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

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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.

The grape varieties grown in Bierzo aren’t exactly household words either. The primary white grape is Godello, increasingly popular in Galicia, similar to Albarino but deeper, richer and more intense. Mencia, the popular red wine grape, has traditionally been known for yielding light, fragrant wines for early consumption. Recently it has been attracting the attention of serious winemakers, who are producing a more concentrated version from older vines on steep hillsides.

In the midst of this obscure setting, Vasquez (or his anointed witches) are pursuing a pure and focused path of viticulture: strict vineyard selection, manual harvest, careful sorting before pressing and aging in French oak barrels. The 86 acres of old bush vines are scattered among three distinct vineyard sites, densely planted at altitudes ranging from 1700 to 2300 feet. The vineyards are encircled by mountains that protect them from wind, rain and disease. Some reports indicate that Vicente’s noble goal is to return the region to the glorious, hand-crafted, labor-intensive days before the phylloxera epidemic of the 19th century (“Can’t repeat the past?” asked Jay Gatsby, incredulously. “Why of course you can.”).

His 2015 Godelia Blanco ($18) is a blend of 80% Godello and 20% Dona Blanca. The fragrant nose yields aromas of minerals, damp straw, bitter almonds and quince. On the palate, the wine’s mouthwatering acidity contrasts nicely with its earthiness and rich, almost unctuous texture. It is honeyed without being sweet, and it exhibits flavors of fresh herbs and citrus zest with a finish that is long, floral and compelling. Displaying both character and charm, it has enough body and substance to accompany main dishes of poultry, veal and pork as well as seafood.

The 2012 Godelia Mencia ($20) is made exclusively from the grape variety of the same name, from vines between 40 and 80 years old. The deeply colored wine exudes aromas of briar, anise and minty black fruits. Tart and full-bodied, with drying tannins and rich blackberry flavors, it offers a balanced and composed mouth feel and a pleasant earthy quality. The burly texture makes it a good match for roasted meat, stews and wild game.

These are wines worth seeking out, and in the internet age it’s possible to find them easily. If this be witchery, we need more of it.

                        glass half full: 2/16/2018

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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                                 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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vintage cocktails: would you pay $650 for a                                                        sazerac?

Customers expect to pay $20 or $25 for a cocktail in a high-end bar, but some patrons might blanch at forking over $300, $400 or more. In some of the nation’s most innovative watering holes, that option is becoming more common.

We’re not talking about the $10,000 martini with your girlfriend’s diamond engagement ring at the bottom. The three or four-digit cocktail is likely to be made with vintage spirits---booze that was distilled long before you were born. The mixology universe is embracing these drinks as a hot trend.

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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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    can't afford pappy van winkle? Make your own

In the wine world, counterfeiters are the dregs of humanity: they victimize collectors and take advantage of our vanity and ego. In the universe of spirits, however, they are sometimes encouraged and welcomed---provided they are producing the fakes for their own consumption, rather than profiting and fooling the public.

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                   the future of grocery shopping

When Amazon acquired Whole Foods last year, it seemed like an improbable marriage: the union of a massive discount mail-order operation with a trendy store that sold the best of everything at outrageous prices. The outlines of Amazon’s strategy are still fuzzy, but are steadily growing clearer. The purpose of this post is not to sound the alarm against Big Brother, but simply to speculate on where things are heading.

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                              food trends for 2018

Prognostication is a good business. If your predictions are right, you can lord it over all the peasants with limited vision; if you’re wrong, no one is going to remember your statements one year later. No wonder there are so many seers predicting next year’s hot food trends. Here are the ones most frequently mentioned:

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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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