Friday, August 31, 2012

So, where are the guys from "High Fidelity?"

I was listening to a podcast yesterday, specifically: The Nerdist interview of JJ Abrams. In the interview, JJ implied that we miss the days of bookstores and record shops, and have tried to replace those with other things, like restaurants. I never thought about it in those terms. There is no doubt we have seen a surge in "foodie-ism" over the last decade or so, and we have also seen the disappearance of record shops and bookstores. Is this possible? Have we taken the vacuum that was created by amazon and itunes  and filled it with bacon and pinot?

It's certainly possible.

There was something about the feeling of community, being in the record shops or bookstores all those years ago. They offered a personal, yet shared tactile experience. Now that the tactility of media has practically vanished (save a movie or concert experience), apparently, we need that sense of a shared tangible experience. Since food and wine is an experience that begins visually, we can share amazing photos of our foodie journeys throughout the inter-tubes. Some people don't get this and think that it's about gloating or showing off. Maybe that's a hidden part of it, but people that are into great wine and food love to share experiences both ways.

Not only do you have the shared e-meal (I like this term!), you also, probably, physically go to restaurants to share the experience with patrons around you. It's almost like an unspoken common energy, so reminiscent of the Saturday morning visits to the record stores with coffee in hand.

As I'm sorting all of this out, I also realize that something else has changed: restaurants look and act more like those record and book stores from back in the day.  The wait staffs wear "chucks" and are tatted up, something that would have only been seen in the aforementioned shops 15 years ago. The music is hip, and the best food doesn't necessarily come served on a tablecloth. Picnic tables and rolls of paper towels are just as likely. Convention has been broken by the needs of the people to have this progressing conversation about the art and love of food and wine. One that has outgrown the boundaries and expectation of the privileged and has found itself squarely in the lap of the literate, art loving, thoughtful bohemians.

While I'm sad that record stores and bookstores have largely gone the way of the dodo, music and books haven't disappeared, they've just jumped mediums. Next time you wax nostalgic about the disappearance of these places, celebrate the restaurants and food culture that have risen from their ashes, subconsciously replacing that need.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Wines of the The Uncanny Valley

For those of you uninitiated in general geekdom, the uncanny valley is (wikipedia): when human replicas look and act almost, but not perfectly, like actual human beings, it causes a response of revulsion among human observers. The "valley" refers to the dip in a graph of the comfort level of humans as a function of a robot's human likeness.

In other words, it's so close, but you know something's not right. You may even be able to analyze the robot or humanoid (or rinoplasty patient), and decide that everything individually looks right, but there's something off.  For more on this ability, check out Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, pretty great read.

As humans, we are trained our entire lives to notice this weird quirk in other humanoids, because we spend our entire lives looking at millions of other specimens making silent, involuntary notes about behaviors, expressions, movements, etc.

I propose that there is now an uncanny valley of wine. This is a theory that I've vetted amongst a handful of wine theoreticians (is there such a thing?). The consensus seems to be that, after you really refine your palate, you begin to notice, not necessarily flaws, but seams in wine. Having never made or aspired to make wine, I can't tell you what the tricks may be to cover shortcomings of wine. I know you can add a ton of ingredients to wine to fix color, acid, etc. I've seen wines I know have been watered back that have this weird quality. Sometimes, and seemingly more often as of late, I'll taste a wine, and it almost creeps me out. It's not flawed, nor does it possess anything out of whack, it just doesn't seem right. The closer it gets to being like actual wine (made from generally natural processes), the stranger it feels.

It would seem that this is not readily identifiable to the vast majority of the population. I would also suggest that I see this most often with larger producers from the U.S..This sensitivity, at least in my world, probably stems from 2 things-a) I have tended to gravitate towards Old world wines produced somewhat naturally as well as the domestic wines in the similar style b) my seeming addiction from ages 8-14 to Ferrara Pan Candy, which calibrated my palate to artificial flavors, and am now hyper sensitive to.

So, now we live in an age where even bad wine is still pretty drinkable for most, but for me, that is an uncanny valley red flag. Better drinking through chemistry? Maybe. It's not for me to say whether this is a good thing or not, but I definitely get the heebie-jeebies from these concoctions.