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Friday, January 12, 2018

Wine from a New Old World

           Uber modern winery in Hungary--Wine Knows will stay on this dramatic estate 

Visiting Hungary’s wine regions offers a tasting trip around a new Old World. 
State-of-the-art wineries right out of Napa Valley and winemakers armed with
viticultural degrees from top international universities are juxtaposed with ancient
cellars and winemaking traditions that remind us of this country’s remarkably rich
wine heritage.

Like most countries in Europe, Hungary’s history with wine grapes dates back to
the Romans.  In the 11th century Hungary was a key player in wine production. 
During the Ottoman occupation of the 16th and 17th century, however, this all
changed as alcohol was forbidden due to tenants of the Muslim religion. Tokaj was
the exception as its wine production thrived thanks to it being an independent
state of Transylvania.

In the 1700’s Hungary once again  became a formidable force in the wine-making world.  The course of wine history changed for all of Europe in the late 1800’s when a bug called Phylloxera destroyed nearly every vineyard on the continent.  (Interestingly, it was, a Hungarian who played a major role in developing a Phylloxera-
resistant root stock that got the wine industry moving again).  Post World War II
Communism was the final nail in the coffin.  A once flourishing wine industry was
relegated to producing bulk wine for the masses.

Today, Hungary is the 17th largest producer of wine in the world.  To put its
regional size in perspective, it is larger in wine production than neighboring
Austria, but smaller than its neighbors Bulgaria and Romania.  Currently that are
>150,000 acres under vine spread across the Hungary’s 22 wine regions and sub-
regions.

Hungary joined the EU in 2004.  Financing from the EU has catapulted Hungary
from the downward spiral of Communism into a new world of opportunity. 
Hungary has stepped up to the plate, especially the Tokaj region.  One of the few
in the wine world to reinvent itself, Tokaj seized the opportunity to turn from sweet
wines to dry.  Old World Tokaj is a Cinderella story.   Many of Tokaj’s wines are
now stunning dry whites.  They are using the same Old World grape (Furmint) but
vinifying them bone dry.  Furmint is becoming the new darling varietal of many
Sommeliers.

But, Hungary is not a one trick pony.  The country is making some gorgeous red
wines.  In fact, one of Hungary’s reds beat out one of the most famous Old World
chateau in all of Bordeaux in a blind tasting. 

If you’re looking for something new to try in the New Year, but appreciate well-
crafted Old World wines, put Hungary on your 2018 list.  The country is emerging
as an exciting player on the international wine scene.  Highly recommend one of
the following producers that this autumn Wine-Knows will be visiting (sorry but this tour is sold out with a waiting list).

          Dry White (alpha order):
                 Hetzolo
                 Kikelet
                 Svent Tamás
    
          Red (alpha order):
             Attila Gere
             Bock


Friday, January 5, 2018

Rock-Star Minerality

                                          Minerality can add a compelling nuance to wine

“Lick it” the winemaker instructed.  “Lick the rock” he demanded of our bulging eyeballs’ group of Wine-Knows.   We were in a vineyard filled with rocks at the base of the Andes mountains in Argentina and we all giggled…and then complied.  Suddenly it became very quiet as everyone was seemingly trying to process the wonder and the words to explain what they had just tasted.

“Salt” one Wine-Know volunteered.  Another offered a caveat:  “What I taste is the smell of wet earth.”  This prompted another tour participant to chime in that she tasted the “smell of river pebbles.”  A few offered comments about the texture of what they tasted describing it as “pasty” or “thick.”  All appeared to be surprised about what they had just experienced.

Minerality can be a difficult concept, especially for new wine drinkers.  First, most novices are drawn to fruity wines.  Second, the majority of wines are fruit-forward so that subtle nuances of minerality take a back seat.  Last, there isn’t a lot of common language to discuss these mineral-like smells and tastes.  This makes minerality even tricky for some veterans to wrap their arms around.

Where minerality in wine comes from is still unknown.  We don’t really know how it happens although there are many theories.  What is known is that there are certain chemicals that have been isolated in wine that have been shown to promote smells and tastes of minerals.  With flavors of strawberries in a Pinot Noir, or green apples in a Chardonnay we understand that there are not actually berries or apples in these wines.  Thus, it makes sense that certain compounds would give off non-fruit smells and instead offer hints of minerals.

The best recommendation I have for trying to understand minerality in your glass is Assyrtiko wine from the island of Santorini, Greece.  This varietal is all about minerals and there's little competing fruit (you can actually taste the minerality of the island's famous volcano).  Suggested best producers of this enticing white wine include Gaia, Sigalas and Boutari.


Rock-out in 2018!


Friday, December 29, 2017

New Years “Shellabtration”

                                      Herb roasted crab is our favorite way to celebrate

My husband and I were married on the millennium at midnight.  Every New Year’s Eve we celebrate our anniversary with a big fire in the fireplace and indulge with Dungeness crab at a candlelit table fireside.  I look forward to this dinner all year long.  A friend of mine (thanks, Rita!) gave me a great recipe for crab that has now become a standard in our home.   This divine rendition is roasted on high heat in the oven…and is absolute perfection for a cold winter’s night special "shellabration."

Ingredients
2 crabs (try for crabs >2 lbs each)
1/3 cup EVOO
4 cloves of garlic
Bunch of chopped thyme
1 tspn fennel seeds
1 tspn salt
1 tspn red pepper flakes

Directions
Place the crabs in huge pot of boiling water and when it returns to a boil cook for 3 minutes.  Remove the crabs and cool slightly.  Clean the crab and crack.  Preheat your oven to 550 degrees. 
In a food processor, add all the remaining ingredients.  Placed cleaned and cracked crab in a large roasting pan and cover well with the olive oil and herb mixture.  Roast for 5-8 minutes until brown and bubbling.

Serve with a loaf of scrumptious French bread, and a Pinot Noir or Chardonnay (we indulge with both by popping the cork of a great Champagne made from both of the grapes).


Happy shellabration…Happy 2018!

Friday, December 15, 2017

A White Christmas…with a White Burgundy


The Burgundy region of France is home to some of the most hedonistic wines on planet earth.  White Burgundies (as well as Red Burgundies) have long had a cult following.   As Burgundy produces only 2% of France’s total wine, the old adage of supply and demand can really wreak havoc on Burgundian prices.  If there’s one day during the year, however, that people should pull out their White Burgundy gems, it's Christmas.

White Burgundy is made exclusively from the Chardonnay grape.  Chardonnay actually originated in Burgundy.  DNA testing shows that Chardonnay is a mix between Pinot Noir (Burgundy’s red grape) and Gouais Blanc.  Somewhere, somehow, Pinot and Gouais crossed in the vineyard and Chardonnay was born as  their offspring.

Many wine connoisseurs believe that Burgundy’s whites are the pinnacle of any Chardonnay on the globe.  One author in a recent article went so far as to call Burgundian white as the “crack cocaine of all Chardonnay.”   While the analogy may be a turn-off, the point is well-taken in that white Burgundy can be addictive.   Once you’ve had it, you crave more.

So what makes Burgundy’s Chardonnay so very special?   It can be summed up in one word:  terroir.  While there is no literally translation for this French word, terroir refers to the many factors that can effect a wine (e.g. climate, topography, and soil). Burgundy’s mineral-laden soils exert a tremendous effect.  White Burgundies are known for their minerality, in the aromas as well as on the palate.

The best vineyards in all of Burgundy were mapped out centuries ago by monks who learned by trial and error which plots of consistently earth produced the best  Chardonnays for the church’s cellar.  Today, these very vineyards have been given Grand Cru status by the French government.  It’s these Grand Crus that have the real cult-following.  And, it’s your Grand Crus that should be brought out for a celebration such as Christmas dinner.

Here are five Grand Cru Burgundies that ought to knock off both Santa’s and Rudolph’s socks (listed in alpha order):

     ~ Comtes Lafon, Montrachet Grand Cru
     ~ Drouhin, Clos des Mouches Grand Cru
     ~ Louis Jadot, Les Demoiselles Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru
     ~ Olivier Leflaive, Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru
     ~ William Fevre, Valmur Chablis Grand Cru

If you have a desire to learn more about Burgundy’s Grand Cru Chardonnays, check out Wine-Knows 2019 trip to both Burgundy & Champagne:   www.WineKnowsTravel.com.

Have a white and a very Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Seeing Red for the Holidaze

                                                     Holidaze at the Dunn household

There’s no better shade of red for this season than that of luscious Red Bell Pepper Soup.  Served in a clear glass bowl, it can be a wonderfully colorful first course for your holiday table.   It’s not only divinely delicious, but it’s healthy and low in calories.  Moreover, red bell peppers are plentiful this time of year. 

Ingredients:

6 roasted bell peppers (do not use store bought, jarred peppers)
3 carrots, grated
4 shallots, chopped
1 pear diced
1 clove garlic, minced
3 Tablespoons of olive oil
3 Tablespoons of butter
4 Cup of chicken stock
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper seeds
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Blacken peppers over an open flame or under the broiler (turning constantly to the other side once they are black).   Place in paper bag to steam off the skins.  Let them rest for 20-30 minutes to cool for handling.  Remove skin and seeds (do not rinse them under any water as this removes wonderful oils and flavors from the peppers).

Place carrots and shallots in a large skilled with butter and EVOO and cook for 10 minutes.   Add peeled and seeded peppers, along with the remainder of the ingredients and bring to a boil.  Turn down heat to a simmer and cook for 5-10 minutes.  Puree in blender.   Season with salt and pepper.  Serve with a drizzle of basil oil or fresh green herbs for holiday color.   (Serves 6-8)

Bon appetit.   Happy Holidaze.




Friday, December 1, 2017

Say Cheese for the Holidays

                                                   This Stilton tart is a holiday crowd pleaser
                   
Let me start by saying it’s blue.  If you’re not a lover of blue cheese than read no further.  However, if you are enamored with the blues then look no further for a holiday splurge.  Stilton is the King of cheeses and this savory tart is very special.

Stilton comes from the area of Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest, England’s central region.  Unlike Roquefort and Gorgonzola which are both made from sheep’s milk, Stilton is 100% cow’s milk.  All three of these well-known blue cheeses, however, rely on the same organism to create their characteristic blue-green veining:  penicillium roqueforti.  Of all of the world’s blue cheeses, Stilton has the lowest water content, as well as the lowest salt.  On the other hand, Stilton also has the highest amount of fat and protein which means that it’s the richest and creamiest of all of the blues.  No wonder I love it so.

My favorite Stilton recipe is a scrumptious tarte that I was served at a smashing restaurant in Bath, England over 30 years ago.  I managed to get my hands on the recipe and it has been a standard ever since in my home, especially during the holiday season.   This Stilton tart, along with a simple green salad and a big red that can hold up to the cheese (think Cabernet or Amarone), could easily make sugar-plums dance in your head.  The recipe can easily be made the day before, and any left-overs can be frozen for another winter’s feast.  The dish can be served warm or at room temperature.

STILTON TOMATO TART (serves 10 as a first course)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees

Ingredients for Pastry Dough
1 cube of butter cut into small pieces
1.5 cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 egg yolk (+ another whole egg for sealing the crust AFTER the shell has baked)
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Ingredients for Tart Filling
2 shallots
2 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and thinly sliced
½ pound Stilton
2 eggs
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
Salt and pepper to taste.

Directions for Pastry Dough

Put flour, salt and butter pieces into food processor fitted with a steel blade.  Process just until all ingredients are mixed.  With food processor running, add liquids (egg yolk, lemon and water) a little at a time.  Stop when pastry forms a ball.  Do not over process or dough will be tough.

Place formed dough on wax paper, flatten it, wrap it and chill for at least 20 minutes.   On a flour surface, roll to 1/8 inch thick.  Place on a 10 inch round flan ring or pie dish.  Crimp edge.  Prick bottom of shell with fork and chill for another 30 min in frig.
Line shell with wax paper and then add dried beans or dried rice and bake in lower third of preheated oven.  Carefully remove the beans or rice and wax paper (can be used in another dish).  Return shell to oven.  Bake for another 10 -15 minutes until it is lightly colored.

Remove and brush the shell with an egg wash made by lighting beating an egg with a tablespoon of water.  Bake the shell for 2 more minutes to set the glaze.  Cool shell on a rack.

Lower oven to 375 degrees.

Tart Assembly

Mince 2 shallots and sprinkle evenly over the bottom of the cooled shell.  Top shallots with an overlapping layer of tomatoes.  Crumble Stilton evenly over tomato layer.

In a bowl lightly wisk remaining 2 eggs, whipping cream, nutmeg, salt and salt and pepper to taste.  Pour custard into the shell and bake for 20-25 minutes until the top is lightly golden and the filling is just set. 


Bon Appetit!


Friday, November 24, 2017

Online Gifts for Foodies


I’ve made my list….and I’ve checked it twice.  Here’s what on my 2017 list:


Piquillo Peppers: 
I order these yummy mild peppers from Spain year around by the case, however, their gorgeous red color make them absolute perfection for Christmas.  While I can eat them solo (right out of the jar), for the holidaze I prefer to serve them as an h’ordeuvre filled with fresh Dungeness crab and a little crème fraiche.  Olé!
(Amazon.com)


Farro:
Don’t know what gift to send a foodie who has everything?  If the gourmand lives in a non-metropolitan area, consider sending farro, a wonderful grain from Italy.   Although previously a rustic Italian staple, farro is now the new darling of the food world.  It can be cooked like risotto, or used as a substitute in pasta recipes.  Magnifico.
(Amazon.com)


Croissants:
I’ve been ordering William Sonoma’s outrageously decadent croissants for >20 years.  These are the closest rendition to the authentic French version that I’ve found on this side of the Atlantic.  While their price tag is steep, it’s much cheaper than an airline ticket to Paris.  Shipped to you frozen and uncooked, set them out the night before and bake them the next morning.  OMG. 
(williams-sonoma.com)


Stilton Cheese:
Every autumn I order a small wheel of Stilton as a luxurious treat for my husband and myself.  I especially love the Stilton made by Long Clawson Dairy (England).   I freeze it in several small sections and then take it out piece-by-piece to make our favorite autumn salad with Fuyu persimmons, pomegranates, toasted nuts and arugula, as well as other heavenly dishes like the Stilton tart (see next week’s Blog for this recipe).  
(Igourmet.com)


Lobster:
Need a special something for a special someone?  Nothing screams holidaze like fresh lobsters from Maine.   Caught one day and overnighted the next…what could be a better way to ring in 2018!

(mainelobsternow.com)

HAPPY HOLIDAZE !