Thursday, April 4, 2013

Vinogirl and I clash

Believe it or not, Vinogirl and I did not get together on our mutual posts, even though they have the same theme.

Recently, thanks to my regular column in a Rochester, NY magazine--yeah, print--I received two emails last week from PR people applauding my column and then asking if I would like to taste some wines that they represent.

As I do with everyone who contacts me with that kind of request, I informed them that I rarely do wine criticism, and when I do it's generally for wine that I have bought at retail. In each case, I was thanked for my honesty and told the wine would be sent nevertheless.

They arrived--two wines form Italy and three from Portugal (they came form a PR agency in NY City). Last night, I opened one of them to have with dinner.

Because I hate wine criticism, especially when the wine is in a vacuum, as a tasting rather than in its true setting, with food, I will do this a different way. I'll tell you what I prepared for dinner and then tell you how the wine did with it.

I had an eggplant that needed to be consumed, but I had grown tired of the usual wok eggplant dish that I prepare every two weeks or so. This time, I decided to do something in an Italian mode to pair with one of the wines from Italy.

We have finished off the last of our tomato sauce from our 2012 crop, so I am reduced to opening a can. I know all about ragu: the long, slow process of cooking a tomato sauce, usually with meat. I don't cook much like that. I decide about an hour or two before dinner what I want to eat, which gives me half an hour to make a sauce. Easy task, as you really don't need a lot of time to make a tasty tomato sauce.

A can of crushed (organic) tomatoes, 1/2 cup sweet wine (Madeira), some chicken stock does the trick.

I take one of my basil ice cubes and melt it--yeah, that's how I preserve basil all winter. At harvest time, I select some bunches and whip them up with olive oil and then pour them into an ice tray. After they freeze, I remove them from the ice tray and dump the basil ice pieces into a plastic bag to store in the freezer.

Drop a basil cube into a 12-inch stainless pan, slice a couple of cloves of garlic thin with a razor and give them a quick saute in the olive oil, pour in the tomato, wine, and 1/2 cup of stock, add a few laurel leaves, and let simmer for half an hour, adding stock if it starts to dry up too much.

Turn on convection oven to 350.

Slice the eggplant into 1/4-inch thick pieces. Dip each into egg, drip and then dredge each piece into breadcrumbs. (I make my own breadcrumbs from the insides of whole grain baguettes that I eat. I drop the insides into a container and store them in the refrigerator so they dry out nicely--then I grind them fine in the food processor and store in a jar in the freezer.)

Lay the breaded eggplant on an oven pan and bake for about 20 minutes on each side.

Put water on to boil for cheese ravioli. When turning the eggplant over for its last 20 minutes baking, drop the ravioli into boiling water and cook until done--eight minutes or so.

Meanwhile, wilt some spinach leaves very briefly--about a minute, tops. Lay the spinach on a salad plate, top with fresh olives and some bean sprouts (we make our own sprouts).

That's the salad.

Chop some parsley for garnishing, and crumble some grana padano cheese into small pieces.

When the ravioli and eggplant are done, put them into separate plates and pour the sauce over them. On top of the eggplant, spread the little pieces of grana padano. Sprinkle parsley over ravioli and eggplant dishes.

That's dinner; now the wine.

Barba's 2009 Montepulciano D'Abruzzo (red). The grapes are grown organically and, based on its opaqueness as well as its gritty/chewy quality, I'd say the wine is not filtered.

It has a truly earthy aroma, but not Brett: elemental, with a black cherry undertone. It doesn't present fruit in the taste; it's on the vinous side. It's got a lot of body and heft to it, and it could not be mistaken for anything but old-style Abruzzo winemaking. In fact, the winery claims old vines.

I liked the wine with the food. The food toned it down a little, which was good, as the wine is quite hefty.

In all, it was a nice experience, but the wine is nothing that I would spend a lot of time seeking.


  1. You're a veritable Martha Stewart...basil ice cubes, indeed!!!

    I love the use of the word "heft" in your review. However, I usually reserve that word for describing the overly heavy glass that some vintners use to kid you into thinking that the wine inside the bottle has some heft.

  2. Hah! This wine had heft AND it came in a heavy bottle, too. Not the usual Montepulciano D'Abruzzo bottle.

    Re, the basil cubes: when you have winters like ours you learn a number of tricks to keep greens serviceable.
    But then, we do a lot of our own food production. We develop our own sprouts, make our own yogurt, and store a number of produce items throughout winter plus, we have a greenhouse that keeps us in certain hardy greens for the whole year.

  3. My cilantro and oregano grows outside all year round, does yours? Kidding!

  4. Sure, go ahead and gloat.

    We do get oregano into December, then it dies back until about now. Cilantro--fuggedaboudit!

  5. that was nice. i feel like you just had me over to your house for dinner and a bottle of wine. you should do more of these

  6. Gabe:

    After a few years of blogging, I realized that only a small number of people want to read what I want to blog.

    That's ok on its face, but there comes a time when one has to decide how best to spend one's time. I am a writer by trade. Writing for free is not in my blood, but when I do it, I hope that it receives an audience size that reinforces its necessity.

    My blog never reached that size.

    Having said all that, now that I have submitted the manuscript to my latest book, which took 3 years to write, and I am, as we say, between projects, I might blog a little soon--after I get the garden planted, the property cleaned up, and dinner prepared...

    Contrary to what you may believe, when it comes to winemaking, you and I are likely in synch. It's the hype and bullshit that makes me crazy. In fact, a recent Paul Draper letter got my ire up and I might blog about.

  7. Well, I can't blame you for not wanting to give away your hard work for free. I appreciate you giving us a free taste, and expecting us to buy if we like it :-) what is the name of your new book?

  8. Gabe:

    The name of the new book is not set until the publisher fully agrees during the editing process. I submitted a title, but have learned with past books that publishers routinely trash the author's title. I think it makes them feel like they had some input in the book...

    If they accept the title, it will be: Over A Barrel: the Rise and Fall of New York's Taylor Wine Company.

    Formed in 1880, after Prohibition Taylor became the largest winery in the Northeast--and about sixth in the nation in 1977, when Coca Cola bought the company. Coke brought the company to California with its Taylor California Cellars brand. In 1983, Coke sold Taylor to Seagram, and then Seagram sold it a few years later. By then, the company was fully raped and ruined. In 1995, Constellation bought the brand.

    The book is scheduled for release around January 2014.

    I've got two book proposals floating right now, hoping to get a bite.

    Have you seen my last book? It's The Complete Idiot's Guide for Starting and Running A Winery.

    The publisher was smart to have me write that book. I was a complete idiot when I started my winery.

  9. Thomas,

    My wife actually picked it up from the library a few months ago, and I recognized you instantly. Unfortunately, I am still a couple years away from trying to launch my own winery. But I am a complete idiot, so I imagine it will come in handy in the future

  10. Take this for what it's worth: about 75% of everything I did to start and operate my winery was wrong. I managed to stay in business for eight years, chasing my tail the whole time. In the end, the circumstance of a truly poor vintage that presented me with virtually no crop plus the lack of funds to ride the bad year ahead, not to mention the burnout from trying to "do it all" stopped me in my tracks.

    I have no regrets for having done it, but I do wish I had been smarter about it. Now that I am smarter I'm also older and lack the energy it requires to do it again. Besides, it's much easier to judge others ;)

  11. Thomas,

    Fortunately, I've spent the past few years making wine for other people, and managed to learn a lot from their mistakes and their successes. Not to say that I myself will be successful, but hopefully I'll be starting from a better place.

    As for your earlier point, I think that most people who only know me from the internet would be surprised to learn my actual winemaking philosophies. I'm not some crazy Alice Feiring naturalista. I actually use a lot of science and fancy equipment in my winemaking, which is what gives me such an appreciation for winemakers who have learned to make good wine without it. I don't really care about the hype and bullshit, it's the lack of appreciation for winemakers by people who write about wine for a living that make me tends to drive me crazy. I don't know what Paul Draper wrote in his letter, but that guy is one hell of a winemaker, and I think he deserves a lot of respect.

  12. No doubt that Draper should be respected for what he has done and accomplished in the wine world. But in the race for maintaining a marketing edge, the company stretches the concept of "natural" to an uncomfortable degree, in my view.

    For instance, they claim that their use of SO2 is so that the wines maintain their vineyard character. If you dig deep, you can make that case, but it's not exactly why SO2 is added to wine--is it?

    It's that kind of sly marketing bullshit that makes me crazy.

    The company also claims that SO2 was brought to the wine industry in the 19th century. That is not factual. Use of sulfur dioxide is a 2nd century discovery, in Rome.

  13. i work with potassium metabisulfite almost every day. its nasty stuff. he might not have all his facts straight, but i have tremendous respect for any winemaker who can make wine without using sulfur.

  14. Gabe:

    Anyone can make wine without the use of SO2. What matters is the result. (Incidentally, SO2 as a gas is more common at large wineries.)

    As I said, I respect all that Draper has done with Ridge, but that's not what I am pointing out. As with Ron's satire, you seem to have a problem either understanding or accepting that we are not attacking their passion; we are upset over their marketing method.

    The SO2 comment is only one thing. The Ridge "ingredient" message goes on to imply that other wineries use "industrial" methods but Ridge does not. Then, they justify their use of water to help dehydrated grapes (never talking about what dehydrated those grapes in the vineyard); they praise their use of calcium carbonate to lower acidity and their use of tartaric to increase acidity (again, never explaining why they would need to add these substances); they make the use of egg whites for fining sound like a nice meal; and they claim that oak is used as a flavoring rather than as a storage vessel (does that mean oak chips or barrels--they don't say).

    In other words: their interventions are ok, but other interventions are "industrial."

    It's misleading marketing, not to mention negative.

  15. Thomas,

    I hope it did not come off wrong, I understand that you are not attacking their passion. I just think that a lot of times, you guys get so focused on the marketing aspects that bother you, that you sometimes miss the point. I'm not trying to tell you you're wrong, just trying to get you to look at it from a different angle. I honestly appreciate the opportunity to have these discussions.

    I think every winemaker, from the brilliant and successful guys like Paul Draper, down to the piddling schmos like myself, have to walk the fine line between necessary improvements and unnecessary interventions. Everyone draws the line somewhere different, and thats one of the reasons every wine is different. I can't say much about Ridge, because I don't know much about their winery (other than the fact that they've been making great wine for decades). I do like the idea of telling people what you're doing to your wine, and letting them make the decision where to draw the line. And I'm sure some 25-year old in the sales & marketing department is going to sell it pretty hard, but that's not really the reason wineries make those decisions.

    As for so2 gas, I have worked with that as well, and it is even nastier than the powder. Fortunately, a recent OSHA inspection of our winery gave us so many new safety rules to follow in order to use so2 gas that we discontinued its use entirely.

  16. Gabe:

    You posted: "I do like the idea of telling people what you're doing to your wine, and letting them make the decision where to draw the line."

    So do I. That's why I rail against disingenuous "facts" that confuse rather than inform the consumer.

  17. Thomas: Thank you very much for the signed "Garlic, Wine and Olive Oil"; I'll be looking forward to digging into it.
    Dennis Tsiorbas