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Photo by: David Yellen
Harvey Steiman

February 2011

The Right Price
Breaking away from the standard markup in restaurants
Posted: Feb 22, 2011 12:19pm ET

A restaurant chain in London that lists the likes of Pétrus and Beaucastel has caused a bit of a stir by announcing that it has lowered the prices on hundreds (yes, hundreds) of its top-tier wines in all its 20 venues. It's only the latest attempt to put the best light on the difficult situation for those who deal in high-priced wine.

This is the new normal, since the world's economy went south. Restaurants that had already filled their cellars with high-priced Bordeaux, super Tuscans and Napa Cabernets, however, are still looking at them. Of course, those wines are not likely to go bad if they have to age for a few years. They will only become more appealing to discerning customers. But if you're a restaurateur with significant cash tied up in those wines, what better way to get out of that bind than to lower the prices and try to make friends with customers in the process?

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The Fundamental Things Apply
Traditional or avant-garde, good cooking matters
Posted: Feb 14, 2011 1:42pm ET

One of the more contentious arguments in the world of cuisine today involves the value of what has been called molecular cuisine, or avant-garde cooking. Freezing things with liquid nitrogen, creating flavored foams and encasing liquids in gels made of sodium alginate and calcium chloride delights some of us and makes other food lovers apoplectic with rage.

I had a perfect opportunity to get some perspective on this from a diner's standpoint. This past Friday in Washington, D.C., I visited Minibar by José Andrés for a succession of 28 tiny servings that use these modern techniques liberally. The next night I tried Plume at the Jefferson, an impressive bastion of traditional French dining helmed by chef Damon Gordon.

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Beyond Pigeonholing
Why limit the possibilities?
Posted: Feb 10, 2011 4:51pm ET

Psychologically, we humans are programmed to pigeonhole. We want to simplify things to impose some sort of order on the world. Nuance requires some thought.

With wine, this goes beyond my usual rant against associating a region with a single grape variety, or a particular style of wine, to the exclusion of others. You know what I'm talking about: Argentina makes some wonderful wines that are not Malbec; Tuscany is more than Brunello or super Tuscans; some German wines are dry. Despite conventional wisdom, there are indeed good wines being made in Greece, Croatia, Switzerland and, yes, New Mexico.

We also pigeonhole people. "So and so" only likes big, rich reds. "That guy" only likes lean, high-acid wines. This is a flawed and dangerous way to look at things, because it limits the chances of finding more wines that make us happy.

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Dietary Guidelines Still Only Nod to Wine
Alcohol recommendations walk a narrow line
Posted: Feb 7, 2011 4:15pm ET

Wine Spectator editor at large Harvey Steiman says that in the 30 years since the U.S. government issued its first dietary guidelines, surprisingly little has changed. Pretty much, the official advice tells us to eat our vegetables and go easy on the fat and empty calories from sugars and simple carbohydrates. More recently, there has been more emphasis on exercise.

So it goes in the new guidelines, which the government is obligated to issue every five years. These guidelines for the basis of food and nutrition policy, so even you don't pay any attention to them they do affect what you're going to see on food packages and advertising. Advice about alcohol consumption, missing in the early days of the guidelines, started to appear in more recent editions.

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Remembering René Verdon
French chef had a hand in revolutionizing cooking in America
Posted: Feb 4, 2011 12:04pm ET

Wine Spectator editor at large Harvey Steiman says the food world lost an influential figure and a memorable character when René Verdon died Wednesday at his home in San Francisco.

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A Glimpse of Terroir
Finding distinctive character in the Australian wines of Shaw and Smith
Posted: Feb 1, 2011 3:17pm ET

Pink grapefruit. I always knew there was something distinctive to the Shaw and Smith Sauvignon Blanc, consistently among the best produced in Australia. I never thought of pink grapefruit before when tasting it, but there it was in the 2010 Michael Hill Smith was showing me over lunch at Restaurant Michael Mina in San Francisco. Darned if it wasn't the characteristic flavor that comes from his vineyard in Adelaide Hills.

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