The Winos’ Tasting Series: despite dire forecasts, love is in the air for Fresh & Easy

By Jesse on February 13, 2010

Late last year, newbie grocery chain Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets sent us a couple bottles of wine from their Christmas lineup.  We were impressed with both of them, and the Ogio Prosecco made a repeat appearance at our bubbly tasting later that month, where it was a big hit.  The chain, however, has endured some tough economic times since opening in 2007, and two recent reports (here and here) predict that the times don’t look to be un-toughening any time soon.  (In addition, the store continues to be protested by the UFCW for its non-union policy.)  Nevertheless, it would seem that Fresh & Easy hasn’t given up on getting their name out there, if the recent arrival of a free package of goodies is any indication.

Valentine’s Day is nigh, and Fresh & Easy assured us that the wine (and chocolates) that they’d sent us would make for inspired Valentine’s Day selections.  Never one to recoil from the challenge of putting corporate claims to the test, I asked the Wino roommates to help me imbibe.

First up was the non-vintage Montcadi Rosé Cava (Spain), which managed to rub us the wrong way before we’d even opened it — the back label featured the confusing and erroneous phrase “made from grapes grown in the Cava region,” which is a bit like a California producer advertising that their bubbly is made from grapes grown in the “sparkling wine region.”  Upon further investigation, we learned that this wine hails from two regions in north-eastern Spain: the supporting Garanacha (30%) is from the Penedes, while the headlining Trepat (70%) is from the relatively obscure region of Conca de Barberà.

All semantics aside, this wine was certainly pretty.  “It’s the color of coral,” said Doug.  “More of a ruby coral, though, not a orange coral,” countered Andrea.  The nose was bright and expressive.   Andrea picked up notes of cranberry juice, and Max got a cross between Martinelli’s cider and rose water.  Doug said it smelled like it was going to be sweet, and he picked up some watermelon Jolly Rancher.  Max agreed, and added that it “smells like a fruit salad.”  Warily, we braced ourselves for the an onslaught of sweetness and tipped back our glasses.

“That’s gooood,” said Max, immediately. “But it’s kind of just straight juice, like if you took Martinelli’s and put cranberry juice in it,” he added. “It’s not as sweet as I thought,” said Doug, relieved.  Andrea found it “really refreshing,” and called it “fuzzy and fruity.”  Flavors included tart cherries, crisp apple, and even a little melon.  “The first sensation is like biting into a Red Delicious apple, and then it turns into lemon candy,” said Max.  Doug also picked up some grapefruit, and he thought the palate was fairly akin to making a punch of grapefruit slices in apple juice.  We didn’t pick up any of the biscuit flavors that the tasting notes promised, finding instead that the fruit was too ripe to allow for any of that Champagne breadiness.  However, no one was complaining — especially not at the bargain-basement price of $6.99 a bottle.

Eagerly awaiting the Montcadi… I don’t think Doug appreciated Andrea’s “coral” comments… trying to diffuse things by moving on to the McGuigan

Next up was a foreboding Aussie red, the 2008 McGuigan Handmade Shiraz (Barossa).  “It’s black as ink, and it smells like a library book dipped in dark chocolate,” said Andrea.  “It smells like dirt,” offered Max, “and also like baking chocolate, the kind that’s like 80% cacao.”  Doug picked up some plum, and Andrea got some blackberry, which I thought was closer to blackberry jam.  It smelled like it had some promise.

Upon tasting it, however, opinion quickly went south.  “It tastes like sour cherries,” said Andrea, but Max amended that observation to “rotted cherries.”  No tannins, pointed out Doug, who found it pretty slight.  I thought it was a bit overwrought, like a cloying currant jelly, but I was willing to forgive the flavor faults if I could only have some of that big Shiraz black pepper; however, I had a hard time finding much.  “It’s got a little pepper,” said Max, “but it’s overpowered by the sourness.”  We all thought it tasted too young, and perhaps a bit under-ripe.  “The flavors are jagged,” said Max.  “There’s a bitter note, and then a sour note… nothing is blending together.  Maybe it needs to sit in a closet for eight years.”  At $12.99, this sour cherry was a pass, and attention quickly turned to the sweeter items that had been included in the package: snickerdoddle cookies ($2.59), gourmet swiss truffles ($3.99), and a “one huge hunk” chocolate bar with pecans and fruit ($4.29), all of which were very well-received.

Holidays can sometimes cause even the most discerning of us to dispense with our usual reservations concerning gimmicky drinking — after all, who among us hasn’t downed a few pints of green beer on St. Patrick’s Day, or partaken in some weird “spooky” punch at a Halloween party?  Similarly, the thought of drinking pink wine on Valentine’s Day might seem a little bit sickening in its clichéd cuteness.  However, we’re happy to report that the Montcadi Cava is the real deal, and we think it’ll win over even the most cynical, anti-romantic palate.  Remember, nothing says “I love you” like a wine that tastes as pretty as it looks.

The Young Winos of LA — edutoxicating Los Angeles since 2005.

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