Bodegas Breca Garnacha de Fuego Old Vines Calatayud 20013


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garnacha en fuegoAs usual, Spain comes through with great bargains. This Garnacha is made from 60-80 year old vines perched 3000 feet above sea level and dry-farmed despite the sparse rainfall in this region.

This is dark in the glass, unusual for Garnacha. The nose gives ripe blackberry and kirsch aromas that sit under a layer of raisin and loamy earth, with mint chocolate and licorice highlights. Intriguing and complex but the alcohol burn is distracting. The palate brings in some cola and more licorice while maintaining the raisin theme. This lacks the structure of a more expensive wine. But despite the low acid, the wine doesn’t feel flabby. The texture is bristly without being rough and the tannins although soft and fine grained are persistent enough to provide some  interest on the cola and licorice inflected finish. The development on the palate is linear but has good flavor intensity. A great value for a everyday wine.

Commercial no doubt but sophisticated and darkly mysterious with surprising depth like Chris Isaak “Wicked Game”

Score: 88

Price: $8

Alc: 14.5%

Road Fever



roadAs some of you know, I spend much of the year wandering around the country sampling regional wine and food, taking in the sights, and trying to dodge weather events that make traveling precarious.

But now I’ve been stationary in San Diego for two months while I teach my Spring classes, and life has settled into a routine.

But “settled” is too kind a word. When I repeatedly move through the same streets a place becomes too familiar. I suppose it is comforting knowing the buildings one sees and the easiest route to a destination. But I naturally fall into habits so I no longer have to think about where I’m going. I can feel my level of attention decline and nothing really attracts my attention. Even brilliant things—a unique building, an interesting person, a piece of public art—are dulled by repeated exposure and fade into the ordinariness of everyday. It’s easy to fall into a daydream, and think about tomorrow, or next week. Being present is not necessary; everything becomes background unless something goes wrong. Only when my expectations are flouted do I have to focus.

In other words, familiarity breeds a loss of aesthetic experience. Aesthetic experience now requires conscious effort and planning. I suppose feeling at home in a place and succumbing to the torpor of habit is comforting and has its own aesthetic feel to it. But there is no edge and no need for exploration. Nothing seems distinctive; there is no rhythm or movement; it hardly seems worthy of being called “aesthetic”.

By contrast, when traveling I have to be alert and pay attention to details. I’m more sensitive to how things look and feel. I’m never quite sure that my assumptions about where things are located are correct and everything has an aura of freshness about it accompanied by the thought that I may never pass this way again and so I have to enjoy it while I can. The lure of exploration beckons and the anticipation of the unknown stimulates the imagination.

No doubt feeling at home in a place is a basic human characteristic, something we seek out and miss when it is not available. Most importantly, I sorely miss the friends and family I leave behind when traveling. And I can get more work done when I don’t have to drive for 8 hours or think about making travel arrangements.

But even after just a few weeks I miss the sensory intensity that comes with a constantly changing geography. It’s time to start making plans.


Wine Review: Piandaccoli Cosmus Chianti Riserva 2012


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cosmus chiantiItalians are famous for liking wines with high acidity. But many Italian wines also have tantalizing bitter flavors that give them dimension and personality. This one gets its distinctive  personality from that bitterness highlighted against unusual wood notes.

An intriguing nose of black cherry, baked earth with balsamic and rosemary hints, and cedar notes playing in the background.

On the palate, ingratiating berry notes provide an entre with good intensity promising hedonic bliss, but the midpalate shifts to a different register swelling with a generous dose of wood and bitter herbs that carry through the finish, giving the wine a rustic edge. The tannins are soft and fine, gently persistent, so the overall vibe is of rough-hewn elegance, down to earth but with lots of flavor. Medium body and medium acidity.

An interesting Chianti and a good value.

100% Sangiovese, aged for 12 months in large 55 hectolitre barrels and smaller casks, and for 12 months in the bottle.

Pair with some funky elegance, Dr. John “I Walk on Guilded Splinters”

Score: 89

Price: $18

Alc: 14%

Some Good News for a Monday

wine in cupWe hear a lot about the health benefits of wine. But this is the best news evah. (h/t Bob on Sonoma)

A recently-deceased 107-year-old Spanish attributed his long-life to drinking four bottles of wine each day and never drinking water.

Antonio Docampo García, who died last week in Vigo, northwestern Spain, said he only imbibed his own homemade red wine.

Mr Docampo would drink two bottles of red wine with his lunch and another two with dinner.

The wine industry really needs to have this guy’s biography written and publicized.

But I do think he was missing an opportunity. Why not breakfast wine? If you’re intent on drinking four bottles of wine per day you might as well start early.

Again, I think this is a great idea for the wine industry. So what wines would you recommend for breakfast? Does anyone have any ideas?

Budget Wine: Gnarly Head Authentic Black Lodi 2013


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gnarly head authentic blackThis aims at a very particular flavor profile, concentrated, dark, in your face fruit and oak. A Petite Sirah based blend.

Great intensity; nothing subtle.  Ripe fig bass notes and blackberry compote with lots of vanilla and sweet coconut leap from the glass, like sticking your nose into a pie.

The same flavors appear on the palate but with some transitory cloying sweetness mid-palate which is replaced by  burnt woody notes before the mid-length, mildly astringent finish begins. The tannins don’t grab but they are furry. Full and round on the palate with low acidity. But you can take the description on the bottle to the bank. It is a mouthful of darkness.

If you like oak chips bathed in very ripe grapes this is your wine. It’s a bit contrived and overdone but has a place. At least it’s not the same old, same old.

Pair this with the master of dark, Nine Inch Nails “Reptile”

Score: 86

Alc: 14.5%

Price: $10

Mindful Eating 2: The Blog


mindful-eating-logoI have a new blog entitled Mindful Eating2 : The Way of Aesthetics.

This new blog is a deep dive into the aesthetics of individual dishes and ingredients. I have long thought that food deserves the kind of focused, thoughtful attention we give to painting or music. Yet we lack a vocabulary or the aesthetic concepts that enable us to grasp and articulate the aesthetic values expressed in what we eat. We have music theories and theories of painting and highly developed critical vocabularies for both, but no fully developed theory of gastronomy.

Mindful Eating2 attempts to remedy that.

Although we have a lot of interesting science devoted to understanding flavor, and we have flavor pairing theory or network theory that try to explain what flavors “go together”, we don’t really know what “go together” means and lack an account of the various ways foods “go together” and why. In short, we have no account of the reasons behind judgments of beauty in the domain of food and beverages. “Tastes good” is not an analysis.

And so I’ve launched this new blog with the ultimate aim of developing such a theory.

Mindful eating has become the rage not only among people who seek to lose weight but also among people who simply want to get more enjoyment out of food. Our fast paced, distracted style of eating leads us to overeat but also to miss the subtle complexities of food flavors and textures. I will leave the weight loss programs to others. But Mindful eating is the perfect vehicle for exploring the aesthetics of food. After all, eating mindfully is not unlike the focused attention of art lovers who spend hours gazing intently at a painting or raptly immersed in a symphony. Eating mindfully is essential to grasping food in its full dimension.

Furthermore, as I argue in American Foodie, eating mindfully can help each of us acquire our own sense of taste and resist the blandishments of the food industry’s attempt to push flavorless, homogeneous pabulum on distracted consumers.

I have dubbed this project Mindful Eating2 because my version goes beyond the “live in moment” intuition of conventional mindfulness which often takes a dim view of rational thought. Mindful Eating2 requires an awareness of where food comes from, the historical context in which we consume it, and attention to how we can use this awareness to enhance future experience. It also involves developing the capacity for critical aesthetic judgment which takes us well beyond conventional mindfulness.

My first project is Italian Tomato Sauce. I look at the aesthetic principles behind marinara, sugo di pomodoro, and slow-cooked gravy.


Bonny Doon Vineyards Le Cigare Volant Reserve Bonbonne Santa Cruz 2010



cigare volantOne of my favorite wines from the incomparable Randall Grahm.  Aromas of fresh red and blue berries with a riveting mineral undercurrent that seems to ebb and flow in waves, exchange dominance with balsamic, salami and so many earth notes its like rummaging through an attic where the smell of  old books and dust, mingle with freshly turned earth and a little barnyard wafting through an open window. With time in the glass brown sugar makes an appearance too. This is still relatively young but the nose is already developing the character of a wise

With all that age-induced patina on the nose you would expect an advanced palate starting to wear thin, but not so. It’s bright and and ebullient with juicy berry fruit up front and a silky texture that gives way way to a severe, almost citrus like thrust from high acidity at midpalate, before eventually resolving into an aura of relaxed charm as the tannins coat the palate with a fine powdery sheen. And then to complete this tasty journey the finish arrives clean and fresh like spice-spiked spring water. Good length that satisfies all the way.

There is paradox upon paradox here where fresh plays with developed and severity haunts silkiness—the Escher print of the wine world.

Some wines leave you with a single overall impression. This one leaves you with a prismatic explosion of colors held together with nervous energy and bursting with personality. It will keep developing; no need to drink now unless like me you can’t resist.

The blend is: 28% Syrah, 22% Grenache, 17% Cinsault, 17% Mourvedre, 16% Carignane

There has to be something different about this wine. It is Bonny Doon after all. And indeed, after some time in the barrel the wine was aged in 5-gallon glass carboys (bonbonne) sur lie for 20 months, which provides an anaerobic environment (and lots of labor for the winery staff). So much for the theory you need oxygen to age a wine.

You may never taste a another wine like this. Pick up any vintage. It’s all good.

Quirky, creative, multifarious and throbbing with taut energy like Radiohead’s Lotus Flower

Score: 94

Price: $50

Alc: 13.3%

Budget Wine: Frey Natural Red Organic Wine NV


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frey natural redThis wine checks all the sustainability boxes: made from organically grown grapes, bio-dynamic viticulture, and no genetically modified yeast. It also has no added sulfites and features low-intervention winemaking meaning they don’t employ additives to make the wine drinkable. All of this distinguishes it from most of the other wines on the supermarket shelf. The lack of added sulfites which are important preservative used to keep wine fresh is especially noteworthy.

Do these make a difference in how the wine tastes? It’s hard to say but this is a pleasant, drinkable wine, fresh and fruity and very gentle.

There is a trace of green vegetal aromas but the black pepper notes perched on top of blueberry and pomegranate, with a slight insinuation of funky earth in the background give the nose some interest. On the palate the wine feels light on its feet, soft and smooth with a bright midpalate but thankfully has no blatant sweetness and no obvious oak treatment. The finish is medium length and tangy with persistent tannins that appear soft at first but creep up on you. No doubt this is intended for the comfy, frictionless crowd for whom “goes down easy” is the highest praise. But it doesn’t cloy and it has more structure than you would expect.

I like this wine for a mid-week sipper. It’s freshness is compelling and when you’re in the mood for tranquility it will deliver. It has the acidity to pair with a variety of foods.

There is no mention of the blend. In poking about the Internets it appears to be Carignan, Zinfandel, and Syrah, which would be consistent with its flavor profile.

Lizz Wright’s version of Nature Boy will enhance this wine. And check out the cool percussion solo that introduces it.

Score: 87

Price: $9

Alc. 13.3%

Pinot Lovers and Good Prose


pinot noir grapesI’m hard at work on a new blog (more on that soon) so I just have time for a quick dip into the blogosphere today.

If you love Pinot Noir and good prose, Meg Maker has a beautiful description of the differences between the flavor profiles of Burgundy, California, and Oregon.

Burgundian Pinot is grown on Mars: “…steely and serene, sometimes severe….”

Californian Pinot is grown on the Sun: “Its body is saturated red. Its minerals are rich and loamy…”

Oregonian Pinot is grown on Mars: “Its minerals are fierce and black and rusty…”

This is Pinot in a nutshell and good, descriptive wine writing at its best.

Read it in full and drink up.


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