The Times and others need some fresh Portland sources.

Probably just wishful thinking – like hoping when the alarm clock goes off at 6:00 am that will be Andie MacDowell next to you in bed.

Is It As Good as Gopher Prairie?

A new trend is developing as a number of restaurants around the United States and Europe are considering closing their doors due to the difficulty involved in trying to compete with Portland, Oregon as the new center of the food universe. Restaurants that have tried to copy the Pacific NW food scene are finding it a thorny task. “We are not quite ready to give it up yet,” says Chef Chris P. Bacon of Sirius in Healdsburg, California. “But trying to match Portland’s casual disregard for attention to detail has been more difficult than we imagined.”

Many owners complain that they find it difficult to break old habits and still feel compelled to perfect menu items and provide a pleasant atmosphere. “What can I say?” said one New Orleans chef. “We can’t compete when it comes to those things that come naturally to so many Portland owner/chefs –mismatched place settings, a hoarder style of ambiance, uncomfortable seating, and lack of experience. Even the servers we hired had been tainted by having eaten or worked in what were great restaurants in their day, both here in the US and around the world. So they lacked the essential obliviousness needed to be successful in a Portland style eatery.”

Some owner/chefs in Europe and NYC complain that their customers can still recognize superior food and that makes replicating a Stumptown experience more difficult. “Once people began to understand that our product was just ok, it then became impossible for them to experience our food as truly incredible – even though we hired people to tell them just that. So we started topping our dishes with poached eggs – even pork belly – but nothing worked. “said Chef Lance Fayeluck of Meiner Dun Restaurant. “Guests expected depth of experience and maturity in food preparations – we just didn’t have it in us,” said the 22-year-old Fayeluck who has owned Meiner Dun for five years.

A fundamental factor in the success of many Portland restaurants is the studied fawning of the food and wine press. Some award-winning restaurants even called the lack of serious food criticism in the Portland market the key to their success. “Bad food writing and the public relations company we hired have made us what we are” said Chris Coe, Chef/Owner of One Phunky Sleaze Joint in SE Portland. “Those two forces really come together in our market and it makes all the difference in the world. It freed us up from menu development and execution and we were able to concentrate on public relations and exposure. I think that is what made our award possible.”

But even long time Northwest success legends like Chicken, Fish, and Burgers Oh My need to be careful. CFBOM was the Restaurant of the Year in 2009 (opening mid December of that year) and a Bored Award winner in 2010. It will close its doors at the end of the month. “I think we lost focus on what made us cool and we made the mistake of adding seats in the dining room – we could seat nine people originally – and a few months ago we increased our seating to fourteen,” said Anna Graham, owner. “Once we had more seats, the media lost interest – and by that time the business was almost 18 months old – so the concept was getting pretty dated.”

Prospective food writers trying to mimic Portland style food writing are turning to Sinclair Lewis’  Main Street to get a feel for small stakes opinions and undemanding boosterism – along with the viciousness they can engender. “Reading Lewis really put me in touch with the narrowness of Portland life in its demand for conformity which is deeply ingrained in the culture,” said Amanda Reckonwith, local food critic. ”I have been able to tap into that conformity and mediocrity in my food writing. It’s really helped – people don’t even need to read my entire reviews anymore – they can just assume they know my opinions. It’s great!” Just as important in the minds of food critics are the many blogs that have arisen both locally and nationally. Local online critic Cody Pendant says, “We feel that the tone of our blog is  important in ensuring that we clearly are expressing a sense of place – a sense of what makes Portland – Portland.  We also want to make sure that readers get a sense of just who we are as well. We aim for a blend of smug self satisfaction and self righteous indignation.”

Local restaurateurs  are hoping that Portland never develops a serious food and wine press. They feel that the emergence of one could endanger the restaurant industry. “Well written food and wine criticism would only serve to make everyone unhappy, said one local chef. “It would put too much pressure on us to be consistent. What is most important is that people be told that what they are eating is great – and actually believe it. We just hope diners and readers never make the effort to consider the source.”

Trending Toward Stupid

“The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.”

*Bertrand Russell – See: Dunning-Krugar effect

Reading about wine on the internet is uninspiring.  I am convinced that in the end, there is very little value in what is on the web regarding wine that hasn’t already been available someplace else for a very long time – only better written. Having access to background information through wine apps is great, assuming that information is accurate (a pretty big leap of faith).  But what bothers me most about internet wine writing is the certainty with which people write about this subject. Wine is a topic that is pretty idiosyncratic and particular. And when one finally gets around to its appreciation – it is purely subjective.

There is a misplaced and unwarranted sense of certainty about the mythology that sustains both the social media in general and the impact that it ultimately has on the enjoyment and appreciation of wine and the wine business specifically. I just don’t buy it. Regardless of the topic, if you approach your subject with some humility, experience teaches you how hard it is to make a definitive statement about anything. The truth in wine always resides in shades of gray (or maybe red and white).

Wine writers keep trying to turn wine into something that it is not. Here is a typical example – Karen MacNeil blogging on the subject of Why Wine Matters: “Wine matters because of this connection. Wine (and food) cradle us in our own humanity. Drinking wine–small as that action may seem–is an affirmation. It reminds us of other things that matter: love, friendship, generosity.”  I can’t argue with the feel good sentiment. It makes me all warm and cuddly. I also feel that way when I scratch my dog. But what do MacNeil’s words mean exactly?

I do not wish to diminish wine in any way. I too have had plenty of “spiritual” experiences enjoying some very special (and even not so special) wines. But I have never experienced a wine that has cradled me in my own humanity, nor have I ever seen anyone else cradled in theirs.  Expecting to have that experience or thinking that you have missed it – is asking too much of wine.

Maybe someone can come up with a shelf talker that can let you know what kind of emotion to expect when drinking a particular bottle – Warm and Fuzzy; Indifference and Triviality; Nausea; Steamy Sexuality; Hold Me Close; Don’t Touch Me with That.

At the end of the day, what we value in what we read is still dependent on experience and trust. But I don’t expect things to change anytime soon on the web – we are still trending toward stupid.

Nel Centro – Dinner with Lorenzo Palla of Loredan Gasparini

Assuming that you have read past newsletters or visited the Guy du Vin website, you must be aware of the fact that I love the wines of Gasparini.

On Wednesday April 20, 2011, you will not want to miss this limited opportunity to enjoy a very special Winemaker Dinner at Nel Centro with Lorenzo Palla, family member and second generation owner of Loredan Gasparini Estate. Chef/Owner David Machado has crafted a traditional five course meal focusing on the cuisine of the Veneto region of Italy.

Located due north of Venice, the historic estate of Venegazzu produces some of the most famous red wines in northern Italy. Their fame comes from the production of the Capo di Stato. This wine was served at official events in Venice and was once mistaken by Charles De Gaulle as a great St. Emilion at a state dinner. In order to honor the former President of the French Republic for his very flattering mistake, wine maker Count Loredan Gasparini dedicated the wine to Charles De Gaulle.

These are very special wines. We enjoy both the 2006 Capo di Stato and the 2006 Venegazzu della Casa. Both wines are models of what anyone outside of Bordeaux that produces Cabernet or Cabernet Blends should be striving for. In fact, every Cabernet producer in California, Washington, and Oregon should be required to taste this wine so they might get an idea of what their own wines lack so profoundly. And the sparkling wines are benchmarks for sparkling wine anywhere outside of Champagne.

This is going to be a very enjoyable evening – with great food and great wine. This is one wine dinner you should not miss! Click here for details or call 503.484.1099 for reservations.