Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market is a new chain of specialty grocery stores on the West Coast of the United States. You may have heard their DIY-style radio ads, in which real customers provide testimonials about their shopping experience, ostensibly saving the store some advertising dollars. In theory, at least, these dollars are then passed back to the consumer in the form of savings. If it smells a little too trickle-down populist to be true, then you’re sharing the skepticism we felt upon first hearing the ads — and again upon receiving a package of samples in the mail. When was the last time a major grocery store chain did the Young Winos a favor?
Traditionally, the Winos have enjoyed a love/hate relationship with the world of chain supermarket wine sales. Although we acknowledge the chains’ inevitable superiority in the roughly $8-and-under category — a category which, by any estimation, includes some remarkable value wines and excellent daily drinkers — we continue to wave the banner of the small neighborhood wine shop, where your extra dollar or two buys you the advantage of personalized attention from a salesperson who knows your palate. Also, broader proselytizing aside, we couldn’t help but notice that Fresh & Easy, a subsidiary of UK retail behemoth Tesco, already has gained plenty of local detractors: its non-union policy has drawn protests from the United Food & Commercial Workers, and several other sources have raised a list of environmental concerns.
As always, we’ll trust Young Winos near and far to make their own informed decisions regarding their wine purchasing habits. What we will say without hesitation is that the people at Fresh & Easy sent us a couple of tasty wines. I tasted them with the Wino roommates on a recent December night.
Kicking things off was the non-vintage Ogio Prosecco, which featured a bright citrus nose that Andrea thought smelled like honeydew. Grabbing a glass immediately after returning home from a Christmas party, stylish Doug said it smelled “clean, fresh and crisp,” while Max got peaches and also a bit of cheesiness. “Does anyone else get a little bit of a floral, too?” asked Andrea, provoking several positive responses. We gave the stuff a gulp, and were treated to a fizzy banquet of floral notes. “Oh wow, that’s really good,” said Max. “A lot of honey on the palate.” Andrea agreed: “it has sweet flavors, without being really sweet. It’s very smooth too. It hits my tongue without making a lot of commotion.” I concurred — the carbonation was quite soft and delicate. It almost had a whipped cream element; there was something fluffy and slightly sweet about it. The enclosed tasting notes alluded to notes of “white peach, ripe melon and sweet spices,” which seemed pretty fair. At $8.99, the Ogio was declared a winner.
Next up was the 2007 The Vine Yard Cabernet Franc (Columbia Valley, Washington). Andrea thought it smelled woody, and Max mentioned “cedar, and also some raspberries.” Doug picked up dark berries and “a musky funk.” Andrea also picked up some tomato sauce character, to which Max immediately replied that it now smelled totally like ketchup. I agreed: it smelled like ketchup if you were looking for ketchup, but there was also some herbal character in there, perhaps some basil and/or oregano. (All around, this one smelled like it would make a delicious sauce.)
We took our sips, and response was generally positive. “It’s jammy, but really mellow,” said Andrea. I thought so too — it was jammy without being overripe, and I applauded the wine’s herbal character. Max was the lone detractor, calling it “sour” and nondescript. He agreed with the “black cherry” note, but still wasn’t a huge fan. Doug didn’t appreciate it at first, but once he got over the initial unfamiliarity of the woodsiness, he settled into it nicely. At $7.99, the bottle was a value champ for at least three of us.
The good people at Fresh & Easy also threw in some holiday-themed goodies for our post-wine consumption, including their Gourmet Swiss Chocolate Assortment ($7.99), their Gourmet Belgian Biscuit Collection ($7.99), and their Cranberry & Nut Popcorn Clusters ($4.99). All were devoured posthaste with nary an objection from anyone. Good stuff.
The Young Winos of LA — edutoxicating Los Angeles since 2005.
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