Budget Wine: Fecovita Broke Ass Red Wine Argentina 2013

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broke assI must confess, sometimes when looking for that gem in the sea of cheap, undistinguished, mostly generic wine at the supermarket I will buy the label. The label is usually more distinctive than what’s in the bottle.

The label on this wine features a donkey with a bandage pasted on his rump and includes the message “bandage your budget” on the back. Give the winery credit for knowing its customers. Most of us can identify with being “broke ass”; that’s why we’re searching the bottom shelf. The wine is 50% Malbec and 50% Syrah with a simple but pleasing nose of dusty earth over black cherry and red plum. The palate is fruity up front with oak notes but turns thin and dry mid-palate with a finish of sour lemon. Medium plus acidity, low tannins, and meager fruit make this wine unbalanced. The sour finish is a deal killer. Even if you’re broke you can probably do better.

Fecovita is a large cooperative representing over 30 producers operating out of Mendoza.

 

Score: 82

Price $6

Alc: 13.5%

A Disneyland of Food?

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eatalyItaly’s slow-food grocery Eataly has announced it will be opening a theme park devoted to Italian food.

On October 8th, an Italian contingent from Bologna descended upon New York’s Union Square Market to announce the city’s latest venture, Fico Eataly World. Launching in late 2015, this food mecca will feature 20 different restaurants, ten classrooms, two aquariums, an abundance of fruit and vegetable gardens, event spaces and much, much, more across its 80,000 square meters.

As you might expect from a venture this ambitious, corporate funding is the prime mover.

I’m not quite sure what this will offer the casual “theme-park” visitor. I suppose animated animals can sell risotto as well as movie tickets. Will they serve bistec florentine on a ferris wheel”?

But a “disneyland of Italian food” would seem to offer little to dedicated culinarians who get their thrills by discovering small, local restaurants with distinctive cuisine, without the high prices or the inevitable kitschy presentation.

I hope it succeeds in promoting Italian food, but their choice of a marketing slogan “disneyland of food” probably tells you all you need to know about this venture.

The Great Snack Mix in the Sky

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the thinkerPhilosophical discussions of food have seldom been recorded. But thanks to Slate.com, we can now listen in on real philosophers discussing eating? Here is Socrates summing up his long discussion with Thrasymachus on the ethics of picking out your favorite nuts from a snack mix.

There is only one true snack mix, the Great Snack Mix in the Sky, which flows endlessly through the vast trough of time. From that mix, every conceivable bite can be composed at once, and no ingredient is ever lacking.

But when we eat snack mix, as we have done here today, we partake not of that most pure mix, but of a particular representation of it. These representations may vary, but when we eat them, we are all seeking to know and taste that highest Form, that most delectable reality, the one true mix. Each snack mix experience is another step in the same endless journey, not a discrete moment in time independent of the others. As with any long voyage, some steps may bring you closer to your destination while others may bear less fruit, or pretzels. Some days you may arrive at a snack mix that has been cherry-picked to oblivion, but over time and with persistence, you’ll move ever closer to that Great Snack Mix in the Sky. Indeed, it is this most just pursuit of deliciousness that is the defining characteristic of the Eater.

It is comforting to know that when you pick out all the cashews you’re not robbing your friends and family of an experience, but contributing to the quest for deliciousness.

Aren’t you glad philosophers have been admitted to the conversation.

Wine Review: Lyeth Meritage Sonoma County 2011

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lyethIt is ordinary people who make the world go ‘round. A jack-of-all-trades who can competently handle anything you throw her way is a valuable person to have around even though she may not do anything particularly well. So it is with wine.  Wines that perform well on any occasion—pair well with a variety of foods, can be enjoyed as a sipper, on hot days or cool days, etc. –are praiseworthy even if they lack features that make them standouts.

This Lyeth Meritage is one of those wines. Nothing stands out. It’s medium across-the-board, medium intensity, medium weight,  medium acidity, medium length. But it made every dish at the table sing—potatoes and brussel sprouts, veal meatballs in a saffron sauce, bacon jam, oxtail and black rice risotto—it seemed to adapt itself to any flavor profile showing a different side of itself each time. Subdued cherry and berry notes make way for cedar and earth components with hints of thyme. Complex for a wine at this price. A taut and dry mouthfeel but a very smooth finish .

Its secret of course is balance. Not too much fruit so the herbal and spice notes can come out to play. Dry, persistent tannins to cut through meat fat, but not so big as to accentuate the bitterness of vegetables. Light enough to complement seafood but with sufficient weight to satisfy during the meat course. This won’t stand out as a must-have wine or provide a memorable experience but in a supporting role it shines.

A blend of 35% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Cabernet Franc and some Malbec and Petite Verdot.

Score: 87

Price: $14

Alc: 13.5%

Budget Wine: Frontera Pais Chile 2013

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frontera paisIf you are familiar with the history of American wines you’ve heard of the Mission grape. This was the varietal grown by the early California missions that was quickly supplanted when Bordeaux varietals, which made more complex, age worthy wines, became available. The very same grape was the most widely planted varietal in Chile, where it was called Pais, until Cabernet and Carmenere gained popularity. It was recently discovered to be identical to the Palomino grape used in Spain to make Sherry. It has a long, glorious history but tends to be low in acidity and its high yield produces wine that lacks concentration. Plantings have been declining for years.

Concha Y Toro the huge Latin American producer is trying to revive interest in this grape through its Frontera label, its entry level label designed to appeal to millennials.

Bright red fruit showing cranberry and cherry compete with floral aromas—in this case a not-so-harmonious combination. On the palate, it is light weight and fruity with some pleasant spice notes and very soft tannins. There is some sweetness but it is not overwhelming. Thin and meager but well-balanced, smooth, and easy to drink. No doubt there is a market for this wine. It is superior to that horrid Beaujolais Nouveau that sells so well in November. If this is what it takes to get younger people to drink wine then so be it.

Score: 83

Price: $8

Alc: 12.5%

Breaking News: Bureaucrats Can Be Idiots

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grape pickerIt is common practice for wineries to offer their wine club members the opportunity to participate in harvest by helping to pick grapes or work on the crush pad. As payment, the winery will throw a barbecue, open some wine, but more importantly their customers get the satisfaction of helping to make the wine they drink, come to know the people behind the wine, and learn about the wine making process. The point is to have fun and create a sense of community.

Of course the winery benefits from some unpaid labor. But I know in San Diego, there is not enough surplus farm labor handy to harvest grapes when the winemaker determines its time to pick. So at harvest time, the call goes out to friends, family, and fellow growers—everybody in the wine business in fact—to come help harvest. Everybody helps each other out and everyone benefits. Again, it’s called a sense of community and it is a key element in what makes the wine business attractive. Without this sense of community many artisanal wineries could not survive.

It turns out that according to the California State Department of Industrial Relations this practice is illegal. Westover Winery in Castro Valley was fined $115,000 and forced out of business for using wine club members to help with harvest.

The Department of Industrial Relations released the following statement regarding this case:

“The public policy of the state, as expressed in the California Labor Code, is to vigorously enforce minimum labor standards so that employees are not required to work under substandard conditions and to protect law-abiding employers from unfair competition by others who don’t comply with minimum standards. The Labor Commissioner is the state’s chief law enforcement officer, responsible for carrying out this policy. Like any law enforcement officer, the Labor Commissioner responds to complaints received and must follow where the evidence leads. “

The policy applies to interns as well who are learning the wine trade through volunteering, another common practice. Apparently in this case one of the volunteers filed a workman’s compensation case which triggered the investigation.

I don’t have any particular knowledge of what was going on at Westover Winery, but the idea that wine club members are “required to work under substandard conditions” is ridiculous. They are volunteers—no one is required to work. Moreover they are not trained pickers or skilled laborers. The idea that they are replacing the labor force with virtual “slaves” doesn’t pass the laugh test. It really isn’t hard to distinguish volunteers from unpaid immigrant laborers or workers who aren’t permitted to use the bathroom.

This appears to be another case in which large commercial wineries use the state to stamp out mom-and-pop operations.

I have a lot of sympathy for people charged with writing regulations that captured the complexity of a practice. But applying the law requires good judgment and in this case it’s hard to see how the state bureaucracy is applying good judgment. Are we next going to outlaw pot-luck dinners because its unfair to the catering business?

Wine Review: Santa Margherita Valdadige Pinot Grigio 2013

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santa margheritaPinot Grigio is the most popular imported white grape variety in the U.S. Frankly, I just don’t get it. It’s not aromatic and on the palate is largely a mouthful of acidity—refreshing to be sure but so is water and I don’t pay $12 for a glass of water. The problem is not the grape. The very same grape when vinified  in Alsace is complex, fleshy, and hedonistic. But the Italians harvest early to preserve acidity producing a sea of thin, uninteresting wines that garner relatively high prices because of the demand.

The Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio from the Alto Aldige region of Italy is the largest selling Italian import to the U.S. And it’s pricey. Is it a cut above this sea of mediocrity?

Faint apple and pear notes play well with a salty mineral aroma that sets this wine apart. On the palate it is bone dry, light bodied, with crisp acidity but not much flavor. It will pair well with fish or light chicken dishes but you won’t find much to contemplate. It is better than most Pinot Grigio, if you like salty minerality, but at this price, if you want something crisp and refreshing, a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc would provide more interest and you would get some pocket change back as well.

Score: 88

Price: $23

Alc: 12%

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