June 17, 2005

Terror and Booze

I started my day at work off with a seminar titled "Insight into Terrorism", a 2 hour presentation given by some Joe* employee of Sandia. Joe had 22 years experience in counter-intellignce work for a few of the 3-letter government agencies. The talk was quite interesting, and went over a lot of the financing methods Al Qaeda used to fund the 9-11 bombings and still use today to collect money for their cause. Some of the more interesting ones came from convenience store fraud, where they illegally redeemed huge quantities of grocery coupons and collected fraudulent welfare payments. The government has made currency a lot harder to counterfeit over the years, so they just found some clever loop holes. Also, it turns out that laundering money is a lot easier than I would have otherwise assumed. If you don't want to just eat a couple hundred thousand dollars worth of diamonds, and crap them out on the other end, you can just have someone with an ambiguous name shovel money into some foreign account, and take faith that most other governments won't just freeze an account on a tip from the U.S. (good for them). Of course money is more a means than reason for the driving success behind terrorist attacks. Their scrupulous efforts to remain discrete in planning and communication, given the huge amount of attention and acclaim it brings if successful, certainly displays the arduous committment that Al Qaeda has instilled in its followers.

To lighten the blow of all that terrorist stuff, I went to a wine tasting class at Concannon Winery with Mela, Therese, Cheryl, and Mario. It was taught by this huge wine nerd, cast from the stereotypical wine taster mold. He was really informative about every grape, region, process, and flavor, and even explained some of the jokes from Sideways that I certainly didn't catch when I saw it on the plane ride to California. Making wine is easy... you just mix some grape juice with sugar and yeast, and through fermentation, are left with alcohol and C02. If you don't want sparkling wine or champagne, you get rid of the C02. The only real difference between red and white wine is whether the grapes are left to sit on the skins (red wine) or not (white wine), as the actual meat of almost all grape breeds is light. We also learned how wineries make the creamier and butterier wines (malolactic fermentation), the oaky and vanilla-flavored wines (oak barrel aging) as opposed to the crisp and fruity wines (steel barrel aging), and how wines mature and change flavors. Of course all of this valuable information was lost on me because I tend to favor the straight liquors, but it was nonetheless entertaining.

After we learned the basic tasting technique (stick nose in glass, swish wine around, inhale, taste, swish, swallow or spit) and got examples of the different flavors we should be looking for (sweet, sour, tannin, flowery, smokey, steely, oaky, fruity, dopey, and doc), we got to the tasting of real wines. After I tried 10 or so whites, I was a little too tipsy to care whether the wine tasted like cinnamon and pears or had a more delicate body. My favorites whites were the Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat Canelli, and Chardoney, and as far as reds, the Pinot Noir was drinkable. We sat next to some soon to be wine snobs, but luckily the crowd I was with took the whole experience a lot less serious. As Therese put it, "the best wine is the one poured in the glass in front of you." Amen sister.

* Names have been changed to protect identity and provide ambiguity.

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