Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Good wine is one of life's greatest pleasures. Whether you are a novice or a connoisseur, interested in simply sipping or expertly analyzing, enjoying a glass of wine can be a sublime experience. Wine is an often misunderstood beverage that seems to exude an almost stuck-up or snooty quality. Those who drink it are frequently thought of as know-it-alls or over-educated people with a poor disposition. However, wine can offer a great experience for the palate which cannot be rivaled by other (alcoholic) drinks. Nothing else can be served which so enhances the taste of a meal and thoroughly dazzle those who are eating it.
As young professionals I believe that we can benefit from a comprehensive guide on wine. Three years ago, I personally set out to accomplish this endeavor. I remember my line brother Dougan(@MrDougan)and I discussing the possibilities. Responses to wine are as individual as fingerprints. An aroma or flavor that is pleasing to you may not be so to another. The trick is translating your preferences into words. Accomplish this, and you will add new dimensions to your enjoyment of wine.
Unfortunately, many people find wine and how to choose, serve, and describe it more intimidating than enjoyable. The very scope of the topic seems daunting. But never fear -- you don't have to take a class to appreciate the subtleties of fine wine.
Still, as with many things in life, a little knowledge goes a long way. To appreciate wine as something more than mere drink, all you'll need is conscious, deliberate awareness. Let's face it: It makes little sense to pay the premium for wines of character only to swallow them unconsciously. Each wine has a personality waiting to be discovered: You just need to decide whether you like it.
Things to keep in mind before you Begin...
The best way to gain more of an understanding of wine is to try it – a lot of it! Taste as often as opportunity allows. This is the enjoyable part! There's no substitute for tasting, tasting, and more tasting. Try more than one wine at a time for the sake of comparison and add a few friends to the mix to have a really good time! Many liquor stores offer wine tastings in the evening or on weekends; these are great opportunities to try many different wines and/or wineries for little or no cost. (Shout out to Jewel-Osco's in Chitown, they 'set owt' the best wine/liquor tasting ever on BJ's(@briandavis4) birthday weekend. Their tasting embodies the "You can have whatever u like" theme literally.) Often, the wine is being poured by a distributor or independent winery which makes for interesting conversation and comparison. Don’t be shy about being new to wine; the people pouring can offer a lot of knowledge and advice about the different offerings. Ask a lot of questions – that’s always a great way to learn more - at least that is how I did.
Express yourself. It's difficult to know how or where to start describing a wine. And though it seems easy enough to sip and swirl the wine to judge its flavors, this can be a fleeting experience, one that may not add much to your taste memory in the long run. For this reason, it's a good idea to take some brief notes while you are sampling a wine, even if you never look at them again. The act of translating your instincts into words challenges you to make judgments and resolve uncertainties. This is where the notes/memo app on your smart phone device comes into play. Personally I always try and jot down a few adjectives to describe a new wine. Whether I am a huge fan of the taste or not. What is for you may not be for everyone, but what is not for you is most certainly for someone else - somewhere. As a former all white wine drinker, I forced myself to embody this principle by drinking all red wine for a few months. The result was a pleasant surprise. I acquired a taste for red wine and learned to distinguish the 'bad' from the 'not so bad.' Ultimately gaining an appreciation for my preferred wines even more.
There are four major types of wine: red, white, rosé (or blush), and champagne. Oh, and anything that comes in a can, a box, or a forty ounce container isn't technically wine; it will be listed on the menu under "This-Is-For-Lames."
As a general rule of thumb, red wines are heavier and more complex than white wines. White wines are usually a good place for beginners to start because they are initially more palatable to novices since they often tend to be sweeter.
Very often, a beginning wine-drinker will gravitate toward sweeter wines. These wines are typically less acidic (if a white) or have very little tannins (if a red). But Be sure to move beyond white zinfandel into some of the table whites and reds or possibly a riesling or a gewürztraminer. While there is nothing fundamentally wrong with a white zinfandel, there are so many characteristics of other light wines that it is a shame to ignore them simply because of your lack of knowledge. Experiment with the unfamiliar. Life is too short to restrict yourself to the "vanilla" and "chocolate" of the wine world: Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Take advantage of an opportunity to taste a wine you've never heard of. You may decide you don't like it, or it may prove delightful, opening up an entirely new avenue of wine exploration. Either way, you've added another dimension to your wine adventures.
If you are new to wines and are looking for a few suggestions - try a Riesling, Gewurztraminer, or a Muscat dessert wine if sweeter wines suit your fancy. If you prefer a dry white wine then look for a Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc. As for reds, starting with a Gamay, Pinot Noir, or Merlot if you do not want anything too complex or full-bodied. If you are looking to turn up the complexity meter, then go with a great California Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah (or Shiraz if its from Australia) or a Zinfandel.
If you've ever glanced at a restaurant wine list or browsed the wine aisle of the grocery store, you know there are a lot of different kinds of wine out there. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Several hundred grape varieties are used to make the world's wines, resulting in different flavors, personalities, and qualities. The sheer variety can make choosing just one bottle a bit overwhelming, especially when they all look so enticing. Then again, isn't it fun to consider the possibilities?
Wine choices are as vast and varied as the people who choose them. Many novice wine connoisseurs ask the same question over and over, how can I tell whether a wine is dry or sweet? The answer is quite simple...
Most wines produced are considered table wines. A table wine is defined as a wine intended to be consumed with a meal. Table wines come in a variety of choices and based upon the "flavor" of the meal, different table wines should be chosen at each setting. But, as for the dry/sweet question; nearly 99% of table wines are "dry".
Drinking a "dry" wine is an acquired taste that some people just never develop. Keep in mind that there are other wines that can be enjoyed with a less "dry" feel.
If you like the idea of serving wine with a meal, but do not have the palette for "dry" table wines, you should look into German wines. German wines are made from Riesling grapes and almost always have a slightly sweet flavor without being characterized as a dessert wine. There are many different varieties from red to white, so you will still be able to make a wine to a meal perfectly.
Another choice may be what is affectionately called, "pop" wines. "Pop" wines, like Italian Lambrusco, are less dry than many table wines ad employ a slightly bubbly nature and fruit level that is sometimes palletized as sweet rather than "dry".
The second option for wines with no "dry" feel would be dessert wines. It should be noted, however, that dessert wines are intended for sipping after dinner and not for meal consumption. Dessert wines are strong and very sweet. Varieties of dessert wines include Port, Sauternes, Muscat, and Cream Sherry.
There certainly are choices for wine lovers who simply are not attracted to the "dry" feel of common table wines. By choosing a slightly sweet German wine or "pop" wines you should be able to serve an amicable wine at dinner that all will enjoy. And, if all else fails, dessert wines are there to save the day.
Quick reference list of the basic sweet and dry wines...
- Names of Dry White Wines: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Chablis, Semillon, Chenin Blanc
- Names of Dry Red Wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Shiraz/Syrah, Zinfandel, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc
- Names of Semi Sweet, Semi Dry Wines: White Zinfandel, White Pinot Noir, Rose, Riesling, Muscat Cannelli
- Names of Sweet Wines: Madeira, Sherry, Vermouth, Port
The Rule of Pairing Up Your Wine with Your Meal...
The reason you need to be aware of the differences between red and white wine is because one of the oldest rules in fine dining is that you should attempt to harmonize your choice of food and drink. If you are going to be eating something delicate with subtle tastes, the Rule states, you should avoid drinking something with a strong flavor that will overshadow the food. Conversely, a hearty meal will often be best complimented by a strong wine with flavor of its own. Now every single guide to wine in the world makes a point of saying that the Rule is out of date and the only hard and fast dictate of wine drinking is to choose something you enjoy. I agree, go with what you like; but the art of learning to harmonize the two can be enlightening.
There is a reason that Rule evolved in the first place: it makes sense. Balancing food with drink may not be required anymore, but it's a good tip to keep in mind and will instantly push you off the Zero mark when you start eating at nice restaurants.
A specific corollary of the Rule is that white wines tend to go best with fish and white meats, like chicken and pork; red wines go best with red meat and red sauces. Another adjutant to the Rule is that you should begin with lighter wines and progress to heavier ones throughout the course of the meal. This policy again reflects the idea that you should not overburden your palate: if you start with a strong drink, your taste buds will be shot and you won't be able to enjoy anything that comes after it. That is why aperitifs are typically light drinks while dessert liquids, like port, are rich and heavy.
Nevertheless, while learning your preference, rely on your instincts when matching up wine with your food. If you pick a wine that you would drink all by itself, you'll pick a winner. Pick a good wine, regardless of what you're eating and even if your meal is less-than-great, you still have a good wine.
Last but not least, whatever you choose to do, have fun! Whether you find the experience of wine tasting enjoyable or not. At least you know there is one guaranteed result - A nice buzz. A keypoint during this here time - not many things, if any, are "guaranteed" anymore...
It was, after all, Benjamin Franklin who said, "There cannot be good living where there is not good drinking." Later he elaborated and explained, "We hear of the conversion of water into wine at the marriage in Cana as of a miracle. But this conversion is, through the goodness of God, made every day before our eyes. Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, and which incorporates itself with the grapes, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy."
~ Benjamin Franklin
Finally, I have a few seconds to breathe and post my second blog entry. When I last came to you, I just completed my first week as a summer in Big Law. Second year, same firm.. I thought I had it all figured out. At that time, my biggest concern was the lack of swag from my fellow summers (5 weeks in, I regret to inform you, they've never found it!) and when Leaning Loubies' heel was finally going to decide, "It is Well" and just give up. Well, its taken me 4 weeks to respond, b/c they've been working me like a runaway slave just returned to the field by the Mississippi Patrol.
It is no surprise that the recession is hitting Big Law hard. YBF and The Life of a Burgeoning Professional are not the only blogs I read, so in my daily rounds I scan ATL and read story after story about lay offs, pay freezes, pay cuts, budget cuts, etc, etc. I came into the summer prepared for what it was going to be.. or what I thought it was going to be. I knew the fancy 4 days trips were no more. I knew I could kiss goodbye a week full of lunches at: The Four Seasons, Buddakan, Amada, Davios and Capital Grille, in no particular order, sprinkled with evening drinks at the Rittenhouse, following a delicious 4 course dinner at Barclay Prime. I was ready for "stealth" (all you ATL readers know, that is the big law buzz word) cutbacks, but I was not ready for what I have been experiencing. Despite the minor alterations the summer programs would make, I still figured we were overall.. recession proof.
Never last summer would I have to do a 65 hour work week to get most of my "work" completed, nor would that have been allowed. I can vividly recall once last summer, when I was still in the office at 7, waiting for my then "situation" to come get me for dinner, I had a partner and an associate tell me, I seriously needed to get out the office. Instead, as my eyes can barely stay open at 10PM because I've been here since 7:30, the associates just walk by, knowing I remember what it was like last summer and therefore the 180 on the expectations is more prevalent, and just give me a look.. The look basically means, "It's a recession.. whatareyougonnadoaboutit?"
Hey, it is what it is. I guess this first year salary isn't a free gift with purchase of a law school education anymore, it's apparently something I need to work for. But having reality hit before I am actually an associate has started the wheels churning. See years ago (and by years ago I mean 365 days ago), when a summer associateship was like day camp, you didn't really know what life in BigLaw would be. In other words, you got bamboozled. Your mind consumed with images of 5 star hotels, restaurants, and other goodies, constant lunches, dinners, and a daily 5PM departure left you naive. By the time you found out what it really was, you had signed on the dotted line.. and were a slave to BigLaw until liberated by CitiBank, Sallie Mae or any other lender you owed your life. But I, got a taste of the real life before it's "too late", and let me say, I'm starting to question my assertion that being a Corporate Lawyer in Big Law was the good life.
Don't get me wrong, I love the work I do. I love the "sexiness" of closing a $400,000,000 deal. But at the same time 65 hour weeks and 11 o'clock nights, make me wonder if this is for me. What about when I have a family? Will I ever have time to build a family if I'm stuck here til unGodly hours? Will I be able to maintain my swag with bags under my eyes from not going to bed til after 1 and waking up by 6 and never having time to hit the gym? I know this isn't the day to day (or so they claim), but if I'm really doing what I have to do to make my mark, isn't that what my day to day should be? Despite the concerns and thoughts swirling through my head.. I'm not ready to give up my dream.. just yet. I've worked too damn hard and kicked open too many doors, to just throw in the towel over a few missed episodes of "Real Housewives of New Jersey" (in my defense, I'm missing the reunion--that is big), trips to the gym and outings with friends. With that said, for the rest of the summer I have my game face as I try to figure out what's in store for my career. But for all you summers who thought you were recession proof? FORGETABOUTIT.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Am Law 200 firms on down are beginning to look beyond the billable hour as the lip service that has been paid to alternative fee arrangements for years starts to become reality in this buyers' market.
To be sure, even by accounts of alternative fee advocates, the billable hour is not dead and probably never will be. But a shift, slow as they go in the legal industry, is afoot in terms of how firms work to provide value for clients. And in this movement, the billable hour is seen as the antithesis of efficiency and value.
Dechert senior counsel William B. Lytton, a former GC for Fortune 100 companies, said for the most part firms don't offer and law departments don't ask when it comes to anything other than the billable hour. The larger firms will lead the way on this transition to alternative fees and it will be the ones that can get there first that will be best positioned in the market, he predicted.
But even people who embrace the concept of alternative billing methods are overwhelmed and cautious by the required shift in law firm structures, Association of Corporate Counsel General Counsel Susan Hackett said. "We're in that horrible middle stage," Hackett said. "As to whether or not it's inevitable, yes it is. For those who are saying the talk is because of the economy and that once things go back to normal we'll go back to billing as we used to -- wrong."
Evan Chessler recently wrote an interesting article in Forbes Magazine entitled “Kill the Billable Hour.” Mr. Chessler acknowledges that clients hate the billable hour because they feel the hours wrack up to meet firm requirements, they have no control over how their money is spent and there is no correlation between cost and quality. He admits that lawyers hate billable hours a well. He proposes that at reasonable intervals that client and lawyer agree on a price for work to be accomplished so that the client is not “surprised by a whopper bill.”
Perhaps that is easy for Mr. Chessler, but in practice, lawyers know that it is often difficult to estimate fees because in litigation,much depends on how litigious and how reasonable your opposing counsel may be during the course of the litigation. So I think that arranging for flat fees at reasonable intervals may be problematic for both firms and clients. For example, if a case seems as if it should go away early, but doesn’t and the opposing counsel is very litigious, then estimates based just on a legal analysis of the case may not be reflective of actual fees incurred. On the other hand, if a case that was thought to be complex is settled early in, the lcinet may have paid too much in a flat fee based upon anticipated necessary work.
Ricard Lloyd writes about some creative ways that British firms have devised to get around the billable hour requirement. British Television Network ITV asked its outside counsel to come up with alternatives to hourly billing. General Counsel Andrew Garard joined the company in 2007 from the London office of Dewey & LeBoeuf and wanted ITV to become the first UK company to have its outside counsel abandon hourly billing. Garard vetted and put together a group of outside counsel comprised of 9 law firms who were committed to alternative billing.
One of the law firms, Slaughter and May, has never used billable hours nor doe sit have any billable hour requirements for its attorneys. At the end of a job they ask clients if they have done a good job and pay is base on that assessment.
The articles conclude that the trend will be away from the billable hour. Firms would be wise to anticipate this evolution in the practice of law and to come up with strategies to propose to clients before clients require alternatives that may not be as appealing.