Slide show: Catch of the day as the fall scallop season opens on Long Island’s North Fork

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As the Peconic Bay scallop season opened Monday on Long Island’s North Fork, dozens of boats converged on a cove to dredge for the coveted shellfish. They included commercial and recreational fishermen who customize their boats in all manner of styles, such as the one above. Most boats pull four or more dredges over the bottom, scooping up the scallops.  I joined them, as I do most years, and we were rewarded with a bountiful catch (at least on this first day) and gorgeous Indian-summer weather. Although the water had dipped to 48 degrees, the air temperature was in the mid-60s.

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Scalloping is all about finding the sweet spots that hold the greatest clusters. On one haul, my dredge was loaded with more than 40 of them.

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After a couple of hours or so, I approached a half-bushel, the daily recreational limit.

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Shelling and cleaning them is a time-consuming and messy business …

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… but well worth it. I wound up with about two-and-a-half pounds of scallops, enough for several great meals based around the sweet delicacy, which, when I checked, was selling for $17 a pound at one of the local fish markets. I like to sauté them in a little olive oil and butter until golden brown; perhaps another night I’ll combine them with tomatoes and some fresh tarragon over pasta. As for wine, white Burgundy or subtly oaked chardonnay from California or Long Island’s North Fork come to mind to complement the richness of the scallops. What would you serve?


Daily Sip: From California, Gainey Vineyard’s 2009 Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir

I’ve been a fan of Gainey Vineyard for some time, and this latest release only reinforces my view of the winery in the Santa Rita Hills appellation of Santa Barbara County. The wine could Gainey-Vineyard-Pinot-Noir-Labelserve as a  blueprint for how to produce reasonably priced (around $30)California pinot noir with balance and finesse. It all but jumps out of the glass with its lively acidity, delicious red fruit and moderate alcohol (13.9 percent), which make it a superb food partner that will match well with any number of dishes. In my notes, I described it as a “lean, lighter style” of pinot noir with lots of berry tastes – cranberry, raspberry, blueberry – along with cherry and punctuated by cinnamon and vanilla notes. Though it was aged for 17 months in French oak, only 22 percent of the barrels were new, so the oak influence is kept in check. These days, many California and Oregon pinot noirs are made in a dense fruit-high alcohol style that requires some effort to drink. Gainey’s pinot noir is a welcome exception. Wine received as a press sample.


Swirls: Pinot noir meets PR in a pitch that smells a bit off

It’s time for another one of my rants on wine marketing and public relations and issues of disclosure. Wine reviewing is, let’s admit it, a largely PR-driven business. Most wine journalists, from those who write for influential publications to the legions of wine bloggers out there, rely to at least some extent on samples of new wine releases. While this reality is familiar to those of us in the  business, it is not so well known to the casual reader who turns to us for wine insights. Disclosing this in specific reviews or in a website’s “policies” section (or ideally both) tells the reader that there is a relationship between the writer and the winery or its representative and lets the reader factor this in when deciding on a writer’s credibility. Beyond this, I routinely tell PR and marketing people that, while I accept samples, I do not guarantee reviews. This simple disclaimer immediately limits any undue expectation of coverage, at least in my mind. I can’t recall anyone objecting to it in almost a decade of writing about wine.

Then there is the other side of disclosure. While most  communications on behalf of wine companies are upfront about  who is being represented (such as wineries or importers), I received one query recently that gave me pause. Without naming names, the writer, who works for a PR firm, wanted to know if I would be interested in reviewing a number of California pinot noirs to help support his contention that, of all the wines one might consider for Thanksgiving, there was nothing like pinot noir. The pitch, not surprisingly, was full of praise for the wines and offered, in standard fashion, detailed, winery-supplied tasting notes on each, all of it a typical effort to guide – or influence – reviewers on how to think about the wines (and usually ignored by experienced critics).

So here was just about everything one might want to know about the wines – except for one critical element of the “story.” The email gave no clue about the client. Was the PR firm representing three or four separate companies and creatively bundling their wines in this pitch? Not likely. Or was it working, perhaps, on behalf of an association of pinot noir growers? Hard to tell. A little detective work was in order.

I decided to look up the PR firm’s clients on its website and quickly found that, in fact, all the wines were part of the portfolio of a company that does marketing for small California and other wineries. I wondered why this wasn’t pointed out. Did the client and its representative decide that it was an unnecessary layer of information for a growing army of wine writers, many of whom may not have had any training as journalists and who might not be predisposed to ask such questions? Or was it ignorance on the part of the PR person who wrote the pitch, not knowing that one of the cardinal rules of the business is to disclose who you are working for? Again, hard to tell.

In any event, this was a classic example of selective disclosure – offering not quite the whole story in the hope that non-inquiring minds would not look beyond the pitch. In the end, knowing who the client is might have little or no bearing on a reviewer’s  decision about coverage. It’s just good journalism – and good PR – to present all the facts.