Rich Man, Pour Man

229051346_8251b9a91dMemorable dining experiences can usually be attributed to several factors, great company, amazing food and wine, or something intangible that makes the night unforgettable.  But when you get all three rolled into one, well, I have one word to describe it…magic.

I turned 44 yesterday and while not a milestone birthday for those who keep score, I did decide to go out to dinner with very close friends in Venice (aka Hipsterville, USA).  Ah, to be the aging father of two with an 8:00pm reservation on a Thursday night…

We dined at Gjelina, a dining establishment so trendy the need for a sign outside the door is rendered moot.  And given the off-spelling of the name (not to mention its unpronouncability), I can only assume the owner’s intentions were to force older people like me to navigate the world wide interweb, where we’d no doubt stumble with the odd letter arrangement and never even find the website, leaving only the beautiful and young to part with their spare recessionary change.

Lucky for me the guy who made our reservation is 34.  Had they known he was also bringing three 40-somethings, lets just say we’d still be waiting for a table right now some 12 hours later.

For all its velvet rope posturing, Gjelina is a dark paneled, small plates cornicopia of culinary wonder, from the Mozza-esque pizzas to the garlicky broccoli, the salt and pepper frites to a spinach salad so amazing I squirreled away a piece of the ruffage into Linda’s purse and have since planted it in my backyard (keep you posted).

The wine list is eclectic and reasonable, from the sparkling Vouvray we started the evening off with to the light but flavorful Burgundy we enjoyed through most of the meal.

The viticultural highlight of the night though was a half-bottle of 1999 Chateau d’Yquem brought by my partner and noted Bon Vivant, and was the perfect ending to an up till then perfect evening.

Our waiter, an impossibly good looking Adrian Grenier look alike, brought the bottle to the table with four dessert glasses and a smile on his face.  He recounted to us how excited everyone behind the bar was at this bottle and how the owner/sommelier would love to try some.

Now it’s good form, I believe, to share a special wine you’ve brought to a restaurant with either the chief wine geek or even ones server, but it’s usually something the customer initiates, not the other way around.  I didn’t give it much thought at the time, but of course we were happy to oblige.

“Adrian” comes back with another dessert glass and proceeds to pour himself a FULL glass – this mind you from our HALF bottle.  I didn’t say anything – no one did – but as soon as he thanked us and floated away we all looked at each other as if to say, “did you just see that?”  We were shocked – but in a friendly, incredulous way.

He returned to let us know that our corkage fee and dessert charges were waved because of our nice gesture.

Yeah, like, no shit, I’d gladly cut $30.00 off a bill to drink $80.00 worth of wine too…

In the establishment’s defense the owner did come over (with plenty of d’Yquem left in his glass) to thank us personally for sharing our bottle with him and frankly if the food wasn’t so spectacular and I didn’t plan on reminding him of who I am when I call to make another reservation with the expectation of a red carpet being rolled out for us next time, I might have railed more against the gall, whether knowing or not, to take so much of a customer’s wine.

But the restaurant is a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED destination.

One last note about the d’Yquem, specifically for the wine’s importer Liquid Link.  This is the sticker they’ve placed on the back of the bottle, “Liquid Link, the Wine Source imports French Bordeaux.  The Aromas and flavors of this wine are Bordeaux’s Magic.  Enjoy!”

I understand the excitement of being able to import one of the oldest, most prestigious wine brands the world has ever known and maybe I’m being presumptuous here, but it’s not as if you’re selling a wine like this at Ralph’s.  Thus the cheesy salesmenship on a wine as historic as d’Yquem makes them look as if they don’t know what they’re doing…

Am I being douchy here???

Published in: on May 29, 2009 at 9:34 am  Comments (6)  

The Battle Loyal

One cannot turn on the news, read a paper, or tool around the internet without coming across some dire account of the country’s financial meltdown.  And to be sure, whereas I’m a firm cynic when it comes to the information the media sends our way (if it bleeds, it leads), this crisis is real and it’s hurting all but those for whom money is no object – which reminds me of a great anecdotal story…

An old friend, and by old I mean, I knew him a long time ago but have not seen or heard from him in years, once attended a play his brother was in and spied Steven Spielberg in the audience.  Being an aspiring filmmaker he approached the famed director who was friendly and cordial and they began chatting.  During the conversation Spielberg’s then wife, Amy Irving (that dates this story, huh?) came over and asked her husband for some money to buy a drink.

The director searched his pockets for his wallet, which he had obviously left behind.  But in that little mini pocket in his jeans – what is that pocket really for anyway – he found, crumpled and showing signs of a washing or two, a fifty dollar bill.

It perfectly illustrates those that have to think about money and those that don’t.

My bigger point is addressed in a recent New York Magazine article that describes how the downturn in the economy is affecting NYC’s fancy eateries, best exemplified by empty tables, easier than ever to get reservations or in the worst case, closings and bankruptcy filings.

Sirio Maccioni, the famed restauranteur has been sending messages to his regular customers, hoping they’ll find a night to come in, something they’ve been neglecting as their net worth has presumably plummeted.

We’ve felt this one level beyond Le Cirque’s as less diners for them mean less wine sales, which in turn means our distributors are buying less wine from us (note: we do not sell our wines in Le Cirque, I was just illustrating the point).

But before the media deems all extravagent spending a thing of the past, I’d argue that it’s not the overspending that has hurt us all, but rather the excess on things that did not warrant such large outlays.

Qualifying for a mortgage on a house you can’t afford as opposed to say, having a meal at LeCirque you will remember all your life – and I know this firsthand.  Wasting $50.00 on a bottle of mediocre wine, as opposed to buying a 2005 Bordeaux for $600, the year of your child’s birth that you’ll open with them on their 21st birthday.

Some things are worth the money and people like Maccioni has worked his life to create a one of kind dining experience for all who walk through the door of one of his restaurants.  Many a winemaker has poured their souls into the bottle and that is sometimes reasonably reflected in the price tag.

Yes, things are bad.  They really are.  And you can get a lot of enjoyment in life without spending even one dollar.

But if you are going to reach into your wallet, I say be loyal to those who have come through for you in the past, those who have enhanced your life in ways you couldn’t do for yourself, that hotel, that special restaurant, that wine.

For if we don’t, when the economy finds some stability again – and it will (I’m also an optimist) – those people may have already closed up shop.  And that would be a shame…

Published in: on May 20, 2009 at 12:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

We the Jury

Even before getting into the wine business I spent a lot of time in Napa (my wife’s from Marin) and consistently commented how I never, ever saw a CHP or Police cruiser along Highway 29, the main road that flows into Napa and its surrounding burgs.

The observation was a simple one, wouldn’t/couldn’t the men in their black & whites cruise up and down the road, pulling over people who had been drinking and fill up their quota of tickets in about an hour each day, then go home to be with their kids?

Naturally, the conspiracy theorist in me was sure this practice was not implemented was because it’d be bad for business.  Start arresting the paying customers for driving under the influence and well, as traffic increased in court, it would decrease in tasting rooms.

Jury Selection

This was on my mind again when becoming part of the criminal justice system after being called for jury duty last week here in LA.  I can tell you the process, having never served, is about what you’d expect, a motley collection of prospective jurors (your humble blogger included) gathering for the right of passage know as civic duty.  All the usual suspects were there, the green carded citizen for whom English is probably not even their third language, the hot shot businessman who spends the entire time in the jury selection room wheeling and dealing in an otherwise silent room in full view of the sign which reads, “Please respect your fellow jurors and use your cellphones outside.”

You didn’t hear this from me but if you own Apple stock, SELL.

And of course, the person for whom jury duty is such an inconvenience that they’ll say just about anything to get out of service.  Give them a reason to claim an exemption, and they’ll try and squeeze through any hole.  Financial – my husband and I just lost our jobs.  Caring for someone else from 8am-5pm – I’m home schooling my kids and my 80-year old mother.  Prejudice about the case – what’s the charge again, I’m sure I’m for it.

Someone even claimed to know the defendant was guilty because, “he wouldn’t have been arrested if he wasn’t.” To which the judge replied, do you feel that way for all crimes – murder, assault, rape – if they’ve been accused, are they guilty?  “You have a point, but I think this guy is guilty.”

Word to all – except that waste of human space – pray you are never sitting in the defendant’s chair – these are your peers, people…

At some point during the jury selection I realized the case was a DUI and although I wanted to serve, figured either the defense or state would not want someone in the alcohol biz to be helping decide the case.

Turns out they liked me, they really liked me!!!

The Trial

According to the facts, the defendant was stopped at 2:30 am on the 101 Freeway after CHP noticed him straddling the lanes.  He did okay on his FST’s (field sobriety tests for you layman) but not good enough that he wasn’t arrested and brought in to take a breath test.  The test, administered an hour later registered a .13 twice and the accused was booked on suspicion of DUI and driving with a BA level above .08.

The state called two witnesses, the CHP officer and a criminologist who explained FST’s, absorbtion rates, accuracy of ECIR machine tests, etc.  All straightforward testimony, all believable.  The state called one witness, a hired gun (paid $2500 for an hour’s work – having never met the defendant and only looking at the police report – who testified that based on  the FST report, the defendant probably had a BAC level of .04-.06, making him then innocent of the first charge of DUI.

Two days of testimony later we go into the room.

The Deliberation

After being selected as the foreman (no doubt for my boyish good looks and raffish charm) we discussed the case for about an hour before I called a hands up vote that came up unanimously, GUILTY on both counts.

The Aftermath

I followed the judge’s instructions to not discuss the case, visit the scene of the crime or do any investigating on my own via the internet but after getting back from court on Thursday, I immediately went to Facebook and searched the guilty parties name.   He came up first on the list – on a public page no less – and I kid you not, this can’t be made up – in every photo the person had on their page, there is a drink in their hand – even one with them passed out on the floor with a proud comment by them describing the scene.

First I laughed, not only at how dumb this person is (have fun trying to get a job with your DUI conviction and your obvious alcohol problem, but also because I then knew we did the right thing.

But that humor was quickly replaced by anger, that this person flaunts their stupidity in the rest of our faces, as if to say, the law doesn’t apply to me – and that the day I kill someone you love, maybe, but a small maybe, I’ll learn my lesson.

So now I’m rethinking the merits of letting people drive up in Napa (if in fact they are lenient about allowing people to drive after hitting the wineries).  But even so, we as individuals have to take responsibility for our actions on the road when we’ve had even one drink.

And when we get our long hoped for tasting room, I’m going to make deals with limo companies, taxis and our guests, giving them discounts for *not* driving after tasting our wines.

It’ll be money well lost…

Published in: on May 11, 2009 at 8:37 am  Comments (1)  

Jury Duty

Loyal Daddy Winebucks Readers,

12-angry-menYes, I’ve been remiss in posting but with good reason.  Call it civic duty, call it following in the footsteps of the Founding Father’s, call it sitting around for eight hours switiching buildings, from jury assembly to courtroom having to pass through metal detectors each time.

But whatever you choose to call it, I’ve got Jury Duty.  I’ve not yet been put on a case yet, but I’m sensing I will be on a jury by this morning.  If I’m right, I should have some interesting insight for the blog come next week.

Will the defendent please rise?

Published in: on May 5, 2009 at 9:16 am  Leave a Comment