Thursday, August 14, 2008

Fresh & Easy Wines

The Neighborhood Market – Our Latest Import from the U.K.

We’re just never satisfied. Now that American consumers have pushed the neighborhood grocer to become ‘bigger’ then giant and now “Super Walmarts and Costcos,” we yearn for the cozy feel of the corner market that cares about the community. Luckily, someone outside corporate America is listening… the English!

Tesco is the largest retailer in the United Kingdom, and one of the biggest in the world. So, why is it spending more than $2 billion over the next 5 years to build Neighborhood Markets all around the U.S.? Because after studying our shopping habits, they’ve learned that’s where we want to spend our money.

It certainly seems like a win-win for everyone as Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market is committed to wholesome, high quality produce at reasonable prices. It also starts California and Nevada employees at $10 / hour (above minimum wage) and offers a 10% quarterly salary bonus for all employees. And, they like to recruit new hires from the neighborhood – about half of all Fresh & Easy employees live within 4 miles of the store.

But, let’s get to the point … Fresh & Easy carries some great – and reasonable – wines! The majority of their wine list is under $10, making ‘a glass with dinner’ a more common option for everyone. And, as demonstrated in my article "The Democratization of Wine" reviewing the success of low-priced, potable vintages such as Charles Shaw at Trader Joe's, the Neighborhood Market also has two brands priced at $1.99. I recently tried a sampling of 4 delightful Fresh & Easy wines, each under $10. Here are my thoughts on the wines and how to enjoy them:

Hilltown ($6.99): 2006, Sauvignon Blanc from Monterey County, California. Personally, I love the guava and pineapple notes typifying just about any Sauv Blanc, whether from up the coast in California or on the other side of the globe in New Zealand. Hilltown, which has won 4 Bronze Medals, is a summertime no-brainer.

Pink Flamingo Rose ($4.99): 2007, Shiraz from South Australia. Bright fruit notes sparkle in this dry summer sipper. Juicy without being too sweet, it works well with a peppery chicken, creamy pasta or ripe cheese plate.

Recoleta ($2.99): 2007, 60% Malbec, 40% Bonarda from Argentina. Dark berries and a long finish make this ideal with something like minted lamb or Jumbalaya. I served this one with garlic-and-herb-de-Provence-encrusted salmon (yes, I do reds with wine, sometimes) and it was marvelous. It won the silver medal at the L.A. International Wine and Spirits Competition 2008.

Reflexion Rioja Reserva ($9.99): 2003, Tempranillo from Northern Spain. It is no secret that I am a fan of not only Spanish wine but Spain itself. While living there from 1999 – 2001, I definitely learned that an inexpensive wine can be absolutely fabulous. This one has enough body, a hint of spice, vanilla and dark cherry to pair wonderfully with Manchego cheese, almonds and dried apricots; or a hunk of dark chocolate. It is also the kind of red wine you just enjoy sipping on its own, having a nice chat with someone you like a lot.

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