Budget Wine: Quinton Estates Cabernet Sauvignon California 2013

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quinton estatesCaveat Emptor.

Black cherry, bell pepper, with a little barnyard on the nose, odd for a California Cab. In the mouth, the wine is sour and thin from front to back, like biting on a lemon. Did they harvest these grapes in April? This is close to undrinkable.

Some people argue that bad reviews are a waste of time. I don’t buy it. If a wine is widely distributed, as this one is, customers should know there are better alternatives.

Score: 78

Price: $9

Alc: 13%

To finish a glass of this stuff I had to embark on a research project–to find the worst song evah. It took me about 5 minutes. I  would gladly drink 10 bottles of this wine if I never had to hear this again.

The Ethics of Eating Gets Complicated

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in vitro meatI am swamped with student papers to grade this week so blogging will be light. But here are a couple of interesting and useful articles on the ethics of eating to keep your procrastination on track:

Philosopher Julian Baggini wonders what the moral implications of in vitro meat will be:

If IVM is the greenest, most animal-friendly meat, yet it is even more artificial than a pitiful, intensively reared broiler chicken, then no one can maintain the fantasy that bucolic nature has a monopoly on good, ethical food.

And this article suggests that overfishing and the depletion of fish stocks really is posing a moral dilemma for responsible lovers of Sushi:

It has not always been so in demand, Newfoundland bluefin used to be fed to cats. But now tuna fuels the global appetite for sushi. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimates that the Pacific bluefin population has declined by 19-33% over the past two decades, mainly to satisfy demand for sushi and sashimi.

Wine Review: Sieur d’Arques Toques et Clochers Crémant de Limoux NV Sparkling Wine

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tocques and clochersI am still boycotting Champagne due their trade association’s shabby treatment of the blogger Champagne Jayne. Most people boycott Champagne because of the price tag.

But if you’re craving bubbly, old world, elegance you don’t have to go without. Toques et Clochers is a great substitute at half the price.

Apple and pear notes are ascendant with toasty brioche aromas in the background. This sparkler is very dry and crisp on the palate with a fine mousse and a long, pleasingly saline finish.

Crémant sparkling wines are made using the traditional Champagne method, but they’re not made in the Champagne region.  The EU bans the use of the term “methode champenoise” by producers outside Champagne, and so French sparkling wine made outside Champagne call their wines crémant. Regulations that govern the production of crémant include low crop yields, limited  use of sulphur dioxide, 9 months of aging on the lees, and require approval by a quality control tasting panel.

Limoux in the South of France is one of the prime crémant-producing regions.

Score: 90

Price: $20

Alc: 12%

Celebrate substitutes with a bottle of Toques et Clochers and this clip from The Who at the Monterrey Pop Festival 1967 playing—”Substitute”

Budget Wine: The Original Dark Horse Cabernet Sauvignon California 2013

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dark horse cabI did not want to like this wine. It’s from E.J. Gallo after all and what the world does not need is another Gallo wine.

But I have to say, this is well made if you like wines of this type—concentrated with discernable oak influence. An easy drinking wine with lots of flavor and, most importantly, some structure.

Blackberry, intense smoke hiding a subtle layer of dusty earth, with some pencil shavings in the background give this an intriguing flavor profile. A blast of dark roasted coffee on the palate sets off the mental fireworks like a morning espresso. Full bodied with good acidity and a short, but flavorful finish featuring supportive tannins that tingle rather than grip. A very slight hint of sweetness but the roasty flavors mask it.

A great, everyday go-to wine.

Score: 87

Price: $8

Alc: 13.5

Here’s a jittery meditation from Dylan—One More Cup of Coffee, a dark horse candidate for best Dylan song. The violin is like an over-caffeinated, brittle nerve on the brink of a spasm.

First Prize: Dumbest Wine Article Ever

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dumb and dumberPeople say a lot of inane things about wine on the Internets, most of which I just try to ignore. This one is just so silly I can’t resist.

The author begins by complaining about “over-the-top” wine descriptions that have something to do with sex.

There’s a fine line between many wine reviews and practically anything Anastasia Steele mumbles to herself in “50 Shades of Grey.”Words like “sexy,” “musky,” “racy” and “heady” get bandied about like a tennis ball in a baseline rally between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in both you-cannot-be-serious, over-the-top genres.

Well. Ok. Since wine gives pleasure and sex gives pleasure it’s not clear why one semantic domain should not be metaphorically extended to the other. But whatever. Maybe he’s a prude and is just uncomfortable with sex talk.

Then he moves on to some of the “earthy” language used to describe wine.

Seriously. Can you imagine going out to eat with someone and hearing them describe their steak as having a “barnyard” smell to it – or a “cat pee” taste? You’d think the chef left rancid meat out on the counter for the past week. And yet those words are commonly used to describe certain wines by wine writers around the world.

Actually, I can imagine eating with such a person if the steak smelled like barnyard or cat pee. It usually doesn’t thankfully, but wine often does. Some wines smell like that because they contain compounds that give off those scents. “Barnyard” is caused by brettanomyces; cat pee is caused by p-mentha-8-thiol-3-one. If the wine gives off those odors why not say so? Should we lie to the reader?

And then we get the big 5—the five terms we should never use to describe wine because they are overused—licorice, flabby, luscious/seductive, smoky, and full-bodied.

I’m talking about those words and phrases that make you just roll your eyes and think, “Who does this guy think he is? Ricardo Montalban trying to sell us a 1975 Chysler Cordoba with ‘Corinthian leather’?”

“Licorice” is in fact not very common. But if the wine smells like licorice why not use the term? Would “anise” be better? Flabby wines lack acidity and don’t refresh. Should we say “limp” or “sagging” instead? How about “enervated”? “Flabby” seems perfectly accurate and it’s a conventional way of describing low acid wines. Last I knew language is a system of conventions—using them kinda helps people know what you’re talking about.

Some wines are smoky because they are aged in oak barrels made of staves that have been—wait for it—toasted. Should we replace “smoky” with “sooty”? Not so good for the shelf-talker I wouldn’t think.

And anyone who doesn’t describe most Napa Cabs or Amarone as full-bodied is just irresponsible. Body refers to the weight and viscosity of the wine. It is not only a conventional term but a technical term that has a reasonably precise meaning. Deviate from this and you confuse everyone.

The point of writing is in part to communicate clearly—these conventional terms are an indispensible part of the wine vocabulary because everyone who talks about wine knows what they mean. (Newcomers may not but there is nothing wrong with demanding that they get up to speed if they want to understand what’s going on)

No doubt there are some over-the-top wine descriptions, but none that this article mentions are even remotely out of place. This is just click-bait for rubes.

Wine Industry! Get a Clue!

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head in the sandSome segments of the wine industry have been, for many years, in the forefront of developing sustainable farming and low-intervention production methods that include minimal use of chemical additives.

But when an ordinary chain restaurant like Panera beats you to the punch, you know you’re losing your edge.

Panera Bread seems to have adopted the credo of healthy eating aficionados everywhere: If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it.

The restaurant chain — which has never fared badly health-wise (at least for a fast-food restaurant), is looking to remove all artificial preservatives, colors, sweeteners and flavors from their food by the end of 2016.

So, what does it all mean? Panera has compiled a “No No List” with all the ingredients it will be removing from its menu — and it looks like we’ll be saying goodbye to preservatives like propylene glycol and nitrates as well as high-fructose corn syrup.

When is the wine industry going to start putting ingredient labels on their bottles?

The Wine Curmudgeon covered this issue in some depth yesterday:

Over the next couple of years, Big Wine will add ingredients and nutrition facts to its wine, thanks to the new voluntary program, and reap the benefits. And, as the rest of the wine business holds out for reasons that no one who isn’t in the wine business understands, consumers will start to wonder if wine has something to hide.

I don’t have anything to add except to amplify the call out which should become a chorus soon.

Get your head out of the sand wine industry and join the 21st Century!

Wine Review: Terrazas De Los Andes Malbec Reserva Mendoza 2011

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terrazas malbecThe quality of Malbec coming out of Argentina can be uneven, but this one is flat-out gorgeous.

Sumptuous dark, berry aromas are bolstered with raisin, and lightly-charred oak, packed with dill, dried herbs and floral notes to top it off. Interesting and complex. The lush, soft, round palate adds chocolate to the picture. Despite the ripeness of the fruit, the wine is not ponderous but has sufficient acidity to give it a racy aspect. The tannins are ripe and smooth with a short but pleasant finish. 12-14 months on 50% new French oak.

Graceful yet sexy, a real crowd pleaser. If you need a wine to take to a party this is an excellent choice.

Sometimes there really is a perfect match of wine and song—the carnal energy of Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get it On is just right.

Score: 92

Price: $18 at Wine Chateau

Alc. 14%

Review based on an industry sample

Budget Wine: Smashberry Red Blend Central Coast 2012

smashberryAnother week, another generic wine, just a cut above ordinary. A mix of black cherry and raspberry on the nose,  topped off with a bit of loamy earth, and cinnamon and clove notes make this pleasantly aromatic. In the mouth, the wine is juicy but not excessively sweet, featuring a medium plus body, medium minus acidity and very little tannin. The finish is short and a bit sour.

A blend of Merlot (32%), Petite Sirah (26%), Cabernet Sauvignon (26%) and Cabernet Franc (16%), this wine has been getting relatively good scores from some critics. It offers decent QPR if you find it for under $10 but it didn’t excite me. If you like big upfront juice it might make you smile but the finish has issues.

Score: 85

Price: $12 (less at the supermarket)

Alc: 13.9%

This wine reminds me of the old 1983 R&B hit by Mtume “Juicy Fruit”

A Scandalous Future

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kitchen of the futurecoThe kitchen of the future will be a sight to behold; indeed there won’t be much to do except “behold”. Suzy Strutner is enthusiastic about IKEA’s version:

But the best part is an unbelievably intelligent kitchen table, conceptualized to reheat food, measure baking ingredients and suggest recipes by “reading” the ingredients placed on its top. It’s thanks to inspiration from design students and the innovation firm Ideo.

Here’s the idea: you plop a tomato and potatoes on the tabletop, set the timer for how many minutes you’re willing to spend making dinner, and the table suggests recipes for potato gnocchi before telling you precisely how to slice each ingredient. The table heats up to act as a burner for your boiling water, and it films the whole process so you can watch a playback of your cooking session later. Plus, you can charge your phone simply by placing it on the table’s surface. Whoa.

So all conceptualization and creativity is taken out of human hands; we’re nothing but slicers and dicers.  I’m sure the books will read themselves to the kids; a robot will wash the dishes; our calendars will arrange tomorrow’s activities.

We’re saving time for what purpose? So we can work more hours?

Oh. Nevermind.  The robots will have our jobs too.

I guess we need more time to watch reruns of Scandal.

I Can’t Get My Head Around This Fight

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boxersIt’s not exactly Pacquiao vs. Mayweather but every once in awhile wine critics square off against each other and try to land a few blows.

In one corner are the demystifiers—wine writers who think wine is too complicated and precious. With a  little plainspeaking and a few comments on the objective features of wine, they argue, the scales will fall from the eyes of the average wine consumer, who will then fall in love with wine, while remaining blissfully ignorant of terroir, tannic grip, or malolactic fermentation.

In the other corner are the connoisseurs—experts, long on experience, and well-versed in the endless subtleties of wine who employ the arcane argot of winespeak that leaves most ordinary consumers scratching their heads in bewilderment.

Recently, Jeff Siegel (AKA The Wine Curmudgeon) occupied the d-mystifier’s corner. In criticizing a glossary of wine terminology that included the word “hedonistic”  he writes:

Again, this is not to criticize Teeter, who is probably trying to help, but to point out yet again how most post-modern wine writing has little to do with the average consumer. It’s as if they’re writing a movie review that discusses camera angles and editing techniques instead of the plot, and then getting angry when someone asks them what the movie is about.

And what’s worse is that they call those of us — who want to write intelligently and clearly, who want to educate wine drinkers and not preach to them — a variety of not very nice names. I’m not going to link to them, because it’s not worth the aggravation and the Internet sniping that will ensue. But two prominent California wine writers have recently questioned whether people like me are competent to write about wine. Our sin? That we try to make it less intimidating and confusing, when real wine writers know wine is supposed to be intimidating and confusing. Otherwise, one of them wrote, what’s the point of learning about it?

It isn’t clear to whom Jeff was directing his ire but I would bet it was Stephen Eliot who recently occupied the connoisseur’s corner:

I question the endless and oh-so-monotonous claims that so many people are intimated and confused about wine that it needs to be demystified. And, while it may be heresy to the populists that rule the blogosphere, I would offer the thought that plumbing its mysteries is precisely part of what makes fine wine so endlessly appealing. Fine wine, I would argue, wants contemplation and thought.

Why are we having this debate? Isn’t it obvious that there is more than one audience for wine writing and all must be served? The de-mystifiers are simply wrong if they think wine isn’t complicated. To really understand it requires years of study and lots of attentive tasting. There is no shortcut—if you want to understand wine you have to put in the work.  But the demystifiers are right that most wine drinkers don’t care about the arcana. You can enjoy wine without it, although without the knowledge you will miss some of what wine has to give. However, none of that torturous, convoluted winespeak will cause someone to fall in love. In the order of things, love comes first, then comes the poetry.

But the connoisseurs are not trying to persuade the average wine drinker to fall in love. Their audience is the already besotted. To speak to that audience requires a vocabulary more fine-grained that generic descriptors. Telling me that a wine is fruity and soft with a dry finish tells me almost nothing about wine quality and doesn’t distinguish one wine from the next since there are thousands that would fit that description. Wine is devilishly hard to describe and it stimulates the imagination as well as our sensibilities so if you want to provide accurate descriptions you have to invent a vocabulary that somehow represents what our senses sense—it seems to me “hedonistic” is a perfectly good description of some wines. That it bewilders the uninitiated is largely irrelevant.

To raise in victory the arm of the demystifiers is to treat wine as a mere commodity, like orange juice, with nothing to offer the lover.

To raise the arm of the connoisseur is to ignore the fact that most wine drinkers have not succumbed and want only a satisfying beverage.

Two styles of writing to serve two audiences. So can we declare this a draw before a knockout punch sends half the wine community to the mat.

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