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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 !


Friday, November 17, 2017

Giving Thanks...




This upcoming week reminds us to give thanks for our blessings.   I have many, most of them big blessings like great health and wonderful family/friends. On a less serious note, here’s my list of wines for which I am thankful.

Tropical Sauvignon Blancs
I love Sauv Blancs that offer a tropical profile (usually from in warmer climates).   I don’t find cool climate Sauv Blancs with their green, grassy, herbal notes particularly appealing (but many do).   Merry Edwards is my current fave Cali rendition.

Buttery Chardonnays
Yes, I’m going to buck the trend of those shying away from these wines and put in a plug for a well-crafted Char with a voluptuous, velvety texture and other subtle nuances that stem from Malo-Lactic fermentation.  

Wines with a great finish
While many concentrate on a big fruit forward wine that offers enticing aromas and a great palate, one of the most important things for me is a lengthy finish.

Wines that offer a great bang-for-the-buck
I don’t mind paying some serious money for a killer wine.   That being said, my faves are those that provide killer price/quality ratios.  One of the best producers for quality/price is Joel Gott (Napa Valley) who sources all of his grapes.  His wines are in the 20 bucks range.   Another great producer is Barrel 27 (Paso Robles) which offers off-the-chart-values for their well-crafted wine in the same price range.

Wines with fruits and minerals
I’m falling in love with subtle mineral nuances, especially if they are layered with fruits.  Suggestions:  Assyrtiko (a wine from the Greek island of Santorini), or Nero di Avola (from the Mount Etna region of Sicily).

Obscure varietals
I am so excited to learn about new varietals, especially indigenous varieties that aren’t available anywhere else.  Look for the Torrontes (a white fruit-bomb) from Argentina, or Bierzo (a heavenly red) from Northern Spain.  Be adventurous!


Happy Thanksgiving!


Friday, November 10, 2017

Red Burgundy in Your Glass

                  Burgundy is all about Old World winemaking where“less is more”

Before we delve into how wines of France’s northeast Burgundy translate into what one experiences in the glass, let’s start with other differences in Burgundian reds.  Before one even opens the bottle there are differences to note.  First, notice that the Burgundian bottle is distinct with feminine, sloping shoulders.  In contrast, the Bordeaux bottles have harder edged, masculine shoulders.

Bordeaux (L), Burgundy (R)

Next, we need a glass.  A Burgundy glass.  The Burgundian glass has a large bowl which tapers in at the top, designed to enhance Pinot's delicate aromas.

Bordeaux (L), Burgundy (R)

Now, pour the Burgundy.  Reds in Burgundy are made from Pinot Noir, one of the lightest colored wines.  (Burgundian Pinots are generally lighter in color than their American counterparts).  That being said, Pinots as a group are pale raspberry or cranberry shades, and are transparent.   Bordeaux, on the other hand, is composed of dark grapes such as Cabernet and Merlot.  Syrah (Shiraz), from the Rhone Valley is the darkest of all wine grapes in the glass.  Bordeaux and Rhone wines also differ from Burgundy in that they are opaque.

                                                  Pinot Noir is the lightest red wine

Before we move on to aromas and taste profiles, let’s first discuss the differences in Old World vs. New World techniques in producing Pinot Noir.  Burgundy (Old World) is all about “less is more.”  Less manipulation in the wine-making process.  Less extraction of fruit.  Less oak.  Wild yeasts vs. cultured yeasts.

Aromas and flavors in Burgundian wines are very influenced by this less is more philosophy.  The area’s terroir also plays a huge role.   Unlike California or Chile  where sunshine is abundant, grapes in Burgundy are typically less ripe because of the weather.  This means Burgundian reds are not jammy like their super ripe New World counterparts.  Since high sugar levels also translate to high alcohol, this means that Burgundian wines have traditionally lower alcohol levels and therefore pair better with most foods.   It also means that Burgundy’s Pinots are less fruit-forward, and instead are more about earth profiles (think the scent of the forest), as well minerals (think the smell of wet stones).

Red Burgundy, in general, is quite expensive due to the phenomena of supply and demand.  There are, however, some good buys regarding price/quality to be found.  Try Jadot's Marsannay ($40), or Latour's Santenay ($30).  Both are excellent and readily available in the US.

Wine-Knows will be visiting the creme de la creme producers of Burgundy on their 2019 tour.  There are 4-5 spaces remaining.   www.WineKnowsTravel.com.




Friday, November 3, 2017

Amarone---from Obscurity to Stardom

     The historic estate of Dante Alighieri's has been leased for Wine-Knows' 2018 harvest tour


Pick up a wine magazine published in the last few years and chances are there will be an article about these rich, dark, voluptuous reds from northeast Italy.   Amarone has moved from relative anonymity to more front and center stage.  This is even more impressive in an era when lighter style wines are in vogue and consumers are shying away from higher alcohol wines.  Amarone is big, bold, and complex with alcohol levels that can vary between 14-17%.

It’s full name is Amarone della Valpolicella, but it is usually referred to simply by Amarone.   The wine is named after the district in which the grapes are grown, Valpolicella (which means the “area of many wineries”).  Located just north of Romeo and Juliette’s city of Verona and only 70 miles from Venice, Valpolicella has been producing wines since the Romans arrived a few millenniums ago.  Amarone was given its own special DOCG status by the Italian government in 2010.

                    
                    Amarone's grapes are dried for months prior to being made into wine

Amarone is like no other wine in that it is made by an ancient technique called appassimento.   The appassimento process involves laborious air drying of the grapes on wooden racks for more nearly four months, carefully turning the dehydrating fruit regularly to check for rot.  It involves a special building designed for ultimate ventilation.  The wine also relies on a lot of help from Mother Nature.  Winds from the nearby Alps are essential; however, moisture (which promotes mold) is a big problem.  Grapes (all local varietals unknown to Americans) typically lose 30-40% of their moisture before they are vinified.

The final product is a full-bodied, high-powered wine.  Raisin-like grapes have concentrated sugars which ultimately convert to alcohol.  In spite of its strength, if Amarone's alcohol is in balance with the other elements, the wine can be seductive with an enticing nose of black cherries, figs and spices such as cloves.  Its taste yields beguiling rich, dense, and velvet textures.  To appreciate its charm, however, it must be served with the right food.  Full-bodied foods, such as hearty meat dishes, are a great pairing.   Fish or chicken generally won’t work.  Amarone can pair with strong cheeses such as Stilton, or other big-flavored, aged cheeses.

                  Braised short ribs and a glass of Amarone are a marriage made in heaven

Amarone production has risen to 15 million bottles per year, a staggering increase of nearly 700% in the last 20 years.   Again, considering the trend is moving away from high alcohol wines, this ought to tell you something about how special Amarone is.   Why not try an Amarone during the upcoming holiday season?  Masi, an outstanding producer, is readily available in the US.   BTW: Wine-Knows’ 2018 harvest tour to Valpolicella and Piedmont will be staying on the historic Masi estate which was once owned by Renaissance personality Dante Alighieri.   Join us!   www.WineKnowsTravel.com



Friday, October 27, 2017

How Rotten Luck Created an Amazing Wine

                  Botrytis Cinera causes chemical changes which enhance aromas & flavors

The year was 1847.  California was not even a state yet and the Mexican-American War was full throttle.  Across the Atlantic in France, however, the Bordeaux region was enduring its own battle against a horrible fungus that had destroyed their production of Sauternes wines.  Vineyards lay in decay, a huge disaster of rotting fruit covered with an invading army of organisms which had attacked the grapes’ skins and caused them to dry and shrivel like raisins.  Many chateaux didn’t even bother to pick their fruit.  

                  Chateau Yquem's location near the convergence of 2 rivers is perfect for Botrytis

Chateau Yquem, one of the top wineries of the time and the most prestigious producer of Sauternes today, decided to pick some of its fruit, however, the quality was so bad that Yquem decided not to release the wine for sale.  Their entire 1847 vintage remained in Yquem’s cellar until 1859 when the brother of Russia’s Czar visited the esteemed chateau.   This visit changed the course of history for Bordeaux’s sweet wine industry.

The Russian monarchy and aristocracy of the 1800’s had long been great admirers of Hungary’s sweet wines, Tokaj (Tokay).   These very special sweet wines were like no other sweet wines.   While Hungary had been producing these unique wines for 200 years, their production was limited.  The wines were not produced every year as their production was entirely weather dependent.  As the demand of Russia’s royalty was high, these special sweet wines commanded regal prices.  When the Russian Grand Duke visited Bordeaux in 1859 he heard the story of the grey fungus invasion of 1847.  A light bulb went off in his head.

                                     Liquid gold from Bordeaux's Chateau Yquem

The Grand Duke knew that the limited Hungarian sweet wine of Tokaj was made only during the years of the Tokaj’s grey fungus.  He asked to try Chateau Yquem’s 1847.  The owner did not want to offend him with this swill, but who could say no to the Czar’s brother?  The rest is history.  The Russian monarchy bought every single bottle of Yquem’s 1847 vintage. 

                           Wine-Knows enjoys a private tour & tasting at Chateau Yquem

The grey fungus responsible for all of this is now referred to as the “Noble Rot.”  Its technical name is Botrytis Cinerea.   Known simply as Botrytis, this organism which has always been part of Hungary’s Tokaj region, has become a welcome visitor to Bordeaux for the last 150 years.  Modern science now knows that Botrytis creates very unique sweet wines.  The Noble Rot not only dehydrates the grapes into nearly raisins, but it actually changes the chemical composition of the grape adding new enticing flavors and aromas.  

Weather conditions must be perfect for the Noble Rot to attack vineyards.  Like any fungus, Botrytis organisms thrive in damp, warm conditions.  Both Bordeaux and Tokaj vineyards are located alongside rivers.  If there is river fog and sun simultaneously during October-November when the grapes are already super ripe, this creates the perfect storm for the Noble Rot.
  
                               Hungary's Tokaj wine district has idyllic conditions for Botrytis

If you’re coming with us next year on the Austria-Hungary tour, you’ll experience some of these flavor bombs made from Botyrtis in Hungary’s Tokay region.   If not, you’ll have to wait to 2021 when Wine-Knows conducts its tour to Bordeaux.

Let's hope Botrytis is visiting both Hungary & Bordeaux this Fall!




Friday, October 20, 2017

A Burgundy Primer

                       Burgundy's Cote D'Or is home to some of the priciest cult wines on earth

Many serious wine lovers believe that some of the world’s greatest wines come from Burgundy.   Others would argue that Bordeaux is the pinnacle.  I don’t think you can compare the two.  Burgundy’s production is miniscule;  Bordeaux’s is mammoth.  Burgundy is boutique producers;  Bordeaux is large-scale chateaux.  Burgundy’s wines are quietly elegant;  Bordeaux’s are bold and massively-structured.  

History
The famous Cluny Abbey played an important role in Burgundy 


The Catholic monks, abbeys, and the monasteries have played an enormous role in shaping Burgundy’s wine history.  From 900 A.D., the clergy were actively involved in not only making and selling wine, but actually developing the notion of terroir (soil, microclimate, slant of the hill, drainage, wind, environmental pests, etc.).  Early on they learned that different plots of earth made consistently different wines.  

    Centuries ago monks surrounded vineyards with special characteristic with walls               

The monks mapped out an intricately complex quilt of vineyards throughout Burgundy which today are the basis for the region's Cru’s.  They built walls around each plot.  Wall in French is “clos,” thus many of Burgundy’s vineyards begin with the word “clos.”

Location

                                           In French Burgundy is known as Bourgogne

Burgundy begins just 120 miles south of Paris.   The actual wine part of the region is a long, narrow area that runs about 150 miles in length.  Burgundy is composed of these five distinct sub-districts (north to south):
1)    Chablis
2)    Cote D’Or
3)    Cote Chalonaise
4)    Maconnaise
5)    Beaujolais

Two Great Grapes of Burgundy

Reds in Burgundy are made from Pinot Noir (the only exception is Beaujolais which uses the Gamay grape).  Difficult to grow, fickle Pinot Noir thrives in a narrow band of soil and climate parameters.  Red Burgundy is mecca for many oenophiles.  In fact, many in-the-know consumers feel that Pinot Noir is at its very best in Burgundy.

White Burgundy is made a 100% from the Chardonnay grape.  The Chardonnay varietal is actually is native to the Burgundian region of France.  While Chardonnay is a now a universal grape, white Burgundies are some of the most divine wines on planet earth---complex layers with a long finish.

Burgundy is Terroir-Driven
Every plot of earth has been painstaking rated for the quality of its terroir


Unlike Bordeaux where the pecking order is established by a chateau’s land holdings, Burgundy’s hierarchy is purely terroir based.   For example, Mouton Rothchild in Bordeaux owns many parcels in different parts of the huge wine region.  All of them may be used in the making Rothschild's wine as Bordeaux wines are all about blending.  In Burgundy, vineyards have been carefully mapped out into very small plots based on their unique terroir.   In contrast to Bordeaux, Burgundy "Cru" cannot be blended as their intent is to showcase the specific single vineyard and its terroir.

Stay tuned for future articles on Burgundy, including Pinots and Chardonnays that won’t break your bank, pairing Burgundy's wine with foods, and many other favorite experiences of mine awaiting you in Burgundy.




Friday, October 13, 2017

Facts Champagne Lovers Should Know

                            A private dinner will be held at the producer of Dom Perignon

Wine-Knows will be taking its last group to Champagne (there are currently 5 spots available on this tour that will also visit Burgundy).  Below is important information that any serious wine lover should know about this oh-so-special bubbly.

Nomenclature
  • Only sparkling wine made in the demarcated Champagne region of France can be called Champagne.
  • Wineries are call "houses."  The Veuve Clicquot company is referred to as the House of Veueve Clicquot.
Grapes
Most Champagnes are a blend of these grapes


  • Champagne may only be made from the above three grapes (from left to right):  (1) Pinot Noir  (2) Pinot Meunier  (3) Chardonnay.
  • If a Champagne is Blanc de Blanc (white Champagne made from white grapes) it is 100% Chardonnay as this is the only white varietal of the three.  The often very slight greenish hue in these Blanc de Blancs is characteristic of Chardonnay wines. 
  • If it's a Rose Champagne, the wine can be made from either or both of the two red grapes allowed.  Rose, however, also can have Chardonnay added.

Taste Profiles
                The entire Champagne region millenniums ago was covered by an inland sea

  • Champagne's limestone is composed of chalky layers, remnants of ancient sea creatures.  These highly porous limestone soils are easily penetrated by root systems of vines heading downward to seek water.  While water is brought up into the plant, so are minerals from the fossilized remains of sea shells.  Due to this, Champagnes offer mineral nuances.
  • Yeasts also play a critical role in the taste profile of Champagne.  Unlike non-sparkling wine, Champagne undergoes a secondary fermentation in the bottle.  Yeasts and a small amount of sugar to "feed" the yeasts are added after the initial fermentation has been completed and the wine has been placed in bottles.  Carbon dioxide is given off during this process but is trapped by the cork in the bottle, thus creating the wine's famous bubbles.   The spent yeast cells add flavors to the Champagne which are described as "bread dough,"  "freshly baked cake," or "brioche."

Land Ownership

Unlike most wine districts where the land is owned by wineries, 90% of Champagne is owned by grape growers.  Only 10% of the land is controlled by actual wineries.


Best Glass
                  Glasses popular in Champagne have tapered tops to enhance the aromas

In the Champagne region of France you rarely see the typical flute glass.  While flutes do help with the visual effect of the bubbles, its narrow top does not fully allow the aromas of Champagne to be appreciated.  While there are many variations, all  glasses in Champagne have the same tulip shape---wider bowls taper (but not near as narrow as the typical flute), allowing one to both swirl and capture the aromas. 

Changing Climate is Problematic

Temperatures in the Champagne region have risen 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 20 years.  This is especially an issue with fickle Pinot Noir which has a narrow band of cooler temperatures in which it grows.  Moreover, shifting rainfall patterns are posing further problems.

At the same time, England’s climate is also changing, with warmer summer and milder winters.  England is now experiencing a boom in the production of high quality sparkling wine.  More unnerving is the fact that several of France’s famous Champagne houses have purchased land in the south of England.  The country’s southern limestone soil is very similar to that of the Champagne region.


Protecting the Champagne Brand

            Many, from famous perfume producers to lingerie makers, have been successfully sued

An army of attorneys around the globe are employed by the Champagne professional association to protect the Champagne brand.  They’ve done battle with a variety of companies who made the mistake of naming their product Champagne.  A big no-no.


Have a bubbly kind of weekend.