Have you had wine in China?

Dateline: Nanjing, China

In a “5 Star” Hotel, in the capital city of Jiangsu Province, the Sheraton Nanjing Kingsley Hotel & Towers, one might expect to be able to find a drinkable wine, however, you would be mistaken.

Sheraton Nanjing Kingsley Hotel & Towers
Sheraton Nanjing Kingsley Hotel & Towers

I had the fortune of having my first visit to the country of China a few weeks back.  I have heard much about China becoming one of the largest markets for fine wine, and thus, was unconcerned that I would be able to find something to drink for the #Cabernet day being put on by Rick Bakas on September 2nd.  I had even seen a review of one of the other Sheraton hotels on the “SPG” channel where the host had a chat with the hotel sommelier and they discuss how outstanding the wine selection is and enjoy a glass over some conversation and gourmet snacks.  So when the evening of September 2nd rolled around, I happily boarded the elevator, bound for the forty-first floor (where the cigar and wine bar are located) and marched in.  I found myself a spot at the bar (which was completely empty BTW) and asked for the wine list.

Now, a side note.  The girl working the bar this particular evening had waited on me on previous evenings at the hotel’s Irish Pub, and she was always exceptionally helpful and courteous.  There was clearly a language barrier but she was always willing to try her hardest to serve the customer properly.  Her English name is Cassy.  Now back to the story.

I looked over their wine list; which for being touted as an extensive list was seriously lacking, but anyhow… I chose a Chilean Cabernet, which I know to be one of the best value Cabernets in the marketplace.  After all, I didn’t really want to blow my expense reports out of the water by picking a super expensive wine.  No luck!  The bartendress said it was out of stock…  Okay, back to the list for a second choice.  Since that Cab wasn’t available, I thought I’d keep it in the Bordeaux varietal club.  There was an Argentinian Malbec on the list and I’d had some good Malbec on my flight over from the states, so I thought I’d settle for this.  I happily ordered up a bottle of that, again, I was dashed.  This too was out of stock.  Slightly more dejected this time I buried my nose back into the wine list.  By this time I had eliminated most of the less expensive options and was down to some seriously expensive French Cabs and a few Californian Cabs.  Now, I don’t know about you but I thought that it would be ridiculous for a guy, from Sonoma County, to travel Six Thousand miles (A 12 Hour Flight) and order a Cabernet from less than 20 miles from his home.  But, it was either that, or order some seriously expensive (even for Chinese standards) French stuff, so, I did it.  I found a Sonoma County Cab that was on the list and ordered away.  The Barkeep checked her list and confirmed, it was available…  or so she thought.  She pulled down bottle after bottle from her wine rack, she showed me the ones she couldn’t read and asked if that was okay, none were what I had asked for.  She finally came back with one, a Napa Cabernet.  2001 Beringer, Knight’s Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  Now, here’s the funny part.  The wine list showed only a 2005, but I figured if she was willing to give me the 2001 for the same price, it was either that or forget #Cabernet Day, so I bit.

Table Tent featuring some interesting wine reviews
Table Tent featuring some interesting wine reviews

Cassy opened my wine and poured me a glass.  As usual I gave it a whirl and a sniff… eh, cough.  Well, it smelled a bit off but, again, it was #Cabernet day so it was my duty to drink some damn Cab on this day or die trying.  I muscled through about 1/2 of the glass before I couldn’t drink any more.

Now I’ve heard from my friend, Dominic Foppoli of Foppoli Wines, that the Chinese wine palate is very “young” and “undiscerning,” that they usually mix their wine with cola or 7-up, even really expensive Bordeauxs.  That drinking expensive wine is just a status symbol and that they don’t actually enjoy wine for its intrinsic characteristics, yet…  So this wine was spoiled.  It was terrible at best, and disgusting at face value.  I imagine that it had sat on some customs dock, in the sun, cooking in its own bottle.  Disappointed, I gave up on having a good #Cabernet day.  But, somehow, a little part of me was glad for the experience.

Now, here’s where the rubber should meet the road.  An open comment to the management of the Sheraton Kingsley, Nanjing, China.  Your wine selection seems decent, however, your staff are untrained on wine and if wine is spoiled, you should not charge your customers for it!  You should not advertise on your “Starwood Preferred Network” that your Chinese based hotels offer an excellent wine experience.  They do not.  I’m disappointed with your wine list not being up to date with what you actually have in stock and perturbed that you boast about your wine offerings.

I know that at some point, trade with China will become simpler.  That fragile agricultural products will not have to rot on some customs dock, while someone waiting to be bribed sits on product bound for eager consumers, and that the palate of the new generation of Chinese young urban professionals will grow to appreciate wine for its multifaceted character.  Until then I will stick to Chinese Budweiser…  Sad, I know.

The King of Beer
The King of Beer

Guest Blogger / Interview with Jim Mau from 2 Degrees Above Normal

2 Degrees Above NormalInterview with Jim Mau, Biologist and Producer for 2 Degrees Above Normal, a documentary film about how climate change is affecting the cultivation, economics and culture of wine on a global scale.


Jim Mau Bio, from 2DAN Website:
Jim is a former principle and executive in two biotechnology companies. His responsibilities there encompassed R&D of a product line for the diagnosis of enteric pathogens, manufacturing process development and validation, Quality Control and oversight of regulatory matters. Jim is a scientist who in his studies of disease ecology has witnessed the development of global climate change over the past twenty-five years by its effects upon the biology and ecology of disease causing organisms. He has a unique understanding of the consequences global climate change can have on the health of entire ecological systems and the potential devastating affect climate change presents for human health worldwide.

NW – Good Morning Jim. How’s the climate in southern Oregon?

2DAN – Well, you know Brian, it’s kind of like in Sonoma, changing.

NW – So what can you tell us about global warming and why do you feel it is so important in regards to wine?

2DAN – Well Brian, let me answer that question with a question, if I may. Do you like wine, Brian?

NW – Well, yeah!

2DAN – Do you have any wines you like in particular?

NW – Of Course.

2DAN – And why would you like any particular wine over another?

NW – Well certain wines have characteristics that make those wines exceptional to my particular tastes, to my palate and to my nose.  Many have subtle characteristics that just appeal to me.  It’s, you know, a Terroir thing, I guess.

2DAN – Exactly Brian. You love the wines you do because they have a particular character that appeals to you and that particularity comes not just from the wine making process but mostly from the soils and climate where those wine grapes are cultivated. And to put it quite simply, if you change the character of the soil or you mess up the climate you mess up the wine. And that is the problem, Brian. Because of naturally occurring affects of climate change and compounding human activities, climates around the world where grapes are grown is changing and with that comes changes in not only the traditional viticulture of a region but also in the economics and even the social and cultural aspects of that region.

We also know that wine grapes are a sort of ‘canary in the coal mine’ when it comes to agricultural crops. Wine grapes tend to grow on the very margins of cultivatable land and if they begin to fail then you can rest assured that everything else is at an even greater risk of failure. We also know that an increase in night-time temperatures of just 2 degrees Celsius can ruin a wine grape growing region because the wine grapes just won’t handle the change. And, thus the title of our film: 2 Degrees Above Normal, a documentary film about how climate change is affecting the cultivation, economics and culture of wine on a global scale.

So, by using a commodity that so many can relate to – wine, our desire is to educate wine growers, wine makers, wine distributors and retailer as well as wine enthusiasts to the revealing sciences of climate change and its affects on the world of wine.

As you know Brian, there is a huge historical and cultural identity associated with wine producing regions. A region known for a superb varietal might need to shift to another kind of grape, changing a cultural identity that has developed over centuries. In addition, changes in cultural identity for a region could be followed by shifts in the economics of that region and the pricing and availability of classic varietals worldwide. While it is clear that improvements in grape growing and wine-making technology have produced better wines, climate will always be the wild card in determining year to year variations in quality.

Our film will seek to examine the affects of global climate change on viticulture and wine. How climate change is affecting the quality, culture and availability of wines enjoyed today and in the future and how climate change is altering the economics of wine regionally and globally. The film is based primarily on the research of Dr. Gregory Jones, Climatologist, at Southern Oregon University and others.

2 Degrees Above Normal will convey the affects of climate change on viticulture and wine production over the past 150 years predicting similar affects of climate change on wine regions worldwide over the next 50 – 100 years. What is the delicate connection between wine production and climate that makes it such a “canary in the coal mine” for studying climate change? Where and how have the changes happened, what is predicted to happen in the future and possible mitigating solutions will be examined. Affects on both the wine industry and regional cultures will be explored.

NW – So, Jim, what do we do?

2DAN – I would like to refer to a comment written by Steven Kolpan in a June 3, 2010 article in Salon entitled Great wine: Global warming victim? wherein he writes:

“The next time you sip your favorite wine, maybe think about it a little differently. The message is clear: Wine is a precious product of nature, and its future is threatened. In your glass of pleasure there is also a microcosm of our shared environmental concerns, concerns that can no longer be ignored, no longer be denied. Global warming and wine: an inconvenient truth that has yet to resonate with much of the global wine industry, much less wine consumers.”

And you can see this in so many of the magazine articles and Twitter tweets you read. Most are about how great a wine is but I have to wonder how many consumers really relate to what the ‘terroir’ and climate are from where those wines originated and do they understand what is going on today climate wise in regards to those wines they are enjoying. Again, this is why we need to produce our film on the affects of climate change and wine. Educating the wine consuming public as well as the industry is paramount to the future of wines.

I also love the tagline: Wine is climate change you can taste.’

NW – Yes, that is an intriguing tagline. Certainly sums it up doesn’t it. Is there anything else you would like to add?

2DAN – Yes. I would like to refer your readers to an article published in August of 2007 in Wines & Vines when Pancho Campo, MW from the Wine Academy of Spain addressed the Sonoma wine community regarding the affects of climate change on wine. It provides a good opportunity for reflection of things spoken three years back, where we are today and where we need to be tomorrow:

Coping with Climate Change: http://www.winesandvines.com/template.cfm?section=news&content=49616&htitle=Coping%20with%20Climate%20Change

NW – Well thank you Jim for your comments and for your concerns regarding the affect of climate change and the compounding affects of human activities on wine. Is the anything that my readers can do to help move this issue and your documentary film along?

2DAN – Certainly, Brian. For one they can read our blog at: http://2degreesabovenormal.com/Terroir/. I try to keep our readers posted on the most recent research, events and articles regarding climate change and wine. And, as this film is a project under a California 501 c 3 non-profit corporation**, contributions and sponsorships are what is ultimately going to decide if it gets made and how well. Donations to the film can be made directly on our blog via a PayPay Donate button.

We also believe that corporate sponsorship of this film offers an excellent international marketing opportunity to numerous areas of the wine industry, especially now. Though wines on the market today are excellent, there is a glut and many brands are struggling. The world of wine is changing and that change is being driven by an increase in consumer demand worldwide in emerging markets like China, Russia, India and South America. Sponsorship of this film offers an excellent opportunity to demonstrate a brand’ environmental commitment with ‘being Green’ on the mind of consumers these days as they consider purchase of product.

Should any of your readers or industry contacts be seeking such marketing opportunities, we would be happy to speak with them. We can be reached either through our Contact Us page on our blog or they can email me directly at 2degreesabovenormal@gmail.com.

NW – Excellent Jim. Thank you.

2DAN – Thank you, Brian.

** 2 Degrees Above Normal is a project of the Northern California Resource Center, Fort Jones, CA, a 501 c 3 not for profit organization.

You can keep up with 2DegreesAboveNormal on Follow 2DegreesAboveNormal on Twitter and 2DegreesAboveNormal on Facbook.  Help support their cause by stopping by and spreading the word, or making a donation (on their website)!  Special Thanks to Jim Mau for getting this post together.

Grape Cluster
photo credit: Eric Weisinger

Not Bad for a Thursday Night Dinner – Chicken Carbonara

Oh what a nice week this has been, the sad thing is that it’s now Thursday again and my short, one-week break from school is coming to a close.  I just loved being able to make my “Not Bad” dinner without worrying about papers and presentations or chapters to read or studying for tests.  So I decided why not indulge a bit.  I did some perusing of recipes (like usual) and had a thought about carbonara.  I saw a post a few weeks or months or whatever ago on Rick Bakas’s site where he did a carbonara and I decided I could do that, perhaps better <grins>.  Well after seeing many different styles I decided to take the things I thought sounded good and go that route.

So Chicken Carbonara ala Norcal Wingman:


2 Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts
6 oz. Columbus cubed pancetta (easier than chopping it up yourself)
8 or so skinny asparagus spears
4 Egg yolks
1/2 Cup Fresh grated Pecorino-Romano
1/2 Cup Fresh grated Parmesian
2 Cloves Garlic
Fresh Basil
1 Lemon
Splash of Dry White wine
Fresh Cracked Black Pepper (to taste)
Spaghetti, Fettuccine, or Linguine –  I used Spaghetti, which I would like to especially thank “the wife” for running back to the store to get.

First Thing,

Get yourself a big skillet, I only had a 12″ and wish I had something either a bit bigger or deeper… anyhow, start cooking the pancetta in the skillet over medium-low heat, you want the fat to render out.

Pancetta in the Skillet

In a bowl get your egg yolks ready and shred your parmesan and pecorino-romano cheese, stir together.  Prep the pot for cooking the pasta, fill it up with water, add salt and a dash of oil to keep the pasta from sticking together, start warming that up.  In a separate skillet or however you normally do your asparagus, boil/steam your veg until tender, remove from heat and cool to stop cooking, remove from water and set aside.  Finely chop garlic cloves.

Egg yolks, cheese and basil

Chop up your chicken into nice bite size chunks and when the pancetta is starting to brown and get crispy remove from skillet and reserve (heh, that’s what the cooks say, reserve…).  Raise the heat up to medium/medium-high and put chicken chunks into pancetta fat add chopped garlic and crack some black pepper.

Cooking Chicken
Chicken sauteeing in pancetta fat

Cook chicken turning as it gets golden brown.  Your water for the pasta should be close to a boil, if it’s not crank up the heat and get it boiling, start your pasta now!  Turn down the heat on the chicken and return the pancetta to the skillet, deglaze skillet with a splash of wine.  Chop asparagus into 1 inch bits.  Chop up basil into nice strips.  Zest half of the lemon.

Asparagus, Basi, and Lemon Zest

Pasta should be cooked al’ dente and should be just about ready.  Drain pasta and shake well to remove as much water as possible.  Place pasta into skillet and stir in asparagus, basil and lemon zest.  Remove skillet from heat and add egg yolk and cheese mixture, stir in well to thoroughly coat pasta, chicken and all the goodies.  You can add a splash of water (or wine) if it becomes to thick.  The idea is not to cook the eggs but rather to let them coat everything evenly.  Plate and garnish with a fresh sprig of basil over some lemon zest.

Chicken Carbonara

In addition to researching carbonara recipes I searched long and hard for a great wine to pair with this dinner.  I checked everywhere, Nat Decants, Hello Vino, Google, all sorts of differing opinions on this.  Many folks say that the bacon/pancetta smoky meat pairs well with a Syrah or a Chianti, but a red wine seemed out of place with a chicken pasta dish.  I decided on a white, Pinot Gris.  I thought that the higher acidity and lemon would really match up with this varietal.  I found a Taft Street 2008 Russian River Valley Pinot Gris at Olivers and it was a great match.

Not Bad 12
Not Bad for a Thursday Night Dinner

The rich carbonara, bacon and egg really pack a wallop and the good acidity and citrus fruit of this wine cut through and bring out the lemon.  Yeah for great wine pairings!

This dinner is probably up in my top 3 now, it was really good and easy to cook, not to mention quick as compared to some others.  Now If I could just get Steve Poizner’s damn AutoDialer  to stop calling us every Effing Night I could thoroughly enjoy my “Not Bad” dinner.  By the way Steve, you are not going to get my vote, or “the wife’s” just because you call… every damn night.

Screw you Poizner!

I digress, plates are clean!

Clean Plate
Oh Yeah!

Well, that’s it for this week, oh and if you missed last week’s “Not Bad”  I was a special guest blogger over on Tim Hilcove’s Weekly Wine Journal, click over and check out my Memorial Day BBQ “Not Bad” of Ribs 3 Ways!

Norcal Wingman Guest blog
NorCal Wingman on Weekly Wine Journal

Cheers until next time,


Reply From Senator Feinstein:RE: HR5034


I thought I’d share this with you, I’m sure all of you Cali folks received the same form letter, but I thought it might be worth posting:


Dear Mr. Wing:

Thank you for writing to express your opposition to H.R. 5034, the “Comprehensive Alcohol Regulatory Effectiveness Act.”  I appreciate hearing from you and welcome the opportunity to respond.

Congress is expressly granted the power under the Constitution to enact federal laws that supersede state laws.  While sometimes it is necessary to preempt state law for the sake of uniformity, Congress should only do so with careful consideration of the effects on state laws and protection of consumers.  With these goals in mind, Congress has long sought to ensure that states can regulate the sale of alcoholic beverages consistent with their public policy but cannot discriminate against out-of-state shippers.  In the 2005 case of Granholm v. Heald, the Supreme Court held that state schemes that allow in-state, but not out-of-state, wineries to make direct sales to consumers discriminate against interstate commerce and unconstitutionally limit direct-sale shipments.

I have long supported the ability of wineries to ship directly to consumers.  Direct shipping enhances consumer choice and can be an important market for small, niche wineries – many of which are located in California.

On April 15, 2010, Representative Bill Delahunt (D-MA) introduced H.R. 5034, the “Comprehensive Alcohol Regulatory Effectiveness Act.”  This legislation would declare that it is the policy of Congress that each State or territory shall have the primary authority to regulate alcoholic beverages and that state alcohol regulations shall be accorded a strong presumption of validity when they are challenged in court.  I understand your concern that this bill could allow states to discriminate against or otherwise limit direct-to-consumer shipments from local wineries in California to out-of-state customers.

H.R. 5034 has been referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary, and companion legislation has not been introduced in the Senate.  Please be assured that I will keep your concerns in mind should this bill or related legislation be considered by the Senate

Again, thank you for writing.  I hope you will continue to keep in touch with me on issues of importance to you.  If you should have any further questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact my office in Washington, D.C. at (202) 224-3841.  Best regards.
Sincerely yours,
Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator