Thursday, May 11, 2017

Wines I'm Drinking: Three Rosés from Grocery Outlet

Two of three rosés I picked up recently at Grocery Outlet were worth going back for more. I tasted the 2015 Head High North Coast California Rosé, the 2015 La Domitienne Sur le Sud Vin de Pays d'Oc, and the 2016 Comtesse Florence Côtes de Provence Rosé, all picked up at the Santa Rosa Grocery Outlet store. Brief tasting notes follow.

2015 Head High North Coast California Rosé: A very pretty, medium-deep amber-rose—by far the deepest in color of the three wines. Although it seemed a little distant at first on the nose, it offered hints of strawberries and caramel—or, more precisely, something that put me in mind of creme brulée. Rich and fruity on the palate, with toasty notes. Bold, highly extracted berry flavors, again with a toasty component. The fruity sweetness was nicely complemented by brisk acidity on the mid-palate, and there was a tart brightness that extended onto a longish finish. Ripe, rich, fruity, but dry and well balanced with acidity. A very bold, California-style rosé. Not subtle, but, in the right setting, the sort of wine that's far too easy to drink too much of. Still available as of May 23, 2017 at $4.99 a bottle.

2015 La Domitienne Sur le Sud Vin de Pays d'Oc: This is a 50/50 Grenache/Cinsault blend from the Vin de Pays d'Oc appellation—one of those exceedingly pale, light, southern French rosés that can be either quite bland or surprisingly flavorful. The La Domitienne was on the bland side, although even this one wasn't entirely uninteresting. Very pale pink. Not much on the nose. Slightly fishy at first, as these wines often are, but that dissipated. Light and not unpleasant on the palate and with a somewhat interesting savory flavor on the finish—a finish marked by light, grainy tannins and a delicate tartness. Acceptable, but not interesting enough that I felt compelled to go back for more. Probably better with food. Apparently sold out as of May 23, 2017

2016 Comtesse Florence Côtes de Provence Rosé: A rather amateurish-looking label, but I liked the wine enough to return to the store for a few bottles more. Another 50/50 Grenache/Cinsault blend. Again, a very pale, watery pink, but this wine had much more on the nose than the La Domitienne. There were floral scents and a citrus component. If pressed, I would have said gardenias and lime, but the floral scent was not quite as sweet and strong as a gardenia. Brighter on the palate than the La Domitienne. With decent acidity, but still a little soft. Quite dry. There's a very attractive delicate strawberry hint on the finish. In general, the palate is reminiscent of the nose—suggestive of perfume, limes, and flowers, and then strawberries. A much lighter, more delicate wine than the California-style Head High wine, but a solid rosé from the south of France suitable for everyday drinking. Apparently sold out as of May 23, 2017

I have no financial or other connections with any producer or retailer of wine. For more wine reviews, use the "Wines I'm Drinking" label at top right

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 174 (Santa Rosa)

A while back fellow collage artist and friend Sherry Parker gave me a stack of handwritten music (mostly done in fountain pen, some in pencil) that had been heavily revised in red pencil, sometimes in blue pencil. I love the stuff. It's seductive. I keep using it despite my usual reluctance to incorporate found paper into my collages. This is my latest (and perhaps last) composition using a fragment of one of these sheets. I've since given the remainder of the paper to other collage artists. Much as I like the music for its gestural qualities and the subtle color accents it offers, I don't want to use too much of it.

Pictured is Untitled Collage No. 174 (Santa Rosa). Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, found paper, collage. April 16, 2017. Image size: 33.1 x 23.9cm (13.0 x 9.4in). Matted to 20 x 16in. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on reverse.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more, use the "Art I'm Making" tab to the right, or visit my collage website at:

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Books I'm Reading: Libation, A Bitter Alchemy

I don't remember how I acquired Dierdre Heekin's memoir Libation, A Bitter Alchemy (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2009), but it's been on my bookshelf for some time. I wasn't entirely sure what it was about when I picked it up a few days ago. Having read it, I'm still not sure I can say. It doesn't really go anywhere. The only linear narrative is supplied by a series of vignettes that deal with the author's decision to plant a vineyard in Vermont and her progress toward making her first wine from her grapes. These vignettes are interspersed between chapters of a wide-ranging text that is held together loosely by its focus on the making of things alcoholic, including wines, but also absinthe, vodka, and Irish whisky, as well as distillation of perfumes and other subjects. Reading it felt like an aimless but pleasant walk through an interesting town. Despite it's rambling structure, it's nicely written (with one or two exceptions—a glaringly questionable fact; she repeatedly refers to the cochineal insect as a "ladybug*" and there are a few unconventionally used words) and enjoyable if taken at its own pace and without expectations.

*Unless, I'm mistaken, the ladybugs (or ladybirds) are true beetles, while the cochineal insect is a scale insect and ladybug larvae, in fact, prey on scale insects.

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 173 (Santa Rosa)

A recent collage. This is Untitled Collage No. 173 (Santa Rosa), a small piece (7.5 x 7.0cm or 3.0 x 2.8 inches). April 14, 2017. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, found paper. It uses various scraps of monoprints I've made, a fragment of a doodling robot drawing (the orange and black linear element at the center of the composition), and bits of hand-written music. Matted to 11x 14 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more of my collage work, visit my collage site at

Wines I'm Making: 2017 First Sulfur Spraying

Today I finally got around to spraying the grapes with sulfur for the first time this season (2017). I'd delayed in part because we had had so much rain that it seemed pointless to spray. Last week I thinned the shoots on the vines and a few days ago I persuaded my neighbor to remove part of the row of cedar trees right behind our little vineyard that has shaded the grapes more and more each year—to the extent that our yields were getting very low and it was hard to keep mildew away even with careful sulfur spraying. The rows are now getting a lot more sun again. I'm hoping that we'll have a substantial harvest this year for the first time in several years. In a related note, I opened a bottle of the 2014 wine. It's very good. The best we've ever made. The 2015 Cabernet will be bottled very soon. We got so few grapes in 2016 that there will be no 2016 Cabernet. I mixed the Cabernet and Sangiovese grapes we did harvest and made rosé from the lot of it.

Books I'm Reading: John Berger's Ways of Seeing

Writer, artist, critic John Berger died in January this year. I had been only dimly aware of him. His death was much in the news, however, and given the attention it received, I thought I ought to educate myself a little by reading the book he is perhaps best known for—Ways of Seeing (Viking, 1973, although I read the 1977 Pelican paperback edition), apparently a companion book to a BBC series about art and imagery Berger hosted in the early seventies in Britain. The book was created in collaboration with Sven Blomberg, Chris Fox, Michael Dibb, and Richard Hollis, although Berger is the author given on the cover.

The text is divided into seven independent essays, three of which are image essays (without words). In a note to the reader, the five authors say the image essays are meant to raise as many questions as they answer. The authors say their aim mainly is to "start a process of questioning."

The first essay considers how knowledge affects seeing. The second, an image essay, looks at how images of women nearly always objectify—at how women in imagery (both artistic and commercial) are usually acted upon rather than actors. The third essay uses words to articulate these ideas about images of women. The fourth essay is another image essay that includes many images of women as objects but also of material abundance—images of possession. The following essay articulates in words what appears to have been intended by the preceding image essay—to suggest that the subject of art, particularly European oil painting tradition, has been closely linked with status as conveyed by pictured ownership. The sixth essay, is another image essay. Most of the images in it are of people, or pets and livestock. The questions it intends to pose are less clear to me here than elsewhere, but again, the pictures seem to suggest we should ask ourselves how imagery reflects sexual power politics and class structure. The final essay focuses on modern advertising imagery, suggesting that the uses of imagery in the European oil painting tradition have not been so different from the uses of imagery in advertising—although the authors see a shift: whereas painting has been about conveying the possession of wealth and status, modern advertising is more about suggesting to potential consumers a lack of possession while offering a way to do something about that lack.

The book is now almost 45 years old. Views change in that amount of time. A lot of what Berger writes seems self-evident now, but I imagine the book was somewhat controversial when new because it so strongly emphasizes the role of capital and sexism in the way we create and consume images. Ways of Seeing therefore seemed mostly of historical interest. The text notes in passing that landscape painting is perhaps the least susceptible genre of painting to the offered class and sex-based interpretations, and the book fails to mention abstract art at all. It's hard to imagine how abstract art could be construed as class-conscious or sexist, but, by omission of the subject, the book does raise related questions. Berger is said to have been strongly influenced by Walter Benjamin's The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, a text I should get around to reading.  
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