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Five Dependable Whites You Can Find (Most) Anywhere

February 23, 2015 By 

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As a wine consumer I love to read about others experiences with wine, but one of the most frustrating things is when you read about a great wine that you simply cannot find. With over 100,000 different wines made every year and at best only a few thousand of those making it on to your local stores' shelves, searching down a specific wine can be exasperating. So today I've culled through some of my very favorite picks under $15 to come up with five of our favorite whites that should be available to just about everyone. 

Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc + Viognier

This blend of 80% Chenin Blanc and 20% Viognier is a staple at retailers like Trader Joe's and Costco. Pine Ridge, which is known for their pricey Napa Valley Cabernet sure knows how to make a cheap white wine. Pleasant aromas of grapefruit, melon, honeysuckle and pear lead into a palate bursting with juicy succulent fruit, a fabulous lively acidity and even a nice mineral streak. Not only is this a fantastic summertime sipper but it's also a great pairing for spicy Asian food. Available for as low as $10.
The name Fumé Blanc was created by Robert Mondavi in the late 1960s in an effort to differentiate his new style of dry Sauvignon Blanc from the sweet version that was popular at the time. This bottle also adds in 6% Semillon and features pleasant aromas of lime, tropical fruit, melon and some light fennel spice notes. The wine tastes excellent with lots of lemongrass, more tropical fruit (guava and pineapple primarily), orange zest and lime wrapped up in a very smooth texture. The wine also showcases a wonderful racy acidity. It ends with lingering citrus and guava notes and even has a bit of earthy minerality on the long finish. Whatever you call it, it's plenty good! 
This 100% Chenin Blanc from the Western Cape of South Africa can be had for as little as $7. It presents with pleasant and even complex aromas of lime, melon, guava and other tropical fruit plus a little granny smith apple. Tasting this medium-bodied wine reveals a thick and luscious mouthfeel with crisp and clean flavors of zesty citrus and melon, nice minerality and even a bit of spice. The crisp and clean theme continues on the lingering finish. This is a fantastic wine and a steal at only $7. Stock up!
75% of this wine was fermented in a combination of new and used French and American oak and underwent malolactic fermentation. The other 25% was fermented in stainless steel and did not undergo malolactic fermentation. The result is a wine with lots of fruit and a steely minerality that quickly gives way to toasty, oaky, spicy notes that turn a bit buttery on the finish. This is a rich, medium to full-bodied wine that offers a great mix of the unoaked and buttery styles in one wine. It ends with very long lasting butter, tobacco and vanilla notes. This is a great price for a wine of this quality especially when you figure in the cost of those barrels used for 75% of the wine!
This fabulously flavorful and fizzy blend of 89% Riesling and 11% Muscat Gordo from Victoria, Australia can be had widely for $10 or less. It begins with aromas of guava, citrus, pear, and floral notes. Tasting the wine shows mango, pear and peach flavors that combine into just a really nice level of sweetness. The sweet fruit continues on the medium long finish. The high acidity, good sweetness and light bubbles will make this a great match for lots of different foods including spicy Asian dishes. Wines in a similar style that also got strong consideration for this spot were the Moscato Allegro and the Innocent Bystander Pink Moscato.

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Q&A: Michael Wheeler, author of ‘The Art of Negotiation, on the importance of improvising

Courtesy of Michael Wheeler - In his new book, ‘The Art of Negotiation,’ author Michael Wheeler discusses the importance of adaptability.  

By Kelly Johnson, Published: February 14 E-mail the writer

Killer instinct, it turns out, is not the only — or even the prime — virtue of a skilled negotiator. Adaptability is important. A tolerance for uncertainty is, too. And an appreciation for the spooky art of jazz musicians helps. All, according to Michael Wheeler, are useful in crafting strategies for dynamic negotiations. He’s written a book on the subject and talked with The Washington Post about the power and potential of any negotiation — whether a job is at stake or the plans for a multimillion-dollar real estate development. The following was edited for length and clarity.

Q Tell me about the process of writing this book.

It’s long in the making. I’ve taught negotiation for many years, most recently at Harvard Business School. For many years I’ve been trying to figure out what negotiation dynamics are all about. So I had this bug in my head that it’s all well and good in terms of decision trees and probabilities and so forth, but the fact of the matter is everyday transactions cannot be scripted or even necessarily predicted. It’s an exploratory process. I’ve looked to other fields — I’m not a musician myself, but the jazz greats are able to improvise in real time. And in military strategy, they say all plans go out the window at first contact with the enemy, so the military’s thought about it a lot. And some of the principles from those realms fit perfectly with negotiation.

So the book draws from your experience.

Yes. As a Harvard Business School professor I write cases with my colleagues. And time and time again I would see examples of people setting up to do A, and they end up not doing B, C or D. But they do E. And that becomes a story. If you peek underneath it you can figure out, what did they do well and how were they able to be flexible? How do you judge success if you were originally going for A and you end up at E? So all those questions were lurking. And I developed cases, did some lab work, experimental work that drew on the experimental work of others. All of that came into my teaching. Writing notes as well as cases. And this is the synthesis of all of those elements.

I think people hear “negotiation” and think “Wall Street hotshot dealmakers,” or perhaps in Washington they think about lawmaking and that process. But most people consider a new job at some point or maybe buy a house — both examples you use in the book — and negotiation is clearly a skill for success in everyday life. Why aren’t we better at it?

First and foremost, the bumblebee does fly. Even people who cannot negotiate manage to get things done. Buy a house, say. Whether they buy a house at the best price, whether they represent themselves well as they’re moving up in an organization is another matter. But people do it. There’s no question about that.

The question you ask, I think more precisely, is, why don’t they do it as well as they’d like to? It’s very hard to know how well you’ve done, even after the fact. Maybe you got a lower price than what you’d hoped for, but your aspirations were too low.

Or maybe you don’t come to an agreement at all. What lesson should you take from that? One possibility is it wasn’t possible. The best you could do for the other party wasn’t good enough for them. But it also might have been that you or they overplayed your hand or their hand. It might be that you weren’t inventive enough. It might have been a stressed relationship.

But all you have for data is your side of the story. It’s not like playing tennis with a friend, and afterward you towel off and he gives you some friendly advice about your backhand — more follow-through or something. You don’t get that feedback in negotiations. So I think it is a challenge. And the book gives models of how to think about crafting a strategy that gives you something to riff from, in jazz terms, that doesn’t tie your hands.

I’d always imagined that the key to a successful — or winning, if you will, a negotiation is maintaining control of the conversation. But it turns out that perhaps that’s not true.

I wouldn’t completely scratch that. I’d look for guiding the conversation. But there’s someone on the other side of the table who’s likely just as smart as we are, just as determined, just as bone-headed, has good days and bad days. And they want to control things, too. So this is where I think the lessons from the past masters come in, which is having some sense of what point you want to press, where you want to be listening intently and when you want to speak. I think that people’s anxiety can make them rigid — trying to control everything, trying to rebut every assertion. Where in some instances, you have to think about whether this is the point you want to press. And if it’s important to put the stop sign up, put the stop sign up.

You’ve mentioned jazz ,and the book talks a lot about the ability to improvise. Sometimes we think of negotiation as inherently competitive, but you point out time and again that the success of both parties depends ultimately on how well they collaborate. Can you talk about that?

Yes. A number of things. Not everybody who’s a jazz musician is pals with everybody. There are some famous duos where they play together beautifully and then take separate airplanes, so it isn’t necessarily you have to be friends or even like the person with whom you’re dealing. But you do have to respect the fact that they have an agenda, they have particular needs.

What’s interesting is that the fast friends don’t necessarily do well negotiating. And the reason is, if you and I had known each other forever and you’d proposed doing something, and I could live with it, I like you well enough that I can say, “Okay, that’s fine.” Whereas if we’re more arm’s length and if I know you or are comfortable with you, I can say, ‘If you do that it’s not a big priority for me. And incidentally if you do that I’m going to need some help on some other issues.” In doing that we can actually identify what you’d like but what I really must have and what I’d like, too. But it actually makes more sense to have that second issue. If those priorities are never voiced, we come up with a mediocre deal.

Instead of pretending there’s some ideal environment for negotiation, you seem to account for the actual world, with all its complexity. Can you talk about the value of learning to cope with uncertainty?

It’s a necessity. I challenge anybody to tell me the third thing you’re going to say in the course of negotiation. I do not know until I get a sense of the tone of the person I’m dealing with. Are they nervous? Are they warm and engaging? Are they pressed for time? Fortunately, we’re comfortable with that uncertainty in any normal conversation where nothing is truly at stake. When we’re fixated on getting to a particular point and we’re not sure we’re going to get there, then we tend to tighten up. But you can’t wish away the fact that there’s somebody else on the other side of the table who isn’t going to let you write his or her lines.

Is it ideal that people go into a negotiation with the understanding that they might not be able to fathom the outcome?

This is a really important point. The word “improvise” is key to the book. You go into negotiation with a provisional goal. And the more provisional it is, the more alert you have to be about refining your objectives and also having an exit plan. So you say, “Okay, I’m exploring.”

The first story in the first chapter is about my colleague who was trying to buy a cable television system and who was willing to pay a premium for it because it would have synergies with a system his firm owned. He worked very hard to make that acquisition, but the owner of that second system thought it was worth more than my friend thought it was. A lot of people at that point would just throw in the towel. But my friend thought, “Gee, if they think they’re system is worth that much, how much is ours worth?” Then he became a seller as opposed to buyer.

Now that was not his original intention. But it became a superior option when he discovered what the interests and priorities of his counterpart were.

And I might add, there’s no way you could prepare for that. You need to know the other person’s mind. You need to do as much market research as you can. You want to read the contracts backward and forward. You want to get a scouting report that tells you who you’re dealing with. But some of the things you need to know about the negotiation can only happen in the back-and-forth.

So you’re actually doing a very fast-moving character study of the other party.

And they’re studying you. And they’re possibly misconstruing you. You may be well intended, but whether it’s a matter of temperament or something they say or you say something that’s misinterpreted, that’s not fully in your control.

In reading the book, it seems to me that you’re energized by the prospects for creativity to play a powerful role in negotiation and relationships. Tell us about your focus on creativity.

Let’s talk about creativity in two senses.

There’s creativity in terms of forging a relationship. I tell a story in the book about a [U.S.-Soviet arms-control] summit that took place in Reykjavik in the mid-1980s. And then-Secretary of State George Shultz was there for Ronald Reagan, and one of the Soviet delegates was a guy named Sergei Akhromeyev, a field marshal who was the equivalent to the head of our joint chiefs of staff. They hadn’t expected Akhromeyev to show up at this meeting. So Shultz gets into an informal conversation with him before getting into talks about missile production.

Akhromeyev said, “Mr. Secretary, you have to understand that I’m one of the last of the Mohicans.” And Shultz said, “What do you mean by that?” He answered, “Well, I’m still wearing the uniform, but most of the people who were with me in World War II are either dead or long retired.” And — this is very good jazz listening — Shultz says: “ ‘The Last of the Mohicans’? How do you know about that?” Akhromeyev says, “Oh, when I was young I read all the novels of James Fenimore Cooper.”

So what you see in that short exchange is a deepening of a relationship. And in his memoirs, Shultz describes how from that he was able to ascertain that Akhromeyev was not a robotic diplomat who was just going to toe the party line. And Akhromeyev turned out to play a very important role in those talks.

There’s also creativity in terms of problem solving. Instead of doing a straight-priced deal, there may be ways of financing it. There may be performance incentives. There may be other contingencies built in that are relatively cheap for one party to surrender and are very beneficial to the other. That’s important, too.

And I think to some degree the two are related. For people to open up about their interests, they have to be comfortable about disclosing what their priorities are. They have to have some sense that they’re not going to be exploited. Establishing some kind of working relationship — doesn’t have to be best friends — is often a condition for working out a value-maximizing agreement.

So in the realm of the second aspect of that answer, one of the concepts you write about in the book is expanding the baseline — giving people room to maneuver, which turns out to be collaborative in spirit but also requires flexibility. Talk about that.

You can read books and they talk about “expanding the pie.” And that’s all well and good, but we’re not just a bakery. I want a decent share of that pie, and you do as well.

There are negotiations that are principally about dollars — more for you and fewer for me. In those instances, it’s a tug of war. Seeing something as zero-sum, as a self-fulfilling prophecy. And that’s going to mean more for you is less for me, and we behave accordingly.

I like the story about Shultz. And your sense of storytelling makes the book a pleasure to read. You write about the experiences of dealmakers and diplomats and even Hollywood producers. Do you draw on that storytelling skill in negotiations as well?

We give a great-negotiator award, typically every year. A guy who impressed me as much as any is Lakhdar Brahimi — a U.N. diplomat, Algerian by birth. He’s recently been trying to make something happen in Syria. He has the world’s hardest job. Often he’s not successful. But sometimes he is. Sometimes he’s able to stop the bombings for a while. So when we give this award, we spend the day with them — and we spend weeks in advance preparing.

Whenever we would ask an important question, he would say, “Let me tell you a story.” And I’m confident that that was his style as a mediator, as well. And rather than stating something as an abstract principle, he’d give it flesh and bones and heart by situating it in a story. And a magnificent storyteller. That is how we understand things — those narratives. I don’t know about you, but I don’t dream in spreadsheets.

Often the unspoken story is kicking around in our head as we’re negotiating. “Oh my gosh, I don’t know if I’m doing well.” Or, “I hope I don’t get ripped off.” In an ideal world, two negotiators construct a story they’re both comfortable with. They can say that they were treated with some respect. That they learned something new. That they found a solution that worked for them.

That’s when people are really negotiating well with others.

The book explores the balancing act between having a clear objective and maintaining a spirit of openness. How does that work?

Yes, I quote toward the end a guy name Gary Klein, who writes about decision making. Firefighters come to a blaze. We don’t have time to make decisions. The theory is that they’re working on pattern recognition. They’re fighting fires differently having been on the force for 40 years than on their first day. I like Klein’s work a lot. He talks about having strong ideas, weakly held.

Mary Parker Follett wrote very wisely about management — way before her time. She had a saying: Don’t hug your blueprints too tightly. She meant you have a plan and it’s something that you’re working from and you have to adapt. Eisenhower said the same thing when he said: “Plans are worthless. Planning is everything.”

I think the real trick is having a clear idea and then being able to kiss it goodbye.

How does a negotiator grapple with what he cannot or doesn’t know?

When you land on D-Day — this is Eisenhower again — you don’t know how it’s going to unfold. You’re testing the enemy lines. You’re seeing if there’s a gap you might pass through. Same with a negotiation. You’re going in with a set of priorities. You’re hopeful there’s progress you could make on several issues. But you’re testing the problem with that same sensibility of what will yield and what will not — as an avenue to agreement. You’re doing reconnaissance in the same way a scout would do on the field.

Are you unusually comfortable with chaos and complexity?

Maybe I tend in that direction. I think it makes life interesting. If everything were predictable — ho-hum!

You talk about luck and skill. Is there a relationship? The more skill you have, the luckier you get?

I think that’s true. It’s also mind-set. It comes back to that question of acceptance and optimism. If you think there isn’t a solution to a problem, you’re right. If you think there is a solution, maybe you’re right. But it means you’re going to look and work for it.


A Night For Spain To Shine

Jordan Wright
January 23, 2014
Special to 
DC Metro Theater ArtsBroadway Stars, and LocalKicks 

Spain’s Ambassador Ramon Gil-Casares (right) chats with a guest

Dozens of foodies and fashionistas crammed into the former residence of the Ambassador to Spain on 16th Street Thursday night to celebrate Spanish food and wine.  “TAPAS, Spanish Design for Food” runs through March 23rd in what is now a cultural center.   Current Ambassador Ramon Gil-Casares was clearly having a grand time receiving all guests.  The exhibit celebrates some of the most unique contemporary cooking and serving implements from Spanish product designers, including the latest innovations used in molecular gastronomy by elBulli Chef Ferran Adrià, named by Time Magazine in 2004 as one of the “Ten Most Creative Figures in the World, and his Harvard lecturing cohort, Chef Jose Andrés whose restaurant empire remains firmly footed in the U. S.

“Working with the best ingredients is how we create an astonishing dish.  But in order to create a memorable experience, the best elements of design, from the kitchen, to the table, to the plate, all must come together to tell an exciting story,” Andrés concludes.

To that end the show is organized to display over 200 items by leading the visitor through five separate rooms and passing alongside the ornately Moorish tiled room in the home’s interior courtyard.  Each area delineates the categories of kitchen, food and table with a place of distinction for the country’s treasured Iberican hams.

The exhibition includes an audio-visual presentation that reveals a selection of restaurant interiors and a wine tower showing some of the most daringly designed wine labels on over 100 bottles of wine.

Executive Chef Javier Romero of DC’s famed Taverna Del Alabardero worked alongside of Head Chef Rodolfo Guzman Aranda of Andrés’ Jaleo to send out delectable tapas.  Alas, the besieged servers were mobbed while exiting the kitchen door with trays of mussels nestled in sardine cans and topped with potato chips from Andrés’ new product line of gourmet Spanish delicacies.  Those tapas had to share the spotlight with Iberican ham wrapped around a tiny breadstick with a tutu of white cotton candy, mashed potatoes as vehicles for bits of omelet, and a luscious cherry gazpacho that hit all the right sweet-to-tart notes.  Viva España!

The Spanish Cultural Center is at 2801 16th Street, Washington, DC. 20009.  For further information visit


Wednesday 6 November 2013
the drinks business

Paper wine bottle to go on sale in US

5th November, 2013 by Lucy Shaw

British packaging firm GreenBottle has launched the world’s first paper wine bottle in the US with California wine producer Truett-Hurst, with a label designed by Stranger & Stranger.

While Stranger & Stranger designed the label graphics, GreenBottle partnered with Truett-Hurst to develop the Paperboy wine product, the bottle for which is made from compressed recycled paper and weighs just 65g – a seventh of the weight of an average glass wine bottle.

Paperboy will be the first paper wine bottle in the world to go on sale, making its debut in the US this week.

GreenBottle’s managing director Mark Eaves told the drinks business: “We’re delighted to finally have our paper wine bottle on the shelf. A great concept has now become a viable reality. Paperboy is not only much

“We also know that consumers will revel in the safe portability and unique easy-pouring characteristics of GreenBottle, as well as the improved insulation properties, all of which combine to make it a great choice for out of home consumption as well.
 lighter and more environmentally friendly than glass bottled wines, it’s a great quality wine too.

“To export our bottles to the US and launch them in California is a huge milestone for GreenBottle but this is just the beginning. We’re convinced it has enormous potential in wine markets across the world. 

The interest in it has been phenomenal.”

As reported by packaging design website The Dieline, Paperboy is made from compressed recycled paper and printed with natural inks.

While the outside of the bottle boasts a black ink retro graphic of a freckled, hollering paperboy, the inside contains a recyclable sleeve similar to those found in boxed wine.

GreenBottle told db that the bottle has a carbon footprint which is less than one third that of an equivalent glass bottle.

“Paperboy is about as green as it’s possible to make a wine bottle. They weigh only an ounce when empty so save a huge amount of energy on shipping,” Shaw said.

“The bottles a

re rigid and strong; they’re even ice bucket safe for three hours,” he added.

Filled with a 2012 red blend from Paso Robles, Paperboy went on sale in US supermarket Safeway this week and will be available across America soon.

Safeway has proved open-minded to wine packaging innovations – last year it enjoyed success with Truett-Hurst’s range of five wines wrapped in recycled paper.

The same winery commissioned Shaw to create a square wine bottle for its California Square range, which launched in the US last month.

The California Square range comprises a 2012 Russian River Valley Chardonnay, a 2012 Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon and a 2012 Paso Robles red blend made from Petite Sirah, Syrah, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, and Merlot.

Truett-Hursts’ Paperboy wine bottle is made from compressed recycled paper



5 Wine & Food Pairing Guidelines


By The Washington Post, Wednesday, September 11, 2013





Source: Wine Folly

Sommeliers use opposing taste profiles such as sweet and sour all the time to create perfect food and wine pairings. Follow the simple set of guidelines below to make the best wine and food pairings at home.

Champion the Wine
The number one guideline is to bring out the best characteristics of a wine. A high tannin red wine will taste like sweet cherries when paired with the right dish. Focus on the characteristics that you want to champion and make sure that the wine will shine instead of fighting against the food.
Bitter + Bitter = Bad
Since our tastebuds are very sensitive to bitterness, it's important to pay special attention to not pair bitter food and high tannin wine. Green Beans with Cabernet Sauvignon will multiply bitter tastes. If you want to pair a high tannin wine, look to foods with fat, umami and salt for balance.
Wine Should be Sweeter
As a general rule, make sure that the wine is sweeter than the food and you will have a successful wine pairing. If the wine is less sweet than the food it's matched with, it will tend to taste bitter and tart. This is why Port wine is perfect with dessert.
Wine Should be More Tart
A wine should have higher acidity than the food it's matched with otherwise it will taste flabby. For instance, a salad with vinaigrette is better with an extra brut Champagne than a buttery Chardonnay. 

Improve an Earthy Wine
Ever hear that Old World Wine is better with food? On their own, Old World wines can be very earthy and tart. However, when you pair an earthy wine with something even more earthy like mushroom stroganoff, then the wine tastes more fruity.



Chatting with Super Composer Hans Zimmer About Man of Steel

Man of Steel
 Henry Cavill and Amy Adams in Man of Steel. Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures
Special to The Credits - MPAA

According to a 2007 British survey Hans Zimmer is considered “one of the world’s 100 living geniuses.” He shares space on the list with the likes of Stephen Hawking, Prince and Philip Glass.  Zimmer’s own list of achievements includes an Academy Award, several Golden Globes, Grammys, Lifetime Achievement Awards, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and dozens of film credits that attest to his significant contribution to many of the industry’s finest films.

Zimmer’s scored a slew of classics. Driving Miss DaisyRain Man and The Lion King are a few of his famous past films, as well as more recent blockbusters like Pirates of the Caribbean, Madagascar, The Da Vinci Code, Sherlock Holmes, The Thin Red Line and Dark Knight. Today’s release of Man of Steel continues this living legend’s legacy of creating the mood and musical identity of some of our biggest films.

There may not be a single filmgoer who has not been touched by his music.  The Credits spoke to him about his craft, his passions, and his hopes for Man of Steel.

Hans Zimmer

Hans Zimmer

The Credits: Can you talk about your approach to composing for Man of Steel?  How did your sense of the script guide you?

Zimmer: Not one bit. I never read it. I told David Goyer [Man of Steel scriptwriter] forgive me for not reading it. For me there are two types of directors. There’s the writer/director and the director that works from somebody else’s script—and what’s important for me is figuring out what the director has in his head. So I said to Zack [Snyder, Man of Steel director] let’s sit down. Tell me the story. And while the telling is going on I find out what’s really in his heart—what the emphasis is for him. The weird part of the process is that as someone tells you the story you start to come up with sounds and music. So in my head I’m scoring Zack telling me a story. That helps with starting. But also I was somewhat overwhelmed by the enormity of the task. Because I was working on Dark Knight Rises at the same time and I didn’t think I was quite up for it. The master, John Williams, had done rather well by it, and it was part of my growing up and DNA loving John Williams’ score. The inevitable comparisons are out there, but I couldn’t care less about what anybody says. Find me a composer who isn’t driven by paranoia and neurosis.

I don’t ever remember seeing a film that had a musical score throughout most every scene. It must have been quite a task to create such an enormous score.  What was the reasoning behind that decision?

It’s because the score is fairly new. It goes from me playing a little upright piano to these rather grand gestures that you’d expect. In an odd way, though it’s a Superman movie, there’s an absolute inherent reality in this film, because America really is America, and America is real. So it felt like it would be nice to create this “through line” from the word go to the end. When we get to the second half it gets pretty intense, but we tried to use music to create beautiful silences as well. For example, when Krypton blows up, and I don’t think I’m giving anything away here, the tendency would be to go hugely bombastic and throw everything at it–but it’s just one single solo violin.

Can you talk about the musical transitions in the film when you segue from battles to farm scenes? Do you look at the film and it comes to you or is it a separate process?

Transitions are tricky because we change tones so dramatically, and you just hope that you’re replacing very kinetic energy with emotional energy, because I did try to make the farm scenes tiny and emotionally poignant. Part of the disadvantage I have in this interview is I haven’t seen the movie with an audience. All I know is that I spent many months loving the process and that’s truly the whole thing.  I love writing music and sitting with my friends and colleagues and the musicians and the director and we’re building something and hoping people will love it as much as we love the process.  But by the end of it you have no idea if you’ve succeeded or not.  You just try your best.

How hard was it to make this music different when everyone already knows the music from the Christopher Reeves’ movies and John Williams’ score?

It really comes from the filmmakers having a very different take on how we can tell the story.  I remember when we were doing Gladiator with Ridley Scott and he was speaking about when he first saw Spartacus and how it resonated with him and how those movies should sound. And I kept saying to him but that’s my job, that the next bunch of fourteen-year olds should have their own music.

And that’s what Chris [Producer, Christopher Nolan] wanted me to do…to find my own language. If Zack had sat down with John Williams and told him the story the way he told it to me, John would have written a very different score from the one he wrote [for the earlier film], because it’s a very different movie. Ultimately I write from a very personal perspective. I have to find my own personal bits. Being a stranger in a strange land, being a foreigner in a culture that is not necessarily your own culture, and forever being torn between the two cultures, I think is interesting. And so for me as a foreigner I think there’s a chance to hold up a mirror to America and to let it see the things it’s become a little bored with. The things it takes for granted.

What do you mean by ‘the things America takes for granted’?

I remember when we were in the Grand Canyon shooting Thelma and Louise and we were saying, “Wow! It’s the Grand Canyon!” and there were these kids standing there saying, “Dad, Can we go home? It’s just the Grand Canyon.” So as a foreigner that used to look at America with wonderment, I just want to give that back to America. To say, “Look at your towns. Look at your people.  See what’s good and decent and noble.”  I have no idea if I’ve succeeded. At the end of the day it comes down to two questions; were you entertained or did it make you feel something?  That’s all you can hope for. That somewhere in one little corner of this vast movie you got to feel something and you were in this world.

It’s one of the reasons I didn’t want to use the old Superman theme. Because suddenly you would have recognized it and thought, this is the old Superman, and then you would have been aware you were watching a movie. I was terrified of parody in any sense, even unwitting parody. Part of my very simple plan was to exorcise anything out of my orchestra, like the main instruments that I remember John Williams using, like the trumpet fanfare. I didn’t use any of that. By narrowing my palate I felt I was doing something different.

Do you compose electronically, on a piano or on another conventional instrument?

Nothing conventional!  I had two weeks of piano lessons. That’s my formal education. I write the stuff in my head and then I use a computer with a music word processor. After all, I am a child of the twentieth century and whatever works is how I get there.

Have you ever had your music pirated?

Yes, of course my music gets pirated all the time!  The thing that worries me the most, from a film composer’s point of view, is that the more things get pirated, the less value they have. And the flip side of this is there are all kinds of horrible and nasty things you can say about Hollywood. But you should always remember that Hollywood is the last place on earth that commissions orchestral music on a daily, if not hourly, basis. It gives children a reason to have a passion to learn an instrument and actually make a living at it.  So every time one of those very expensive film scores gets pirated what you are doing is directly affecting if we’re going to have, or not have, orchestras left in this world.  If we lose orchestras, it’s going to rob us of more than just a bit of culture. There’s a lot of heart that’s going to go missing.

In Mozart’s time he had to make sure he could get his score published the following day because during the premiere there would be people in the audience scribbling along and pirating it the next day.  Pirating has been going on forever.

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Re-posted with permission from Jordan Wright, Managing Director of Whisk and Quill LLC, a food, spirits, travel, and theatre writer.


D.C. Now Bigger Than Vermont, Less Car-Dependent, No More Represented in Congress

Posted by Aaron Wiener on Dec. 20, 2012 at 12:05 pm

Suck it, Buck!

Washingtonians, rejoice: In our dream world in which the District is a state, it is now only the third-smallest state!

According to new census figures, D.C. gained 13,303 people between July 2011 and July 2012 to reach a population of 632,323, overtaking Vermont, which lost 581 people to drop to 626,011. Wyoming remained dead last at 576,412.

D.C. was also the second-fastest-growing "state" at 2.15 percent growth, trailing only North Dakota (2.17) and leaving third-place Texas (1.67) in the dust. The District had 9,156 births and 8,953 in-migrations in the past year.

The city's growth was accompanied by a continuing decrease in reliance on cars. The percentage of households with no vehicles increased from 36.9 percent to 38.5 percent.

One thing that didn't change: that whole taxation without representation thing. Though D.C.'s at least as entitled to a voting representative and two senators as Wyoming or Vermont, we're stuck with a single non-voting delegate—Joe Lieberman's efforts notwithstanding.

So I'll take this opportunity to call down a curse on puny but better-represented Vermont: May your treasured maple trees henceforth ooze nothing but mumbo sauce!



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IBIS music society festival highlights female composers’ work

Matt Mendelsohn/IBIS Chamber Music - The IBIS Chamber Music Society consists of members of the National Symphony Orchestra, the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra and several other well-known chamber music groups.

By Cecelia Porter, Published: February 27

On Sunday the IBIS Chamber Music Society opened a festival of rarely heard music at Arlington’s Rock Spring Congregational Church titled “Women’s Voices Through the Centuries.” The beautifully played eye-opener was the first of two concerts devoted to works by women composers of the 20th and 21st centuries. IBIS consists of members of the National Symphony Orchestra, the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra and several other well-known chamber music groups.

Audiences frequently ask me, “Is there any good women’s music?” and, “Where do we go to hear it?” Harpist Susan Robinson said Sunday, “This festival aims to highlight a few of the extensive stores of never-performed women’s compositions languishing on library shelves.”

The afternoon event highlighted some fascinating compositions in a first-class performance aided by the church’s perfect acoustics. Flutist Adria Sternstein Foster and Robinson opened with a finely wrought version of Stella Sung’s “Dance of the White Lotus under the Silver Moon,” a panoply of boldly contrasting colors and textures tinged with swirling Asian microtones. Robinson gave a ravishing solo account of Germaine Tailleferre’s “Sonate pour Harpe,” a mass of flurrying, insistent melodic motifs segueing into Latin rhythms and a breezy finale. Along with pianist Edward Newman, Daniel Foster offered Rebecca Clarke’s impressionistic Viola Sonata from 1919. Foster’s tone in the meditative Adagio was sumptuous, while both players charged through the other movements with gusto and tight ensemble.

The most striking piece was Jennifer Higdon’s Piano Trio (violinist Joseph Scheer, cellist Igor Zubkovsky and Newman), an essay in expressing colors in musical terms. The movement “Pale Yellow” seemed an overly anemic statement of neo-classicalism. But “Fiery Red” stormed furiously in a pounding toccata style. Scheer, Joel Fuller, Adria Foster, Daniel Foster and Zubkovsky closed with Amy Beach’s harmonically mellow “Theme and Variations for Flute and String Quartet,” a sonorous recall of Mendelssohn and other romantics laced with zestfully rendered fugues.

The second concert, titled “Wives, Sisters and Daughters,” will be held March 11 at 4 p.m. at the Rock Spring Congregational Church.

Porter is a freelance writer.


New York Times

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

 Thinking Inside the Box


IT’S the epitome of déclassé, the vinous equivalent of trailer trash, the wine snob’s worst nightmare. No, I don’t mean the screw cap. I’m talking about boxed wine.

Despite the almost reflexive elevation of noses at the mention of boxed wines, one significant detail undermines these smug dismissals: the idea of putting wine in a box, or more accurately, in a bag within a box, is brilliant. The packaging solves significant problems that have dogged wine for millennia, whether it was stored in urn, amphora, barrel, stone crock or bottle.

No matter how elegant or handy those containers may be, their fixed volumes permit air to enter when wine is removed. Air attacks and degrades wine, making it imperative to drink up what remains, usually within no more than a few days.

The bag-in-a-box, to use the unlovely industry term, resolves this problem of oxidation by eliminating space for air to occupy. Wine can stay fresh for weeks once it has been opened. But while the packaging may be ingenious, what’s inside has been a problem.

Quite simply, the quality of the boxed wines sold in this country has been uniformly bad. Those in the wine trade have tried to explain this sad fact by citing an entrenched public perception of boxed wines as wretched. What’s the point of putting better wines in boxes, they said, if people won’t buy them?

Even so, the logic of placing wine in a box is so compelling that sooner or later, some producers were going to take a chance that better wines would sell this way. I have had isolated examples in the last few years of just the sort of fresh, lively, juicy wines that thrive in the bag-in-a-box environment. Did this signal that overall quality was turning a corner?

To answer the question, the wine panel recently tasted 20 wines from three-liter boxes. We tasted 12 reds and 8 whites, without regard to price or provenance. The only guideline for our tasting coordinator, Bernard Kirsch, was to seek out producers who were striving for quality. For the tasting, Florence Fabricant and I were joined by Colin Alevras, the service manager at the Dutch, and Alexander LaPratt, the sommelier at db Bistro Moderne.

Let me backtrack for a moment. To say that consumers have rejected boxes is not strictly accurate. At the lowest echelon of quality, the realm of domestic burgundies and rhine wines, a great deal of boxed wine is sold. These boxes, largely in five-liter sizes, the equivalent of 6.67 bottles, which might sell for as little as $12, did especially well just after the economic meltdown, said Danny Brager of the Nielsen Company, which tracks sales.

But sales are relatively flat now. The biggest growth in boxed wines, Mr. Brager said, was in the three-liter, higher-priced category: that is, $20 or more. Sales last year were up 19 percent, he said, and this year through June they are up 16 percent.

So let’s get to the crucial question: How were the wines?

Without a doubt, the choices are far superior to what was available five years ago. Among the wines we liked best, we found more than a few that we’d be happy to serve as a house pour, especially among the reds. We liked the boxes brought in by two small importers who specialize in French wines: the Wineberry Boxes from Wineberry America, and From the Tank from Jenny & François Selections, who focus on natural wines.

Jenny Lefcourt of Jenny & François became a fan of boxed wines while living in France for 10 years. “I always thought it was a fantastic way of serving and conserving wine,” she said. “I didn’t see any disadvantages to it, except that people still have a negative image of them in the U.S.”

Since the From the Tank wines, one white and one red, were introduced in 2008, she said, they have taken off nationally. “I’m pretty bowled over by the success of it,” she said. “We were cautious at first, but we just kept selling out.”

Wineberry began with its boxes two years ago, and now sells three reds, two whites and a rosé. The Wineberry boxes are unusual in that they are made of wood rather than cardboard, which gives them heft, solidity and a certain personality the cardboard boxes lack.

“We live in the most sophisticated area in the world,” said Eric Dubourg, the founder of Wineberry, which is based in New York. “People care about what things look like. Still, the quality of the wine is the main point.”

True enough, and Wineberry’s 2010 Côtes-du-Rhône from Domaine le Garrigon was our clear favorite, with its fresh red fruit and mineral flavors. A juicy, pleasurable wine, it would be good for gulping uncritically but offers enough interest to satisfy people who care about what they are consuming.

We also liked the From the Tank red, a 2009 Côtes-du-Rhône from Estézargues, a very good cooperative. This, too, was fresh and lively, though perhaps a little more straightforward than the Garrigon. Still, these were exactly the sort of pleasing wines we were hoping to find, and reasonably priced. Both were under $40 a box, the equivalent of less than $10 a bottle, and excellent values, in fact, compared with most $10 bottles.

The boxed whites on the whole were less attractive. Too many were flat, lacked vivacity and seemed muted aromatically. We liked our top white well enough, the 2010 Torre del Falasco from Cantina Valpantena in the Veneto region of Italy. It was made of the garganega grape, the main grape in Soave, but for one reason or another didn’t qualify to be called Soave. Nonetheless, it was lively, with the nutlike quality that I often find in Soave and a fine value at $27.

Our next white, a 2010 New Zealand sauvignon blanc from Black Box, struck none of us as sauvignon blanc in the blind tasting. This was odd, as sauvignon blanc is generally one of the easier grapes to identify. But this wine, while fresh and tangy, lacked any sauvignon blanc character. We liked it enough to make it our No. 6 wine. We also liked the 2010 Picpoul de Pinet from La Petite Frog in the Languedoc, in southern France, a very pleasant summer drinker.

Even though two more whites made our Top 10, we all thought they could have been better. It occurred to me that while box packaging solves a problem once the wines are opened, it perhaps creates one before they are opened.

 Unopened boxed wines have a shorter shelf life. The box and bag are more porous to air than an unopened bottle, so they must be consumed relatively young. What’s more, because they are so inexpensive, they may not be handled or stored with great care. Heat and vibration can be hard on whites in particular, which is one possible reason the whites didn’t perform as well as the reds.

I said these wines were cheap, but we indeed had one outlier. It was our No. 3, Dominio IV’s Love Lies Bleeding, a 2009 pinot noir from the Dundee Hills in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. It cost $90, almost twice as much as the next most expensive box on the list, Wineberry’s 2010 Bourgogne Blanc from Baronne du Chatelard, which was $48. What accounts for this disparity?

For one thing, grapes from the Dundee Hills aren’t cheap, and neither is aging the wine in oak barrels, 30 percent new, said Patrick Reuter, the winemaker.

The wine was fresh and deep, very ripe and a bit oaky but clearly identifiable as good pinot noir. Mr. Reuter said the boxes had sold well to restaurants, which poured it by the glass. But consumers, he said, seemed to think that the high price required a more elegant vessel.

“I think I need to think out the packaging,” he said.

At the same time, he said, he has kept a box on the counter in his kitchen for months, and the wine is still good.

“I can’t believe how intact it’s stayed,” he said. “It’s the craziest thing.”


Tasting Report

Domaine le Garrigon, $39, ***
Côtes-du-Rhône 2010, 3 liters
Aromas of red fruit and herbs, fresh and lightly tannic, lingering flavors of fruit and minerals. (Wineberry America, New York)

From the Tank Côtes-du-Rhône, $37, ** ½
Estézargues 2009, 3 liters
Fresh, bright and balanced, with tangy flavors of red fruit. (Jenny & François, New York)

Dominio IV Dundee Hills Pinot Noir, $90, ** ½
Love Lies Bleeding 2009, 3 liters
Rich cinnamon-scented fruit with clear pinot noir identity, but a touch too much oak flavor.

Cantina Valpantena Veronese, $27, ** ½
Torre del Falasco I.G.T. Garganega 2010, 3 liters
Lively with mellow flavors of nuts and minerals. (Omniwines, Flushing, N.Y.)

Château Moulin de la Roquille, $39, ** ½
Francs Côtes de Bordeaux 2009, 3 liters
Dark fruit flavors with a pleasant herbal edge and a light rasp of tannins. (Wineberry America)

Black Box New Zealand, $22, ** ½
Sauvignon Blanc 2010, 3 liters
With flavors of peaches and apricots, it doesn't quite taste like sauvignon blanc, but fresh, balanced and pleasing. (Black Box Wines, Madera, Calif.)

La Petite Frog Coteaux du Languedoc, $30, **
Picpoul de Pinet 2010, 3 liters
Dry and refreshing with flavors of nuts, citrus and herbs. (Kysèla Pere et Fils, Winchester, Va.)

Baronne du Chatelard, $48, **
Bourgogne Blanc 2010, 3 liters
Low-key and somewhat neutral with simple flavors of apples and herbs. (Wineberry America)

Würtz Rheinhessen Riesling, $27, **
2010, 3 liters
Light citrus, herbal and floral aromas; serve well chilled. (Domaine Select, New York)

Osborne Spain Seven Octavin NV, $20, **
3 liters
Straightforward and fruity red with a suggestion of sweetness. (Underdog Wine Merchants, Ripon, Calif.)

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August 1, 2011, 3:43 pm

Reconsidering Boxed Wine


Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

It’s taken a long time, but discerning American wine drinkers are slowly getting used to the idea of drinking wine from a box. No doubt, that is partly because the quality of boxed wines is improving, as the wine panel found.

Another reason is the rising popularity of kegged wines, which more and more restaurants are using to serve wines by the glass. Their acceptance, I think, has caused Americans to reconsider their reflexive distaste for alternative wine packaging.

The bag-in-a-box technology is uniquely suited to preserve wine once a package is opened. How does it work? A plastic bag, as big as five liters, is filled with wine. The bag is then placed within a cardboard box, which serves as a sort of exoskeleton protecting the bag. A plastic tap allows access to the wine within, through a hole in the box. As wine is poured through the tap, the process acts as a vacuum, sucking air out of the bag, which shrinks to encase the remaining wine. With no headroom for air to fill, the wine is well protected. Once opened, the wine lasts for weeks, rather than for a few days in a bottle.

The boxes have practical applications. They’re perfect for picnics or the pool or beach, providing that wine at the beach is legal. And, if your refrigerator can accommodate a box, you have wine available at a whim. If you just want a glass, or need a splash to deglaze a pan, you don’t have to open a bottle and worry about wasting the rest of it. They can be fun, too. I admit I get a kind of childish pleasure working the spigot, knowing I have if not an unlimited supply of wine, at least a lot of it available.

If the bag-in-a-box guards against air so well, why not put all wines in such containers? Simple. While the packaging prevents large amounts of air from attacking the wine, it is still relatively porous. Even when closed, air slowly penetrates the box and bag, at a much swifter pace than through a bottle and cork. For that reason, boxes are not appropriate for aging wines. It is also the reason that some boxes will have both a vintage date and an expiration date.

While the wine panel restricted its tasting to three-liter bag-in-a-box wines, another, very different category has caught on with consumers: Tetra Pak wines. These boxes, made of foil-lined paper like those used for juices and milk, are light and easy to carry but offer no protection against air once opened. A subject for future investigation.