Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Wines I'm Drinking: 2012 Chateau Marceau Launay

Over the years I've noticed that medals, awards, and other accolades on wine bottles often don't mean very much. The medals given out at the Paris agricultural show each year usually do, however. I came across a little Bordeaux wine today, the 2012 Chateau Marceau Launay that won a Gold Medal at the 2013 Paris show, so I thought I'd give it a try, as it was being offered at a very attractive price (only $6.99 at my local Grocery Outlet). Brief tasting notes follow.

Although not thin-looking, the wine was not the dense, opaque red that some wines are. Despite its youth, it looked moderately mature, being a fairly medium red hinting more at garnet than at the purple of a very new wine. Scents of vanilla and oak were predominant on the nose, with hints of cardamom and orange peel. Not especially forthcoming at first, but pleasant enough. Light-bodied and quite tannic initially. Rather closed on the palate, but with a little plumminess and some hints of cocoa on a moderately long finish. Although a bit disappointing at the moment, this would seem to have some promise. I suspect it will need time to show at its best, and it opened up noticeably just with some time in the glass. [A second bottle I opened a week later and decanted was noticeably more approachable and quite tasty]. I've tucked away five bottles for future contemplation. I'll probably open the next one in two or three years [That was optimistic--although now I'll probably wait that long]. At this price, well worth a small, speculative investment. While I don't think this will appeal to West Coast palates accustomed to high alcohol content and up-front fruit, it's well worth considering if you enjoy European-style reds and you're the patient type. If you open a bottle while it's still young, decant it and give it a little time before drinking it. Perhaps at peak around 2020?

(I have no financial connection with any producer or retailer of wine.)
For more wine reviews, use the Wines I'm Drinking label.

Plants I'm Growing: First Blooms--Flowering Japanese Plum (December 30, 2013)

For several years now I've been keeping a record of the first blooms of the year of various plant species in the garden. Usually our dwarf cyclamen (Cyclamen coum) has the first blooms of the new year, in very late December (I count these December flowers as new blooms because they're the first blooms in the new cycle of flowering each year). This year (thinking of 2014) the honor goes to the white Japanese plum behind the house (Prunus mume), which starting blooming yesterday, December 30--quite early for this plant. It typically blooms in the second or third week of January. In 2012, it bloomed on January 14. In 2011, it bloomed earlier than usual, on January 4. It bloomed on January 19 in 2010 and on January 21 in 2009. I don't seem to have a record for 2013.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 20 (Santa Rosa) (December 25, 2013)

I finished another collage on Christmas morning. It has nothing to do with Christmas. It's just another abstraction using painted papers and paper that I've printed on using the monotype technique (paint spread on a glass surface, manipulated, and then printed onto a sheet of paper). This one also incorporates scraps of a handwoven, dyed sheet of paper that I found at our local art supply store, Village Art Supply, in Montgomery Village. I'm hoping that its color won't fade, as the plum color went very well with colors I already had at hand.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Wines I'm Making: Hard Cider Bottled (December 23, 2013)

Yesterday, December 23, I bottled the hard cider made from this year's apples. The ten gallons ended up as 48 22-ounce bottles and 19 12-ounce bottles. I dosed the fermented cider with about 26g of corn sugar for each gallon of cider in order to start the in-bottle secondary fermentation that will give it some sparkle. The recipes call for up to 33g of sugar per gallon, but I didn't have enough sugar, and the first time I made hard cider (in February this year) I used 26g per gallon and the bubbles were fine, so I didn't bother to get more sugar. Knowing that a fermentation is going on in a sealed bottle always makes me a little nervous (probably needlessly), so I've decided to leave the bottles in the upstairs bathtub while the fermentation is underway. If there are any accidents, spilled cider won't destroy the carpet or hardwood floors that way. I don't really expect problems, though.

I capped the portion fermented using White Labs English cider yeast with green caps. The portion fermented with the Mangrove Jack yeast I capped with gold caps. After about two weeks, the cider should be lightly carbonated and ready to drink, but longer aging should allow it to develop a little. We'll see how long this batch lasts. The 3-gallon batch I made earlier in the year was so good it disappeared in about three weeks.  

Friday, December 20, 2013

Art I'm making: More Collages (December 20, 2013)

I've completed three new collages in the past couple of days. I work with acrylic paints to make colored paper, often printing on the paper using paint spread on glass to create mono-print effects or using painted paper to print directly onto other sheets of paper. The effects continue to amuse me.

I'm quite pleased with these last three, although the deep plum sauce color in a couple of them doesn't photograph very well....

Wines I'm Making: 2013 Rosé Bottled (December 19, 2013)

Yesterday, I bottled our 2013 Sangiovese Rosé. The wine is a beautiful, deep, pink-amber this year--deeper in color than in past years. I don't know why. This year, the grapes soaked about 20 hours with the skins before pressing, which has been fairly typical. Depth of color should mostly be a function of the time the grapes spend on the skins--all else being equal--but the 2012 wine spent 22 hours on the skins and it was a paler color. Whatever the reason for the deep color this year, the wine is pretty. I'm very pleased with the results in general. I think this may be the best rosé we've made so far, edging out the excellent 2009.

We had some very cold weather while the wine was resting (down to as low as about 19 degrees F). Cold causes the formation of tartaric acid crystals in the bottom of the container (photo below), which is very convenient, as it creates a hard crust over the deposit of dead yeast and other precipitates that can be a pain when siphoning wine. With the rosé, siphoning is always a breeze as there is nothing floating freely to cloud the wine or suck up from the bottom; it's all encapsulated by the crust of crystals.

We had the first bottle last night with an asparagus and portobello mushroom risotto that I made. Excellent, if I do say so myself. Now it's time to design a label.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Tidbits: RIP--Peter O'Toole and Joan Fontaine (December 15, 2013)

I was very sorry to hear of the death of Peter O'Toole today. I'm sure I'm not the only person who will always think of him in his role as T. E. Lawrence in the film that made him an international star--although he did so much else.... It's been interesting to see how much attention the event has been getting. I read later in the day that actress Joan Fontaine died today as well. It's a shame she's not being remembered as widely. Her death appears to have been overshadowed by that of O'Toole.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Art I'm Making: New Collages (December 12, 2013)

My pace of work making collages has slowed, but I've done a couple more since last reporting. One is a very small piece (only about 3 x 4 inches) made from small scraps from all the other things I've made in the past few weeks. The other is a monochrome piece I made out of scraps of paper I had intended for a different collage--but no matter. Both are made from painted paper and monotyped paper elements. The originals look much better than the photos here. One thing I've learned is that photographing art is an art in itself.

[Update: I subsequently destroyed the second of these, so I have removed the image of it here. I decided it wasn't worth keeping.]

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Wines I'm Making: Hard Cider--First Racking (December 6, 2013)

On Friday, December 6, I racked the hard cider I'm making off the gross lees. I started fermentation on November 18, so fermentation took about 18 days. The cider is working in two five-gallon containers. Although I inoculated 11 gallons of juice, I used the extra gallon to top up the two other containers after the racking, which reduced the volume of both somewhat.

Having used two different yeast strains (see the last post on the subject of hard cider for details), and having left the two batches in different parts of the house (one warmer than the other), the batch using the White Labs yeast, in the cooler location, was slightly behind the other, but bubbling has mostly stopped in both containers--although it's been so cold the past few days, even in the house, that lower temperatures may have suspended what final activity there was in both cases, activity that will have to start again once the liquid is bottled and a little sugar added back to feed a second, in-bottle fermentation to create carbonation in the finished product. So far, the White Labs batch tastes noticeably better than the other. I'm not sure exactly why. It may just be the slight amount of residual sugar in the White Labs vessel. Both have a slight hydrogen sulfide smell, however, which is not desirable--although I think  easily corrected. Hydrogen sulfide production is usually the result of inadequate yeast nutrients during fermentation. I did use the recommended dose of Fermaid K as well as DAP (diammonium phosphate), which together are supposed to prevent hydrogen sulfide production. It's time to call The Beverage People for advice. It's still much too early to know what the finished cider will be like.

Rain: Another 0.75 Inches

A little rain in the past few days (mostly on December 6) has added 0.75 inches to our 2013-2014 total. We have had only 2.80 inches so far at my location in Santa Rosa, which is well below normal--more than 5 inches below normal for the first week of December.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Tidbits: RIP--Nelson Mandela (December 5, 2013)

Just to note that Nelson Mandela died today. I vividly remember the day he was released from prison after--what was it, 27 years? I happened to be in London on the day and had gone to Trafalgar Square for some reason. I remember standing in front of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, looking out over the square. It was full of cheering people. Many had climbed up on statues and walls and lampposts. I must have come up out of the underground, not knowing what was going on. It was a bizarre scene. It made sense only after someone told me what had happened, what the excitement was about. Nelson Mandela. RIP.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Found Art: Eared Disc on Market St. (November 26, 2013)

Crossing Market St. in San Francisco on the weekend, I saw a yellow disc with "ears" painted on the street--a marking I've never encountered before. I have no idea what it means, but it looked like art to me. Maybe you'll find it, too.

For more unintended art, see my blog Serendipitous Art.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Art I'm Looking At: Frog and Toad and the World of Arnold Lobel at the Contemporary Jewish Museum

Saturday (November 23, 2013) I spent the day in San Rafael and San Francisco. In the morning, I delivered a couple of collages to the San Rafael gallery that will be showing them over the holidays. In the afternoon, I went to the Contemporary Jewish Museum to see a show of works by children's book illustrator Arnold Lobel before heading to the Legion of Honor to see the Anders Zorn show.

The Lobels (Arnold and his wife Anita, also a book illustrator) lived near my family in Brooklyn when I was a child. I played with their children, Adam and Adrianne (known as Belia), from time to time in the park. My mother remembers Arnold sketching in ruled notebooks as he watched us play. A couple of these notebooks are included among the exhibits. I remember receiving an autographed copy of Anita Lobel's Sven's Bridge from the Lobels as a child. So it was with a special sense of connection that I went to see the show. That said, I really had no idea of the range of Arnold Lobel's work, nor did I understand its quality. Last time I saw any of it I was a child, and I'd never had the opportunity to see original drawings before. As an adult, I can now appreciate Lobel's importance as an illustrator.

The work on display is impressive. Most of the drawings are done in graphite, ink, and watercolor. They are masterful, showing an extraordinary confidence. Well worth a visit, if you're in the area. The Contemporary Jewish Museum is at 736 Market Street (415 655-7800, or info@thecjm.org). The Lobel show runs through March 23, 2014, organized by the Contemporary Jewish Museum in collaboration with The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Amherst, Massachusetts.

"There Was an Old Pig with a Pen," illustration from The Book of Pigericks (1983). Graphite, ink, and watercolor on paper. © The Estate of Arnold Lobel. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Art I'm Looking At: Anders Zorn at The Legion of Honor (November 23, 2013)

Anders Zorn (1860-1920) is a name I've long been dimly aware of. On travels in Europe I've seen a few of his paintings and I've been impressed by them, but until today I'd never had the opportunity to see a full range of his work. It was a treat to see a representative selection of his early efforts--mostly extraordinary watercolors--, of his society portraits, of his nudes (oils, watercolors, and etchings), and also of his later works, which are mostly oils depicting rural scenes in his home country of Sweden, to which he retired after periods of living in London, Paris, and elsewhere, and doing a great deal of other traveling around the world, including seven trips to the United States (which included a visit to San Francisco in 1903).

According to the large, wall-mounted text panels at the show, Zorn studied mostly oil painting as an art student, but a chance meeting with an English watercolorist shortly after graduation inspired him to take up watercolors, and he seems to have applied himself with singular concentration. The early watercolors on show at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco (Anders Zorn: Sweden's Master Painter runs through February 2, 2014) are nothing short of breathtaking technically, if somewhat idiosyncratic; Zorn uses watercolors more like oil paints, employing thickeners and adding touches with gouache to create heavy (but by no means clumsy) layers with less transparency, less wetness, than is usual. Zorn must have been an especially meticulous and patient man, at least in his youth. The detail of the water surface in a painting like Summer Vacation (1886) shown here is hard to believe. The figure in the boat is almost photographically rendered. If Zorn had lived in a later period, it's tempting to think he might have become a photorealist.

Zorn took up etching fairly casually, at the suggestion of an artist friend, the panels tell us. He seems to have mastered it in a very short time. His ability to capture light effects--so ably demonstrated in the watercolors--is apparent here, and again Zorn's approach is somewhat unorthodox. On the Sands (1916) pictured above (although not in the Legion of Honor show) is a good example of the style he developed as an etcher, using very long, parallel hatching to conjure startlingly life-like figures out of what look like hastily worked backgrounds (the freedom of line here and in some of the oil paintings is surprising when juxtaposed with the painstaking watercolor work). Remarkably, some of the lines are a third or even half as long as the long side of the plate. The woman on the beach looks as if she's been carefully carved out of a jagged stone matrix. Looking at other work in the show, this contrast between loving attention to a central figure and a less-meticulous rendering of a background began to seem typical as I walked through the galleries. The "floated" effect created by a figure rendered so surely as to look almost alive surrounded by a markedly more sketchily approached background is apparent in some of the oil paintings as well--notably Herdsmaid (1908) in which a young female cowherd (partially obscured by pine saplings and other low vegetation) is seen through a gap in the plants around her; the figure seems uncannily present, but what surrounds her is ever-so-slightly blurred--again suggestive of photography and lens effects (more below).

Zorn was immensely successful as a society portrait painter, both in Europe and on his trips to the United States. Looking at Zorn's work in the genre, the paintings of nearly contemporary painters John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) and Valentin Serov (1865-1905) immediately come to mind. These painters all had an uncanny ability to capture something about sitters that make their portraits look absolutely authentic while using brushstrokes that call great attention to themselves if viewed from too close to the canvas. An entire room in the Legion of Honor show is devoted to portraits like this one of Elizabeth Sherman Cameron (1900).

The orange-red of the sofa in the Cameron portrait is a color Zorn appears to have liked very much. This (or a similar shade--the raw flesh of a Coho Salmon and the red sandstones of Arches National Park, in Utah, come to mind) is present in every one of the paintings in the portrait room--in the red bow in a sitter's hair, in the glowing, rusty curtains behind the former president in Zorn's portrait of Grover Cleveland (1899), or in a piece of furniture or clothing. In his Self-portrait in Red (1915), at the top of this page, Zorn took his predilection to an extreme.

Being a photographer, I was particularly interested to see the show touch upon how Zorn used photography as a resource in at least some of his later work. The etching called Cabin, of 1917, has its own display case. An example of the print is set alongside the original plate from which it was pulled and a set of five snapshots Zorn made of the two models depicted descending into the cabin of what is described as "Zorn's yacht" (his society portraits appear to have made him very rich). The photos are fascinating in themselves. The women are laughing. They seem to be having a great deal of fun. It's easy to imagine Zorn joking with the models, getting them to take the positions he was trying to visualize, in the right light, without making them unduly self-concious. Seeing the snapshots makes me wonder how often Zorn was drawing on photographs earlier in his career and exactly how he may have used them, if he did.

This work and the other nudes in the show (there are many, mostly oils) makes apparent the artist's love of the female form. He appears to have been especially fond of rear ends, and in the Legion of Honor show are some of the most lovingly rendered backsides you're ever likely to see in paint. Look for the one Zorn slashed to pieces and discarded because he was dissatisfied with it (a fellow artist rescued the pieces and sewed it back together).

Zorn retired to his home town of Mora and spent his last years mainly painting the country life of Sweden's Dalarna region--paintings that appealed to me less than some of the other pieces in the show (although everything was worth looking at). Here I've posted just a few impressions based on a single viewing of a selection of Zorn's work, but Zorn is a painter I'm now interested in learning more about.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Miscellaneous: 50 Years Since the Kennedy Assassination (November 22, 2013)

I imagine many of the people in the United States old enough to remember that day are thinking back on this 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. On Facebook people are asking their friends the inevitable questions--"Where were you?" and "What were you doing when you heard about it?"
People standing in line at Costco are probably doing the same thing, strangers sharing stories. Have you tweeted something about it on Twitter?

I was three years, seven months old on the day Kennedy was killed. My memories of that day are sketchy, dream-like, but November 22, 1963 is the first day in my life that I have memories of.

We lived in Brooklyn. Our six-storey brick apartment building had a small flight of stairs from the street to the front door. My mother and I had been down the street, shopping for groceries. My mother was carrying a brown bag of groceries. As we approached the stairs to the building, Sue, one of our neighbors, suddenly came out the front door. The image I have is of her lips moving, but no words come out. Sue was the mother of my best friends. Clearly, though, something she says upsets my mother. Our apartment was at the end of a long hallway. We somehow find ourselves at our apartment, although we never walk down the hall. The key is in the lock. My mother steps across the front room to the TV and turns the knob to switch it on. That is strange. The TV is never a priority. It's never on in the afternoon. She never turns the TV on the moment she enters the apartment. Next I see my mother sobbing in front of the TV, kneeling on the floor in front of the small black-and-white screen, still clutching the bag of groceries. I don't know what's going on, but clearly something is wrong.....

That's how I remember it*. Memory is a tricky thing. It may not have happened that way, but these images are nevertheless an integral part of my personal history. In the following days, I keep hearing the name Lee Harvey Oswald. It becomes as familiar as the name of a relative. Conflated are images of the eternal flame at Kennedy's grave, which for many years as a child, I mistakenly believed was somewhere in our neighborhood, at Grand Army Plaza. Beyond that, I cannot separate actual memories from what I know about the assassination as an adult.

*[I asked my mother about what she remembers. She points out that I would have been at day care when news of the assassination broke. So, the way I remember the day is impossible. She says she heard the news from Sue when she went over to Sue's apartment to give her daughter, my playmate, a birthday present. So, what I remember must have been from later in the same day.]

I believe the photo above to be in the public domain. I was unable to find an attribution for a photo credit.

Wines I'm Making: Pressing Apples for Cider

Last Sunday we pressed apples for hard cider. Earlier this year, I made cider by fermenting store-bought organic apple juice (Sonoma County is blessed with many apple orchard, so excellent juice is easy to come by), but this year I decided to make cider from scratch. I rented an apple mill to process 200lbs of apples harvested from our own tree, a tree at my brother's home, and a tree belonging to a friend. I used about 70lbs of Golden Delicious apples (sweet, but low in acid), about 90lbs of Pink Lady apples from our own tree (sweet but quite tart as well, very aromatic), and about 40lbs of an unknown, older tree, in Sebastopol, probably planted in the 1960s, although not a Gravenstein, the apple most closely associated with Sebastopol (again tart and aromatic). The result was a good blend, I hope--sweet enough to make a fairly alcoholic cider (the juice tested at 17 degrees Brix, which should result in an alcohol level of about 8.5%), but also with enough tartness and apple aroma to keep things interesting. The top photo shows the raw material.

It took the entire day. Most of the time was consumed washing apples. Apparently commercial juice and cider makers don't bother, but I wanted at least to get the dust and occasional splatter of bird droppings off the fruit.  Once cleaned, it was just a matter of dropping apples into a chute above a rotating masher that pulps them and drops them into a press basket for pressing. Two-hundred pounds of apples yielded about 12 gallons of juice. One gallon I gave to the friends with the Golden Delicious tree. The rest I sulfited lightly and let rest overnight. That juice is now fermenting in the living room, well on its way to becoming cider. The second photo shows juice samples--Golden Delicious, unknown Sebastopol, and Pink Lady, left to right.

I used two different yeasts. On Monday afternoon (November 18) I inoculated five gallons with the same yeast I used to make the cider from store-bought apple juice--WLP775 "English Cider Yeast" made by White Labs, in San Diego (I hope that's not Walter White Labs), a liquid yeast in a glass vial. The remaining six gallons I inoculated with a powdered yeast from Mangrove Jack's--"Craft Series MO2 Cider yeast." It will be interesting to see if the two yeast strains produce different results. The liquid yeast has so far produced a much more vigorous fermentation. I filled the containers somewhat too full. I've had to repeatedly empty the air lock of bubbles and juice spilling out the top of the White Labs fermentation, making something of a mess, but it's all under control now. The juice fermenting with the Mangrove Jack's yeast hasn't been quite so exuberant. I expect the initial fermentation to take about three weeks or so in either case. For now, it's a waiting game.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Art I'm Making: Small Works Show at Art Works Downtown, San Rafael (November 29, 2012 - January 3, 2014)

Two of my collages have been accepted for inclusion in a juried show of small art works in San Rafael over the holidays (November 29, 2013 to January 3, 2014), in the main gallery (also known as Gallery 1337) at Art Works Downtown (1337 Fourth St., San Rafael, CA 94901-- (415) 451-8119, or artworksdowntown.org).

There were about 400 submissions, I'm told. Mine were two of only 83 accepted--somewhat ironically. I say somewhat ironically because these are not representative of my work, which has long been focused (excuse the pun) more on photography and printmaking. I began making collages only in July this year. That said, I've been pleased with what I've done and most people who have seen my collages have responded well. If you're in the San Rafael area over the holidays, I hope you'll have a look--although they will disappear if they sell.... There will be a reception at the gallery from 5:00PM-8:00PM on December 13. The image in the top-right corner on the postcard pictured here is one of mine--kind of hard to see, but it gets bigger if you click on the card--or, use the Art I'm Making label here (to the right) to see more of my collage work.

Miscellaneous: Signs of the Times (literally)

In Sebastopol, California I recently saw this sign in front of a small shopping center. I had to look at it carefully to decipher it. In fact, I had to stop and get out of my car to get a good look at it and to understand what it was trying to tell me (I've isolated it from its background here, but this is a photo of the actual sign at roadside).

I mention it mainly because it's new (I've never seen this type of sign before) and because it uses a symbol (top, center) that underscores how important computers and wireless technology have become.

But is this a good sign? The knife and fork are easy to see--and easy to interpret: Food available here. The coffee cup, indicating a coffee shop, I assume, makes sense too. The icon at the top is relatively familiar now to anyone who uses the Internet--wi-fi available here--but the dot and waves would have mystified many people not too many years ago. The glass started me wondering. I've decided it's specifically a beer glass (because it's squat and appears to have a head) but that it's probably intended to indicate alcoholic beverages generally, without suggesting hard liquor (which presumably would have called for a cocktail glass icon).

The bass clef seems an odd choice. It suggests music, naturally, but are we to understand this as indicating a place to buy recorded music, a place to listen to music, a place to make music? And why a bass clef? Is the music here typically of a low pitch? I suspect the G-clef is much more familiar to most people. I remain uncertain about the intention here, and I wonder if this sign is a Sebastopol thing? It appears to be a bona fide road sign, as opposed to a privately commissioned advertisement for the shopping center or its tenants. Has anyone seen one of these anywhere else? Let me know in the comments below.

The sign above seems very modern, the locomotive sign pictured at left, in contrast, is a vestige. This sign may on rare occasions alert drivers to a possible encounter with an actual steam locomotive, but mostly signs like this one persist at rail crossings that for many years have seen nothing but diesel engines (or no engines at all). The steam locomotive sign is a kind of fossil, a leftover that reminds us of obsolete technology. Nevertheless, we interpret the image as a warning about possible train traffic, even if it's a more modern kind of train traffic we're likely to encounter.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Rain: First Substantial Rain of the 2013-2014 Rainy Season (November 18-20, 2013)

It's been terribly dry this autumn. Until last night (the night of the 18th), we'd had only 0.85 inches of rain since July 1, the start of the 2013-2014 rainy season. Overnight we got 0.15 inches, for a total of 1.00 inches, but this afternoon it finally began to rain in earnest. From the sound of things, I expect to find a couple of inches in the rain gauge tomorrow morning. This rain has made our cat miserable, but it's very welcome to us humans around here.

[Update: Checking the rain gauge on the morning of the 20th, we got an additional 1.05 inches, bringing the total to 2.05 inches so far this year. Normal for this date is a little over five inches, so we are about three inches behind already.]

Monday, November 18, 2013

Wines I'm Drinking: 2010 Carmen Casablanca Valley Gran Reserva Chardonnay

When I lived in Tokyo, the wines of Carmen, one of Chile's best-known producers, were readily available and I often drank them, but I infrequently see them here, so I decided to try a bottle of the 2010 Carmen Casablanca Valley Gran Reserva Chardonnay when it showed up recently at my local Grocery Outlet. I remember Carmen as a maker of inexpensive but good-value wines, and this one was typical in that respect. Brief tasting notes follow.

A very pretty, pale gold. Looks bright and inviting. Nose is suggestive of resiny pineapple and very ripe melon with dusky floral scents (hawthorne, or pear blossom). Vanilla. Later some sappy scents. Fresh and appealing. Slightly unctuous, rich fruit on the palate tempered by bright acidity. Despite the fruit, the overall impression is one of reserve rather than opulence because of the strong acidity. A little tannic grip as well. Quite concentrated with a long finish that goes back and forth between the ripe melon flavors and the tart acidity. Hints of butterscotch at the very end. Later I was getting something spicy that put me in mind of cinnamon. Normally retails for $14-$17, but I paid $4.99 for it--and I judge it well worth the modest price.

(I have no financial connection with any producer or retailer of wine.)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Wines I'm Making: Cider Again, But This Time Using Fresh Apples

Last February I made some very tasty hard cider by fermenting store-bought organic apple juice. This year our apple tree had a lot of fruit, so I thought I'd try making cider from scratch, using apples from the tree. These pictured are "Pink Lady" apples from our back yard. Tomorrow we pick up a rented apple press and some more apples from my brother and from a couple of friends with trees. I figure we'll need about 200 pounds to make it worthwhile. 200 pounds of apples should yield about 10 gallons of juice. That will translate into 107 12-ounce bottles with a retail value of about $140. Renting the machine costs $45. The yeast costs about $8. So, for a little more than $50 (discounting time and labor) we'll get a more or less three-fold return. Hope it all goes well. More soon....

Miscellaneous: Funny License Plate

I recently found myself parked behind this license plate lamenting the excessive size of SUVs. It was on the back of a very old (tiny) Honda Civic, which made it especially funny.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Birds I'm Watching: Anna's Hummingbird

Anna's Hummingbirds are very common in Northern California. They come to garden flowers and often sit resting in low trees, making all manner of squeaky sounds that don't really sound like birdsong. They can be quite unconcerned by people at close quarters. Yesterday, this fellow posed for me about four feet away while I made a portrait of him against vivid yellow autumn leaves.

For more about birds and bird watching in Sonoma County, see my Website Sonoma County Bird Watching Spots.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Miscellaneous: The New $100 Bill--Design Disaster

I was deeply disappointed by the new design of the $100 bill when images of it first began appearing on the Internet, but I thought I'd keep an open mind before judging it. I figured the real article might show better than the representations of it I was seeing on my computer screen, but now that I've handled the new $100 bill, I still think it's a design disaster. What were they thinking?

This new design is a veritable definition of the term "half-baked." Rather than start from scratch and design a new bill incorporating cutting-edge anti-counterfeiting technologies in an elegant way, the people in charge have simply allowed half of the old bill to be overlaid with some of these technologies. The mismatch is glaring. It's embarrassing.

The left side of the front of the bill looks mostly like the old design. The right side of the front looks new, but even the right side suggests a badly thought-out collage. The contrast between the two sides of the front face is hard to reconcile, and the purplish hologram stripe that separates them looks like a strip of tape sticking together two halves that don't go together. The reverse is just as bad. A large, yellow "100" has been slapped onto the old design in an awkwardly large hole that's been carved more or less out of the existing layout. The whole thing looks amateurish--or worse. No attempt has been made to make the range of common denominations ($1, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100) complement one another. Each ought to be part of a coordinated suite of bills with some kind of design harmony. Instead, the new $100 bill makes it look as if no one cared one way or the other what our currency looks like. I give the new $100 bill a big thumbs down.

Found Art: Perforated Trailer (November 7, 2013)

A trailer with holes in its bed. Parked on a street in Graton, California. I'm not sure what this vehicle is designed for, but the holes and their shadows on the street below looked like art to me. Found art.

For more unintended art, see my blog Serendipitous Art.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wines I'm Making: 2013 Sangiovese Rosé Racked and Sulfited (November 6, 2013)

I racked and lightly sulfited the 2013 Sangiovese Rosé today, transferring five gallons of new wine to a new carboy of the same size, leaving behind a layer of yeasty sludge. I got a taste of the wine when starting the siphon and I'm very pleased with it. It's a nice deep pink. Although a little cloudy still, at this stage, it already looks pretty--as a rosé should. I sulfited the wine to about 52ppm (four Campden tablets in the five gallons of wine). If it clears quickly enough, we might be able to start enjoying some already at Thanksgiving, but it will probably have to wait until Christmas.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Books I'm Reading: Fast-talking Dames

The fast-talking dame of 1930s and 1940s Hollywood was a uniquely American phenomenon argues author Maria Di Battista in her 2001 book Fast-Talking Dames (Yale University Press) and she notes that the fast-talking dame had passed from the screen by the early 1950s as the movie-land ideal of American womanhood shifted toward the dumb blonde--a shift away from sexually alluring but articulate woman that knew how to stand up for themselves toward a more passive, controlled type often admired for her sex appeal alone. Di Battista argues persuasively that it was an unfortunate shift. Her book is an affectionate tribute to the snappy, sassy stars of the earlier era.

The book gets off to a slow start. Its dense text requires more concentration to digest than I was expecting. It's a serious book of scholarly importance, not the quick read I had imagined before picking it up (based on no evidence). It was worth the work.

Di Battista's book seems valuable not only for its insights into Hollywood's attitudes toward gender roles in the golden age of the screwball comedy, but also for its looks at the careers of actresses such as Claudette Colbert, Jean Harlow, Ginger Rogers, Jean Arthur, Carole Lombard, and Myrna Loy (under the heading of "Hot Heiresses and Working Girls"); at the actresses she calls "The Grande Dames" (Katharine Hepburn, Irene Dunn, Greta Garbo, Barbara Stanwyck); and through detailed looks at a few of the most important films of the era--His Girl Friday, Bringing Up Baby, The Lady Eve, Ninotchka, and The Awful Truth. Along the way, there is much useful discussion of dozens of other films worth watching. Fast-talking Dames would be worth reading just for its indirect recommendations of good films from the period it covers. My one complaint is that there is no list of films mentioned in the text, which makes it tedious to find them once passed over. Halfway through, I started writing down titles that seemed worth seeking out. I've been visiting my local video store to rent quite a few I'd never seen. I've particularly enjoyed seeing Theodora Goes Wild, The Bombshell, If You Could Only Cook, and Wife Versus Secretary, among others. Recommended.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Wines I'm Making: Malolactic Fermentation Initiated (November 3, 2013)

I started malolactic fermentation today in the Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc wine that's been fermenting in the living room. The alcoholic fermentation has mostly finished, so it's time to get the malolactic going. I added two 125ml packets of the Wyeast brand malolactic culture to my 8 gallons of new wine. As malolactic bacteria can be finicky, I've wrapped the carboys in blankets and inserted a small electric blanket between them, which is what I've always done, even though this Wyeast strain says it will remain active at a temperature as low as 55 degrees. In the winter months, the house temperature generally ranges from about 58 degrees to 68 degrees, but warmer will be better, I imagine. Malolactic fermentation can take anywhere from four to 12 weeks. After about six weeks, I'll test the wine to see how it's coming along.

Art I'm Making: More Collages (November 3, 2013)

I continue to play with paper and paint, producing collages with acrylic-painted paper elements and fragments of monoprints on paper, again using acrylic paint to print with. I particularly like the colors made by Sennelier. In the past 10 days or so I've finished three more small pieces. The monoprint element is strong in these works. Endlessly fascinating. Shown here in the order I made them. The largest is the last one, about 7 inches on the long side.

Photos never capture the subtleties of the printed surfaces, but they're enough to get some idea of what the pieces look like. Clicking on the photos will enlarge them.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Wines I'm Making: 2013 Sangiovese Rosé--First Racking (October 27, 2013)

Yesterday (October 27, 2013) I racked this year's Sangiovese rosé off the gross lees. Moving it from a mostly full 5-gallon carboy to a new 5-gallon carboy, which I then topped off with a couple of bottles of last year's wine. I didn't sulfite the wine as it seems to be still fermenting a little--although not very much. Still, I thought it best to let it go a little longer. Yesterday was day 21 of fermentation, which is on the long side, but I want to be sure it's gone completely dry before sulfiting the wine and cold stabilizing it. Cold stabilization amounts to leaving it out in the cold for a few days. That usually causes a layer of tartaric acid crystals to form over the fine lees that will have settled to the bottom of the carboy, making the final racking very easy with the lees trapped under the tartaric acid crystals. The first photo here shows the murky wine before racking, full of carbon dioxide and yeast. That soupy raspberry colored liquid will be crystal clear in a few weeks through the action of gravity and time. The photo below shows the gross lees left behind after racking.

So far, the wine looks, smells, and tastes good. I think it will be tasty this year. Five gallons will make 25 bottles--a little more than usual because the vines set a lot of fruit. If all goes well, there should be some new rosé ready at Thanksgiving--or by Christmas at the latest.

Meanwhile, the Cabernet continues to ferment in the living room, but it will soon be dry and ready for the addition of malolactic bacteria to begin malolactic fermentation.

Tidbits: RIP--Lou Reed (October 26, 2013)

I heard that Lou Reed died yesterday. I know very little about the man, but I remember the day back in the early 70s that I first heard his voice on the radio. He was singing "Walk on the Wild Side." A new sound, something different. Reed somehow managed to sing without singing. What he sang made little sense to me, but I liked it anyway.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Wines I'm Making: 2013 Cabernet Pressed (October 20, 2013)

Today (October 20, 2013) I pressed the 12 gallons of Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc that's been fermenting in the living room the past couple of weeks. The must yielded a little over eight gallons of new wine, which is still fermenting in the glass carboys that now contain it. It smells excellent and doesn't taste bad either, although a little sweetness is still apparent. I expect it will be fermented completely dry in another three days or so.

As I added the yeast on October 10, the wine was fermenting 10 days on the skins, but had had a four-day pre-soak, so a total of two weeks on the skins. It looks dark and heavily extracted. So far, so good.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Music I'm Listening To: Leila Josefowicz with the San Francisco Symphony conducted by Pablo Heras-Casado (October 4, 2013)

Because of work and various other obligations I make this brief and very belated comment on a recent concert in San Francisco. I attended the October 4, 2013 San Francisco Symphony performance at Davies Symphony Hall. The program included the Overture and Passacaille from Armide, by Lully. Three Studies from Couperin, by contemporary composer Thomas Ades, Stravinsky's Violin Concerto, and, after intermission, Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 3 "The Scottish Symphony." This was the first program in a series of three conducted by Spanish guest conductor Pablo Heras-Casado (above) featuring the music of Ades and Mendelssohn--which seems an odd pairing. The common thread conductor Heras-Casado sees in these two men is apparently a fascination with the Baroque.

The Lully piece was forgettable--literally. It's been only a couple of weeks since the concert, but I can't say I remember being moved by the piece at the time, and now I can't recall anything about it. The Ades composition was more interesting, if strange. It had a surreal quality. It sounded like a piece of early 18th century music that had been run through a computer and altered with a set of algorithms. I suppose the brain of Mr. Ades (who was in attendance) was, in fact, the computer that processed the underlying music of Francois Couperin and presented it to us in this new form. I'd have to hear the music again--probably several times--before I could say anything sensible about it, but it was interesting to listen to and probably worth the time to get to know better.

Having heard violinist Leila Josefowicz's exciting performance of Esa Pekka-Salonen's Violin Concerto in San Francisco not long ago (December 8, 2011), I was most eager to hear Ms. Josefowicz play again. I was not disappointed. She played the Stravinsky concerto with the same mixture of fierce determination and sheer delight she showed at the earlier concert. She seemed truly engaged with the orchestra and the conductor, turning to the other performers during her periods of rest--listening, watching, moving subtly with the music--before bursting in to play her solo sections. Overall, the concerto seemed powerfully yet deftly played--and played with a joyful verve that made the piece as much fun to watch as it was to listen to. The Mendelssohn was played impeccably too. Good to have Heras-Casado back in San Francisco again.

Photo of Pablo Heras-Casado courtesy of the San Francisco Symphony (photographer uncredited). Photo of Leila Josefowicz from Internet press kits, but I've been unable to find the appropriate copyright owner to acknowledge.    

Cars: 2013 Alameda All-Italian Car and Motorcycle Show (October 13, 2013)

I showed my car, a 1978 Chocolate Brown Alfa Romeo Spider, in the 2013 Alameda All-Italian Car and Motorcycle Show on Sunday, October 13. The weather was perfect and there was a big turn-out this year. There were well over 100 cars and motorcycles on display at the usual venue, the playing fields at Lincoln Middle School on Fernside Blvd., in Alameda.

About half the cars are usually Alfa Romeos, but there were Fiats, Lancias, Maseratis, Ferraris, De Tomasos, Abarths, and more. There was a 1934 Alfa among the older cars. I love the details of styling on these and Italian cars in general. Some of the older motorcycles were beautiful, too. For more information about the show (for next year), go to this link. Proceeds from the show go to support the Alameda Special Olympics.

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