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An Insider's guide to restaurants, wine, spirits and culinary travel

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         almost classified: chateau phelan segur

The Bordeaux Classification of 1855 is one of the most controversial gambits in the history of wine marketing. The situation was simple enough: There was an international exposition underway in Paris, and Napoleon III asked for a ranking of the wines of the Médoc. Sixty-one properties (out of more than 10,000) were rated from First Growth down to Fifth. Despite the revolution in technology and wine quality that has occurred in the region, the Classification has remained almost unchanged ever since. There’s little question that it functioned at times as an excuse to make mediocre wine---particularly during the 1960s and 1970s. At its best, it stands as a promise of what certain great vineyard sites are capable of achieving under the right circumstances.

The Cru Bourgeois classification started out in 1932 as a way to remedy the situation, and probably made it worse. The idea was to recognize properties that produced excellent wine and had been omitted from the 1855 rankings. The 2003 classification created so much bitterness that it was annulled in 2007.  The term was reintroduced in 2010, but by then some of the more famous estates had withdrawn from the system entirely.

Chateau Phélan Segur is usually mentioned as an example of a property that should have been included in the 1855 Classification, and with good reason: The vineyards are located in a prestigious neighborhood of Saint-Estèphe, bordering Calon-Segur and Montrose. The parcels were acquired at the beginning of the 19th century by an Irishman named Bernard Phelan. Even though ownership of the estate has passed through numerous hands (it was sold most recently last year to a Belgian investor), Phélan Segur is consistently regarded as one of the top wines of the northern Médoc. It was listed as one of nine Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnels in 2003. What this means, in plain English, is that consumers can snag a superior wine at an undervalued price.

The 2014 vintage ($50), currently available in retail stores around the country, is a blend of 64% Cabernet Sauvignon and 36% Merlot. It has an opaque purple color and an enticing nose with whiffs of minerals, anise and crushed fresh herbs. The wine is compact and succulent in the mouth, displaying good acidity, balanced tannins and a reduction of black currants. The herbal notes dominate through the mid palate, creating an effect of fresh mint. Tannins reverberate on the finish along with earthy, mineral-infused black fruits. Classy and elegant, it would make a good match for the usual suspects (grilled meats and stews) and an interesting contrast with game fish and roast pork. People who complain about the price of Bordeaux should give it a try.

A roundup of the most interesting food, wine and spirits stories on the web (because even Al Gore, who invented it, doesn't have time to read them all)

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                        glass half full: 3/9/2018

                            national absinthe day

The mere fact that March 5 was National Absinthe Day is proof that we’re living in a new and enlightened age.

Until the early years of this century, absinthe was illegal in the U.S. and many other countries around the world. The drink had been invented in 1792 by Pierre Ordinaire, a French doctor living in Switzerland, and quickly became the rage throughout Europe---so popular, in fact, that by 1910 a stunning 36 million liters (the equivalent of 48 million bottles) were consumed annually. In Paris, the period from 5-7 p.m. became known as L’Heure Verte, or the green hour.

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          would you buy a ticket to a restaurant?

Almost any restaurant owner will tell you that no-shows are the most challenging part of their business. The ones who won’t tell you that are probably operating casual, insanely busy restaurants that don’t accept reservations. In fine dining establishments, margins are so thin that one absent table can make the difference between an evening’s profit and loss.

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             the vision of vicente garcia vasquez

Let’s face it: It’s not every day that you get a chance to drink wine made by women who describe themselves as a “witches’ Sabbath.”

The three women---Olga, Sara and Maria José---are disciples of Vicente Garcia Vasquez, a visionary who purchased a wine estate in the Bierzo region of Spain in 2009. While far from new (it was first mentioned in the writings of Pliny the Elder), Bierzo is a relatively unknown area in the northwestern corner of the country close to Galicia. Unless you’ve made the pilgrimage on foot to Santiago de Compostela, you probably haven’t heard of it.

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                                 the fire next time

The images dominated the news during late 2017: Many of us watched, mesmerized, as wildfires swept across California. Seemingly unchecked, they destroyed homes, ravaged vineyards and engulfed wineries. Encouraged by drought conditions earlier in the year, there were two separate outbreaks. In October, 250 wildfires burned more than 245,000 acres and caused $9.4 billion in insured property losses. Then in December, the Santa Ana winds created another round of fires that consumed over 300,000 acres and caused 230,000 people to evacuate.

Even as you read this, there are drought conditions again in California and another horrific season of wildfires looms on the horizon. What’s being done to prevent it?

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                   the wines of marchesi di gresy

Full disclosure: I’ve walked the Martinenga vineyard with Alberto di Gresy, and I’ve also consumed grappa at his house. While this isn’t a recipe for objectivity, it does give me a perspective I might not otherwise have.

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         flavored olive oil and balsamic vinegar

                                                               By Ken Schechet

        Our roving correspondent looks at a culinary trend going mainstream

Did you know that olive oil can reduce the risk of many types of cancers? It can make you less likely to develop Type 2 diabetes.  It can slow the aging of your heart, lower your bad cholesterol levels, reduce the risk of stroke and of getting Alzheimer’s. Such are the claims made by the Olive Oil Times, (yes, there is such a publication), as well as many, many other sources.  There is a lot of evidence that the monounsaturated fats, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory properties of olive oil can have a very real and positive effect on your well-being. 

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                        a primer on vietnamese food

                                                                  By Ken Schechet

This is the last in a series of dispatches from our correspondent, who has been eating his way through Asia

I have been to Vietnamese restaurants in the United States, France, and several Asian countries.  I recently spent two weeks eating my way from one end of Vietnam to the other and quickly realized that before I got here I had absolutely no clue what Vietnamese food was all about.

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                                 hanoi street food

                                                                      By Ken Schechet

Eating his way through Asia, our correspondent has reached Vietnam. Here is his report on the street food vendors of Hanoi.

Like many foodies I have a Tony Bourdain addiction.  I have followed him through three networks, actually ran into him filming in a butcher shop in Tuscany, and have seen every show he’s done from his favorite country, Vietnam.  According to a recent New York Times Magazine story he seriously considered moving to Vietnam, specifically Hanoi, a few years ago.  So Vietnam went to the top of my bucket list and I finally got there recently.

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                              singapore street food

                                                                    By Ken Schechet

This is the second in a series of dispatches from our correspondent, Ken Schechet, who is eating his way through Asia.

Singapore is probably the most food obsessed place I’ve ever been.  It is a constant topic of conversation.  Cab drivers ask you where you’ve eaten.  It’s a place where WTF stands for “Where’s the Food”  (I didn’t make that up.  It was on a billboard.)  Being a major trading and banking center there are no end of fine restaurants, but what Singapore is famous for is street food.

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                              singapore food wars

                                                                  By Ken Schechet

This is the first in a series of dispatches from our correspondent Ken Schechet, who is eating his way through Asia.

If you’ve ever been to South Philadelphia and are a foodie, you have probably been to the corner of 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue where the two signature cheese steak joints, Pat’s and Gino’s, are directly across the street from each other and staring each other down constantly.  Of course, you need to try them both.  Rivalries like these are so delicious to me, on so many levels, that when I heard about two similar situations in Singapore I had to see them on a recent visit.

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                     great wine for under $15?

It’s not a typo, oxymoron or stupid question. There’s a lot of very good wine at very low prices, but discovering it is a challenge---particularly when you’re strolling the wine aisle of your local supermarket or beverage superstore, staring at a tsunami of unfamiliar labels.

The answer is Mark Spivak’s Affordable Wine Guide to California and the Pacific Northwest, available as an e-book for $7.99. The book profiles 43 producers and contains hundreds of wine reviews, and gives you a clear-cut view of the good and the bad. The criteria are simple: What does the wine taste like? What kind of food does it go with? Is it worth the money?

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