Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Fresh & Easy Wine Tasting: Party, People, Pinot Noir

A while back I was invited to a party introducing several new varieties of California wines from Fresh & Easy. I'm a big fan of their wines, and even though my local store doesn't carry alcohol I'll often drive to another location in another city just to stock up on my favorites. ('Stock up' makes me sound like some sort of wino who needs sixty bottles of liquor lined up in her pantry at all times, but it's not like that at all. There's only forty, and they're not in my pantry they're in my office.)

I've grown to love F&E's wine, and the last time I was there someone working in the wine aisle actually knew a lot about their different varieties and helped me pick out a few bottles. Imagine that - an employee who knows something about the product they're selling! So different from when I was at another market recently, and someone working there told me they had never seen chicken thighs sold separate from the rest of the chicken. (True story.)

The party was held at a space called the Smog Shoppe, an event space in L.A. that used to be – you guessed it - a smog-check shop. It's a beautifully designed green space built with recycled and sustainable materials – an outdoor setting that lent itself perfectly to an evening spent sipping great wine and eating great food. I wish they'd turn all smog-check shops into something as cool as this:

(Disclaimer and credit: These photos were all taken by a F&E photographer. Usually I like to take my own photos, but I was having so much fun [wine] on this night I kept forgetting to take any. Actually, I did but they all look like this:

See? Wouldn't you rather look at their nice photos rather than those taken by a slightly inebriated person wielding an iPhone? I thought so.)

They had these beautiful tables set up for us for the tasting. I was sitting with Amy Anderson, Bernadette Batts and Janine Hayes, all comediennes. As you can imagine the witty repartee was flowing as fast as the wine. It took me three glasses of chardonnay just to be half as funny as them.

But on to the wine.

We tried four varieties that evening:

Open Field Pinot Gris - Open Field wines are from Santa Barbara and are crafted exclusively for Fresh & Easy. I'm not a big fan of Pinot Gris so I'm not the best person to judge this, but personally I prefer a good Chardonnay. 

The Open Field Pinot Noir, however, was hands down my favorite wine of the night. I went out and bought a few bottles for a dinner party, and they were a big hit. At $9.99 to $19.99 the Open Field wines were considered the pricey wines of the night compared to the other selections, but a really great value given the quality.

(Plus, the Open Field wines have the best label designs. That's usually how I pick wines, by how much I like the label illustration and the typeface. Almost as bad as picking a doctor because you like his shoes.)

Cloud Valley Chardonnay - I love a good Chardonnay so I drank this right up, but I have to say it was immediately overshadowed by the Open Field Pinot Noir that was up next. But I was intrigued enough to want to give other Cloud Valley wines a try, and they're a steal at $7.99 to $8.99 a bottle.

Barrel Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon – This was my second favorite wine of the night, but that's an easy one because I'm just a big sucker for cabs. Still an impressive wine for the money - all Barrel Ranch varieties are priced at $10.99 to $15.99.

And the food they served was equally memorable. I'm a big F&E shopper so I was already familiar with many of the items on the pre-tasting table: Their excellent hummus, charcuterie and cheese spread and bowls of luscious olives.

But what came out afterward during the tasting was even more exciting: beef and veggie skewers, crostini with brie, raviolis, and my favorite - an amazing cevice served in martini glasses. These were all prepared on site by F&E chefs. Here I am attacking one of the servers for her platter of meat.

It was a great night, and I'm an even bigger fan of the F&E wine aisle now. Check it out for yourself – they've got 27 new varieties of California wines, and lots of other ones too (one of my faves is the The Vine Yard Late Harvest Riesling.) Cheers, and remember to drink responsibly and take pictures.

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