It’s About Time Someone Sued

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I doubt if this lawsuit succeeds, but it’s about time someone pushed back against the false advertising of companies like MillerCoors. blue moon

Blue Moon, a Belgian-style white beer and one of the fastest-growing brands in the U.S., is marketed as a craft beer.

But it isn’t a craft beer. At least, that’s what San Diego home brewer Evan Parent argues in a class action lawsuit against Blue Moon parent company MillerCoors, according to NBC 7 in San Diego.

In his suit, filed last month in California state court, Parent contends that MillerCoors has been misleading the public with the “crafty” beer it’s been brewing for 20 years — and getting a premium price for — because Blue Moon doesn’t fit the Brewers Association’s strict definition of a craft beer. He seeks an unspecified amount in damages for misleading advertising and unfair competition.

The name MillerCoors is not found on bottles of Blue Moon, nor is it anywhere on the Blue Moon Brewing Co. website. They claim on the bottle that their beer is “artfully crafted”.  Although the Blue Moon Brewing Co. is a small brewery located inside Coors Field in Denver, the beer sold in stores is actually produced in the same facilities that turn out swill like Coors and Miller Light.

Blue Moon has a hint of citrus flavor that makes it marginally better than most industrial beer, but it is still generic and boring. Beer lovers drink craft beer not only because it usually tastes better but also because they want to support small, local businesses that care about something other than profit. A similar issue arises when chain restaurants and wine conglomerates pass their subsidiaries off as artisanal operations.

This attempt to exploit the growing preference for local products puts genuine artisanal food, wine, and beer operations at a significant disadvantage and the intent is clearly to deceive. MillerCoors is taking advantage of the premium that beer lovers are willing to spend for real craft beer, without delivering on the promise.

Unfortunately, there is no legally binding definition of “craft” and the TTB has already signed off on the label.  I will be surprised if this isn’t thrown out of court given the deference judges show to big business.

But the attempt is praiseworthy.

Aging Report: Beringer Knight’s Valley Meritage 2008

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beringer knight valleyNapa gets all the acclaim but Sonoma is no slouch when it comes to growing the Bordeaux varietals. 2008 was a solid vintage for Sonoma Merlot and this affordable bottling, a Merlot dominated blend, is aging well.

Sumptuous aromas of ripe, dense blackberry, toasted oak, and raisin, are enlivened by the  hints of earth and old leather just beginning to appear.

It is quite dark and full bodied on the palate, showing plum and chocolate, with emerging kalamata olive flavors. Bright acidity give the wine plenty of movement on the palate, with a satisfying late surge of flavor transitioning to a medium-plus finish. The tannins are beginning to soften but are still quite drying and a little brash. It is just starting to reach its peak, the tannins could use more softening, the raisin notes should become more leathery. It will hit its peak in 2 to 3 years and will not fade fast.

Poised and acquiring elegance, not exceedingly complex but I enjoyed the sense of fullness and completeness of this wine.

Score: 92

Price: $33

Alc: 14.2

Dark but not brooding, a bluesy elegance like Beck’s Soul of a Man

Family Wineries Over a Barrel

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over a barrelOne of the fascinating aspects of wine culture is the importance of small artisan wineries that are essentially family-run businesses. The wine industry would be much less interesting without these “labors of love” that nourish our desire for a human face behind the products we consume. But industry consolidation is an economic fact of life and when these small wineries begin to attract attention, they are often eaten up by the large conglomerates—sometimes they are chewed up and spit out.

Thomas Pellechia’s new book Over a Barrel: The Rise and Fall of New York’s Taylor Wine Company tells just such a story. I remember drinking Taylor wines when I lived near the Finger Lakes in the early 1970’s.

The Wine Economist has a review of the book:

The big story is a familiar one. A successful family business expands and for a variety of reasons becomes a publicly traded corporation. The founding family eventually cedes control (does this sound a bit like the Robert Mondavi winery story so far?) and a string of corporate mergers and acquisitions follow. The most valuable business assets of the original company (which included Taylor’s effective distribution network, according to Pellechia) are exploited while the natural foundation of the business (vineyards and wine) deteriorate from lack of investment.

This happens far too often. All the more reason to drink local and support your local wineries.

Why (Western) Philosophers are Late to the Dinner Party

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philosophers at the tableMost philosophers who write on the arts take a dim view of food and wine as genuine fine arts. Aside from Carolyn Korsmeyer, who is open to the view and has done great work in the philosophy of food and, well, me, I can’ t think of anyone else who pushes this line of thought. The reason may lie deep in our intellectual history.

Plato, who gets Western philosophy off the ground wanted little to do with food.

…the gods made what is called the lower belly, to be a receptacle for the superfluous meat and drink and formed the convolution of the bowels, so that the food might be prevented from passing quickly through and compelling the body to require more food, thus producing insatiable gluttony and making the whole race an enemy to philosophy and culture, and rebellious against the divinest element within us.

There is no doubt about where he stands. Plato, of course, was also a dualist believing that the mind was not only distinct from the body but vastly superior to it. The body and the senses were a hindrance to the attainment of genuine knowledge and the quicker we were rid of that lumbering bag of bones the better.

Other traditions take a different view. The Chinese since ancient times have considered cookery to be an art. And their seminal philosopher Confucius thought of proper cooking and eating as part of one’s spiritual development:

“[The gentleman] … did not eat his fill of polished rice, nor did he eat his fill of finely minced meat…. He did not eat food that had gone off color or food that had a bad smell. He did not eat food that was not properly prepared…. He did not eat food that had not been properly cut up, nor did he eat unless the proper sauce was available” (form The Analects, bk. 10,no. 8, p. 103).

Good eating nourishes both the body and the mind. But of course Confucius was no dualist. The tradition of Confucianism views the universe as an integrated unit, with its parts unified and interconnected, including the mind and body. It is probably no accident that he viewed cooking and eating more favorably.

Contemporary philosophers have abandoned dualism of the Platonic sort, but have not discarded Plato’s negative attitude toward food.

Could it be they are still closet dualists?

Wine Review: Ruffino Riserva Ducale Oro Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG

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I love Chianti for one reason. The good ones have dusty, baked earth notes that remind me of country roads on warm summer days.  It’s one of those iconic flavor profiles; and this wine has it in spades. But, in addition, the ripe fruit notes glow, the finish is tense and active, with bitter herbal notes supported by ravishing acidity and firm tannins. It’s so Italian you expect Puccini to come pouring out of the bottle.

The classic sour cherry aromas are there but are over-ruled by unusually ripe berry fruit, infused with clove and dried herb, but all in service to those lovely, dusty, earth notes. The palate has a juicy surface but the dry and earthy underbrush gives it complexity, set off by subtle vanilla on the back of the midpalate.  The soft, supple, medium body lulls you into complacency before the big finish hits.

Sturdy yet agile like a great athlete, an outstanding wine. The blend is 80% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Ruffino is one of the most consistent of the Tuscan producers but this Gran Selezione is a cut above their other offerings. Gran Selezione is Chianti Classico’s new designation indicating the highest quality.  The grapes must be owned by the winery, minimum alcohol must be 13% instead of 12.5% for Riserva, and the wine must be aged for 30 months compared to 24 for  Riserva. Like the Riserva, the Gran Selezione must be 80% Sangiovese with the rest made up of Syrah, Merlot,  Cabernet or local varieties such as Canaiolo and Colorino,

There is too much country in this wine to drink with an aria. Here’s a medley of (expertly rendered)  Italian folk music from Domo Emigrantes

Score: 92

Price: $35 available at Wine Chateau

Alc: 14.5%

Industry Sample

Budget Wine: Candoni Chianti NV

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candoniAmong all wines, fine as well as cheap, the contrast between old world and new world is breaking down as an international style using ripe grapes and soft tannins seems to be what the casual wine drinker likes. But occasionally you run into a hold out, an unreconstructed celebration of dirt and acid.

This Chianti is a throw back to the old days. Interesting meaty aromas greet you, like a hunk of salami on top of berry, hints of sour cherry and some bell pepper highlights. Strange but interesting and worth the price of admission.

The palate opens with a little juice but turns thin and acidic. Low- intensity fruit prevails, bitter on the back of the midpalate but with some redemptive tannic grip on the finish. Take- no-prisoners rustic.

There is a place for wines like this if only to remind you of the peculiarities of history—sort of like Civil War re-enactments and Moon Pies.

A blend of Sangiovese and Merlot if that matters.

Sip while savoring the dulcet tones of the Standells: Love that “Dirty Water” baby

Score: 82

Price: $8

Alc: 12.5%

Science Giveth and Science Taketh Away

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wine chemistryScience is proving that wine snobs are correct (but being snobs we knew that anyway)–the glass matters. By mapping the distribution of alcohol leaving the glass, this research team shows that the proper glass has a significant effect on the availability of aromas.

At 13°C, the alcohol concentration in the centre of the wine glass was lower than that around the rim. Wine served at a higher temperature, or from the martini or straight glass, did not exhibit a ring-shaped vapour pattern. ‘This ring phenomenon allows us to enjoy the wine aroma without interference of gaseous ethanol. Accordingly, wine glass shape has a very sophisticated functional design for tasting and enjoying wine,’ explains Mitsubayashi.

But while these measurements of alcohol distribution help wine lovers get the most out of a wine, this device promises to make wine boring:

Winemakers taste their own wine or enlist the help of professional tasters to ensure it has just the right astringency levels. But soon, an electronic “tongue” might make their job a little easier.

Scientists have developed a nanosensor — a device that detects molecular interactions at tiny, nanoscale levels — that they say mimics how our tongues experience astringency. The device could allow wineries to monitor and adjust levels throughout the winemaking process rather than rely on error-prone human taste at the end.

Is the goal to make sure every wine tastes the same? Don’t we want individual wines to reflect an individual winemaker’s palate?

Would a Rose by Any Other Name Smell as Sweet?

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rosie

Rosie

As I plug away at my book manuscript due in just over a month, the problem I just cannot seem to solve is a matter of proper naming. What should we call people who love food?

I know this issue has been kicked around for a long time, but I despise the term “foodie”. It suggests something small and trivial—doggie, sweetie, kiddie, newbie, etc. The book is about the food revolution and why we should take food seriously. “Foodie” suggests our newfound fascination with food is light-minded and frivolous, and the term is sometimes used with that intent.

None of the traditional terms work. “Connoisseur” is too fussy. Many people fascinated by food are as happy with a good slice of pizza as they are with Chateaubriand. “Gourmand” evokes visions of a rotund man with a turkey leg in one hand and a goblet of Bordeaux in the other with drippings on his chin. Foodist? Too close to “communist” and “nudist”. It is often not good to be an “ist”.

I often use the word “culinarian”. But that term should be reserved for inquisitive chefs, food historians, and others with deep expertise in the culture of the table.

Food fetishist? Please, an interest in food is not a fetish.  Gastronome makes me think of garden gnomes—enough said.

“Food lover” is too generic—who doesn’t love food? “Food Passionista” is too precious.

Then of course there is “epicurean”. I do have a soft spot for the ancient Greek sage, Epicurus, whose paeans to pleasure and  tranquility continue to be an inspiration. But this is an old term that doesn’t quite fit the contemporary ethos.

Will the food revolution stumble for want of a name?

Suggestions are welcome.

 

 

Wine Review: Dönnhoff Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Riesling Großes Gewächs 2013

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donnhoff rieslingIs the hipster romance with Riesling over? Sommeliers and wine experts have been pushing Riesling for years as the next new “hip” varietal. But sales figures show it has never really caught on. Jason Wilson in a recent article in Wine Searcher argues  the Riesling promotion failed because the wines on offer here in the U.S. are too sweet. There is probably some truth to that—the premium wine drinkers I hang with are not into sweet.

I love a good Spätlese and there is no wine that goes better with spicy Asian food. But truth be told many of them lack the acidity to stay refreshing on the palate and the drier Kabinett-level wines are often made from inferior grapes, since Kabinett doesn’t get a premium price.

What the wine world needs is quality, dry Riesling—like this Dönnhoff. Anyone who drinks this will fall in love. Hands down the best Riesling I’ve had in some time.

Clear, precise aromas of white peaches, lemon and grapefruit with touches of tropical fruit. Complex and very intense. Stunning, bristling  acidity on the palate, kinetic yet rich and juicy, finishing with a stony resonance. An elegant wine but with a taut, nervous energy like Catherine Deneuve on the lam. Dry but not bone dry and extremely well-balanced.

The problem for Riesling promoters: They can’t create a mass movement with $70 wines. But if you’re tired of Chardonnay and don’t mind splurging to get quality, seek out German wines labeled VDP, especially if they carry the additional designations GG (Grosses Gewachs) or Erste Lage. VDP is a membership organization that includes most of Germany’s top wine estates. Its members must adhere to more stringent standards than those set down in the German wine law. Their best dry wines are labeled Gross Gewachs (great growth) or Erste Lage (first-class site).

Yes. You have to do your homework to find good German wine. The Germans are hard-working people and think you should be too.

Score: 95

Price: $70

Alc: 13%

The crystalline energy of Björk’s Pagan Poetry will pair well. This song gives me the chills:

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