Monday, February 8, 2016

My Month of Malbec, the diary, part II: Antarctica ho!

I spent most of December in Argentina and Antarctica on vacation, and kept a wine diary. This is part II, and a great excuse for me to run some Antarctica photos. Part I is here.

Day 6: The shopping trip -- 7 wines for $58

Despite my happy experience with $3 Etchart Privado Torront├ęs, I don't set out to buy only cheap wines to take to Antarctica. It just ends up that way.

I have several organizing principles, based on belief and/or experience:

* Experience: I usually like cheap Argentine Malbecs better than expensive ones
* Belief: More expensive Malbecs not only come from riper grapes; they also spend more time in new oak barrels
* Experience: In blind tastings, I often prefer the wine with the lowest or second-lowest alcohol percentage
* Belief: I like elegance and dislike power
* Belief: I didn't come to Argentina to drink varieties I see every day in California

Thursday, February 4, 2016

CDC to women: Have sex or wine. Not both

Sex or wine? Women have to choose
Women, how would you most like to spend your 20s and 30s: drinking wine, or having sex at least occasionally? You have to choose, according to the CDC.

The Centers for Disease Control released a report this week with the following jaw-dropping language:
Healthcare providers should ... advise (women) not to drink at all if she is pregnant, trying to get pregnant, sexually active, and not using birth control.
I'm a guy, so maybe I'm not seeing this the right way. In my 20s I wasn't always sure when I was sexually active.

Monday, February 1, 2016

My Month of Malbec: The Diary

A month of Malbec? Really?
My wife made the decision; it is her fault that I must drink mostly Malbec for a month. I visit Europe all the time as the essential perk of writing about wine. She only gets one vacation per year. So while we both kick out options for our annual vacation together, she gets to decide.

Antarctica has been on our list for years. We want to see the last unspoiled place on Earth: a vista of nothing but white, blue and black. This year, we are feeling more mortal. Visiting Antarctica has the feel of "we've done that, now I can be hit by a bus." To get to Antarctica, we would go through Argentina, and would spend an extra week there. Going to Argentina means drinking Malbec.

I don't hate Malbec. I don't hate it the way I hate an ear infection or the New York Yankees. I just never order it. There are vegetables I dislike -- Brussels sprouts, cauliflower -- that I order several times a year because the preparation sounds interesting. There are foods I dislike intensely -- blood sausage -- that I try because somebody at the table tells me I might like this blood sausage. I've trained myself to like previously abhorrent foods like natto, though I'm still not there on squid guts.

But Malbec, I cannot remember the last time I ordered it. I don't mean months or even years. It is possible that I have never in my life ordered Malbec. I have tasted it, many times. I have reviewed it. I have even drunk it, when somebody else ordered it.

There are wines I actively dislike: Pinotage. Buttery Chardonnay. Malbec just bores me. I believe any producer that can make a good Malbec can make something else better.

But we're going to Malbec country, so I will drink Malbec. I did a column for Palate Press with my bullet-point observations of Argentina's wine scene as a tourist, which are a helluva lot different -- and more "normal" -- than what you see on a press trip. This is my daily wine diary from the trip. We ate at four of the alleged top 50 restaurants in Latin America. There will be steaks, penguins, and a confrontation at The Wine Shop at the End of the World. And there are pretty pictures, though by popular demand I left out the ones of me in a hot tub. I actually wrote about 8000 words and this will be about 2/3 of that, so yes, it's edited, but it's a long diary. But what are blogs for?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio: One winemaker's vision meets Gallo's marketing power

Fabrizio Gatto
Ecco Domani is the most popular Pinot Grigio in United States restaurants, both by the bottle and the glass. It's a creation by E. & J. Gallo Winery and is made entirely from purchased grapes.

The first twist in this story is that it's actually pretty good. And why not? 8 million bottles sold per year, they must be doing something right.

There's another twist for the oenophile: Ecco Domani is as much the product of one Italian winemaker's vision as it is of Gallo.

Fabrizio Gatto is the only winemaker Ecco Domani has had in its 20-year history. Not only that, he's also the consulting winemaker for La Marca, the top-selling Prosecco in the U.S.

Most wine writers don't consider a winemaker who makes millions of cases of pretty good wine as interesting as those who make 250 cases of eclectic wine. Me, I jumped at the chance to meet Gatto for lunch.

Italians are the most parochial people in the world about food; usually I meet Italian winemakers in Italian restaurants. But this time we met in a little Korean restaurant -- the Gallo PR guy's choice -- and we learned Gatto had never had tofu. "What's this white substance in my noodles?" he asked, even though he had specifically ordered noodles with tofu so he could try it.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Wine Kloud site review: Blue-fingered elves find you wine deals

Wine Kloud, the latest entry into the online discount wine sales market, seems like a decent site. It has some weaknesses, which I'll get into, but overall I like its strengths enough to make up for them.

What it's good at is offering real wines made by wineries for the general public, unlike the made-to-order concoctions of Naked Wines. Wine Kloud does not sell the wines itself. Instead, a team of blue-fingered elves tirelessly searches the Internet for daily deals from wine retail stores and posts them on the Kloud.

That's the idea, anyway. The wines I found on Wine Kloud I could also find on Wine-Searcher, most at similar prices (try that with Naked Wines), although Wine Kloud did have a very few good deals that weren't on Wine-Searcher.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Q&A with NY Times restaurant critic Pete Wells, part deux

I promised not to run Pete Wells' photo, so here's a pretty iceberg
Recently I spoke with New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells for an hour.

Below is the second part of that interview. Here is a link to part one.

The Gray Report: How do you feel about tasting menus with wine pairings?

Pete Wells: Often they're not a great deal. On the other hand, often they're a great way to taste something that you might not have bought by the bottle. I've discovered a lot of interesting stuff through pairings. I'm not particularly a fan of the idea that there's a perfect match for any particular dish. But I have had pairings where I've thought, those two things are amazing together.
I myself don't believe that there's going to be one wine that's perfect for your lamb dish and my fish dish. I like wines that can dance with a lot of partners. And I think most good wines do. A good wine will go with a whole lot of things. I'm much more interested in finding an interesting bottle that has something interesting to say.

When you say that, though, what about some of these very expressive natural wines. Are you worried about the wine competing for attention with the food?

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Q&A with Pete Wells, New York Times restaurant critic

You can find Pete Wells' photo easily enough, but not here
Last week, New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells trashed one of America's most expensive restaurants, Per Se, calling it a "no-fun house" and comparing one dish to bong water.

The Internet erupted with schadenfreude; many love nothing more than being told rich people are wasting their money. The review was such a big deal that the Times' public editor did a column weighing in on whether Wells should have given a lower rating than two stars. (Verdict: that's up to Wells.)

Like many readers, I was entranced by the review. Negative reviews are always more fun to read, so it's a shame we don't see more of them about wine. I decided it was time to interview a writer I have long admired.

Wells agreed to a phone interview with the condition that we not speak specifically about Per Se. He says it's his policy not to talk about negative reviews because he doesn't want to "inadvertently say something that expands on the original criticism." And sadly, I forgot to ask him how he knows what bong water tastes like. My bad! 

But we did talk for an hour about restaurant reviewing, the types of wines he likes, what he eats when he's off duty, and what he does when the restaurant recognizes him. 

The Gray Report: How many meals do you eat in restaurants in a week?