Friday, January 30, 2009

Winding Down - Bedat & Co.

This has been a tough week for lovers of good design. The shelter magazine with a young and somewhat urban bent, Domino, is folding as reported on several blogs and yesterday I saw that Bedat & Co., a Swiss watchmaker is likely winding down. The company was started by Simone Bedat and her son Christian in 1996. Both mother and son grew up in the Swiss watch industry, with Simone's last post as a partner in Raymond Weil prior to going out to found her namesake brand. After a bit of research the possible reasons for closure appear to be a bit more than the economic malaise. The Bedat's sold the company to Gucci in 2000 and departed in 2006. What had been a small, family run, niche producer was pushed into higher production and distribution. There are varying opinions about a lessening of quality under Gucci's management on which I cannot comment.

I have more than a passing interest as I purchased a Bedat No7 shortly after the company began distributing watches in the US. I chose my watch because of it's clean lines appropriate for wear with a suit, impeccable craftsmanship, and the fact that it was not produced by one of the biggies. I was particularly taken by the Bedat logo which is both a figure 8 and two opposing B's signifying the two Bedats. It appears on the face at the 8 o'clock position and also on the date display every 8th day of the month. I always make a point of wearing it on the 8th to see the logo number unique to these watches. Also the guilloche work on the faces of these watches is, in my opinion, much finer than any offered by Cartier the closest watch in appearance. The picture above is my well worn No7 a staple of my wardrobe.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Brown Paper Packages Tied up with Strings

Don't you just love receiving a present? I particularly enjoy receiving such a gift by post, that way there's no awkwardness: am I opening it too quickly, did I spend enough time admiring the card, do I have spinach in my teeth...well, you get the picture. I hope I'm not the only one who experiences gift anxiety. I love giving gifts, but my heart starts to race when I know I'm expected to open gifts in front of an audience, clearly this is the result of either very good or very poor breeding; I'll leave you to come to your own conclusions. Alone with a box filled with promise sitting on the table, a utility knife in your hand, and your mind spinning with possibilities, there are few things better.

I've been out of commission the better part of a week with what I would love to say is a hangover from my Burns Night celebration, but is instead the result of a nasty bug that has left me achingly tired and mute for far too many days. The cures: Darjeeling tea with honey and lemon, warm water with a jigger of whiskey, honey and lemon, Luden's Honey Lemon Throat Drops, and a lovely gift to accelerate my metamorphosis back to a more gentile form of humanity.
As I've mentioned previously, I was the lucky winner of the anniversary prize given by Meg over at Pigtown-Design. Again, Meg was far too generous in giving a gift for her second blog birthday, but I digress. It was quite exciting finding it on the porch all wrapped in toile printed brown paper with chic address and return address labels.

Not to be outdone by the outer wrapping was the equally splendid interior wrapping.

And then the prize...a great blue willow patterned cup and saucer, which received nearly immediate use to hold the honey lemon concoction of the hour.

I promise to resume a more regular posting schedule now that my convalescence is coming to an end, along with my Netflix backlog.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Burns Night

This Sunday, January 25th is 2009's Burns Night. What is a Burns Night you ask? Well first it is a dinner normally held on or near the poet Robert Burn's birthday. The first Burns Night suppers were held in Ayrshire (Scotland) at the end of the 18th century by his friends on the anniversary of his death, July 21, In Memoriam and they have been a regular occurrence ever since. This year is particularly significant as it marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of poet Robert Burns, Scotland's favorite son. For those of you who were not English Majors, Burns authored such immortal works as A Red Red Rose and Auld Lang Syne.

Burns Night has become a night of merriment, usually begun by raising your glasses high and saying The Selkirk Grace, the traditional opening toast of the Burns Supper.

Some hae meat and canna eat,
and some wad eat that want it,
but we hae meat and we can eat,
and sae the Lord be thankit.

The dinner also includes the serving of a large haggis with tatties (potatoes) and neeps (turnips). The hagis is presented to much fanfare and for Burns Night includes the recitation of the Address to a Haggis toast.

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin'-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang's my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o need,
While thro your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An cut you up wi ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an strive:
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,
Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
The auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
'Bethankit' hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi perfect sconner,
Looks down wi sneering, scornfu view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither'd rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit:
Thro bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He'll make it whissle;
An legs an arms, an heads will sned,
Like taps o thrissle.

Ye Pow'rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies:
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis!

From there, other highlights in the itinerary include the Immortal Memory address, the Toast to the Lassies and the recitation of songs and poems, particularly the narrative poem Tam o’ Shanter.

Dessert is a bit more flexible than the rest of the evening, but should include a dram or two of Scotch. I'd propose a crowdie cream.

1 Tbs. melted butter
4 to 5 Tbs. medium-size oats (reserve a small amount to use as a garnish)
1 cup heavy cream
2 Tbs. honey
1 Tbs. Scotch whisky
Approximately 1 cup raspberries
Sprig of mint for garnish

1) Lightly brown oats in a pan that has been coated with cooking spray or a little melted butter. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

2) Beat heavy cream until soft peaks form. Add honey and then whisky then fold in the toasted oats, reserving a few for garnish.

3) Layer in a tall glass, beginning with a small amount of raspberries, then whipped-cream mixture. Alternate layers of raspberries and cream, ending with a few berries. Garnish with toasted oats and a sprig of mint.

Finally, the dinner is concluded with a chorus of Auld Lang Syne. We should be well rehearsed after New Years Eve.

Friday, January 16, 2009

In Memoriam - Andrew Wyeth

Andrew Wyeth's "Otherworld" (2002)
Artist Andrew Wyeth, one of America's greatest painters died early today, Friday, January 16th at his home in the Philadelphia suburb of Chadds Ford, he was 91.
This is a great loss for the art world as Wyeth has continued to produce beautiful, thoughtful, and often somber works for more than seven decades.
I was fortunate to see a touring retrospective of his work in 2006 when it came to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. The painting above was my favorite in the exhibition filled with great paintings, though it was starkly atypical as the setting was not the rural landscape of the Brandywine Valley and Maine, Wyeth's two preferred settings for his art and his life.

What Washington Will be Drinking

"No nation is drunken where wine is cheap, and none sober where the dearness of wine substitutes ardent spirits as the common beverage." ~ Thomas Jefferson

As details about the inauguration and the associated balls and banquets make their way out it's been fascinating to see the diplomacy required to make these selections, and maybe a gaffe or two. is reporting that Barack Obama's first wines sipped at the inaugural congressional lunch at the Capitol, right after the swearing-in ceremony will include: 2007 Duckhorn Vineyards sauvignon blanc ($30 retail) and 2005 Goldeneye pinot noir ($55 suggested retail). Two hundred dignitaries will toast the new President with 15 magnums of Korbel Natural sparkling wine ($15 retail). Here's where a gaffe occurs as the wine is labeled “California Champagne,” a clear no-no as only wines made in the Champagne region of France should include the word champagne.

The Chicago Tribune has reported that Cooper's Hawk Blanc de Blanc sparkling wine ($13.99 retail) will be served for the official toast to the new first lady at the Illinois State Society's Illinois Inaugural Gala in Washington D.C. on Monday. The winery uses purchased grapes from across the United States including Washington, California, Illinois and Michigan to produce more than 125,000 gallons of wine a year, much of it served at their restaurants.

Other Inauguration Balls:

The Wine Curmudgeon reports that the Hollywood-focused Creative Coalition Ball is sponsored by Pepsi, so it's safe to assume a fair amount of the carbonated stuff, but there will be wine, reported to be from Barefoot ($6.99-$14.99 retail), one of the Gallo lines. Barefoot was selected because it donates money for beach and ocean environmental efforts.

Curmudgeon also noated that a Virginia wine, Barboursville Vineyards Cabernet Franc Reserve ($24.99 retail), will be served at the Inaugural Conservation Gala held on Jan. 19. The Gala is hosted by the International Conservation Caucus Foundation, a lobbying group focused on resource management practices.

The Inauguration Gala at the Russian Cultural Centre will be serving a variety of Russian wines in addition to the expected Vodka, though none were listed on their website.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Bigger the Better

"A bottle of wine begs to be shared; I have never met a miserly wine lover." ~ Clifton Fadiman

And might I add, some bottles beg more than others, like the ones pictured above.

I was visiting my favored wine merchant last weekend and spent a few minutes looking at the large format wines they had in stock. I was not looking at 1.5 liters of Little Penguin or the like but rather fantastic bottles from France, Italy, California, and Portugal in big bottles with commensurate price tags. I've always been fascinated by these large bottles and have been fortunate to be in the right place at the right time for the openings of a few Jeroboams and one Balthazar. These bottles as much as the wines themselves conveyed a great sense of celebration and importance and made for very memorable meals and occasions.

I was trying to provide a handy chart showing all the various sizes in a logical format, but was bested by Blogger's inability to play well with spreadsheets. So here, in a less than ideal format, please find Athenaeus' Guide to the intriguing, at least for me, world of the off-sized wine bottle. You'll probably notice that I use both spellings of Liter/Litre. This is done for a host of reasons, the most obvious of which is that the Litre spelling is typically European, where most of these bottle sizes originated.

The smallest wine bottles produced are called Mignonettes and come in various sizes, none larger than 0.025 liters or 3% of a bottle. These are used exclusively for samples and are not very common due to the disproportionately large cost of the container to the contents.

The smallest readily available wine bottles are Splits and contain 0.1875 liters or 1/4 of a standard bottle. These are almost exclusively used for sparkling wines including Champagne.

The Piccolo is a bit larger at 0.2 liters or just over a fourth of a bottle and gets its name from the Italian word for small. These bottles are also used for sparkling wines, and are often incorrectly referred to as Splits.

Chopine is the name given to 0.25 liter bottles which hold 1/3 of a bottle. This size is not very common.
The Half Bottle or Demi which holds, as the name implies, 1/2 of a bottle or 375 milliliters, has gained in popularity over the past few years as people have begun to pair wines with courses in restaurants and at home and in households (like mine) where we can't always agree on one wine for dinner. Wines produced in the Loire Valley have traditionally been the French wines most likely to be found in this size and are traditionally called Fillette.

The not so elegantly named 500 ml bottle is commonly used for dessert wines including Port, Tokai from Hungary, and Ice Wine.

The 750ml bottle is the world standard and has been since a world wide treaty signed in 1972 and begun with the 1973 vintages. It's a strange convergence of the English and Metric systems and represents approx. 1/5th of a gallon, or "a fifth" in common parlance for spirits, which had been the typical size bottle sold in the UK and the US up to that point. Many French wines up to this point were put in 750ml bottles but contained only 730ml of wine to allow for the cork. Champagne up to this point actually contained exactly 1/5th of a gallon per the US standard, showing its global popularity.

The 1 litre bottle is somewhat common in Europe for inexpensive table wines, but is seldom seen in the US.
Magnums are the most common of the large format bottles, and contain twice as much wine as the standard bottle (1.5L). These bottles are good for ageing wines as the ratio of air to wine is lower thus slowing the aging process. These are typically the largest bottles used by wineries for bottle ageing.

Bordeaux produces 2.25 litre bottles, the equivalent of three bottles, called Marie-Jeanne or Dame Jeane and are almost exclusively filled with red wine. US wineries are not permitted to bottle in this size. Bordeaux bottles are almost exclusively of the high "square shoulder" variety. It's thought that this shape was developed to allow the sediment to be trapped in the bottle during decanting. This bottle shape is common among Cabernet Sauvignon the world over as well as Sauternes and white Bordeaux varietals.

Three liter bottles are correctly called Jeroboams when the contents are from Burgundy, Champagne, or other parts of the world. Often New World wine makers will choose the less traditional, but easily understood term Double Magnums. These bottles are typically Burgundian in their shape with lower sloping shoulders. The name Jeroboam refers to Jeroboam II, a biblical king who reigned around the founding of Rome in 753BC.
In Bordeaux they also use Jeroboam to describe a bottle, but in their case it is 4.5 litres or the equivalent of 6 bottles. In my opinion the Jeroboam is the most confusing name due to the differing sizes by region.

The Imperial, Impériale is most typical of Bordeaux and contains 6 litres or 8 bottles.
Methuselah is the name given to 6 litre bottles in Burgundy. The name Methuselah comes from the grandfather of Noah and the oldest man mentioned in the Bible said to have lived to be 969 years old.

The Rehoboam is a 9 litre bottle, the equivalent of a case of wine, produced in Bordeaux for claret or in Champagne, though for Champagne this size is sometimes referred to as a double-Jeroboam. The name comes from the son of King Solomon and the King of Judah.

Salamanzar is the name used in Burgundy and Champagne for a bottle that holds 9 litres, like the Rehoboam. The name comes from an Assyrian monarch who ruled around 1250 BC. US wine producers are prohibited from bottling in 9 liter bottles regardless of what they would choose to call them.

Balthazar is the common name used in both Bordeaux and Burgundy for a 12 litre bottle the equivalent of 16 standard bottles. The name comes from one of the Three Wise Men, and reportedly means "King of Treasures" which seems appropriate for a bottle able to hold a case of wine.

Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchodonosor is the largest bottle "commonly" produced in Champagne, Bordeaux, and Burgundy. In all three regions these bottles contain 15 litres of wine, the equivalent of 20 750ml bottles. The name in its various spellings comes from the greatest King of the Assyrians.

Melchior is the name given to a bottle that contains 18 litres of wine, the equivalent of two cases. These bottles are occasionally produced in Burgundy and Champagne to mark special occasions and vintages. These bottles get their names, like Balthazar, from another of the Three Wise Men.
Solomon is the name given to bottles containing 20 litres of wine, or 27 standard bottles. These are rarely produced, and when they are they typically come from Champagne. The name comes from King Solomon.

25 Litre bottles of Champagne are called Sovereign, Soverign and are exceedingly rare. The name has also been used to describe any bottle greater than 25 Liters. Bottles of this size are typically filled with wines that were aged in standard bottles just before leaving the winery. These bottles can be opened using standard waiter style corkscrews. Though beware, pouring out of bottles this size is nearly impossible and an immediate decanting (into 33+ bottles or decanters) is recommended.

Bottles containing 27 liters are occasionally produced, typically by commission, and are called Primat. These bottles hold the equivalent of three cases of wine. The name comes from the Latin word for "leader" and means the best, the top, or the most prized. I've seen a Primat of Charles Krug Cabernet bottled specially for Morton's with a suggested retail price of $2,000 and a weight of over 100 pounds up for a charity auction.

Melchizedek was a Biblical King of Shalem whose name has been used for bottles containing 30 liters. These are rarely produced, and when they are they typically come from Bordeaux and Burgundy and rarely more than one from a winery in a given year.

Murgatoryd is the name given to bottles containing 50 liters of wine or the equivalent of 67 standard bottles. I've not been able to find much information on these bottles or the origin of the name, though it appears in England as early as the 14th century.

For the purpose of comparison a Barrel of wine contains 180 liters or 240 standard bottles, or the equivalent of 6 Melchizedeks or 3.6 Murgatoryds.

The largest bottle of wine ever produced was bottled in 2006 by a group of five Australian wineries and the wine was called Five Virtues. The bottle contains 290 liters (1.61 barrels) of Shiraz, is more than 6' 5" tall and weighs in at 1,300 pounds. The cork alone is reported to have cost $3,500 (perhaps as much as the Shiraz). This was done as a publicity stunt to sell numerous 750ml bottles of wine by the same name.

Prior to 2006 the largest bottle ever produced was commissioned by Morton's in 2004 for an anniversary celebration. The bottle was custom blown in Sazova, Czech Republic and contained 130 liters of Beringer Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. The 4' 6" tall bottle weighed 340 pounds and was auctioned by Sotheby's at one of it's wine sales with the $50,000 winning bid going to charity.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I Do Solemnly Swear

"In this blessed land, there is always a better tomorrow... Let history say of us, "These were golden years-when the American Revolution was reborn, when freedom gained new life, when America reached for her best... Well, with heart and hand, let us stand as one today:...determined that our future shall be worthy of our past" ~ Ronald Reagan's Inaugural Address, 21st day of January 1985

The Wall Street Journal Online had a fantastic slideshow today of the Bible's used for Presidential Swearings' In over the years. It inspired me to pull together a few notable inaugural selections from the WSJ and the web at large. I also enjoyed the images showing how the ceremony has involved over the years including the addition of the First Lady standing with the President, something that didn't seem to occur during those early inaugurations.

George Washington took the Oath of Office as our nation's first President using a Bible borrowed from the St. John's Masonic Lodge. It was opened to Genesis 49:13, apparently hastily, as the passage was not particularly relevant to the occasion, though it does have a bit of a manifest destiny tone to it, "Zebulan shall dwell at the haven of the sea; and he shall be for an haven of ships; and his border shall be unto Zidon." (Image courtesy of the US Senate)

I was unable to find any details on the Bibles used by Adams or Jefferson, though it should be noted that the first Koran used for the swearing in of a member of the US House of Representatives in 2007 belonged to Thomas Jefferson. The House member was Keith Ellison, a Democrat, from Minnesota. (Image courtesy of New York Sun)

Abraham Lincoln used a Bible borrowed from the Clerk of the Supreme Court, again opened at random. For his second oath it was opened deliberately to Matthew 7:1, "Judge not, that ye be not judged." (Photo of Lincoln’s first inauguration is from Wikimedia Commons)

Herbert Hoover elected to use a family Bible turned to Proverbs 29:18, "Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he." (Photo from

Franklin D. Roosevelt used the same family Bible on all four occasions, always turned to I Corninthians 13, "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things..." (Photo from Flickr)

Truman can be noted for two deviations from what had been tradition to that point. First he swore on a closed Bible upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945 (image). In 1949 upon re-election he used the same Bible from 1945 as well as a copy of the Gutenberg Bible opened to the 10 Commandments, making him the first President to swear on two Bibles. (Photo from

Dwight Eisenhower again used two Bibles for his swearing in: one given to him by his mother upon his graduation from West Point, the other the Masonic Bible used by George Washington. (Photo from

President Johnson was sworn in onboard Air Force One following the assassination of President Kennedy. The Bible he used is not known. For his second oath he took it on a closed family Bible. (Photo from the LBJ Presidential Library)
President Nixon continued the tradition of using two Bibles for both ceremonies. Both were family Bibles, ostensibly one from each side of his family. His selection of Isaiah 2:4 was interesting given the time, "And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruningforks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." (Photo from Flickr)

Jimmy Carter borrowed a page from Dwight Eisenhower and used both a family Bible and the Washington Masonic Bible, this time turned to VI Micah 6:8, "He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God." A very telling passage picked by this Sunday school teacher. (Photo courtesy of the National Archives)

George H.W. Bush stuck with the modern tradition of using two Bibles; again with a family Bible and the Washington Masonic Bible. The Masonic opened at random and the family Bible opened to Matthew 5, "...Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven..." (Photo from Wikipedia)

Bill Clinton used the same Bible given to him by his grandmother for both ceremonies, each time turned to a different passage. The photo is of the first inauguration with Chief Justin Rehnquist delivering the oath. (Photo from Wikipedia)

George W. Bush had planned to use two Bibles, like his father, but due to poor weather at the first inauguration he was unable to use the Washington Masonic Bible and instead used only the family Bible closed (photo). He continued this tradition at his second inauguration. (Photo from

And finally, Barack Obama, in a nod to Abraham Lincoln, plans to use the Bible he used, originally owned by William Thomas Carroll the then clerk of the Supreme Court. The details about whether the Bible will be opened or closed, or any particular passage have not been disclosed as of the time of this post. (Photo from WSJ)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Greenbrier Resort Struggling Despite Renovation

The historic Greenbrier Resort is the highest profile luxury resort property to be hit by the economic slump. CSX, the railroad company, which owns the Greenbrier engaged Goldman Sachs to explore options for the resort which lost $35 million in 2008; one can only assume one of the options being considered is sale of this National Historic landmark property. CSX itself is facing problems after seeing freight volume drop precipitiously on its lines. The resort includes multiple golf courses, fine dining restaurants, 721 guest rooms and suites as well as 96 guest and estate houses, and a 40,000-square-foot spa.

In addition to the economy management has had to deal with a difficult situation with the union ostensibly regarding the most recent layoff of 650 staff and a forced furlough in 2007 and talk of cutting healthcare and retirement bennefits.

Detailed photo of the front facade, notice the blue ceiling of the porte-cochere. A great southern detail in a very Draper shade.

For the design minded the resort was perhaps Dorothy Draper's crowning achievement. Her designs, in place for decades, introduced an American audience to a layering of fabrics (particulary oversized florals and stripes), mix of colors (greens and pinks), garden elements, chinoisserie, and the forever glamorous black and white checkerboard marble floors. In 2007 Draper's protege Carlton Varney worked on a $50 million renovation of the hotel. Freshening the hotel while preserving the Draper style.

A guestroom showing the vibrant color palette and mixtures of patterns.

Along with the refreshed decor came a relaxation of rules that had been in place since the resort opened including the requirement that men dress for dinner, and changes in the fee structure including the elimination of the "Modified American Plan" their version of the all-inclusive dining package.

The reception hall with all the Dorothy Draper hallmarks, including the large scale black and white checkerboard marble floor.

One of the most desperate attempts to restore the fortunes of the resort came in November 2008, when the resort pushed a ballot initiative to let the resort add casino gambling. The intiative passed, but so far no slot machines in the lobby.

A hall with oversized floral draperies and a wonderfully elaborate pediment in the distance. For fun count the colors.

Occupancy at the hotel as of the time of this post is around 100 on any given evening leaving over 600 empty rooms.

The upside in all of this? Great deals, in a quick perusal of their website they're offering $400 resort credits, spa packages, and free nights to lure in guests.

Thank You

"I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends, the old and the new." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

A big thank you to Meg (and Connor) over at Pigtown-Design for selecting me for her Blog's 2nd Birthday give-away. In a gracious reversal of tradition she decided to GIVE away a present in honor of two great years of blogging.
I can't wait to see what's in the package.
Thanks again!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

An Update on Two National Treasures

"The American landscape has no foreground and the American mind no background."
Edith Wharton

Last year I posted about the financial troubles at both The Mount, Edith Wharton's historic mansion as well as the Mark Twain House. There's reason to be optimistic on both fronts.

The Mount in snow, from The Mount's website.

The Mount's website is reporting that they have received over $1.3 million in gifts and pledges from around the world. These gifts have given the administrators of The Mount the ability to work with their creditors to reduce their debt and continue to work to draw more visitors to The Mount by expanding their mission to not only focus Edith Wharton as author, decorator, and gardner, but also focus on the broader topic of literature. As an added bonus they've added some new photos of The Mount at various seasons and showing things not previously covered on their website like this photo of the stables.

The Mark Twain House was struggling last September with dropping donations and visitors, caused in part by high gas prices, and the weight of over $20 million in debt taken on to build a beautiful (and modern) new visitor's center. Due in large part to the media attention the State of Connecticut donated $50,000 followed by a $500,000 gift from the Annenberg Foundation in addition to numerous gifts from individuals.

The Mark Twain House celebrated Christmas with Victorian Decorations and themed activities. If I was a bit closer this year I would have loved to have made a visit.

Victorian Christmas Tree at The Mark Twain House, from The Hartford Current.
I wish both of these house museums the best and urge you to contribute to these or another small museum in your area as they're really struggling during these difficult financial times. It's important to preserve these homes and the collections therein for future generations.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A Well Stocked Bar IX

"No married man is genuinely happy if he has to drink worse whisky than he used to drink when he was single." ~ H. L. Mencken

This post, part of a sub-series dedicated to Scotch Whisky, is dedicated to the distilleries of the Lowlands. This southernmost part of Scotland, along the border with England and as the name implies is relatively flat without the geographic challenges/advantages of other parts of the country. This region also includes Scotland's two largest cities Glasgow and Edinburgh, though neither is home to a whisky distillery. Auchentoshan is a short car ride outside of Glasgow and Glenkinchie is a quick trip outside of Edinburgh.

The character of Lowland Whisky is typically smooth and slightly more alcoholic on the palette as there are fewer tastes of salt, peat and smoke typical whiskies from the other regions. It is for this reason that the whiskies of the region are often referred to as The Lowland Ladies. It is the clean palette that to my mind makes this the Scotch whisky of summer and a fine aperitif year round.

There are only three Lowland distilleries still in production, they are Auchentoshan, Bladnoch, and Glenkinchie. For the connoisseur whiskies can still be found form the following Lowland distilleries even though they're no longer producing scotch whiskey: Ladyburn, Littlemill, Inverleven, and Rosebank.

Because there are only three bear with me as I devote a brief paragraph to each, a luxury not available to the previous regions.

Auchentoshan, established in 1823, is unique in that it is Scotland's only triple distilled single malt as opposed to the double distillation method used by all other distillers. This additional distillation produces a delicate, smooth and light single malt. It wasn't until 1974 with a change of ownership that Auchentoshan was available as a single malt, up until that point 100% of its product had been sold to blenders. Auchentoshan is named after 'corner of the field' in Gaelic.
The picture above shows the three pot stills currently in use at Auchentoshan. The shape of the stills are different from one distillery to another and even among the potstills at a single distillery. The unique shapes of the stills are one of the factors that define the taste of the malts produced. As mentioned Auchentoshan distills their whisky three times, once in each still. To the right of the photo you can see the "spirit safe" which receives the condensed spirit once it's been boiled in the stills. Each drop at Auchentoshan travels through this safe three times (for luck?).

Glenkinchie, nicknamed The Edinburgh Malt is located in the rolling farmland of East Lothian outside of Edinburgh. It takes its name from the glen (valley) of the Kinchie Burn which flows through the town. The Glenkinchie is slightly smokier and spicy than the other two Lowland malts and certainly worth a try.

Bladnoch, Scotland's southernmost distillery is nestled on the banks of the River Bladnoch in the town of Bladnoch, get the picture? It's product nicknamed, Spirit of the Lowlands has been produced, on and off, in this picturesque spot in Galloway since 1817. An interesting fact about this distillery is that the original still were sold to a Swedish company originally to make Whisky in the early 1900s. After ten years the product had failed to build a large enough fan base and was shut down and the three stills were sold. Two of them were purchased by Absolut and are still used to this day to produce some of their vodka. The third still is located in the Wine and Spirit Museum in Stockholm, Sweden.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Tasty Resolutions

"Here's to the corkscrew - a useful key to unlock the storehouse of wit, the treasury of laughter, the front door of fellowship, and the gate of pleasant folly."

W.E.P. French (From the wine list of Commander's Palace, New Orleans)

Dottie Gaiter and John Brecher with the WSJ have come out with their 2009 wine resolutions for more enjoyable wine experiences in the new year. I thought the list was worth sharing as there are more than a few good suggestions to broaden just about everyone's wine IQ. Here's a link to a video with a few of their recommendations, and here's a summary of all 20 with a few of my own suggestions:

1) Try a Wine From a Different Country - India, Canada, Hungary, Turkey, Mexico, why not?

2) Go to a Wine Bar and Have a Flight of Wine - Try to stick to a solid theme, not just red or white, maybe Chardonay from different countries, Syrah vs. Shiraz, etc.

3) Order the Cheapest Wine on a Restaurant's Wine List - I have several friends in the industry and they continually chide me to do this, they say that it's the wine they usually drink at home. For the worst value on the list, do what I used to do when I first started ordering wine in restaurants, and order the second or third cheapest, it's sure to have the highest mark-up.

4) Open a Sparkler at Home for No Reason at All - Or loosely define what it is to be a "reason", like the fact that it's Thursday or you finally got your oil changed. Try Prosecco or Cava if you haven't.

5) Take Notes on a Fine Wine From Beginning to End - Or at least talk about it beyond the obligatory this is good (or not so good).

6) Have a Sauternes - Be careful with this one if you have a sweet tooth, you may develop cravings for the stuff. I'd recommend creme brulee or berries and cream with this. If you're a stict chocolatist (ie it's not dessert unless it's chocolate) open a bottle of Late Bottle Vintage port, it's delicious and surprisingly affordable.

7) Have a Blind Tasting - or attend one. My favorite wine merchant offers these several times during the year and it's always fun trying to guess which is the most expensive, or Spain vs. France.

8) Organize Your Labels - I've never been good at removing labels from bottles in the first place, but take pictures of wines you've just enjoyed, it makes you more likely to go searching out for them later.

9) Visit the Closest Winery to Your Home - If you live in Atlanta, I'm sorry (Chateu Elan is not good, at all).

10) Attend a Winemaker's Dinner at a Restaurant - This is definitely on my 2009 To Do List.

11) Have Fun With Stemware - Ever since the Riedel O glasses I've become a strict stemware traditionalist after suffering through warm white wines at entirely too many "trendy" restaurants who adopted these glasses. I'd suggest buying vintage or antique, or acquiring specialty glasses for a beverage you enjoy but in the "wrong" glass (port, grappa, scotch, absinthe).

12) Find a New Wine Store - preferably not a big box store

13) Try a Varietal You've Never Had From a U.S. Winery - I'm looking for a U.S. produced Torrontes at the moment.

14a) Either: Have 12 Different Bottles in the House at Once - I haven't had this few since college

14b) Or: Drink Up - I'm working on it, my 2009 resolution is to serve what I have at more dinner parties rather than going out to look for something new.

15) Go Crazy on a Wine Pairing for Dinner Some Night - I'd suggest having a back up bottle of Pinot Blanc in case the Malbec really isn't a good idea with trout.

16) Try an Older White - Sauternes and Champage are the obvious choices, but look for something different. Your best bets are probably old world: France, Germany, Austria, rather than new world wines which really aren't intended to age, though you might find a precious few that are more enjoyable than within a few years of their bottling.

17) Try a Type of Wine You Think You Don't Like - For me this would be Muscat or to a lesser degree Merlot. I'll give it another try with the dreaded Muscat.

18) Get a New Corkscrew - Unless you were fortunate and received one over the holidays, chances are yours doesn't work like it used to.

19) Serve a Dessert Wine to Guests - They may love it and you've created a new ritual. If not you've at least given it a try. I find the key is not to combine dessert wine with really heavy desserts, but instead fruit and nuts.

20) Shatter Your Price Limit - I'm not sure 2009 is the year to try this for most folks. What I would suggest is buy a bottle at a store for what you'd pay in a restaurant, $35, 50, 75... The mark-ups in restaurants are usually 100-200% so if you're like me you'll probably be spending a fair bit more on a bottle at retail than you normally would but getting a much better deal, think $70, 100, or 150.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

High Times

Yesterday we made our first of several likely visits to The High Museum of Art to see The First Emperor, China's Terracotta Army and the last day of the Medieval & Renaissance Treasures exhibits from the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The Terracotta Soldiers are the big draw for obvious reasons. It was a major coupe for The High Museum in Atlanta to land this exhibit, the largest of its kind outside of China (19 life-size figures) and various other artifacts held in the US. Time Magazine ranked this as the 4th best museum exhibit of 2008.

A quick history of the Terra Cotta Army: In 1974 Chinese farmers discovered the site while drilling a well. Subsequently, a massive archeological project has been undertaken that has resulted in the unearthing of an astounding, in both size and quality, collection of terracotta funerary objects including soldiers, chariots, horses, beurocrats, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians. This collection of objects was part of the grave of Qin Shi Huang, China's First Emperor and chief architect of the Chinese empire and date back to the 3rd century B.C.E. Due to a lack of technology to preserve the paint that covers most of these figures (the paint deteriorates from the moment it's exposed to air), the emperor's gravesite remains dovered while other sites are explored and the technology perfected. The 19 square mile site has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A photo of the army excavation site.

A repaired figure on exhibit this one likley a beurocrat or court entertainer. Each figure is unique in it's facial expression, clothing, posture, etc., an amazing feat for something that was esentially mass produced in an assembly line of potters, scupltors, and painters.

We also visited the collection of items lent to the high from the Victoria and Albert Museum, including a Da Vinci notebook among the other fantastic items.

There was a collection of ivory items including a round "bucket" carved in minute detail with Biblical scenes (I was unable to find a photo) as well as a number of book covers made from ivory plates, see picture below, that adorned the outside of great books, primarily in monasteries.

It was a great afternoon at the museum, capped off by an excellent lunch at Table 1280 (see previous post).

Friday, January 2, 2009

Chicken Livers, Love 'em or Hate 'em?

A picture of fried chicken livers.

Before going out to our New Year's Eve party we had dinner at Bistro VG. Dinner was, as it always is wonderful, even if service inevitably suffered a bit by the crush of people packed into the modest sized dining rooms.

For appetizers, along with our complimentary bubbly (proffered due to a 15 minute delay from our reserved seating time) we ordered calamari - good but not memorable, crab croquettes - the vanilla and saffron coleslaw was unique, and sauteed chicken livers (not pictured above, the lighting in the restaurant made photos completely impossible) with plum jelly and grilled bread.

My wife and the other women in attendance devoured the crab croquettes and nibbled at the calamari while the other gentleman and I devoured the chicken livers after making less than sincere offers to share, as we knew the ladies were not any more interested in eating the chicken livers than we were to share them.

I simply loved them. They had a perfect crust on the outside an a delightfully pate-like texture on the inside. My wife even suggested that I made a low moaning sound while eating the last one with a bit of bread and jelly (a sign that I truly enjoy what I'm eating).

I have another confession to make, this was the third time in two weeks that I'd ordered chicken livers out at a restaurant. I think I may be developing a problem.

What do you think? Do you love or loathe chicken livers, or even scarier for some the gizzards or hearts?

Bistro VG on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Green Queen

A photo of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II next to one of her Bentley Limousines.

I must start with a simple admission, I love H.M. Queen Elizabeth II. I find her fascinating and an inspirational figure even while the majority of my generation finds her and the very notion of a monarchy wholly old-fashioned. It's the very old-fashioned-ness of the institution that I find so satisfying during times of great uncertainty and change.

That said the Monarchy has been attempting to reinvent itself for the better part of the last half-century. I think that most attempts have been largely ineffective bordering on silly. But one that I have whole-heartedly embraced is the greening of the monarchy pushed for in large part by Prince Charles, a long time environmentalist.

The latest news on the Monarchy's green initiative is that the Queen is having her two Bentley limousines re-fitted to run on bio-fuels, most likely produced on Her Majesty's estates. It should be noted that Prince Charles has done this with an assortment of automobiles including a vintage Aston Martin.

For Bentley's part they are planning a launch of what they are calling "eco-efficient" cars in 2012.