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Friday, March 27, 2020

Spring Food & Wine Pairings


Spring has sprung and I’m not about to let Corona Virus dampen my spirits!  I’ve been out of the country six weeks and am so looking forward to spring’s bounty.   As the season’s foods have changed, so should our wine choices.  Heavier bodied wines (like Zinfandel and Cabernet) can now be replaced with lighter tannin and less alcoholic reds (such as Pinot Noir, Grenache, or even Sicily’s Frapatto, a fruity red wine brimming with another Spring flavor---strawberries).   Winter’s full-on oaky Chardonnays can now begin their transition to more gentle oak influences, or even  unoaked mineral-forward versions.  Spring whites also scream citrusy Austrian Gruner Veltliner or Italian Vermentino.

Here’s my shopping list, menu, and wine pairings:

Fresh peas: to be made into a risotto and served with a Pinot Noir.

Baby artichokes:  grilled, topped with a mélange of fresh spring herbs and garlic, served with grilled lamb chops and a Grenache from the Rhone Valley.

Fava beans:  these labors of love will be turned into a simple sauté using wonderful dill and mint, and served roasted salmon along with a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

New potatoes:  far less starchy than other potatoes, these yummy spring-time morsels will be featured in a salad mixed with tender green beans, spring radishes, just-sprouting parsley, and dressed with olive oil.  They’ll accompany a roast chicken, and be served with a Sicilian Frappato.

Morel mushrooms:  these scrumptious splurges will be showcased in a simple pasta dish (garlic, shallots and olive oil), and will be accompanied by a real-deal Rosé Champagne to celebrate the arrival of Spring.

Happy Spring!  Stay Healthy!

Friday, March 20, 2020

The Best of the Best

                                     New Zealand is so much more than Sauv Blanc

WineKnows' trip to New Zealand just ended.  We visited the country's four major wine regions (Hawkes Bay, Martinborough, Marlborough, and Central Otago).  Nearly 150 wines made from more than a dozen varieties were tasted.  Pinot Noir (PN) and Sauvignon Blanc (SB) led the pack in terms of the most tasted wines.

40% of the wines in my Top Ten are PN, but that's not surprising as New Zealand is rapidly evolving into one of the Pinot capitals of the world.  I'm not a fan of the classic Kiwi style of grassy SB, so it's no wonder that only one SB made it to my list (this one was made from warmer climate grapes and had the tropical profile I prefer).  The surprise was the Chardonnay which made a strong impression garnering two of the top ten spots.  Two aromatics also made my list:  Viognier and Pinot Gris.

TOP 10 (listed alphabetically)

  • Ata Rangi PN (2017):  from the estate's prime vineyards, this one is complex layers of spice, earth & fruit.
  • Decibel Viognier (2018):  intoxicating melange of luscious florals & citrus, it's one of the few bottles I brought home.  If you can find it, buy it (or save it for me to buy).
  • Dry River Chardonnay (2014):  stunning rendition of tropical fruit & citrus.  
  • Elephant Hill Salome Chardonnay (2017):  burnt pineapple mixed with limey mineral nuances.
  • Greywacke SB (2019):  luscious nectarine + lemon/lime + good finish.
  • Mt Difficulty Hanock Farm Single Vineyard PN (2016):  ethereal mix of raspberry, violet, spice & earth, all with a gorgeous finish.
  • Palliser Estate PN (2018):  elegant mix of savory & fruit with a winning finish.
  • Te Awanga Wild Ferment Pinot Gris (2018):  white & yellow peach mixed with grapefruit.  Lingering finish.
  • Te Whare Ra Single Vineyard PN (2015):  voluptuous mix of cherry, chocolate & spice with a fab finish.
  • Valli Bendigo PN (2018):  Grown in Otago's warmest region, this one is full bodied & screams black cherry & spice.  Silky tannins & an elegant finish.

Note that all the above wines should be available in the US.

A big "cheerio" for the Kiwis!

Friday, March 13, 2020

Rent Julia Child’s Villa in France

                          A "Week in Provence with Julia" is the the culinary memory of a lifetime

I have long been a fan of Julia’s.  Fortunately, I’ve had the great pleasure to meet this illustrious woman on three occasions.  The first mesmerizing time was at a cooking class in the early 1980’s.  The second was an event hosted by Robert Mondavi to launch the opening of Copia in Napa Valley (Center for Wine, Food and the Arts).  The final time was a Black Tie dinner to celebrate Julia’s 90th birthday, a fund-raiser for the American Institute of Wine and Food.  When the opportunity arose to actually rent the villa where Julia, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle wrote their hallmark cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I jumped higher than one of Julia's voluminous souffles at the chance to do so.

        The estate has been completely modernized but Julia is still present around every corner

If you’re a Julia devotee, renting this villa is the equivalent of going to Mecca.  This is where it all began.  Although the villa has been transformed by one of France's great interior designers since Julia was there, its walls still echo Julia.  Even the antique La Cornue stove screams coq au vin and boeuf bourguignon.  I’ve rented this hallowed residence now on four separate occasions.  Each time Julia's magigue has been palpable.  If you haven't joined these special one weeks programs, do note that I have reserved the property for two additional future weeks.

 A well-outfitted kitchen offers 2 huge frigs & a La Cornue stove, along with beautiful dishes & linens

The villa is located in the South of France’s stunning Provence.  In the foothills above the Riviera, this large stone country home now boasts a swimming pool and outdoor kitchen with panoramic views.  It's available for a week’s rental.  With five ensuite bedrooms, a dreamy kitchen, and two separate sitting rooms, the large property is perfect for ten foodies. The four different groups I’ve taken for “A Week in Provence with Julia,” have all found the experience a lifetime memory.

         Grougeres & strawberry coulis aperitifs began this homage to Julia dinner in Provence 

A fifth Julia week (2023) is already sold out.  The original group of ten women from "Julia's Week in Provence" are going to return and have booked the villa.  But, an another week in September 2023 has been added.  This 2023 week is available to individuals, or another option is a private group of foodie friends.  

The butcher shop where Julia bought her meat is still open.  One of Julia’s favorite restaurants is thriving nearby and they even remember "the tall American."  Then, there’s the olive mill in the next village where she purchased her oil---it's still producing ethereal extra virgin.   This all can be yours.  Come and walk in Julia’s footsteps.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Bones in Wine?

                                Bone dry means there is a miniscule amount of sugar in the wine

Most everyone has probably heard the expression bone dry in reference to wine.  There are no bones in wine, right?    That would be wrong:  China has a wine called “Tiger Wine,” which actually is made with real tiger bones.  OK, now back to bone dry.   This descriptor, along with dry, and off-dry are all three terms used to identify the amount of sugar in a wine.  

So how does sugar get into wine?  Let’s start at the beginning.  In alcoholic fermentation yeasts eat the naturally occurring sugar in grapes and through a process of chemical reactions this sugar is converted to alcohol.  Therefore, the amount of residual sugar (RS) in wine depends upon when the fermentation is stopped. 

In dessert wines (aka sweet wines) fermentation is artificially stopped before all of the yeasts can turn the sugar into alcohol.  This means that these wines have higher sugar levels and lower alcohol.  Conversely, in bone dry wines all of the sugar has been eaten by the yeasts, which in turn means that the wine has a higher alcohol level than dessert wine.   Bone dry means there is very little, if any, remaining sugar. 

Below shows the amounts of RS in the different categories of wines:

                     Bone dry:  0.5% or less RS
                     Dry:  1% RS
                     Off-dry:  2-3% RS
                     Sweet:  3.5-12% RS
                     Dessert:  12-22% RS

An experienced wine drinker can often taste the nuances in a wine’s sugar level, but there are factors that prevent even experts from recognizing the differences between bone dry, dry, and off-dry.   Both tannin and a wine’s acid levels can distort one’s ability to discern RS.   For the novice, even a wine’s ripe fruit aromas or sweet florals can also trick one into thinking the wine has some sugar.

In closing, any grape varietal can be made into a wine that is bone-dry or a dessert wine.  So, how does one know if a wine is bone dry or if there is RS?   Since wineries are not required to put this on the label, most do not.  A good wine store will know.  Many of the better wineries also have “Technical Sheets” available online in which RS amounts are stated.

Friday, February 28, 2020

New Zealand Beyond Sauv Blanc

NZ's top level Pinot Noir, Chardonnay & Bordeaux blends are world-class

Sauvignon Blanc (SB) is the flagship varietal of New Zealand.  Both SB and New Zealand catapulted to fame, hand in hand, in the 1990’s.  There is something inherently and unmistakably likable about this SB.  The varietal’s citrus and tropical notes, mixed with zesty aromas and tastes of freshly mowed grass, make it a compelling wine for easy summertime drinking.  SB’s bracing acidity also make it a perfect food-friendly wine.   Although many wine geeks cut their teeth on this well-priced New Zealand SB, it should be noted that the country is no longer a one-trick-pony.  It is now producing several world-class wines.

While SB today accounts for nearly 75% of New Zealand’s vineyard plantings, the remaining 25% has seen a significant change since the millennium.  Pinot Noir is the new darling child of New Zealand.  The second most widely planted grape, Pinot Noir, has skyrocketed to fame in just the last ten years.  Top bottles of Kiwi Pinot can be magnificent gems.  With red Burgundies now commanding astronomic prices, many are turning to New Zealand’s well-crafted wines for a Pinot fix.

Chardonnay, the most planted wine grape prior to the SB explosion, is now the third most planted grape in New Zealand.   Like Pinot Noir, the country’s top examples of Chardonnay are also superlative, and considerably easier on the wallet than a white Burgundy, or for that matter a top Chardonnay from Napa.

Bordeaux-style blends are also ratcheting up the New Zealand ante for outstanding wines that can compete on the world stage.  Unique terroirs such as the Gimlett Gravel soils of Hawke’s Bay are giving these Cabernet-Merlot based wines some important bragging rights. 

The harvest in New Zealand is now underway.  How about hosting a southern hemisphere harvest party as a way of warming up cold February?   Refer to my blog of January 24 for first-class wines from the North Island.  For the South Island, consider these stunning wines which are all imported into the US:
  • Fromm Clayvin Chardonnay ($50)
  • Fromm Pinot Noir ($40)
  • Greywacke SB Wild Ferment ($30)
  • Valli Bannockburn Pinot ($45)

Friday, February 21, 2020

Crash Course on Australian Wines

I’ve just arrived in Sydney for some days of R&R between WineKnows’ tours to Vietnam and New Zealand.  Although I’ve been to Australia three times, it’s been a while so I developed a wine "cheat-sheet."  Included is an update on the country’s current wine scene, as well as a cursory review of its major wine regions.

First, however, a couple of points.  While Australia spent a bazillion bucks developing their wine brand “Shiraz” (their word for Syrah), the country has so much more to offer other than Shiraz.   Additionally, some of the best-selling Australian wines have caused a negative perception of Australia.  Yellow Tail and Little Penguin, two of the largest selling wines that are mass produced for novices, have turned off the serious wine buying American public.  A decade ago Australian wine sales in the US hit $1 billion.  Now they’ve fallen to $420 million.

Current Wine Scene

The style of Australian wines is undergoing change.  In the 1990’s and early 2000’s they were influenced by Robert Parker’s fruit-bomb, opulent, high alcohol wines in new oak (Australia’s Grange is one of the few wines in the world to have scored a perfect 100 Parker points).  But the tide is shifting.  In the last decade Australians are rediscovering what wines really work best with their climate, terroir, culture and lifestyle.  Wines that pair best with fish and seafood, as well as the popular Asian and Mediterranean cuisines, and those that can be enjoyed in the country’s popular food-on-the-barbie outdoor lifestyle are now in.  This leaves many high alcohol reds out.

Shiraz, however, remains the most planted wine grape and is equivalent to the combined total of all four of these popular grapes:  Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.  Cabernet Sauvignon follows Shiraz in number of vines which means Australia currently is big red wine country.   Factor in global warming which creates higher alcohol wines.  But, tastes are changing toward lighter style reds with less alcohol.  Pinot Noirs are often winning best in show beating out Shiraz and Cabernet.  Furthermore, Rosé sales are up.

Wine Regions
Australia is vast with huge differences in climate, geography and terroir.  It’s roughly the size of the US so consider the immense variations between grapes grown in Washington state and Texas, or the difference between Napa and upstate New York.   Below are some of the major wine districts.

Barossa Valley: 
Located in the country’s mid-south near Adelaide (think New Orleans in the US), the Barossa is associated with Shiraz, however, today there is also a fair share of white such as Chardonnay and Semillon.

Hunter Valley: 
Near Sydney (think Atlanta in the US), Semillon is widely considered the region’s iconic wine.  BTW:  Semillon is a white Bordeaux varietal with an unctuous texture.

Margaret River:  
On Australia’s west coast near Perth (think Napa in the US), this is Cabernet country.

An island off Australia’s southern coast, Tasmania is all about cool weather grapes such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauv Blanc and Reisling

Yarra Valley:
Located near Melbourne (think the gulf side of Florida in the US), this southeast area is known for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and sparkling wines.

On this visit I plan to focus on the Hunter Valley and Tasmania.   As the Hunter is within shooting distance of Sydney there ought to be good availability of wines from this district in Sydney.  Moreover, I don’t know Hunter wines very well, and I’m a big lover of Semillon.   Also, I have not visited Tasmania but that’s not the only reason that it’s on my radar screen.  Tasmania is leading the country’s movement toward lighter reds such as Pinot Noir.   

Australia's fires have been horrific.  Why not show some down under support by buying some of their well-priced wines?

Friday, February 14, 2020

Falling in Love with Curry

                                           Red prawn curry had me at "hello"

Curry has cast a spell on me.  Even the word curry gives me goosebumps and makes my heart skip a beat.  Regardless of if it’s Malaysian, Thai, or Indian, curry has me head over heels.   A few years ago I even flew to Malaysia just to take a curry cooking class from one of the country’s most famous cooking teachers.   I am currently in Vietnam where some type of curry is on every menu.  I'm almost giddy. 

While I’ve  always known that curry was a blend of seductive spices and herbs, I didn’t know until my class in Malaysia that an authentic curry is made lovingly from all fresh ingredients (no powders of any kind).   Prior to the class the teacher took us to the local market where we procured a bounty of all the ingredients for several different types of curry.  The smells alone of the raw ingredients were intoxicating.

                                Green veggie curry made the strings of my heart sing

Some of the components I knew (such as fresh ginger, lemongrass, shallots, garlic, chiles, tamarind, palm sugar, shrimp paste, cilantro, fish sauce, cinnamon bark, whole nutmeg, and fresh bay leaves).  Others I had heard of but never used (fresh kaffir lime leaves, fresh turmeric and its leaves, coriander root, fresh fenugreek, as well as fresh coconut milk).  Then, there were components I had never seen or heard of such as aromatic galangal (a member of the ginger family).    

We made many different types of curry from the above ingredients.  One was Panang curry (named after the city in which the cooking class was taught, this is a red curry similar to a red Thai curry).  Another was a milder green curry (flavored with lots of cumin and turmeric, with additions of cinnamon and nutmeg).   Meat was used in a few, poultry in another, and vegetables in yet another.   All were labor intensive labors-of-love…all were cooked on outside stoves in 90+ degrees with 90+ humidity.  In spite of the difficult conditions, I haven't been able to stop thinking of the seductive flavors of these curries.

My love for curry is unconditional and eternal.   Happy Valentine’s Day!