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Friday, April 21, 2017

Tequila Vs Mezcal

               Agave plants are prepared for their painstaking cooking process in earthen ovens.

On a recent trip to Northern California friends took me to a hip Oaxacan restaurant in downtown Oakland, the new foodie’s mecca of the San Francisco Bay Area.  Having lived in Oakland for 40 years prior to relocating to San Diego, I was ready to celebrate the city’s culinary renaissance with a serious margarita at this new Mexican restaurant.  I discussed the tequila options in detail with the waiter, and settled on a middle of the road quality from their list of >200 tequilas.  The drink I received blew my mind.

While I am a wine expert, my knowledge of tequila is somewhat limited.  Having grown up on Mexican food and visited Mexico close to 100 times, I’ve had my fair share of margaritas, however, I’ve never seriously analyzed tequila.  While I’ve developed a killer margarita recipe (one of my most requested), I’ve concentrated more on the ratios involved, and complexity using a mélange of different citrus.  The margarita I was served at this restaurant changed forever changed my future margaritas.

I knew the tequila in my drink was something completely different from what I have ever experienced.  What I tasted was a complex layering of something smoky.  Could I have mistakenly ordered a very old tequila that had been aged in wood which had a high toast on the barrel?  (Do tequila makers even use toasted barrels?)  

I called over the waitress to confirm my order and she affirmed that the margarita she had brought me was indeed the one I had ordered.  With further questioning she added that drink’s tequila was a young one and there was no wood influence.  I next asked her to bring the bottle.  Expecting a deep- colored tequila (from wood aging), the alcohol was perfectly clear.  Still perplexed, I asked if I could smell it.  Removing the cap, I found a neutral smelling liquid that was not even remotely related to what I smelled in my margarita.  I knew there had been a mistake with the tequila. The waitress suggested sending over the restaurant’s tequila expert.  Perfecto!

I struck, gold with the tequila guru.  He began explaining the tequila that was used in the drink and he, too, confirmed that it had never seen wood.  I handed my drink for him to smell.  The very first whiff he turned to me and said “You received a margarita made with the wrong alcohol.  Your drink is made with mezcal.”  He then proceeded to explain the difference between the two liquors, both made from the agave plant.

Mezcal is different from tequila in 3 ways:

1.  The biggest difference is the manner in which the two are made.  Premium producers of Mezcal roast the agave in underground pits over wood.  These earthen “ovens” cook, smoke, and carmelize the agave imparting a complex layering of these flavors.  This is exactly what I had tasted in my margarita.

2.  Another difference is that tequilia and mezcal are made from different types of agave.  By law tequila can only be made only from Blue Agave, however, mezcal can be made not only from the blue plant, but from more than 30 varieties of Agave.

3.  The last difference has to deal with laws dictating geographical constraints.  Tequila can only be produced in 5 specific regions, whereas mezcal has 9 distinct regions in which it can be made.

The knowledgeable staff person immediately brought me the correct margarita, however, after tasting the mezcal concoction the tequila margarita tasted dull and insipid.  Next, the staff expert brought a margarita made with half tequila and half mezscal (one of the favorites on the restaurant’s drink list.)  This was perfection!  A subtle hint of smokiness was present, but did not over-power as it had done in the original margarita I had been served.  This last one was the best of both worlds, laced with complexity but with only a whisper of a smoky profile.

Cinco de Mayo is around the corner.  Go buy a bottle of high-end mezscal and a good quality tequila.  Experiment.  Enjoy.  (And, if you should ever be in the Bay Area, don’t miss Calavera restaurant in Oakland).

Viva Mexico!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Piedmont: Birth of Slow Food…and More

Regrettably, Piedmont is not on the destination list of most American tourists.  This may be in part due to Rick Steves, who has yet to include this gem of an area in his popular books and television travel programs.  Grazie, Ricardo!  Even if you’re not a foodie or a wine-lover, Piedmont offers many gems.  If you’re a foodie or oenophile, Piedmont may just be the most exciting region in all of Italy.

Most foodies know about of the Slow Food movement, but how many knew it began in Piedmont?  The opening of a fast food restaurant in the heart of Rome in the mid-1980’s touched a real nerve with a journalist from Piedmont.   Shortly thereafter, the writer began Slow Food.  Today, the organization is in 150 countries and its mission is to preserve traditional and regional cuisine.

                           Wine-Knows will watch the birth of artisinal chocolate at a rock-star producer

Piedmont’s traditional cuisine is a treasure-trove of culinary delights.  Home of the premier white truffle, the world’s most expensive gastronomic item, Piedmont is also the area for some Italy’s finest chocolate and hazelnuts.  In addition to high-end artisanal chocolates, even Nutella and Ferrero Rocher are made here.  The area is also the source of Italy’s most illustrious rice.  Preferred by many Michelin-star chefs throughout Italy for risotto because of its firmer texture, canaroli rice is grown in Piedmont.

                Piedmont's Alps provide the perfect situation for a plethora of cow, sheep & goat cheeses 

Piedmont means the “foot of the mountain.”   The foothills of the Alps shared with France and Switzerland, also produce some outstanding cheeses.  Even in a country recognized for its cheeses, Piedmont is a standout.

                     Eataly offers a cornucopia of the very best food products from all of Italy

The Piedmont district is the birthplace for Italy’s most famous food emporium-kitchen shop, Eataly.  Think Williams-Sonoma meets Whole Foods, with the addition of some mind-boggling dining venues such as a mozzarella-bar, wood-fired pizzeria, seafood eatery, and a pasta-centric restaurant.

Last, but not least, Piedmont is the pinnacle for several of Italy’s most magnificent wines, Barolo and Barbaresco.  These wines are some of the country’s most complex reds…and expensive. 

Wine-Knows will be visiting Piedmont next autumn (2018) at the time of their world-renown Truffle Festival.  One of the highlights will be a private truffle hunt into the forest with a “trifalou” (truffle hunter) and his dog.   Foodies will be thrilled with visits to Piedmont’s super-star chocolate-maker, as well as a producer of canaroli rice.  Naturally, we won’t miss Eataly…and there will be a dance-card sprinkled with the district’s world-class wine producers.  At the moment, there are only 5 open spots on this trip.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Chile & Argentina 2017

Wine-Knows had a rock-star lineup of wineries on our recent trip to the southern hemisphere, so choosing favorites is daunting.  Both countries continue to push the quality envelope.  While there continue to be bargains, there are also world-class wines with commiserate world-class pricing.   All below are available in the US, especially online (listed in alpha-order with US pricing).

  • Casa de Uco Malbec (2013).  Compelling, beautifully complex. $45

  • Catena Zapata Nicasia (2012).  A serious wine in every way.  $135

  • De Martino Las Cruces Single Vineyard (2014).  Mingling of old vine Malbec and Carmenere.  Complex with long finish. $45

  • Koyle Cab Sauvignon (2013).  Fabulous complexity with smooth tannins considering its young age.  Terrific buy.  $20

  • Lapostolle Sauvignon Blanc (2015).  A warm weather Sauv Blanc oozing with tropical flavors.  A steal.  $15

  • Los Maquis Cabernet Franc Gran Reserve (2014).  Beautiful fruit, spices, herbal & floral.  One of the best values on the trip.  $20

  • Los Maquis Franco (2011).  100% Cabernet Franc. Chile’s best Cabernet Franc and it could compete on the world stage.  $100

  • Vina San Pedro Cabo de Horno (2014).  Killer Cabernet with well integrated tannins and a heavenly finish.  $45

  • Vina San Pedro Altair (2013).  This one had me at “hello” but didn’t stop all the way to “goodbye.”  Serious wine.  $100
  • Zuccardi Torrontes Series A (2015).  Grown in one of the world’s highest vineyards in the Andes, it’s a perfect summer wine.  $15

Friday, March 31, 2017

Brazil's Sexy Cocktail

Just pronouncing Brazil’s most famous drink can be daunting (Kai-pee-reen-Yah), but I guarantee that it is well worth the linguistic effort.  I am currently at a glitzy two-floor penthouse on Copacabana with a group of foodies, all of whom are clients of Wine-Knows.  Our week here is coming to a close, and you can rest assured that the ten of us have made a major dent in "Caipirinhas" over the last seven days.

The Caipirinha cocktail is a distant cousin of Mexico’s margarita, but the Brazilian rendition is made with the country’s flavorful sugar cane "rum."  (Sugar cane was brought in the mid-16th century from Madeira to Brazil by Portuguese immigrants, and is this rum is now the most popular distilled spirit in Brazil).  If you think Caipirinha is hard to pronounce wait until you try to say the name of the rum: Cachaça (Ka-SHAH-suh).

A huge amount of Cachaça is consumed in Brazil in the form of Caipirinhas.  These perfect girl-from-Impanema drinks are made from muddled lime, superfine sugar (which dissolves completely), and Cachaça.   This yummy elixir ironically began in the early 1900’s as a medicinal cure for the flu.  Today it is still used in Brazil as a home remedy for the common cold. 

Cachaça is available at most liquor stores in the US, including BevMo.  There is no substitution for Cachaça, so if you can't find it move on to something else.  Here’s a recipe to begin.  Like most recipes, however, you can tweak it to adjust to your taste.  A word of caution:  remember that Cachaça is high octane…a little goes a long way.

  • ½ of a juicy lime, cut into small piece
  • 1 teaspoon of super fine sugar (don’t even think of using regular granulated                       sugar as it will not dissolve)
  • 2 oz of Cachaça

Directions:  Put lime and sugar in a hard-bottomed rocks glass.  Smash them with a wooden spoon to release as much juice as possible, as well as the flavors from the rind.  Add ice and Cachaça, stir and serve.

Caipirinha is hard to pronounce, but easy to make and fun to drink.  Move over Margaritas and Mojitos.

Viva Rio!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Carmenere---Cabernet’s Ancestor

           Wine Knows had a private dinner at the top of this mountain, birthplace of Purple Angel

I’m in Chile with a group of Wine-Knows.  We’ve been drinking a lot of their Carmenere varietal and I’m falling in love with it all over again.  For those who don’t know Carmenere, it was brought to Chile in the 19th century by the French.  At the time it was a popular grape planted throughout Bordeaux and was reputed to have produced excellent wines.  But, the phylloxera bug wiped out most all of the vineyards in Europe in the late 1800’s.  Bordeaux replanted with Cabernet and Merlot as the Carmenere grape was difficult to ripen. 

Carmenere was thought to be extinct until it was “discovered” in Chile in the 1990’s by a French team of scientists who visited Chile.   The French researchers were troubled by the appearance and character of the Chilean Merlot grape.  DNA analysis revealed that much of Chile’s Merlot was in fact the “lost” Carmenere grape from Bordeaux.

Genetic research shows that Carmenere is an early ancestor of Cabernet Sauvignon.  It shares many of the flavors of Cabernet:  red fruit, chocolate, tobacco and leather.  On the other hand, Carmenere’s tannins are far softer than Cab Sauvignon, making Carmenere much more approachable when young than Cabernet.

Carmenere means "crimson" in French, so it's no surprise that its color is a deep crimson.  In addition to a less tannic structure, Carmenere also offers another element I particularly enjoy:  spiciness!   Moreover, it also offers herbaceous notes (most often green bell pepper).  Both of these nuances mean that Carmenere pairs well with international dishes such as Mexico’s molé, Middle Eastern lamb prepared with mint, spicy Cuban-style roast pork, as well as Italy’s veal piccata (briny capers, lemon and garlic).  In short, Carmenere is a very versatile food wine.

If you haven’t experienced Carmenere you should.  If you’re ready to splurge, there’s none better than Montes’ Purple Angel which will set you back $60-70, but this is a world-class version of Carmenere by one of Chile’s most revered producers.  Montgras, on the other hand, served Wine-Knows a fabulous price/quality ratio last week (available in the US for about $15).

This “lost” varietal needs to found!  I highly recommend that you pick up several bottles and conduct a Lost Varietal Tasting among fellow wine lovers. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Pisco Sour

                                                         Chile's beloved aperitif

I am with a group of Wine-Knows touring the vineyards of Chile.  There’s only so much wine one can drink.  Besides, who could ever pass up another of Chile’s super-stars, its Pisco Sour?  Made from a type of grape brandy, this stunning aperitif has it all going-on!

The Pisco alcohol actually originated in Peru, but is now made today by both countries.   Spanish settlers in Peru in the 16th century began distilling the left-over grape must into a high-octane alcohol to mimic their native country’s brandy.  Soon its neighbor Chile began producing the spirit.  While Peru currently out produces Chile 3:1, Chile has much more stringent production rules for its Pisco.  In fact, Chile’s Pisco has its own D.O. zones---Pisco can only be produced from grapes grown in these two specific geographical areas of Chile.  Moreover, there are many Chilean laws to ensure quality.

There are many cocktails made from Pisco but my favorite by far is the Pisco Sour.  Think a type of blended margarita where Pisco replaces Tequila.   Another difference is the addition of an egg white (which thickens the texture but doesn’t have much influence on the taste).  The Peruvian version has the addition of bitters, however, the Chileans leave out this component. 

Need a recipe?  Check it out:

The good news is that you don’t have to go to South America to enjoy a Pisco Sour.  It is becoming more and more popular and is available in many liquor stores (BevMo carries it). 

Viva Chile!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Chilean Sea Bass—It’s All About Marketing

                                         The Patagonian Toothfish is a cold water Cod

I leave in a few days for Chile.  One of my favorite foodie stories about this country has to do with Chilean Seabass.   Many of us enjoy the buttery flavor and unctuous texture of this fish.  I wonder, however, how many know that its true name is not even close?

Have you ever heard of the Patagonian Toothfish?  How appetizing does this sound? Would you be tempted to order a Toothfish of any type?  Chilean Seabass is a fantasy name created in the 1970’s as a marketing ploy to get Americans to purchase the Patagonian Toothfish.  And, it was an American fish importer who dreamed up the new name.  He was debating between two possibilities to entice the American consumer:   “Pacific Seabass” and “South American Seabass,” but in the end chose Chilean Seabass as he thought the specificity might be more attractive to consumers.  The rest is history.

You may also be surprised to learn that Chilean Seabass is not a member of the bass family, but is part of the icefish cod family.   This cod group is only found in very cold waters, including the deep part of the Artic.  (In fact, most of the Chilean Seabass brought into the US now is not Chilean, but from the Artic).  A few more surprises:  Did you know that this fish can live up to 50 years of age?  How about that it can grow up to >200 pounds?  Or, 7 feet in length?

What you do know about Chilean Seabass is that it’s not the kind of fish that would be served at a fish and chips kind of place, at least today.  Instead, it’s more likely to be served at a restaurant featuring the likes of lobster risotto or a luscious kobe beef.  That being said, in the 1980’s it was used by restaurants that could no longer afford halibut for its fried fish sticks.  Over the course of some 30 years, this fish has moved from Chinese restaurants looking for cheaper fish, to la crème de la crème dining establishments.  It really moved from total obscurity to Bon Appetit’s dish of the year in 2001.  

Chilean Seabass worked its way up the food chain due to a brilliant branding and marketing campaign.  Let’s raise a glass to the forgotten Patagonian Toothfish, and to the power of a name. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Chilean Wine Beats Pricey Bordeauxs!

                          Errazuriz beat out Chateaux Haut-Brion, Lafite-Rothschild & Opus One.

I’m on my way to Chile with a group of Wine-Knows.  One of the first things I intend to discuss with the group is the findings of a blind tasting by 100 of New York’s top wine critics, sommeliers and retailers.   It was like the “shot heard round the world,” but, not terribly surprising since Chile has really upped its quality game in the last ten years.  The country is producing some world-class wines.

In an experiment similar to the famous Judgement of Paris in which California wines were blind tasted against the best of France (and won!), Chile conducted a similar tasting against some of France, Italy, & American's super-star reds.  Chile beat out Bordeaux’s highly revered Chateau Haut-Brion, as well as Chateau Lafite-Rotchild (both of which sell for $500 more).  It also beat out Tuscany’s most famous wine, Sassicaia, the price of which also exceeds Chile’s champion.  The victor, as well, beat out California’s cult classic, Opus One.

The wine that took this tasting by storm was Errazuriz’s Kai.  Not cheap by Chilean standards, it sells for < $150 per bottle in the US.   Another surprise is that it’s made from a little known Bordeaux grape, Carmenere.   Ironically, very little of this varietal remains in Bordeaux today as the phylloxera bug wiped most of it out in the late 19th century.  Chile’s Carmenere was thought to be Merlot for many years until DNA analysis showed it to be the “lost” varietal from Bordeaux.

Out of the Top Ten wines in the Big Apple's blind tasting, Chile placed not only first, but also 4th, 6th and 9th.  (Amazingly, the 4th and 6th slot winners were both produced by Errazuriz).  The Chilean winners are all available online but sell for >$100 per bottle.  If, however, you’re looking for a less costly but very well-crafted Chilean wine  you should try Purple Angel by Montes ($60-70; Costco for $50’s).  It’s made from mostly Carmenere so you could kill two birds with one stone:  taste a superlative wine, and begin exercising your Carmenere muscle.

Viva Chile!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

A Magnifico Condiment from Italy

                                                 Mostarda di frutta is quintessential Italian

Have you ever heard of mostarda di frutta?  If you’ve been in Northern Italy during the winter there’s a very good chance it’s been on many restaurant menus as an accompaniment to a meat dish.  Mostarda is major flavor bomb.  It is often served with the classical bollito misto (an over-the-moon tasty assortment of boiled meats), however, it can also be found as a side relish with cheeses that can take its sharpness.  I’ve even seen it served to the side of sausages, or even spooned over fish. 

I think of mostarda somewhat like an Italian version of chutney.  While some may think because of its name that it’s a type of mustard, it is not.  (It does, however, have mustard oil as an ingredient).  Although it has sugar and fruit, it is definitely not a jam or jelly---and it is not sweet.  It has cayenne, but it is not spicy.  It’s not salty or acidic. In fact, it’s none of these things alone.   It is, however, a unique combination of sweet and savory, salty and spicy, with just enough of an acid backbone.

Often referred to as simply “mostarda,” this yummy condiment can easily be made at home, or can be purchased online or in upscale markets such as Whole Foods.  It can be made with a variety of fruits (although the area in which it originated often used quince and grapes in the beginning).  I’ve seen it made with everything from cherries and figs, to plums and even citrus.

Mostarda di frutta is uniquely Italian.   It’s also a classical wintertime condiment.  Why not have a bollito misto party ?  (Similar to a fondue party only with bollito misto placed in the center of the table in the pot in which it was boiled.)  Bring out some great Barolo or Amarone and invite a group of Italophiles over for a night of wining and dining.  I guarantee you that everyone will go wild over the mostarda!

Buon appetito.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Presidents & Wine

                                           The birthplace of American Wine
Tomorrow is President’s Day.   Did you know that several Presidents were instrumental in shaping the course of wine in our country?  Several of our founding fathers were not only involved in efforts to ensure life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but were real bon vivants with deep appreciation of fine wines. 

Let’s start at the beginning.   George Washington drank 3 glasses of wine after dinner. While this wine was a Portuguese Madeira (a very “in” wine at the time), he was also quite interested in French wine with dinner.  Washington’s wine cellar included many chateaux still famous today, such as Mouton-Rothschild and Yquem.  Way to go, George!

Thomas Jefferson had a profound influence on the American wine industry.  Out of all the Presidents, Jefferson was certainly the most passionate about wine.  As the Ambassador to France, Jefferson toured many of the country’s most illustrious chateaux---his favorites were Burgundy and Bordeaux.  I was recently at Chateau Haut-Brion in Bordeaux and in the entry way of the chateau was an oil painting of Jefferson.  According to records, Jefferson sent home thousands of bottles from the area for him and his friends, one of whom was George Washington.  

Jefferson, however, was much more than a consumer of French wine.  A definite wine geek, he took copious notes on the different French terroirs (soil types, drainage etc.). Moreover, he was the first American to attempt wine-making.  Jefferson brought home cuttings from France and began growing grapes for his own wine-making at Monticello.  He was certainly a dude with whom I would want to hang-out.

Fast forward >150 years to the Presidency of Richard Nixon.  While Nixon’s ethics and politics don’t leave one with a warm and fuzzy feeling, he was undeniably a wine aficionado.  At a time when jug wine and cocktails were the norm, Nixon drank the real-deal Champagne and Bordeaux.  Fine wines apparently put a big dent in his entertainment budget.  Considering it was tax payer dollars funding this, however, this may be another nail in his coffin.

Ronald Reagan loved wine.  Prior to Reagan, mostly French wines were served at White House special dinners.  But Reagan, who was especially crazy about wines from his home state of California, changed all of that.  At a time when the California wine industry was beginning to shine, Reagan helped further promote it on a more global scale by serving it to some of the world’s most prominent leaders.   BV Private Reserve was served to Prince Charles, while a Jordan Cabernet was on the menu at another dinner honoring Queen Elizabeth.  Nancy Reagan, on the other hand, was wild about Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay and it frequently was served at White House events.

Have a Presidential Day.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

A Special Valentine’s Dessert

                                                              This cake is Southern Living’s most requested recipe

If you’re looking for a scrumptious way to celebrate Valentines, I’ve got just the recipe for you.  I had my first bite of this ethereal cake in Charleston two years ago when I took a group of Wine-Knows to Savannah and Charleston.  One of my clients ordered it at dinner and made the mistake of giving me a taste.  It was love at first bite.  I tracked down the next day the bakery , bought a huge piece (which I devoured on the spot), and have been a fan of the “Hummingbird Cake” ever since.

If you like homemade carrot cake (the moist version with pineapple and coconut), you’ll love this dessert.  Think carrot cake meets a great rendition of banana bread.  Published in Southern Living in 1978, Hummingbird Cake is the most requested recipe in the magazine’s <50 year history.  Over the years the cake has garnered a plethora of awards, including First Place at the Kentucky State Fair.  Just about every women’s Community Cookbook in the South has at least one recipe for this famous sweet.  Google currently offers nearly a million recipes---including one by the Queen of Southern cooking, Paula Deen.  There are even Hummingbird Cake videos on U-tube.

In spite of this cake being so strongly associated with the South, Hummingbird Cake actually originated on the island of Jamaica.  It appears the recipe was part of a marketing ploy in 1968 when Jamaica Airlines was launched.  The airline’s press package included various items about the island’s culture in hopes of enticing tourists to come to Jamaica.  Part of that press kit was the Hummingbird Cake, named after the island’s national bird.

Here’s the original recipe published in Southern Living

Have a sweet Valentine’s!

Friday, February 3, 2017

French Fizz Ed

                                          Fizzy Crémants can be great values 

If you’re looking for a reasonably priced bottle of French sparkling wine you should consider the country’s Crémants.   The word “Crémant” was adopted by regions outside of the Champagne district to distinguish their own fizzy wines after laws were enacted to prohibit other areas from using the word Champagne.  (Crémants, however, are made by the exact same process as a Champagne).  Crémant means “creamy” and refers to the fizzy wine’s texture.  Here are a sampling of some of the best regions for Crémants.  

Crémant d’Alsace

Alsace, which shares its western border with the Champagne region, is the largest producer of Crémant in France.   Crémant d’Alsace is made with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (the same grapes used in Champagne), as well as Pinot Blanc and Riesling. 

Crémant de Bourgogne

Burgundy shares its northern border with Champagne.  Made mostly from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, these fizzy wines can be excellent values.  Add a tablespoon of Burgundy’s Crème de Cassis and you have the region’s famous aperitif, a Kir Royale.

Crémant de Loire

Crémant de Loire was the first Crémant appellation to be recognized in France (1975).  Chenin Blanc, the hallmark white grape of the district’s still wines, makes many of the Loire’s best bubbles.  This fizz pairs perfectly with the area’s coveted oysters.

Crémant de Bordeaux

A fizzy wine in Bordeaux?  The sparkler is only a tiny fraction of this region’s production…and it rarely leaves Bordeaux.  The white version is made from Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, the rosé from Merlot, Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc, as well as Malbec.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Island Fever

Maybe it’s all the rain Southern Cal has been experiencing recently?   Or, perhaps it’s just the cold?  Don’t know exactly why but I’ve been obsessing over island wines lately.  If you want to put a little sunshine in your glass, try some of these favorite island wines of mine: 

Wailheke, New Zealand

Located just a few hours by ferry from Auckland, this island (in addition to making some great wines) is a very romantic spot.  The star of the viticultural show is Te Whau winery’s “The Point.”   Only 1,000 cases of this killer Bordeaux blend is made.  The price is about $100 a bottle, but it could seriously compete with the Grand Cru Chateaux which sell for several times this price.   

Sardenia, Italy

Rugged and dry, the soils and microclimate of this island are perfect for growing grapes.  While water and fertile soils are needed for table grapes, an inhospitable environment such as Sardenia is the perfect situation for creating complexity (vines are forced to seek water and nutrients deep down in the soil).   The whites are the stars of the island’s show and Vermentino is the rock-star grape.   We buy cases each year of Argiolas’ Vermentino to serve guests poolside.  At about $15 a bottle, the well-priced sips of this one will make you swear you’re on the beach!

Santorini, Greece:

If you’ve been to Santorini, you know it’s a big OMG kind of place.  If you haven’t been, put it on your bucket list as this place is high on the Richter scale for spectacular beauty.   Created from a cataclysmic volcanic eruption a few thousand years ago, the island’s lava-based soil makes some of the world’s most interesting mineral-laced wines.   Gaia is a producer not to miss.

Mallorca, Spain

Palma de Mallorca's  airport is one of the busiest in all of Europe with nearly 20 million visitors annually.  Because of this, most of its wine, unfortunately, never makes it off the island.  That being said, if you’re visiting Barcelona, take a 30 minute flight to this dreamy place (from Madrid, it’s an hour flight).  Highly recommend Bodega Biniagual and Bodega Binigrau, located in the center of the island in the DOC district of Binissalem.  These boutique producers are among the best on the island.

Gran Canaria & Lanzarote, Spain

These two islands are located just off the coast of Morocco.  This June Wine-Knows is taking its first group to the Canaries.  The islands’ volcanic soils create some very interesting mineral flavors in their wines, but it’s not just about the minerality.  The island’s abundant sunshine also add enticing tropical fruit flavors to the whites.  If you can find El Grifo or Los Bermjos, they’re fab.  Olé!

Madeira, Portugal

After the Canaries, the group of Wine-Knows will be heading to Madeira.  While many think of the aged & fortified Madeira, this volcanic island is now producing some very good table wines.   Like the Canaries and Santorini, Madeira’s mineral-rich volcanic soils translate into very interesting wine.  These soils are quite well drained (necessary for creating the best wines) and there is little water (thus, roots have to search deep into the earth for hydration---bringing up with the water interesting flavors from the deep soils).   Best for table wines is Quinta do Moledo or Roca Branca, both made by the island’s rock-star winemaker Joao Mendes.

Corsica, France

We spent a week on Corsica a few years ago.  An overnight ferry’s ride from Marseille (or a few hours boat ride from Italy’s Tuscan coast), this gem offers a perfect getaway from the maddening crowds of the French Riviera, as well as Tuscany’s hoards.   It also offers wonderful wines, especially Vermentino.  While Americans haven’t really discovered Corsican wines yet, the French have.  One of the French Bibles of wine recently dubbed Corsica as the “most exciting wine region in France.”   Look for producers Arena or Leccia.   

Have fun….and don’t forget to the sun block!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Minestrone To Warm the Soul

We moved to Southern California for warm weather so let me confess right now that I'm not a lover of the cold.  That being said, the recipe below has certainly helped to ease the the chill of winter nights.  Moreover, it has one of my can't-seem-to-get-enough-of veggies, escarole.  How could something so simple (less than an hour of active prep time), so low in calories (terrific diet-food after the holidays), and so nutritious (lots of vitamins and fiber), taste so yummy?  This one ticks all of the boxes for scrumptious and healthy.

NOTE:  If you want a more filling soup you can add pasta or potatoes.  Also, if you still have your turkey carcass in the freezer, it can be added to boost flavors.  If you really want to be decadent, drizzle pesto on the top before serving with a sprinkle of grated Parmigiano.   (Serves 8)

  • 1/3 pound sliced pancetta, chopped
  • 3 medium red onions, chopped
  • 4 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, chopped
  • 1/3 cup EVOO
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard
  • 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 28-ounce canned tomatoes
  • 3 quart hot water
  • 5 cups coarsely chopped cored Savoy cabbage
  • 5 cups coarsely chopped escarole 
  • 1 piece Parmigiano-Reggiano rind (about 3 by 1 1/2 inches)
  • 2 (19-ounce) cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained 
  • salt & pepper

Cook pancetta, onions, celery, and carrots in oil in large heavy pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally while preparing the chard.

Cut out stems from chard and chop the stems, reserving leaves for later.  Stir stems into pancetta mix with garlic, 1 teaspoon salt and 3/4 teaspoon pepper and continue cooking, stirring occasionally until all veggies are tender and begin to stick to bottom of pot (about 45 minutes).  

Push veggies to side of pot, then add tomatoes paste to cleared area and cook, stirring constantly until paste begins to caramelize (a couple of minutes).  Stir paste into veggies and cook, stirring constantly for about 2 minutes---do not let paste burn. Stir in tomatoes with their juice, breaking them up with a spoon.  Next, add hot water, scraping up any bits from the bottom of the pot.

Bring to a simmer.  Stir in cabbage, escarole and add the cheese rind.  Simmer, covered, until greens are tender about 40 minutes.  Coarsely chop chard leaves and stir into soup along with beans.  Simmer, partially covered, 10 minutes.  Discard ring. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

Buon Appetito!

Monday, January 9, 2017

Champagne Trivia for 2017

                                         One of the many Wine-Knows' trips to Champagne

Here are 10 facts that the Champagne-lover needs to keep close at hand for cocktail trivia in the New Year:

1.      The classic Champagne coupe glass (rarely used now) was modeled from a mold that was supposedly made from the breast of Marie Antoinette.

2.     A regular serving of Champagne produces about 100 million bubbles before it goes flat.

3.     Champagne was not “discovered” by Dom Perignon…this monk actually tried to remove the bubbles in a batch of wine that had “gone bad.”

4.     The Champagne region, France’s most northerly wine district, lies at the northern edge of the world’s grape growing latitude.

5.     Only the following 3 grapes can be used to produce Champagne:  Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

6.     Veuve Clicquot is named after the widow of a winery owner ("veuve" means widow).

7.     The biggest bottle of Champagne is 40 times the normal sized bottle and is called a Melchizedek.  The second largest bottle is a Nebuchadnessar which is half the size of the Melchizedek.

8.     Your chances of dying from a flying Champagne cork (which can reach a velocity of 40 miles per hour) is greater than the chance of death by the bite of a poisonous spider.

9.     Only sparkling wines produced in the Champagne region can be called Champagne (one exception is California’s Korbel which was grandfathered-in).

10.     Two English sparkling wines beat out some of France’s most prestigious Champagnes in a blind tasting in Paris (refer to last week’s Blog).

Happy New Year!