Monday, March 30, 2009

"China Grove" Brand in Your Future?

BEIJING (AFP) - One of the great names in wine-making, Domaines Barons de Rothschild, said Sunday it plans to develop a vineyard in China to take advantage of growing interest in wine here.

The owners of the famed Chateau Lafite wine brand will plant the vineyard on 25 hectares (62 acres) on a peninsula in eastern China's Shandong province, according to a statement.

The joint venture vineyard will be developed with China International Trust and Investment Company (CITIC), a state-owned investment company.

"I am very pleased to develop a vineyard in a country where the interest in fine wines is increasing every year. It is particularly exciting to participate in the creation of an exceptional Chinese 'grand cru,'" Baron Eric de Rothschild said in the statement.

The Penglai peninsula was chosen as the site after a nationwide search because "it proved to be the most promising area to produce a great wine, in terms of both its climatic and geological conditions," the statement said.

Consumption of wine has surged in China along with that of other consumer goods as its economy has boomed in recent years.

The country became one of the global top ten wine consumers in 2005, but there remains a lot of potential for foreign labels as 95 percent of the wines now consumed are Chinese-made.

The pleasing minerality was balanced with just a hint of melamine.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Is Pizza Machine a Bunch of Bologna?

ROME (Reuters) – A vending machine that bakes fresh pizza in minutes for a few euros has got Italian chefs in a whirl before it hits the streets in the coming weeks.

The bright-red "Let's Pizza" machine uses infra-red rays and technology developed at the University of Bologna to knead flour and water into dough, spread it with tomato sauce and a choice of topping, and cook it -- all in less than three minutes.

Its developer, Claudio Torghele, says the machine has proved popular in trials in two Italian regions, but gourmets say it is an affront to traditional methods of cooking the classic dish.

"This is not just a vending machine, it's a mini-pizzeria," said Torghele, 56. "It has windows where you can watch the pizza-making process. Kids, including my own, love it: when the machine is working, there's always a crowd."

The device was developed with help from Anglo-Dutch group Unilever, which tested it in Germany, Torghele said. He hopes to launch the machines across Europe and in the United States, with ingredients varying according to local tastes.

At present it offers four toppings -- cheese and tomato, bacon, ham and fresh vegetables -- at an average cost of 4 euros. Torghele thinks "Let's Pizza" will appeal to Europeans looking for cheap options as a recession hits their pockets. "If I want to eat a great pizza, I go to a pizzeria. But our product is satisfactory, low cost and available 24-hours a day," he said. "This is crisis proof ... McDonald's is increasing its sales. Low cost, fast food is in demand."

Italy is famed for its cuisine and has seen a movement develop against fast food, called "Slow Food." But it has more vending machines than any other country in Europe, according to an industry body, mostly doling out hot coffee drinks.

Purists say the Italian pizza -- invented in the 18th century in the southern city of Naples -- cannot be rushed: the dough must be mixed and left for 12 hours, the ingredients kept fresh, and the oven pre-heated to around 300 degrees.

"This machine is a toy," Pino Morelli of the Association of Italian Pizzerias said. "Perhaps it will find a niche overseas, but Italians are born with pizza: their mothers feed it to them as babies. They understand it.

In Pizzeria Brandi, nestling near the center of ramshackle Naples, the reaction to Torghele's invention was cool.

The restaurant invented the pizza Margherita in 1889 in honor of the queen of the newly unified country, its tomato, mozzarella and basil toppings mimicking Italy's flag.

"Unfortunately, today people invent many things, but you can't make any comparison, especially in terms of quality," said chef Marcello, taking a break from sliding pizzas on a wooden pole into the dome-shaped oven. "The only benefit is the price."

"We should scrap this 'pizza machine' and bring back the old jukeboxes: at least they were charming," said Paolo Pagnani, who owns the historic restaurant.

(Additional reporting by Cristiano Corvino, editing by Paul Casciato

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Title After Our Own Hearts ....

Book Review: Heard it Through the Grapevine by Matt Skinner

skinner_heardit_cover.jpgThere are two things I wish were more easily found in the world of wine: great bottles for under $5, and excellent introductory wine books for novice wine lovers. Although after reading his latest book Heard it Through The Grapevine: The Things You Should Know to Enjoy Wine, I'm tempted to suggest that the wine world also needs more people like Matt Skinner.

Born in Melbourne, Australia, Skinner stumbled into the wine world almost by accident. As relayed in a 2005 profile in the UK's The Observer, his transformation from surf bum to celebrity sommelier sounds more like the plot to a Hollywood movie than the early career of a successful wine writer. But listen to Skinner talk about wine, and it's clear that however accomplished he may be in the wine world, he still has one foot on the surfboard, so to speak.

That attitude is the Matt Skinner angle on wine, part of his charm, and no doubt one of the reasons that Naked Chef Jamie Oliver, who cultivates a similar enfant terrible image, tapped Skinner to be the sommelier for his London restaurant Fifteen in 2002. Skinner continues to manage the wine operations for the now global restaurant group, while also making a living as a writer, consultant and educator.

Heard it Through the Grapevine is Skinner's third book on wine and his most basic to date. In every way, the book attempts to be an essential guide for the complete wine novice, and it succeeds beautifully. I've thumbed my way through a lot of "educational" wine books -- probably close to a hundred of them -- and I always come away with one of three primary complaints. These books are either too dense with information, too boring, or too poorly organized. Heard it Through the Grapevine strikes the right balance between volume and type of information, style of presentation, organization, and attitude.


Heard it Through The Grapevine: The Things You Should Know to Enjoy Wine, Mitchell Beazley 2009, $17.99, (Hardcover).