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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Europe’s Only Coffee Plantation

                    Gran Canria's coffee plants grow among orchards of luscious tropical fruits

Think of coffee and countries like Brazil, Columbia, and Indonesia come to mind.  If you’re a coffee connoisseur you may even know that parts of Africa such as Ethiopia and Kenya also produce some decent beans.  But, coffee in Spain’s Canary Islands?  Located a mere 150 miles off the coast of Morocco, the Canaries boast the world’s most northerly coffee plantation---and the only one in Europe.

I arrived a few days ago to the Gran Canaria island with a group of Wine-Knows. Today we visited a coffee plantation.  Coffee has been cultivated on this island since the 18th century.  Originally used as ornamental plants due to their pretty red berries, the plant’s beans are now roasted and sold commercially.

The coffee plantation is located in a lush green valley in the northwest corner of the island.  The valley’s hot and humid year-around micro-climate is instrumental in producing quality beans.  Only Arabica beans, indigenous to Ethiopia, are grown.  The coffee plants grow among tropical fruits such as guava, mangoes, and avocados---all of which provide the much needed shade to the somewhat delicate coffee.  This area is only 300 feet above sea level, hence, Canary’s coffee beans don’t have the high acid levels that its South American counterparts have (they are normally grown at heights of 3,500 feet).

The Canary Islands were birthed from ancient underwater volcanoes, thus their soil is volcanic. (It’s no surprise that some of the most famous coffee-growing spots are in areas of current or historic volcanic activity, e.g. Indonesia and Central America). Coffee plants require a large amount of nutrients and volcanic soils offer an abundant supply of minerals which help the trees to grow.  The mineral-rich volcanic soil also contributes to the coffee’s unique flavor profile.

An island with year-around sunshine, a cornucopia of tropical fruits, plentiful fresh-fish, wine, and coffee?  I think I’ve found paradise.

Viva Canarias.


Saturday, June 10, 2017

Wines of Provence

                               Provence offers many charms, including its wines

I'm on my way to Italy after a star-studded two weeks in Provence.  When many think of Provence they flash on images of colorful outdoor markets and fields of lavender.  Yes, I experienced these vistas during my stay but when I think of Provence I think of its wines---its true unsung heroes.  While I love Provence's Rosés, I’m really enamored with its spicy, full-flavored reds, as well as its elegant, tropical whites.  Hands down, these wines are some of the most underrated in France.  While most serious wine lovers know Chateauneuf-du-Pape, they may not be aware of the equally elegant wines of Bandol, or of Provence’s great quality/price ratios like the area of Vacqueyras and Gigondas.   Let’s examine the “non-pink” wines of Provence beginning with terroir, and then move on to its grapes.  

Provence is located in the South of France and the Rhone River, which cuts through it on its way to the nearby Mediterranean, exerts a tremendous influence on the terroir.  Vineyards nearest the river have mineral-rich soil washed down from the Alps.  Summers are hot due to beaucoup sunlight, so there’s no problem ripening grapes. Mighty mistral winds keep pests at bay.

Red grapes, which thrive in the heat, are dominant in Provence.  Varietals such as Syrah and Grenache are most popular.  Another “Rhone varietal” is Mouvedre. These three grapes often are blended together, in fact, they are often referred to as a trio by the name “GSM,” an acronym of all their first letters. While red wine accounts for about 35% of Provence’s production, white wine is 15% (the remaining 50% is  Rosé).  Major white grapes include Marsanne, Roussane, Viognier and Rolle (known as Vermentino in Italy).  Like the reds, white varietals are blended rather than vinified as a single varietal.

Provence’s superstar reds are from the village of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  Located very near the Rhone River, Chateauneuf-du-Pape is known for its vineyards filled with large stones left from the flooding river. These stones provide superb drainage and reflect back the heat in Provence’s cold winters.  My favorite producers are Chateau Beaucastel and Chateau La Nerthe.   These are gorgeous, voluptuous, complex reds and whites….so wonderful that they make you forget all about their steep prices.

Further south is the tony little wine area of Bandol.  Located just a few miles from the Mediterranean, these elegant wines are an exception to the blending norm throughout other areas of Provence.   They are mainly made from Mouvedre and many are 100% varietal.  Check out Chateau Pibarnon and Domaine Tempier for some killer wines.

For a great quality price ratio consider the Provence villages of Gigondas and Vacqueyras.    Here are some great reds from the 2015 vintage well worth searching out:
  • Famille Perrin, Gigondas, L’Argnée Vieilles Vignes
  • Domaine Raspail-Av, Gigondas
  • Montirius, Gigondas, Confidentiel
  • Domaine Le Sang des Cailloux, Vacqueyras, Cuvée de Lopy

Looking for a terrific white from Provence?  Below are some wonder-filled options...and the first one is worth every Euro:
  • Domaine Pibarnon, Bandol
  • Clos Sainte Magdeleine, "Bel-Amre,"  Cassis
Onward to a seaside villa with Wine-Knows on Tuscany's Mediterranean...

Saturday, June 3, 2017

A Week in Provence with Julia Child

                                                     Julia at her estate in Provence

I have had the great pleasure to meet Julia Child on three occasions.  The first was a cooking class during the 1980’s.  My second rendezvous was at a charity benefit of American Institute of Wine and Food.  The last time I met Julia was her 90th birthday celebration at the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco.  Thus, when I had the opportunity to rent her home in Provence, I jumped on it in a flash!   That opportunity was four years ago when 2017 seemed forever away.  Now, I'm actually here.

We arrived today to begin a special week’s homage to Julia.  There are 10 of us who have come to pay tribute, all serious foodies and Julia groupies.  All women, each carefully chosen for Wine-Knows’ inaugural tribute to Julia.   Each one of us is armed with our favorite Julia recipes to prepare during this seven day feast in honor of Julia.

We have divided ourselves into pairs, five cooking teams of two femmes.   We will visit several different outdoor markets to procure our products.  As Julia wrote her ground-breaking two-volume books, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, for the American housewife who shopped in supermarkets, we’ll also visit the area’s largest supermarket to buy our many kilos of butter and liters of cream. 


Some teams picked their Julia recipes over a year in advance.  Julia’s bouillabaisse was one of the first things chosen.  Slow-roasted veal shanks in red wine was also snapped up much in advance.   One team is deciding on the fly (based on weather) between Julia’s cassoulet with duck confit (for colder temperatures), or her classic coq au vin (if the weather is warmer).  Another pair are gourmands but don’t fancy cooking complicated recipes---they have chosen salade Nicoise, a simple but gorgeous salad of grilled ahi tuna, tomatoes, green beans, eggs, olives, and potatoes.  Still another two-some will cook Julia’s thinly-sliced veal cooked in a butter and wine sauce.

                                    Julia’s bouillabaisse with a white wine from Grand Devers

Each couplet is responsible for one dinner, with a backup team assigned to help with prep, serving, and cleanup.  Wines are also part of the pair’s responsibility.  Considering the above foods, plans are underway for some to serve Champagne, while others are eyeing Provence’s Grenache or Syrah.  Still others are looking at wines from Southern France’s most illustrious district, Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  There’s word on the street that one of the pairs will be concocting a special Julia cocktail, with ingredients beginning with the letters “J,”  “U,” “L,”  and “I.”  The last ingredient in the drink is “A” for Aperol.

This trip will be repeated twice in 2018, and both weeks have sold out.  Another trip has just been added for June 2019.  Are you a Julia fan?  If so, this is a trip of a lifetime to be able to spend a week on the estate in which she wrote her famous cookbooks.  For more information, check it out:

http://www.wineknowstravel.com/julia_child_2_itinerary.htm


Viva Julia!