Thursday, February 18, 2010

French Wine Industry Takes a Beating for Selling Fake Pinot to Gallo

As reported by the AFP, a French judge has convicted 12 industry executives for their part in selling millions of bottles of wine that was labeled as Pinot Noir but in actuality was other grapes entirely, or at the very least had less than the legal allowable percentage of Pinot in them. These wines went to the Gallo company where they were bottled under the Red Bicyclette label. According to an article on, the other grapes blended into the wines included Merlot and Syrah. Sentences included suspended jail sentences and fines of up to 180,000 Euros. In total, the conspirators are estimated to have made about seven million euros of profit while apparently defrauding Gallo.

Here's where I get curious. How does Gallo, the biggest winemaker in the world, not know they're getting wine that isn't Pinot? I would expect them to have professional tasters and winemakers look at what was coming in, taste it, analyze it, ensure it's up to their standards before releasing it into the market. That seems reasonable right? Any good company that cares about it's brand and image has checks built into the system to ensure their product integrity. Well, Toyota apparently doesn't but that's another story, people died there. To my knowledge, no one was hurt in any way by the wines, and from what I understand, no one complained. Apparently the consumer really liked the blended wine, since the Red Bicyclette brand is a huge seller, accounting for millions of cases over the past six years or so. Back on topic, I do not buy the Gallo side's argument that they had no idea this was happening, not for one moment. They posted a statement about how disappointed they were, but it's all boilerplate material put together by their PR machine. Now, I don't drink Gallo wines and have only tried the Red Bicyclette a couple of times so I cannot say that the "no harm no foul" rule is in effect, since I'm not a consumer of their brand(s).

My point is this, I do not for one second believe Gallo was ignorant of what was going on. I happen to agree with an excerpt from the article: "Writing in today's Guardian newspaper, Decanter editor Guy Woodward labelled the episode a 'comedy' saying that this was Gallo's 'clumsy attempt to ride the post-Sideways Pinot Noir craze by peddling Red Bicyclette as an authentic French Pinot.'

'The world's biggest single wine producer being hoodwinked by a group of errant French vignerons is funny and depressing at the same time.

'It doesn't say much for Gallo's professionalism that its buyers couldn't tell the different between Pinot, Merlot and Shiraz,' he said."

It's more than that to me though, it's about a big company falsely representing wine to the American consumer. I feel that the industry is in a crucial position right now, getting more and more people to enjoy wine and incorporate it into their daily routines. This benefits everyone, and if Gallo foisted fake Pinot onto the consumer, that raises a lot of questions. Were they just out to make a buck? Did they feel that their consumers wouldn't care? With the Pinot craze in full swing, were they hoping to capitalize on that to the detriment of being honest with their customers? The last thing we all need is for the perception of the Wine Industry to mirror the airlines, banks or automakers, especially at this growth stage and in these economic times. Now that may sound alarmist, but this could theoretically be the tip of the iceberg, or the snowflake that turns into the snowball rolling down the hill. I don't think it will end up that way, but how many times has history shown us that a small act can easily morph into something huge. In this interconnected age, where image is so valuable (another debate entirely), the wine business needs to strive to maintain an image of openness and warmth. One that helps the consumer learn about wine, explore it, drink it and not be deceived by what's on the label. I say, shame on Gallo and shame on the French conspirators. The French winemakers, vineyard managers and estate executives put the profits before the people, which time and again just will not work. I hope two things happen, one that this blows over quickly and two, that people start demanding more comprehensive labeling laws. Gallo should also be investigated, if they haven't been already, for their role in the whole fiasco. In any case, what happened wasn't a catastrophe by any means, just something that didn't have to occur and hopefully won't (at least on that scale) in the future.

Beau Carufel 

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

This isn't wine but it's a beer you might want to try. Ballast Point Sea Monster Imperial Stout

In my own way, I'm gradually exploring what I want to do here with my small parcel of the information superhighway.What I thought I'd do today is share a beer with you that I've come to love over the past few months. I first visited Ballast Point in October or November of 2009, but have been drinking their superb beers for a number of years. Today, I worked early in the morning, then after I was off decided I should celebrate my weekend (I have Thursdays and Fridays off) by drinking my last Sea Monster that I'd bought in December or January. While tweeting with my friend Suzie about her new blog (coming soon!), I figured why not branch off a bit and explore what I can do with a beer review?

So here we go!
Ballast Point Sea Monster Imperial Stout
(img credit Christopher @ picasaweb)

Since this is a beer, not a wine, I think the way I describe the tastes and scents will be different. First off, it's a stout, that means it's a dark, serious beer. In the glass it's nearly impossible for light to pass through the brew. That's big beer, good stuff that's got lots of different flavors. Some of the things my nose picked out were cola, mocha, dark chocolate and maybe some super dark fruit. Maybe blackberries or blueberries, I can't be certain at this point. On the palate you get bitter baking chocolate, creamy malt, vanilla, coffee and some darker, earthy notes. In short, it's pretty awesome stuff. This beer has tons of flavor but in a complex way, that is to say that you can discern a lot of tastes. It is dark, intense, and brooding but has life to it, a vibrant, hoppy characteristic. Basically, I think it begs to be consumed out of an ice cold pint glass, to be savored, not chugged. I'm happy to admit it took me over an hour to finish off the 22oz. bottle and I savored every sip. 

If I have to use my scale to rate this beer, it would easily get an A. It was delicious, chewy beer that I enjoyed immensely. If you see it at your local bottle shop, pick up a few bottles and enjoy them through the year. If you're into pairing beers with food, like I am, try this with something spicy like teriyaki beef kabobs or carne asada. I bet you'll find it a wonderfully delicious combination of flavors and textures. Thanks for taking the time to read this blog, I always appreciate the feedback.  Here's to drinking great wine and great beer.

Beau Carufel

Monday, February 15, 2010

Ever feel like you're in over your head? I do..A lot..

Since the middle of last year I've been a Twitter user. Since November I've been a blogger. For about two and a half years I've been using Facebook. I used Myspace for perhaps three years before virtually ignoring it. Since 2001 I've been a regular poster on a couple of shared interest forums. That's a rough summation of my experiences with networking via the internet.

People are going completely nuts over social media right now and have been for a couple of years. There are new websites to connect us to each other springing up every day and for every possible interest. After trying to delve into social media specifically related to wine, I come away simple overwhelmed. The amount of content is staggering, leaving a newbie like me to cry "Uncle!" after being stymied in my attempt to keep up to date on everything that's going on.

There are blogs I'm following that I have to remember to check on and thankfully Google Reader helps index them so it's almost idiot-proof. I follow 281 people on Twitter as of now and use Tweetdeck to attempt to see what's going on with them but even with such a small list (sic) it's hard to keep up. Are people on Twitter literally all day, constantly scanning for new tweets? Don't they have work do to? I'd love to write more blog entries, maybe even as frequently as once a day. The problem lies in the content, how do I stay relevant by posting more frequently? I see bloggers I follow writing commentary on various things from legislation to tastings to industry news. Where do they go to get the information that they then write about? Do you ever feel like there's some secret website people get news and information from that you don't know about, then they write a great blog entry and you wonder how they hit the nail on the head so well? I sure do!

The same goes for social media like Twitter and Facebook, I see people constantly posting new (and mostly relevant) content that must have inspiration from somewhere. Is this what Gary Vaynerchuk calls "the hustle"? Maybe that separates the pros from the guys like me, the wannabes. Hell, I don't even  know how to label this blog entry, maybe it's just me complaining cause I'm not putting in the work required to get noticed. Regardless, I just felt I had to get that off my chest. After thinking it through, I'm going to try to update more frequently and write shorter posts, all in an attempt to get more people to check me out. Keep your fingers crossed for me, I'd appreciate it!

Beau Carufel

Friday, February 12, 2010

2008 Paco & Lola Albarino Rias Baixas

Now with a shorter, hopefully easier to read format! No more commentary at the top, I'll use different, non-review posts for that. Up here you might see a little blurb about why I picked this wine or maybe a shout-out to a friend and fellow blogger. I'll try to keep the look cleaner and more accessible. To all of you with Valentine's Day plans, congrats and I hope everything goes great. For us single people, there's always next year. This year I'll be opening a bottle of wine, watching a comedy, and probably ordering Chinese food.

2008 Paco & Lola Albarino Rias Baixas


I really, really, really love Albarino. There, now you know I'm biased. However, I did pay for this wine, so that should help even things out. For $13, I've yet to have an Albarino as delicious and well put together. Just the right amount of acid which framed beautiful notes of apricot, green apple, grass and lime. Served with a decent chill on it, this stuff went great with the shrimp stir-fry I did. That apricot is fleeting but adds just enough of a lush mouthfeel on the mid palate to prevent this wine from getting too close to a Sauvignon Blanc. I'm really big on varietally honest wines, this is one for sure. When you smell it, you get a well integrated set of scents (say that five times fast!) that include perfume, grapefruit, herbs and maybe pineapple too. Did I mention how much I love Albarino? 

Since I give every wine a grade, Paco & Lola get a solid A. Earlier I'd tweeted about this wine and given it an A- but I changed that after it warmed up a touch and got more complex. Everything is so well integrated that despite the range of flavors, it never feels clunky in your mouth. You could even sip this on a hot day and realy enjoy it's refreshing qualitites. I'm going back to buy some more and thanks to Mark at San Diego Wine Company for turning me onto this little gem.

Well that was fast, I feel like I'm somehow shortchanging the reader by not writing more, but I'm willing to try this format out. Entries will be short and tight, hopefully giving the right amount of information to those seeking a new wine to try. As always, thank you for reading and I look forward to your comments.

Beau Carufel

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

2007 Les Aphillanthes 3 Cepages Cotes du Rhone

I haven't written since January 18th yet no one's taken me to task for it. Then again I don't really expect anyone to. Right now I think wine fans who read blogs are probably overwhelmed by the choices out there. I know I am, and even have trouble keeping up with the ones I truly enjoy reading. What is one to do then? I guess in a sense, the onus is on the reader to actively seek out the content that he/she wants to experience. Thank goodness for services like Google Reader, so we can quickly categorize and index our preferred blogs. In any case, the Chardonnays I mentioned before (for those of you who read this blog) are coming soon. I discussed the tasting concepts with my partner in crime (my buddy Brian) and he readily agreed. It's such a maligned varietal, we felt it would be fun to sort out the various elements that Calfornia Chardonnays have.

This isn't about that though, this is about an absolutely stellar 2007 Cotes du Rhone I had the other night.
2007 Les Aphillanthes 3 Cepages Cotes du Rhone
(img credit to link)

Most of us have read that the 2007 Rhone vintage is awesome (according to the critics like Robert Parker), worthy of naming your first-born child something trendy like Villages or Cornas. Ok that wasn't too funny, sorry..I promise it won't happen (much) again. My little disclaimer should be that I've found the 2007 Rhones to be on average, way too ripe and fruit oriented. They seem to be devoid of the very qualities I love about them. Darker, earthier and perhaps more rustic flavors have traditionally made Rhone wines appeal to my palate. Of the perhaps 25 examples of 2007 Rhones, ranging throughout the area, the vast majority just aren't my style. When I went to taste this example, I expected more of the same. Overly fruity, soft, almost flabby wine that didn't reflect (to me) the real heritage of the Rhone Valley. 
Boy was I surprised! This Les Aphillanthes showed bright flavors of black cherry, leather and cigar box, but all in proportion. I also think I found notes of blackberry, mocha and definitiely some of that wonderful barnyard that marks Rhone wines.
It was only open about 20 minutes before my buddy Justin and I consumed it, but that was enough to showcase some darker scents like dark chocolate, spices and herbs. These were accompanied by that cool barnyard/wet-earth smell and even some ripe currants, which we really didn't expect to find. In case you haven't guessed it yet, this wine was something that appealed to me, one I have in fact bought again and will recommend to my fellow wine-drinkers. For $20, you really can't beat this wonderfully modern yet traditional Rhone wine. With my supremely awesome scoring system giving it a solid A, how can you not buy it! Well that might be a bit of a stretch, please forgive the exuberance. It's really an A-rated wine, one that I intend to drink multiple times and feel represents a truly great value in wine.
That's about all I intend to write, I'm thinking I'll keep future reviews shorter and more to-the-point. That hopefully benefits you, the reader. Plus it means I have to write less! In summation, buy this wine if you see it out there. Les Aphillanthes makes a couple of other examples which are very tasty too but this one just stuck with me. Next blog will be a report about a wine tasting featuring what we call "Random Reds".

Beau Carufel