February 10, 2016

Wine of the Day: Idol Ridge Riesling 2013

Hello again. Tonight, I shall open a bottle of wine, namely this one:

The front of the bottle

The back of the bottle
This I bought along with several others from this winery at their booth at the 2015 Altamont Apple & Wine Festival. I collected quite a few Rieslings at that event, partly because I was doing comparison studies between the 'dry' and 'semi-dry' Rieslings available from several of those vintners who were offering both. I was interested to see what the relative range of sweetness would be between the two. As I recall, most of those that I sampled in this way had a more or less pronounced distance between their 'dry' and 'semi-dry' Riesling vintages. For the record, Heron Hill seemed to me to achieve the most reasonable separation, narrower than the others.

So I expect this vintage to be fairly sweet. Let's see...

Nose: somewhat fruity, a little pear-like, maybe.

Taste: a bit of a bite on the tip of the tongue; otherwise seems fairly smooth. Definitely on the sweetish side of things, though I'm not sure I'd say that it's really sweet (YMMV, obviously). I suppose the placement of the little indicator on the scale on the back label is accurate, though. Sweet enough that I won't be in a hurry to my second glass, but not so sweet that I'd feel overwhelmed.

Sweetness is obviously not the only palate-related topic we could consider here. Just a moment--I need to clean my eyeglasses so I can taste the wine better... There. At first I thought the bouquet hinted of pear, but on the palate, now I'm thinking more apricot/mandarin orange. Finish has perhaps just a hint of grapefruit.

Verdict: It's all right. Several years ago, I went through a Riesling phase. As I said in the last wine post, I'm much more attracted to Spanish reds nowadays, for example. But I never entirely gave up Rieslings. This one I think is a reasonable specimen of the type.

February 08, 2016

Car complaints

While my car is in the shop, I've been renting this little hatchback, a Hyundai Veloster. I like economy cars, also on those occasions when I rent a vehicle. This one is leaving me a little cold, though.

First off, the name: what the heck is a veloster? One expects most car models to be named after something, after all--an animal, a place, an emotion, a concept. I ask again: what the heck is a veloster?! It seems to be missing a syllable or something. Is it an attempt to evoke Jurassic Park (Velociraptor)? Or should I be impressed with its speed? (I've not tried to determine the maximum acceleration rate, so maybe it really is best-in-class 0-to-60 or something like that.) It just makes me want to snicker or cringe, or even better to snicker while cringing.

The thing handles well enough, though. But the really big thing that I don't like about this car: the sightlines and external visibility do not impress me. I usually use the mirrors less to check my blind spots before changing lanes, for example, compared to looking over my shoulders. Looking over my right shoulder in particular, given the structure of the rear windows and the C-pillar, I can't see a thing in the right blind spot. So I need to use the mirrors more, which is against my usual style. I don't like to depend on the mirrors with their potential for visual trickery (misjudgement of scale--see the aforementioned Jurassic Park for an amusing allusion to same). And the visibility out the rear window, mirrors or no, is not much.

Speaking of the rear-view mirror, there are three buttons along the bottom for OnStar, SOS calls and something else. (The rental came with no owner's manual for me to consult, so I don't know what the last button is.) Now if I want to use the dimmer switch, the natural place for me to put my thumb for the typical leverage on the mirror's edge is right where one of those buttons is. Suppose I don't feel like pressing that button while I'm flipping the dimmer into place? Too bad. So I have to use a less natural motion.

Ergonomically, I have a bit of a problem with the placement of the power-window and locking switches on the door's handrest a little farther back than I think they should be. Also, in the middle, where I would expect the armrest to extend to support my right elbow, it doesn't come far enough forward to do so.

One final (slight) flaw that I just discovered this evening, which really has nothing to do with the car as such: it's kind of difficult to properly brush snow off of a white car at night, because it's so hard to tell where the snow ends and the paint begins. I could gripe a bit about how the snow seems to want to accumulate in an exasperating manner in and around the door handles, especially on the third (rear) door; but that would be just peevish.

I will say that the important controls are laid out well enough and seem to work comfortably. The gauges are fine, too. I'm having a bit of trouble figuring out the MPG graph that's available in the onboard computer, but I'm not particularly concerned about it for the few days that I'm going to be driving this car.

So, while this Veloster is practical enough for short hauls for a single rider like me, I don't see myself hurrying to own one.

February 06, 2016

Wine of the day: Cune Crianza 2011

I have an idea! (Uh-oh, says the world.)

I could blog about wine.

How about this? With each wine I try out at home, I could take a picture of the label and write a little bit about the vintage. It's bound to be completely uneducated--I have no feel for the technical points of wine tasting. Please forgive my naiveté, of which there's bound to be a great deal in anything I say about wine.

Here's the label of the bottle I just opened:

The things you can learn about this stuff... I find it nice to read up a little on the vineyards from which my drinks originate. It seems that though the label says 'Cune' pretty clearly, the real intent there is the acronym 'CVNE', derived from the full name of the winery, as shown at the bottom of the label: Compañia Vinicola del Norte de España.

I like this one, as I do so many Spanish reds these days. Lively fruit bouquet with a bit of a teasing aspect--definitely not one-dimensional; active on various parts of the tongue, yet smooth behavior. It's a success, definitely.

On Spaceflight

A few days ago, I happened across this article that describes a hypothetical plan that might have been attempted to rescue the crew of the Columbia shuttle, destroyed on re-entry in 2003. Apparently, the plan described therein was an appendix to the official report on the crash. (I don't like to use nouns like 'tragedy' to describe such events, though they are certainly that. Such a choice of words seems to me to emphasize the emotional dimension of the event a little too much. Perhaps in a different context, I might describe it thus--but not on this occasion.) It's the most absorbing reading I've found this week.

February 01, 2016

Small thoughts on Grant

I do most of my non-chess reading over meals at home. I live alone, so I don't have to worry about my spouse or significant other being neglected while I read at table there. Be assured that if I did have a guest or mate or someone of that sort around, I wouldn't be reading like that with him/her/them at the table with me. Or at worst, I'd be reading aloud for their benefit.

That's precisely what's done at monasteries that I've been to during meals. Traditional practice in Orthodox monasteries (at least of the coenobitic variety), as far as I'm aware, is that meals are taken communally in silence, the only voice heard being that of a monk chosen to read aloud from a selection of spiritual commentary from the Fathers. When I was last at St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY, for example, the reading was from a book by St. Nektarios himself--I was only dimly aware of its subject, unfortunately, because the reading was in Greek and my Greek wasn't good enough to follow along. I find this a very salutary use of mealtime. If I had a wife and children, I might be moved to do something like this for them sometimes.

But as things are, I read to and for myself. Lately, I've worked through Ulysses Grant's memoir and, following immediately thereafter, the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. I suppose I could have read them a little more profitably in chronological order, but this is the way it worked out. I'd been keen on reading Grant for some time, more so than on reading Douglass. The latter turned out to be a very quick read in comparison--Grant's writing is fairly dense.

I here refer to the 1999 Penguin Classics edition of the Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant.

(By the way, I find the literary style that was apparently in vogue in late 19th-century America so appealing that I feel quite at ease adopting its cadences and manner. It's really amazingly agreeable to me. You can see this happen to me sometimes even in such a simple thing as that un-modern phrasing "I here refer...".)

Grant and I have some things in common. We're both Midwesterners, for one thing, he having been born in Ohio and I in Illinois (where he later lived as well). I see also that he had a tough time making anything of himself in early adulthood, having had a couple of attempts at going into business for himself fail in the 1850s. It took me longer than it should have to get my own career going, largely because of my own faults, so I can sympathize with such a life.

Grant is of course a military man, but not without wit and a subtle humor. See this rather biting comment on some of his fellow officers in the period of the war with Mexico, from the opening paragraph of chapter 3, for example:
It did seem to me, in my early army days, that too many of the older officers, when they came to command posts, made it a study to think what orders they could publish to annoy their subordinates and render them uncomfortable. I noticed, however, a few years later, when the Mexican war broke out, that most of this class of officers discovered they were possessed of disabilities which entirely incapacitated them for active field service. They had the moral courage to proclaim it, too. They were right; but they did not always give their disease the right name.

This is not characteristic of most of the memoir, though--Grant usually describes most everything in a very to-the-point manner with a minimum of editorialization. At least we can say that he has what in a modern American writer would be considered an almost pathological reluctance to advertise himself and his own role in the events in question. It's refreshing to read someone with such a sense of self-restraint.

Moments at which Grant describes contemporary protocol between American officers are of interest, such as his relation of the surrender negotiations at Fort Donelson (including but not limited to the famous 'unconditional surrender' missive) and of course the climactic encounter between him and General Lee at Appomattox, but also, along the way, several other interactions between him and the Confederate or Mexican commanders opposite him. I say they are of interest not only because of the fame of the historic occasions involved, but also because they show a kind of all-American chivalry or sense of honor, not so prettified or ritualized as would have been the case in a meeting between European aristocratic army officers of that or previous eras--though Grant commented rather ruefully on his own dressed-down condition compared to General Lee, the quintessential Southern gentleman, at Appomattox Court House--yet seemingly naturally assumed; courtesy without undue pretension, I guess, is a good way to describe it.

Grant has interesting comments as well on the quality of American vis-a-vis European soldiery of the time. In his view, the American Civil War produced a type of American soldier that was superior on a moral level to most European infantrymen, because the American soldier was literate and understood what he was fighting for. He makes mention of this sort of thing at a couple of different points in the narrative--I forget exactly where the first of these is found--I want to say somewhere during his account of the operations around Chattanooga in 1863-64. The second is toward the very end of the book, as part of his summation of the whole Civil War.

I am not quite sure whether Grant's views would have been quite accurate concerning the typical European soldier of the second half of the nineteenth century. It would be interesting to look at, say, a French or Prussian infantryman's diary from the Sedan campaign to see if those men might not have been more invested in their causes than Grant seems ready to give them credit for. Of course, French or Prussian peasants being relatively freer than Russian ones of the time, one might expect a somewhat greater level of reflection from the rank-and-file men. I note that Grant does not extend his comments to apply to the European officer classes. His point was to contrast the bulk of the army in the two cases, European versus American. Presumably the gulf in quality and morale between the officer classes of the two continents would not have been as wide.

I wish he had written something about his time as President as well. But maybe he would have viewed that as too self-aggrandizing, or he just didn't have the time to do so before he succumbed to his ailments.

I've written long enough on this--and it's so paltry--but it's getting very late, so it's time to sleep. Douglass will have to wait. Good night.