Difficulties

Imagine a picture puzzle. It’s on a table, complete, but as you walk towards it, you note that the pieces don’t all fit together snugly. The end result is clear but the constituent parts look a bit doggy.

Difficult People on Hulu has an obvious conceit: New York Jewish woman pals around with gay best friend floating on a bed of pop-culture snark. Julie Klausner, the writer and lead actor, connects a loose federation of jokes and set-ups that create a cohesive whole until you notice the detail. Enter the dogginess.

After we understand the outline, too many gay set pieces begin to overwhelm everything else. Billy Eichner’s whining monotone drowns out his lines. Snappy zingers could (and I imagine the writers feel should) balance his lovelorn self-pity, but one ends up tuning out both to focus on…well, anything else.

Klausner gives herself some funny moments – one in particular being an adventure into questionable taste in Hoboken – but in general she’s more amusing acquaintance than rapier wit.

Because of that, the show’s overarching feel is that of gently entertaining pastime rather than destination viewing. Perhaps that’s what they’re aiming for; a docu-snicker at big city single/gay life with a few sheathed barbs for interest.

Performances of note include that of James Urbaniak and Andrea Martin, as Klausner’s shack-up stud and mother, respectively. Urbaniak has only two-dimensional lines with which to work, but manages to be both comic and sympathetic. Martin is blessed with some of the best material and the ability to work with it.

People’s singular failure is an inability to create laugh-out-loud moments. That’s a shame.

Milton Park Shiraz 2015

When the freely settled town of Adelaide was proclaimed in December of 1836, I wonder whether anyone could foresee the future of wine?

South Australia was a British colony distinct from all others in early Australia by the fact of it not being a jail. The jibe “…you’re all convict descendants…” from the poorly read makes any South Australian cringe.

In the way that wine has of combining an unlikely number of civilization’s elements, the history of growing grapes on the Adelaide plains combines them all. Geography, geology, climate, economics, migration, war, education and host of other humanity’s threads accumulated in this unlikely place at the end of the world. Today, we have as the biggest industry in the region the production and export of wine.

And pretty good wine at that. Grange is made here, as is the increasingly respected Henschke Hill of Grace. Further south on that list is this bottle, a wine that might be as good as any at being straight down the middle for a South Australian budget shiraz.

The back of the bottle notes are precise and accurate:

This full bodies Shiraz displays rich, ripe plum and berry fruits which is [sic] complemented by subtle spice and oak character. On the palate the soft round tannins and a mouth-filling richness complete...(the glass).

No need for me to reinvent words that work so well.

$11.99

Vecchia Cantina Rosso di Montepulciano 2014

DOC compliant, here we are cosying up to sangiovese again. And why not? Savory rather than fruit-driven, herbaceous, dry (obvs), and yet full of hints of roses and dried fruit potpourri, the reasons to pursue this grape are manifold.

Here’s the essential beauty and impenetrability of wine; it’s exotic (in the original sense of the word) and transports the elements of the place of origin to the consumer, who might be many miles away.

Romanticism is valuable to wine. Wine is a product of the long past of romantic language countries; the surprise is just how much power the yearning for such places still exists. For new world consumers, the idea – the idea -of Italian wine automatically creates a positive disposition. Either that or the idea of Italian wine engenders utter fear. Oh well.

For those of us who are sufficiently adventurous to spend fewer than fifteen dollars on a bottle of wine, the experience is often better than we hope. As with this bottle. Savory, layered, surprisingly tannic and in the best sense of the word, she’s a kind of winegate to Italy.

Be prepared for a multi-component nose, seamless transition to the palate and those terrific tannins.

$12.49

H to H Chateauneuf du Pape 2014

At the low end of the price range, here’s a slice of the Southern Rhone. Not really a slice, although there’s certainly enough going on in the glass to rival a delicious small snack.

There’s an interesting start to this wine, with its distinct glycerine meniscus; clear, sitting happily above the medium body dark cherry blend. This is an AOC wine, so it should be at least representative, and at most a beacon of wine quality.

It lives in the middle of those two extremes, which is impressive given the (more expensive) competition. There’s a warm dark fruit nose with a dusty barnyard-y nose, which improves with air. The more the better I’d say.

In the mouth I found a lot of flavour. There’s a kind of glamping feel about this wine – loads of quality, clear structure, layers of acid and bright fruit but with a dry herb (thyme) and smoky thread. With nothing overwhelming, it’s like gradually walking through a list of primary and secondary wine qualities. There are no rough edges,  and everything works through the tasting grid in order, and yet there’s the sense of still being in the vineyard.

$29.99

Vistamar Brisa Merlot 2015

Merlot sits astride the spectrum of red wines, pretty much bang in the middle. If syrah lies on the big end of things, with big body and its evocative opaque mystery, pinot noir lies on the other, with lightness of feel and look.

Middleness does not imply mediocrity. Here I’m talking about inherent qualities of the fruit, not the wine end-product.

Cool-climate merlots tend toward the red fruit, tobacco, tar, structure and tannic end of matters. Warm-climate merlots are more in the black fruit, cherry, chocolate, juicy acids and silky tannin mould. As with any complex product, nothing is ever binary in winemaking, but these generalizations hold reasonably well.

This Chilean number fits the cool-climate model. That’s interesting because when one thinks of Chile’s Central Valley, we wouldn’t immediately connect it with, say, the Right Bank of Bordeaux. But there they are, all of the recognizable characteristics; red fruit, medium-sweet tobacco and dry vanilla on the nose. Lively fruit with an earthy thread combine with structured tannins to produce a finish that lingers just so.

Chilean red wines seem to produce an earthy peppery note that is nowhere near peppery; like a kind of seasoning, as you’d expect on a good steak. It’s not salty, but feels like the equivalent in the wine. Here it is mild and only adds a nice half-layer of complexity.

$8.99

Albrecht Riesling Tradition 2015

Nominally dry, this is so much more.

There’s a point after the first sip of this wine when you might think: ummm, okay.

Then, when she begins to warm up, her charms gradually come to light.

There’s the subtle nose which reminds me of an expensive perfume; forget the cheap junk from your drug store, think more of the exclusive French stuff.

In the beginning there’s a kind of unimposing quality to this wine. In my experience, all the impact of – especially – a white wine comes in the first sniff and taste. In this one, the start is kinda anonymous; thereafter matters improve.

That might just be the first glass syndrome. You know. Once we have some alcohol in our system, we’re inclined towards a more positive outlook. I submit this is something more. Maybe a warming of the wine. perhaps something magical about nuance revealing itself.

Outstanding. Choose your food to go with it.

$18.99

Eifel-Pfeiffer Spatlese 2015

Double-barrelled names automatically imply importance. Okay, if not importance, then surely history.  And if not history, royalty, which some mistakenly think is the same thing.

Compound names were, in times past, reserved for aristocratic family unions. Beneath a certain (well defined) social stratum, women automatically took their husband’s name. When the value of a spousal union spread beyond the immediate couple and their family, everyone profited.

I have no idea about the melding of the Eifel and the Pfeiffer families. The first wedding, the adoption of the name and any romance associated with it is a subject best left to the imagination. When power forges with lust, anything can happen.

In any case, here we have a Spatlese. Riesling. Picked at a pre-determined ripeness, the future sweetness is thusly pre-determined, which is not to discount winemaking skill. Clearly in evidence, this is a glass of exuberance guaranteed to brighten your day.

The nose is not over-the-top, but on the palate the fun begins. All-star ripe (or even over-ripe) fruits give themselves a form with zest and brilliance. Sweet and crisp, bright and juicy, this is a symphony of German summer.

The finish gives us sliced apple acids, peaches and mandarin acids, lingering long enough to tempt us for another sip.

$21.99

Mueller Bereich Bernkastel QbA 2015

Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete. This is the ground floor elevator stop for the delicious high-rise that is the Riesling Building. You know this landmark of Wine City. It stands majestic and slightly aloof, separate from all others, ancient as Rome, modern as tomorrow.

Ahem.

Prädikat wines – those of distinctive harvest-timed grapes – begin on the second or third floor, but let’s not dismiss the yeomen on the lowest level. Those in the basement, perhaps, but QbAs are a solid and sometimes spectacular success.

Here’s a wine that’s not spectacular, but it is a quality glass. Not a large punchy wine, all the volume knobs are set low, like a Gerry Rafferty number rather than those Led Zep rieslings. And like a Gerry Rafferty tune, the fact of lower volume means the nuances of the different instruments are more noticeable. That and the lovely harmonies, as well as the soulful sax solo.

All that translates to a muted nose and absolutely delicious fruit of lemony-lime, ginger, late harvest fruit late on the palate and a complete, short finish. It might not have the view of higher floors, but it sure has a great office.

$12.49

Dr Loosen “Dr L” Riesling 2015

How much of an art is that of the winemaker in Germany? First one must deal with the far northern challenges of sun and cold. Then there are the regulatory boundaries, followed by the more granular catacombs of each vintage’s minor chaotic difficulties; frost, rain, hail, thunderstorms, to say nothing of the steep slatey land.

But through all of that is the grape itself. Ah, riesling, that most singular and misunderstood – if not misrepresented – iteration of vitus vinifera. Such a delight in all its forms.

* daydreaming of rieslings past, from Alsace to the Clare valley *

Riesling is one grape type that rides above many others. Because it grows in such tricky places and yet still manages to find itself made into an enormous range of wines, it’s easier to avoid it or, worse, dismiss entirely. I like her because she’s so easy to enjoy completely on her own terms, a kind of purity of intent; grapes, soil, weather, harvest, winemaking, aging.

That’s enough to be going on with. Nectarines, tennis ball, acids, summer fruits, acids, mild minerals, crisp sweetish lime,  if not.

$12.99

Gerd Anselmann Pfalz Kabinett Riesling 2014

Look at that shade of gold. How wonderful.

The viscosity says medium plus (at least).

Smell the richness of the aromas.

Oh my, what a glass. I’m not certain this is a classic Kabinett, but that hardly matters. My first thought is that this glass reminds me of something from the Clare Valley or the Eden Valley, both reisling resorts in South Australia. A punchiness in in evidence here, a quality reminiscent of antipodean rieslings.

That’s all a good thing. Take Pfalz fruit and add exuberance and this is the result. A wine that hints at being on the sweet side – almost candied fruit, almost juicy apricot – and yet remains clearly on the drier side with back of palate acids that keep all that fruit corralled.  Some guava finds its way into the glass too. It’s not complex, simply active.

Kabinett rieslings are supposed to be light and elegant. This is verging on medium weight and fiesty. Hooray for that.

$13.99