Why I’m drinking lambrusco. A fascinating piece on the wine industry appeared in The New York Times this week, entitled “A Storm Washes Away Old Attitudes on Wine“. In it, a prominent New York sommelier described what happened when his prized cellar was flooded after Hurricane Sandy, taking the labels off the bottles and making them unsaleable. Many of these wines were so rare or expensive that the River Cafe’s Joseph DeLissio had never been able to drink them. But faced with putting them in the pasta sauce, he decided instead to taste them, and was shocked by the experience:

“Quite often, the most expensive, the most allocated, the most highly rated wines were just not worth it … I’m tasting these wines I never tasted, and more often than not they are disappointing. There’s an absolute lack of elegance in wines today in most regions today. It took (Hurricane) Sandy to make me say, ‘Man, what was I thinking?'”

One of the problems was that the wines he tasted, mostly from California, were simply too high in alcohol. He remembered a mentor telling him years before:

“Joe, if you can smell the alcohol, it’s too much, if you can taste the alcohol, it’s too much, and as a high-alcohol wine ages, the fruit and acids will drop out, leaving the alcohol.”

Alcohol levels in wine have been creeping up over the past few decades due to climate change, changing cellar practices and an industry response to critics who gave higher ratings to riper, more powerful wines. This issue is hotly debated in the Australian wine industry and was written about in Crikey by Adelaide wine writer Philip White just a few weeks ago. White notes that in order to please critics like Robert Parker, winemakers started leaving their shiraz on the vines a bit longer, “and up crept the strength, usually at the expense of delicacy and gastronomic art”:

“Put simply, winemakers began selling us bottles of highly alcoholic jam and forgot how to make wines of balance and finesse.”

My own solution, which is not very patriotic, is to drink anything on a wine list from Italy, as it is invariably lighter and more nuanced. After a 25-year hiatus, I’ve even managed to quaff a glass of lambrusco. Salute!

Why a bull market is like sex. The most widely anticipated epistle in the world, Warren Buffett’s annual letter to the shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway, appeared on the weekend. Berkshire Hathaway reported a record profit of $US19.5 billion this year. In the latest letter, the 83-year-old investment guru talked about two long-held assets: a corn farm in Nebraska (his home state) and a commercial building near New York University.

Both purchases illustrated a few fundamental rules of investing, he says. Firstly, you don’t need to be an expert to make good returns. But you must recognise your limitations. “Keep things simple … [and] when promised quick profits, respond with a quick ‘no’.”

Buffett also says you should focus on the future productivity of the asset you are considering, and if you don’t feel comfortable making a rough estimate of the asset’s future earnings, “just forget it and move on”. If you only focus on the prospective price increase of the asset, you are speculating:

“There is nothing improper about that. I know, however, that I am unable to speculate successfully, and I am skeptical of those who claim sustained success at doing so.”

With the corn farm and the commercial block, Buffett says he thought only of what they would produce and not about daily price fluctuations:

“Games are won by players who focus on the playing field — not by those whose eyes are glued to the scoreboard.”

His final piece of advice to the shareholders was that listening to the market predictions of others was a waste of time:

‘When I hear TV commentators glibly opine on what the market will do next, I am reminded of [star baseballer] Mickey Mantle’s scathing comment: ‘You don’t know how easy this game is until you get into that broadcasting booth.”‘

The mostly widely read part of the letter, however, was the page where he quoted the late money manager Barton Biggs: “A bull market is like sex. It feels best just before it ends.”

Family ties. The Australian Centre for Photography in Paddington, Sydney, is running the thought-provoking exhibition We Are Family, made up of photographic and installation works from seven female artists that focus on families created within gay and lesbian communities.

We Are Family

Deborah Kelly, from The Miracles, 2012

Curator C. Moore Hardy, a gay and lesbian rights advocate, says the show broadens our understanding of same-sex communities. “The exhibition is a celebration and realisation of just how far we have come, and the issues, joy, happiness and questions we still have to ask,” she said.

Deborah Kelly, from The Miracles, 2012

The artists represented include Michele Aboud, Deborah Kelly, Annie Magdalena, r e a, The Twilight Girls and Waded.

Peter Fray

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