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?

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The U.S. needs direct shipping of alcohol because the FTC created a monster

Nothing about the Prohibition of alcohol in the United States made sense or was well planned. We still suffer the consequences, not only from the dumb idea itself, but from the way its repeal was written.

The latest consequence is the creation of a national monopoly on wine, beer and spirits distribution.

The merger this week of Southern Wine & Spirits and Glazer has created a 41-state behemoth with exclusive rights to many essential brands and  the market power to muscle out smaller competitors. This is normally the type of company that the U.S. tries to break up to protect consumers, but alcohol is a special case, because of Prohibition.

By 1933, most Americans realized Prohibition did not work. It created organized crime, as gangsters developed networks to bring whiskey in from Canada. And it made liars and criminals of most of our community leaders. It's interesting to watch films from the period: police chiefs had bottles of whiskey in their desks.

Congress wrote the 21st Amendment to the Constitution to repeal Prohibition. At the time, some communities -- probably the many Muslim parts of America, because we all know Jesus drank wine -- wanted to keep their states or counties dry. To appease them, Congress wrote in Section 2:
"The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited."
Politically this was expedient in 1933. It gave every state the opportunity to write its own liquor laws. Some took longer to give up Sharia law than others: Kansas stayed dry until 1948.

Monday, January 11, 2016

True wine snobs: People who judge a wine by its package

I apologize that this video is a little oddly edited. I turned on the TV and a show called TMZ was ignorantly dissing box wines, with the narrator saying, "Johnny Football's insane for buying box wine."

The gist is that somebody took a cellphone photo of Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel shopping, apparently with a box of wine in his shopping cart. It's not clear to me, looking at the image, what exactly Manziel is buying. But Manziel has become gossip bait, so even a photo of him with a shopping cart fills a little airtime.

Manziel is a former college football star who doesn't appear to be good enough for the NFL. This happens (see Tim Tebow).

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

An open letter to the TTB: America needs accurate alcohol levels on wine labels

Dear Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau:

U.S. law allows wineries to give Americans among the least accurate information in the world about the amount of alcohol we are consuming.

It is time to change that.

The wine industry is deliberately and systematically understating the amount of alcohol in wine, and U.S. law is allowing it to happen.

Americans are interested in the amount of alcohol in our wine. We want to know for aesthetic reasons. We need to know for health reasons. The wine industry should let us know for safety reasons: an accurate label may prevent drivers from becoming dangerously intoxicated.

But currently, a wine labeled with 12.5% alcohol could have anywhere from 11 to 14% alcohol. This huge spread is illegal in most of the world. A wine labeled with 15% alcohol may have anywhere between 14 and 16% alcohol. Again, this is not legal in most of the world.