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Friday, December 28, 2018

Germany’s UNESCO Time Capsule


                               Quedlinburg is the site of where Germany's first King was crowned

Quedlinburg is a magical spot.  Located a few hours’ drive south of Berlin, I visited this charming former East German village in 1990 after the wall was demolished.   I went because my grandfather was born in Quedlinburg and I wanted to explore the paternal side of the family.  It was a jewel box then and thanks to its protected status by the United Nations (1994), it remains a precious gem today.

The town has royal beginnings.  The first king of Germany, Henry (876-936), was crowned in Quedlinburg and the town became the first capitol of the newly formed German Republic.  One of the most highly esteemed churches in Germany during the Middle Ages was built at the top of the hill in Quedlinburg to honor its position as the epicenter of Germany.  The town prospered due to considerable wealth and political influence brought by its importance as a trading center in the Middle Ages. 

         The town's perfectly architecture makes it one of the most special towns in all of Germany. 

The real reason to come here is for the jaw-dropping architecture.  An outstanding example of a medieval town, Quedlinburg is distinguished by its exceptional architectural heritage of Romanesque and half-timbered buildings, many of remarkably high quality.  When I visited in 1990, I was awe-struck at how well preserved this medieval village was.  Yes, many of the buildings needed a fresh coat of paint, but its compelling raw beauty was very apparent.  Today, this Cinderella is fully dressed for the ball.

                          The Christmas market is held in the enchanting central square

We rented a gorgeous apartment near the Castle and I cooked Christmas dinner:  a fennel & herb-brined pork rib roast with a fennel and cherry relish served with a wine-braised red cabbage.   A Grand Kru Riesling from Albert Mann completed this perfect culinary composition.  Although it probably wasn’t exactly the meal my grandmother would have prepared for Christmas (goose is the most popular yule-time meal), with the fireplace crackling and a glass of Champagne to kick it off, I think my grandparents would have indeed enjoyed themselves.

Wishing you many magical experiences in the New Year !





Friday, December 21, 2018

Alsace for Foodies


Foie gras is Alsace’s greatest gift to gastronomy

Strasbourg, the capitol of Alsace, has been the site of Europe’s oldest outdoor Christmas market for nearly 500 years.  While there are many Christmas markets in Europe, the one in Strasbourg is regarded as one of the very best.   I’ve been to Strasbourg, as well as the surrounding idyllic Hansel and Gretel Alsatian villages many times, but I have never visited this Eastern part of France during the holidays.  The reason for my entire journey is this Marché de Noel---it’s been on my bucket list for some years.  

                                  
The Christmas market in Strasbourg is spread out over the heart of this riverside town in eleven different squares.  There’s a mind-boggling assortment of hand-crafted items for the yuletide season, including everything one could ever dream of in which to decorate a Christmas tree, or to deck the halls.  For the food-lover, however, it’s a gastronomic Disneyland;  Santa’s elves could seriously eat their way across Strasbourg. 

Alsace has been passed back and forth between France and Germany several times during the last hundreds of years.  The Strasbourg Christmas market is reflective of this duality.  In many ways it’s the best of the two countries prettily packaged into a festively wrapped yuletide gift featuring a large culinary bow.  

Paying homage to its French roots, the market is replete with vendors selling foie gras.  This outrageously decadent delicacy is gorgeously coiffed in regal packaging that would even impress Coco Chanel.  Foie gras in this region is serious business. While Perigord in southwest France produces more foie gras today, during the 18th century Alsace was the epicenter for this delicacy.  

                                     Kougelhoft comes in multiple shapes for the Holidays

There are beaucoup stands at the market selling Alsace’s iconic Kougelhoft, an ethereal yeast-based cake baked in a tall decorative bundt pans.  A traditional Germanic recipe, Kougelhofts are featured in miniature single servings, as well as gigantic ones that could serve a family of 20 for Christmas dinner.  There are even stalls selling the brightly-colored Kougelhoft ceramic pans which are hand-painted.


                             This thin-crusted regional specialty is cooked in wood-fired ovens

Flammekueche is sublime snack in Stasbourg’s market extraordinaire.  An Alsatian version of pizza, this one has a paper-thin crust.  The French DNA of the dish reflects France’s love affair with cheese.  In this case, it’s topped with the area’s famous Munster cheese and/or crème fraiche.  And for the other chromosome from Germany, the traditional version includes small pieces of ham or bacon. 

                                          Pain de'epices is served in festive shapes 

The market serves up several possibilities of the pain d’epices. “Spice bread,” a classical dessert that is Germanic in its culinary roots, is Alsace’s rendition of gingerbread.  Although it has no ginger in it, it is chocked full of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and other spices.  At the Christmas market, spice bread is also made as a cookie in all of the shapes of the yuletide season.  These spicy sweet delights pair perfectly with Alsace’s warm yuletide drink, vin chaud, a concoction similar to hot-mulled wine.

Speaking of wine, this region is a treasure for gorgeous white wines.  Yesterday we visited one of my favorite producers, Albert Mann.  The wines from Domaine Weinbach and Trimbach are also noteworthy.


Alsace, an often overlooked area of France, is a special culinary gem.  Other than the center of Paris, Alsace has more Michelin star restaurants per square mile than any other place on the plant.  Regardless of the time of year, it’s a gastronomic treasure- trove and a wonder-filled wine experience you don’t want to miss.


Joyeux Noël & FrÖhliche Weihnacten!  


Friday, December 14, 2018

Mallorca for Foodies


               Paella cooked over an open air wood-fired stove makes for a perfect seaside lunch

I just flew into Palma de Mallorca to recover from jet lag before heading on my trek to the Christmas markets of France and Germany.  This sun-kissed island off the coast of Barcelona is the perfect spot for an off-season siesta, as well as a great place for the gourmet traveler.  Mallorca is brimming with wonderful foodie experiences.

Other than terrific wines (many of which never leave the island as they are consumed by Mallorca’s 14 million annual visitors), this little culinary gem is replete with delectable gastronomic pleasures.   One of my favorites is its special sea salt.  Known as flor de sel (“flower of the sea”), the Mallorca version trumps many of the fleur de sels in neighboring France.
                                               

                            Salts vary from rose-flavored to one with a nuance of curry !

Mallorca’s nearly 200 miles of seashore make for a natural gourmet salt industry, however, up until 15 years ago culinary sea salt was not produced here.  A foodie from Germany (who had traveled extensively in France and well knew the value of a delicate finishing salt) saw the opportunity.  She teamed up with the island’s Michelin star chef (Marc Frosh) who mixed the salt with different combinations of Mallorca’s wild herbs.  The rest is history.  Sold in attractive, upscale packaging, these herb-infused flor de sals are exquisite.  The brand is Flor de Sal d'es Trenc.


             Upscale Mercato de L’Olivar offers an enticing selection of the island’s best products

The Mercato de L’Olivar is a not-to-be-missed experience in the capitol city of Palma.  Located a 15 minute walk behind the cathedral (a taxi takes almost as long as it must circumvent the city’s pedestrian center), this up-market foodie’s emporium offers a fascinating array of Mallorca’s freshest food products.  There are also plenty of tapas bars and wine bars sprinkled throughout the market, which makes for fun lunch possibilities.  Also, because of the island’s cornucopia of fish and seafood, there are several sushi bars. (Open 7am – 2pm, closed Sunday)

I’ve been to Mallorca five times and there are a few experiences that are always on my list for wining and dining.   I've listed them below in no particular order: 

                       Although Bar Espana has a dining room, I prefer tapas at their bar

Breathtaking setting for a glass of bubbly

  •      Abaco:  a drop-dead gorgeous setting near the above tapas bar.  Although they serve food in the upstairs dining room, I suggest going only for a glass of Cava in the magnifico downstairs---one of the most stupendous settings I’ve ever laid my eyes on.  http://bar-abaco.es
Sa Torre de Santa Eugenia is pure unadulterated magic 
  • Sa Torre de Santa Eugenia:   Located only a 20 minute drive from Palma inland, this is my favorite place on the entire island.  The dining room is located in the estate’s old winery, and the chef is one of the best on Mallorca.   Better yet, why not stay in one of the hacienda’s gorgeous rooms and simply stroll to and from dinner?   https://www.sa-torre.com


 Viva Mallorca!  Feliz Navidad !





Friday, December 7, 2018

A White Christmas



I’ve got just the item for you to have a white Christmas….and it’s not snow.  Let’s just call it a white dessert for now.  This no-name sweet is the polar opposite of another similar holiday dessert that is brown.  Although they have similar sounding names, the white version bares absolutely no resemblance to the bah-humbug brown rendition.  They are as different as Snow-White and snow.

Hopefully, I’ve enticed you enough to now actually unveil the name of this wondrous Christmas treat:  it’s a white fruitcake.  Before you stop reading let me say that I absolutely abhor regular fruitcake.  It’s a glucose bomb of the worst kind, sickeningly sweet, often dry, and without any redeeming factor that I know of (well, maybe the bourbon might be OK).  Its white counterpart, on the other hand, has undergone a complete metamorphosis.  There’s no comparison between the two.  In fact, I think the white version needs to drop any association with the dark and be given an entirely new name.  Perhaps White Bliss, Holiday Ecstasy, or White Fruit Crack?

This decadently rich white version melts in your mouth.  It’s a buttery, complex, moist cake in which the sum is so much greater than the many individual components.  Unlike its brown counterpart, the majority of fruit in the recipe is from dates and golden raisins.  I’m not certain of the recipe’s origin, however, Jeffrey Steingarten’s book, The Man Who Ate Everything, offers a similar recipe.  Mr. Steingarten, a culinary professional and popular television personality on the Food Channel, cooks his, at a higher temperature.  

My recipe comes from my husband's brother, John, who gifts us each holiday season with two of these outrageous treats (it used to be one, but a few years ago I ate nearly the entire gift so he now sends one to my husband, and one to me).   John informed me that the recipe he uses appeared years ago in the local newspaper of his wife Iva Lou's family in Oklahoma.   John, who was a Superintendent of Schools in Kansas, began making this fruitcake years ago as Christmas gifts for his teachers.  Seems his troops liked it so much that their cakes began requesting them in October!  I can certainly understand why.

Ingredients:

1 pound of unsalted butter at room temperature
2 cups sugar
6 beaten eggs
4 cups flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup good quality candied cherries, cut in half (recommend Harry & David, if not  
          supermarket version will work).  I use both red and green to give it that yuletide 
          color.
½ cup good quality candied pineapple (recommend Harry & David, if not supermarket 
         version will work)
1 lb.  *white* raisins
1 lb. chopped dates
2 cups nuts (either pecan or walnut)
1 tablespoon vanilla

Directions:

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.  Butter two loaf pans and line with parchment paper.

Place all fruit and nuts in a medium bowl and add two tablespoons from the 4 cups of flour to coat the fruit so it doesn’t clump when added to the wet mixture.  In a large separate bowl, cream butter and sugar thoroughly, then mix in beaten eggs.  Add the vanilla.  With a strong, wooden spoon next add the remaining flour and salt, then the fruit/nut mixture.  Bake for three hours.

Believe me, this one is a keeper.  Visions of fruitcake will dance in your head!


Friday, November 30, 2018

Sage Advice



Our garden is overflowing with beautiful sage.  I enjoy, especially at this time of year, cooking with this luscious aromatic herb which fills my entire home with intoxicating aromas reminiscent of the holiday season.  I also add sage to small floral bouquets, or frequently to my holiday table-scapes where it is not only adds elements of brilliant silver-purple color, but it is complimentary to many of the flavor profiles of autumn dinners.

Sage hasn’t always been a culinary item.  During ancient times it has been used to treat a variety of health conditions.  A member of the mint family, sage is still thought to have some medicinal value.  The Romans supposedly used it as both a diuretic and an antiseptic.  In fact, modern research shows that sage may enhance brain function.

Here are three of my favorite recipes for sage.  One is an ethereal cornbread that is sure to become a go-to for this time of year.  Julia Child’s veal and mushroom dish is another special one…note that I often substitute sage for tarragon.  The last one is a chicken recipe from an old Bon Appetit.  It’s always a crowd-pleaser.

Sage Cornbread: 

Julia's Veal Scallopini: (remember to substitute sage for tarragon!)
If you don't have Julia's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, here's an online rendition:  
https://nataschaspalace.co/2015/07/24/julia-childs-veal-scallops-with-tarragon-sauce-recipe-and-my-200th-post/


Chicken with Olives, Carmelized Onions & Sage:
https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/chicken-with-olives-caramelized-onions-and-sage



Friday, November 16, 2018

A Unique Thanksgiving Cocktail



How about a little something different other than a glass of wine to begin your festive Thanksgiving celebration?   I have a great option.  This recipe combines two of my favorite cocktails:  Aperol Spritz and a Pimms Cup.  I’m assuming you’ll have a crowd for your holiday dinner, so I’ve made the recipe for 8 persons and adjusted the process to make it easy-peasy.

Ingredients:

10 paper thin slices of cucumber (sliced on a madeline, or other such instrument)
Hand full of fresh mint leaves
¼ Cup Pimms No. 1
½ Cup Aperol
1 cup Apricot Liqueur
½ Cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
½ Cup simple syrup
½ Cup Tonic Water


Directions:

Muddle the cucumber and mint.  Add all the ingredients and ice, then stir.  Strain out into martini glasses.  Optional:  top with a mint leaf or thin circle of cucumber.

Happy Thanksgiving!




Friday, November 9, 2018

Autumn Cocktail


                                 The Sazerac cocktail, like jazz, was birthed in New Orleans

It was a cold autumn night in San Francisco when I first had a Sazerac cocktail.  I was at the marvelous Zuni Café with a group of my closest women friends.   Another woman, who was a solo patron, saw us having so much fun that she sent this cocktail to us in the spirit of the X chromosome.  It was fifteen years ago and I have never forgotten the gesture, or the cocktail.

The Sazerac cocktail was developed over 150 years ago in pre-Civil war New Orleans.  Some say that it is the oldest American cocktail.  Named after its original major ingredient, Sazerac cognac, the drink was first concocted by a liquor importer who mixed cognac with the city’s famous Peychaud Bitters and then added a splash of another French liquor called Absinthe.  When France’s vineyards were by Phylloxera in the late 1800’s the cognac was replaced with American Rye Whiskey.

However, it’s not simply the ingredients that make the Sazerac.  The process in which the drink is made is key.   First, two chilled glasses are used (typically old-fashioned glasses).  Glass number one is swirled with a wash of absinthe…this adds flavor and aroma.  Glass number two is used to combine the remaining ingredients, ice is added, the drink is stirred, and then the contents are strained into the original glass.  Voila!

Below is the recipe for this autumn cocktail.  Serve it on a cool night, with a roaring fire.

1 sugar cube (or one teaspoon)
1.5 ounces of Rye Whiskey
2 teaspoons Absinthe (or an anise flavored liquor)
3 dashes Peychaud Bitters
Lemon peel for garnish



Friday, November 2, 2018

My Fave Autumn Recipe



Caponata is a quintessential recipe for the Fall season.  A Sicilian dish, caponata is somewhat Italy’s version of French ratatouille.   Think autumn’s prime veggies:  eggplant, red and green bell peppers, and onions.  Then add one of Sicily’s most famous culinary items, capers, along with another Sicilian hallmark, olives.  Magic.

Caponata, however, is one of those delicious dishes where the sum exceeds the parts.  Not only is the mélange of ingredients a marriage made in heaven, but the sauce is transformative as well.  Known as an agro-dolce (sour-sweet), it has elements of sweet (from raisins, tomatoes and a little sugar), as well as sour notes (brined capers and olives along with red wine vinegar), to perfectly balance this holy union.

This outrageously divine dish can be used as an entrée for vegetarians, or is often combined in Sicily with swordfish to create a complete meal.  It’s also a magnifico side dish with items such as roasted chicken or grilled lamb.   Leftovers can be easily repurposed as a delectable pasta dish. 

This recipe is from the Weezie Mott Cooking School in the Bay Area from 35 years ago.  Weezie and I taught together at the university and she is still teaching cooking classes in her 90’s from her home in Alameda.   Her rendition is one of my favorites.  A tip?  Make sure to cook the recipe at least one day before serving (actually, I find the flavors are at their prime after two or three days).  




Friday, October 26, 2018

Mourvedre---A Glorious Autumn Wine


I have long been a fan of Mourvedre (more-VEH-drah).  In fact, I spent several weeks this summer in the epicenter of Mourvedre production…the South of France.  Some think that this inky dark varietal may be native to this part of France so it’s no wonder that Mourvedre reaches rock-star status in this Mediterranean-kissed area.

Mourvedre is a meaty, full-bodied red wine.  It is also a grape.  Mourvedre is used in the South of France primarily as a blending varietal with Grenache and Syrah.  The Mourvedre adds tannins and structure, along with flavors of dark red berries, spices like cinnamon and black pepper, and herbs such as thyme.  The grape can also add a floral note, usually in the form of violets.  Moreover, Mourvedre is second only to Syrah as the darkest colored wine.

If you’re a Cabernet lover you’ll probably find Mourvedre quite appealing.  In the seaside Bandol area (not far from St Tropez), Mourvedre is produced as a 100% varietal.  These wines can be killer.  Domaine Tempier and Chateau Pibarnon are the perennial faves although their prices have escalated the last few years as these wines continue to become more popular.

Although Mourvedre is most known for making concentrated reds, there are also wonderful Rosés from the varietal being made in the South of France.  Domaine Lafage Miraflors is a solid bet for less than $20.  Tempier makes at outrageously good rendition but its price is double Lafage’s Miraflors at about $40.

Why not try something new this autumn?




Friday, October 19, 2018

Marinated Olives


                                                        A favorite Sicilian rendition 

A favorite activity on Wine-Knows’ autumn trips is visiting an olive farm or an olive oil producer.  Out of my many olive recipes I especially enjoy this crowd-pleaser, a mélange of all different colors, shapes and sizes.  Yes, one can purchase a pre-made mixture at an upscale deli, but I guarantee you none of them taste anywhere this scrumptious. 

In October 2020 Wine-Knows taken over an olive estate in Sicily for two nights.  But, this isn’t just any olive estate.  This one produces award-winning oil that is used by many of Sicily’s Michelin star chefs.  Participants will have a unique opportunity to pick olives, watch the birthing of an extra virgin oil, and then taste on the very same day.  Here's a recipe we learned at a former visit with Wine-Knows.

Ingredients:

3 C mixture of various olives in different shapes & sizes
3 shallots, sliced thin
2 Tbsp. Sambuca
¼ c olive oil
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp. orange zest
1 tsp. minced fresh thyme
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
¾ tsp. salt
Pinch cayenne

Directions:

Rinse olives thoroughly, drain, pat dry. Toss the olives with the remaining ingredients. Cover and refrigerate for at least 12 hours. Remove from fridge 30 minutes before serving.  Decorate with fennel or other herbs.  (Keeps in frig for a couple of weeks.)

Unfortunately, the trip to Sicily for the olive harvest in 2020 is SOLD OUT.  Do let us know if you have an interest in the waiting list.  www.WineKnowsTravel.com.




Friday, October 12, 2018

The World’s Most Expensive Salt

                            Fleur de Sel reaches rock-star status with caramels or chocolate

Fleur de Sel, once used in ancient times as a medicinal salve, is now the priciest salt on earth.  It has a cult following among serious chefs around the world.  In fact, I think it's safe to say there isn't a Michelin star chef on the planet who doesn't have at least one Fleur de Sel at her/his beckon call.  Ironically, none of these gourmands actually cook with this salt.  Instead, once their cooking is completed, they add a small count of Fleur de Sel to the dish as a final finishing element to further flavor the food.

Originally from France, Fleur de Sel translates to "flower of salt."  It is so named because of its flower-like pattern of crystals.  Now made in other parts of the world, the product goes by the name of Flor de Sal in both Portugal and Spain.  Regardless of country of origin, the process is the same.  As seawater dries in special shallow pools called salt "farms," a delicate crust forms on the top.  Once the water completely evaporates the dried salt "flowers" must be harvested by hand due to their fragile nature.  It's a painstaking, labor-intensive process.  Thus the salt's high price ($10 for four ounces in the US).

Although Fleur de Sel has been popular with foodies for some decades, it was its use in the recent sweet-salty craze with items such as chocolate and caramel that really put it on the culinary map.  While it has long been known that sweet and salt are a perfect pairing, Fleur de Sel behaves differently in these combinations than other salts.  Due to this salt's high moisture content, the crystals often stick together.  This means that Fleur de Sel doesn't dissolve immediately.  Its snowflake structure allows it to dissolve more slowly thereby permitting the taste to linger in your mouth.  Moreover, Fleur de Sel is composed not only of sodium and chloride but of other trace minerals.  These adjunct minerals add complexity which further adds to the salt's unique flavor.

Like a good quality olive oil or fresh herbs, Fleur de Sel is one of those small but essential touches that changes a dish from something ordinary to sublime.  It's half the price in Europe and because its light in weight Fleur de Sel is the perfect tiem to bring in your suitcase from a sojourn across the Atlantic.






 


Friday, October 5, 2018

The British are Coming!


A Pimms' Cup in the very charming Cotswolds

I spent a glorious two weeks in England this summer. One of the reasons I flew over was to check out the country’s new sparkling wine industry that has been taking the international wine world by storm.  Fizz (as they call their bubbly) has become a new icon like Big Ben, Stilton cheese and Megan Markle.   While much of the fizz was world-class, one of my favorite drinks for their unusually warm summer was Pimms.   I’ve known the drink for 30 years, but my recent visit rekindled my love for it.

Pimms is an usual liqueur made from gin.   It’s a savory concoction of various spices and herbs with citrus overtones.  I don’t think anyone would find drinking it alone very enticing, but mixed with sparkling lemonade, muddled mint, and chopped fruits it’s a wonderfully refreshing way to begin a dinner party…or serve poolside on a warm autumn day.  It’s somewhat a British rendition of sangria---light and easy drinking.  Its low alcohol format (due to being diluted with lemonade), makes for a thirst-quenching drink without making your head spin.

My favorite aperitif with Pimms is called a Pimms’ Cup.  I was served this version by an English woman in the backyard of a glorious waterside home in the Cotswolds.  I’ve made it several times since returning with varying fruits.  Here is my preferred rendition which serves eight persons a Long-Live-the Queen aperitif:

   ~ 1 bottle of Pimms #1
   ~ An equal size bottle of sparkling lemonade (Trader Joe has a great one with low 
      sugar)
   ~ ½ cup of peeled, seeded & chopped cucumber
   ~ 1 small apple, cored & chopped (leave skin)
   ~ 1 cup thinly sliced strawberries
   ~ A handful of fresh muddled mint


Combine all in a pitcher, serve in clear glasses with ice & a sprig of mint on top.

Wine-Knows will be visiting England in June 2019 and there are only two seats left.  In addition to Pimms, we’ll be exploring many of the award-winning fizzes.  Also, dare I mention that we’re also visiting the Bombay Sapphire Gin Factory?   Check it out:  http://www.wineknowstravel.com/the-english-countryside.




Friday, September 28, 2018

Seeing Red


                       
There are approximately 50 major grapes used to make red wines.  The particular variety utilized has a tremendous influence on the wine’s color, especially when the wine is young.  (As wine ages it changes color, however, for the purpose of this article, to keep a level play field all comments will be related to young wines.  Additionally, the climate in which the grape is grown also impacts the wine’s color.  For the sake of this article, neither of these variables will not be addressed).

The color of a red wine is directly related to the amount of plant pigmentation in the grape’s skin.    In general, thicker skin grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon have much more pigment than the delicate thin-skinned grapes of Pinot Noir.  This is why a Cab is much darker in color than a Pinot.  But, thickness of skin does not always determine the color of a wine.  The amount of color pigment is the determinant.

Syrah is the darkest colored red wine.  In fact its deep purple-black is so intense that it’s opaque (unlike the lighter Pinot Noir that is transparent).  In the case of Syrah, yes the grape’s skin is thick, however, it’s not the thickest of all grape skins.  Syrah simply has an enormous amount of plant pigmentation in its skins, thus its inky nearly black color.

Mouvedre (a Rhone varietal), Malbec (from Argentina) and Petite Syrah (no relation, by the way, to Syrah), fall just shy of Syrah’s super deep pigmented color. All of these wines, like Syrah, are so dark that they’re opaque.   The grapes from which these wines are made are all loaded with dark plant pigments.

Next in line moving down the color spectrum is Cabernet Sauvignon.  Cab makes fairly deeply colored wine, but not as intense in color as the above varietals.  Not far behind Cab in almost in the dead center of the red color range is Merlot.   Just a little lighter than Merlot, Zinfandel falls next.   Zin’s color is a surprise.  Compared to its tannins and high acidity which creates a bold wine, Zin’s color is less intense than one would expect from the strength of its taste.   Also sharing this middle spot of the red color wheel is Spain’s flagship grape, Tempranillo, along with Sangiovese from Italy.

At the bottom of the red range are the lightest colored wines.  Pinot Noir is generally the lightest, however, Grenache is also a grape with significantly fewer plant pigments.  Grenache, a Rhone varietal, is typically mixed in France with the extremely dark Syrah.   Pinot, however, is often vinified alone and appreciated for its light strawberry-colored hue.

There are at least 50 shades of red.  Enjoy.



Friday, September 21, 2018

New Zealand is on a Roll!

                                Wine-Knows 2020 winery lunch...salmon screams for Pinot Noir!

The Kiwis (as the New Zealanders refer to themselves), long known for their explosive Sauv Blancs, have another blockbuster for wine lovers.  Pinot Noir, now the country’s second most planted variety, is quickly moving to the forefront as New Zealand is establishing an international reputation for producing world-class Pinots.

Forty years ago, the finicky Pinot grape was not even on New Zealand’s wine radar screen.  The varietal grows in cooler climates such as France’s Burgundy, California’s Central coast, and Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  This South Pacific island nation’s maritime climate was a perfect match in many ways.  Oh, yes, and it didn’t hurt that the soils were found to be similar to Burgundy, the pinnacle for the Pinot cult.

In addition to weather and soil, the Kiwis have another advantage with Pinot Noir.  An important part of New Zealand’s terroir is its intense light.  This is due to a hole in the earth’s ozone layer near New Zealand which permits stronger ultraviolet rays.  While this is problematic for human skin, it creates lusciously ripened grapes.  Unlike Burgundy, where capricious Pinot does not often ripen adequately, New Zealand’s sunlight guarantees consistency.

Pinot Noir is currently grown in several wine districts in New Zealand, however, the grape’s first success was in Martinborough---located just outside of the country’s capitol, Wellington, on the north island.   The south island’s Central Otago wine region (home to the world’s farthest southern vineyards) is also turning out some fabulous Pinots.  

Wines made from Pinot Noir are typically higher in price than other varietals.  Here are three highly rated Kiwi Pinots that offer amazing value for their $30 price tag:

             1.  Mount Brown
             2.  Wild South
             3.  Jackson’s Vintage Widow

Ratcheting up to the $50-60 range, here are some Kiwi Pinots that may cause you to re-think Burgundy:

             1.  Ata Ranghi
             2.  Fromm Clayvin
             3.  Felton Road Calvert

Wine-Knows will be visiting all three of these latter wineries on their harvest trip to New Zealand in 2020 (March).  Come experience these unique wines and explore this gorgeous country.



Friday, September 14, 2018

Vietnam’s Cuisine is All About Harmony


                 Vietnamese meals are a treasure trove of color, texture and perfectly balanced tastes
                
Both cooking and eating are very important parts of Vietnam’s culture.  Like most things in their culture, the principle of yin-yang exerts a significant influence in Vietnamese life and food is no exception.  Harmony is key, so it’s no wonder that Vietnamese cooking respects the rules of balance.  The five senses (sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch) play a major role in creating harmony. 

                        Home cooks can be very clever in creating something from nothing

An important part of Vietnam’s cuisine is first “eating with your eyes.”   Dishes are very colorful, and often have decorative elements.   Fruit and vegetable carving is an art-form in Vietnam and markets are full of a variety of clever utensils that can quickly turn a carrot or radish into a swan or a flower.   Even in family homes the most simple of dishes are adorned with decorations.  In sophisticated restaurants, chefs create masterpieces carved from the country’s rainbow of tropical fruits or vegetables.

          Dinner in a Vietnamese family home is a symphony of smells, sounds, colors & flavors

The sense of smell is very important in Vietnamese cooking.   A variety of pungent aromatic herbs and spices are used to enhance smell.  Vietnam’s famous Pho soup broth is layered in its many hours of cooking with a variety of herbs and spices such as lemongrass, star anise, peppercorns, and ginger.  But the complex nose of the broth is just one of the smells.  Pho is always served with a side plate of garnishes including pungent purple basil, aromatic cilantro, fragrant mint, and a spicy-smelling chili.  All of these individual notes come together in tiny amounts to complete the balance.

 
     The complex broth of aromatic Pho is mixed with a melange of equally perfumed fresh herbs
                                 
The sense of sound can play into the enjoyment of a meal in Vietnam.  Crunchy sounds are an important part of Vietnamese dining.  Soft foods (e.g. noodles) frequently have something crispy for balance (such as peanuts).   Crispy fried shallots are sold in every store.  Another crunch element, these shallots often are used to top a soft rice dish, completing the perfect sound and harmonious textural bite. 

               Toasted white sesame seeds & peanuts create an unexpected crunch in this salad

Touch is also an important sense in Vietnam’s cuisine.  Egg rolls and spring rolls are both examples of hands actually touching the food.  Often served as appetizers to awaken the appetite, the sense of direct contact with the food is an important opening to the remainder of the meal.

             Vietnam's classical dipping sauce provides sweet, sour, salty, & spicy in each bite

Last, but not least is the sense of taste.  There are five elements that must be present for there to be harmony in the taste:   spicy, sour, bitter, salty and sweet.  Vietnam’s famous dipping sauce (nuoc cham) includes four of the five (bitter is missing), so this condiment always accompanies bitter stir-fried greens.   Everything on the plate is meant to be eaten in concert, creating the perfect balance in each bite.

                                    Duck ("cool") is often served with ginger ("hot")

While ensuring that all of the senses are awakened is vital in Vietnam’s cuisine, there’s also another critical tenet to the yin-yang balance---that of the heating and cooling properties of foods.  Spicy foods (such as ginger) are thought to provide “heat.”  These foods are always paired with other foods (or side dishes) that are considered to be “cool.”   Pickled vegetables, for example, are quite popular in Vietnamese dining as they are considered to be a cooling element.  Similarly, Vietnam’s ubiquitous fish sauce is considered warm, and it is always balanced by something cool.  The classical Vietnamese dipping sauce is a popular concoction that combines fish sauce with sugar and vinegar---both the latter ingredients are considered cool, thus they create the perfect balance.

                                         Vietnam 2020 tour has 8 seats remaining

Come and experience this culinary harmony with Wine-Knows on their food tour of Vietnam.  This trip will begin immediately following the celebration of the Asian New Year in February 2020---a very special time of year.