Mad Magazine was the fundamental catalyst in my kidhood drive to write humor for a living. Advancing alcoholism is why I made wine, beer and spirits my venue.
Remember that old Spy vs. Spy panel cartoon? Where the white ‘n’ black pointy-schnozzed secret agents were endlessly into each other’s shite with bombs and dynamite and similar WMDs? I was too young to get the Cold War connotations and never really thought that their dialogue-free, predictable schtick was particularly funny, but many decades later, here I am making plays on Antonio Prohías’s strange little strip’s title to kick off a story on booze-free wine.
Actually, it’s not really about booze-free wine. It’s about Frei Brothers Reserve, a winery which is staunchly pro-alcohol. So we’ll fob off the Fre faulting on footnotes and focus foremost on Frei.
Frei Is Frei Free
Although the 112-year-old Frei family farm has been free of the Frei fraternity since Jimmy Carter was in office, the Modesto mammoth who purchased it—E.J. Gallo—has made an exemplary effort to keep the Frei fantasy functioning: That is, terroir-driven wines committed to environmentally-friendly practices—in the vineyard, the winery and even in the package. Frei has recently launched a new bottle that uses 15% less glass, corks made from greener cork and recycled, carbon-neutral paper stock for their labels.
Sustainable has been Frei policyspeak virtually since old Andrew Frei planted the first vines in 1890, and it’s a good thing too. Because in order to sustain my loyal sippage, they have to sustain sufficient ABV.
Fre (from Sutter Home from Trinchero from Dante’s Tenth Circle of Hell) is a wine-like substance made for teetotalers. It’s made for abstinents, prohibitionists, Mormons, Muslims and Mahayana Buddhists; it’s made for those sad sacks with the five-year tokens and for all the little children of the world who need a cabernet sauvignon to pack into their little Fester Bestertester lunchboxes and not get expelled.
Fre is what MADD has foisted upon us functioning Frei-fried sots:
In short, Fre is the enemy.
Learning about Fre’s bloodthirsty, evil-genius technology (through which they extract the alcohol from innocent chardonnays, moscatos, zinfandels and merlots) had the same sobering impact upon me as did reading about Josef Mengele’s attempts to turn brown eyes blue. On both occasions, I spent the rest of the day in a sort of depressed, misanthropic fugue.
I won’t bore you with Third Reich details, but Fre? Better put on your seat belts, because it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.
First, having sufficiently fattened up their victims in standard fermentation tanks, they lead them surreptitiously down the cattle-chute of doom, up the ladder of the mechanism diabolically-named ‘spinning cone’ and pour them in. It’s only then that the poor ethanol molecules realize that they’ve been slated for… I’ll use a euphemism, darlings:
Then, inhuman centrifugal g-forces transform the wine into film, following which, the nitrogen gas introduced to the bottom of the column rips from the glorious nectar everything of black-market value, including aromatics, flavors, gold teeth and passports. These are then horded by ‘technicians’ while the cone temperature is increased and the remaining liquid is returned to the column for the final insult: Dealcoholization.
When it emerges, the ‘wine’ can scarcely claim the name—it has less than .05% of its kick remaining; similar to the re-educated Winston Smith state that orange juice reaches (as Fre is so proud to point out) after sitting out on your counter all night.
And like old, festering, room-temperature orange juice, it is not—in this critic’s opinion—fit for human consumption.
What, Me Worry?
However, unlike James Suckling (who apparently prefers cash on the barrel-head; preferably made of new limousin oak), I have contacted my Sutter Homeboys with what I feel is a generous offer. If they are willing to send me all the alcohol they’ve extracted from Fre, along with free alcohol-free Fre samples, I will reconstitute the stuff myself and offer them unbiased, ethical, if bought-and-paid-for reviews.
Unlike Mr. James, I am willing to work for free Fre.
In the meantime, while I am waiting to hear from them, I will cover a trio of real wines.
Frei Brothers Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, 2009, ABV 14.3 %, about $27: Behemothic bouquet with black cherry, cassis, dark chocolate and plum evolving into the palate, and then, into a tannin-smooth finish. Particularly appreciated was the alcohol.
Frei Brothers Reserve Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, 2009, ABV 14.9%, about $20: Vivacious, vibrant vino—a surprise, since the vintage was a good book with a lousy ending. Rain came heavy and early in Dry Creek, causing growers to do a triage on what to pick and what to leave. The wine ends up succulent and warm, with classic zinfandel notes of mulberry, brambly raspberry, smoke and black tea bound in nice acidity. The alcohol was nice, too.
Frei Brothers Reserve Chardonnay, Russian Rivers Valley, 2010, ABV 13.9%, around $20: Quite ‘yellow’ focused’ on the nose, with peach, Golden Delicious apple and lemon notes; the palate is creamy and tropical with a velvety malo mouthfeel and a finish which shows, but does not exploit, the oak; might make a nice pairing with roast suckling pig.
The alcohol is all that, too.