Follow by Email

Friday, November 15, 2019

Taste & Aroma Profiles, Part 4

                                    Almond-like flavor is a classic profile of Champagne

This is the final in a four part series on the aromas and flavors of wines produced by chemical reactions during the fermentation process.  In review, we’ve discussed the buttery profile caused by the conversion of harsh malic acid to the softer lactic acid.  Next, the science behind a variety of fruit flavors in wine was detailed, followed by a discussion of the chemistry behind grassy aromas and smells.   This final blog will address another flavor component caused by a chemical reaction during wine-making.  It will also discuss other common flavors present in wine that have nothing to do with the fermentation process, but everything to do with the oak barrel.

Almond nuances are classically associated with sparkling wine.  This almond profile is caused by the release of a chemical component produced by yeasts during fermentation.  Sparkling wines that have rested “on their lees” (i.e. had contact with the dead yeast cells) often have almond aromas and flavors due to the chemical compound benzaldehyde.  This chemical actually has an almond aroma.  Wines that undergo batonnage (frequent stirring and mixing of the lees) also exhibit almond tones.

A final note of clarification:  not all aromas and flavors in wine, however, are related to chemicals produced during fermentation.  Oak barrels can play a huge part in influencing both a wine’s smell and taste.  The following are examples of chemicals in oak that can alter the taste and smell of wine:
  • Eugenol:  responsible for spices such as clove, nutmeg & cinnamon (note that this chemical is actually found in all of these spices)
    Vanillan:  the compound, also found in the vanilla bean, gives off vanilla aromas & flavors
  • Furfural:  imparts dried fruit flavors & coffee nuances (furfural is also found in coffee)
In summary, there are hundreds of chemicals found in wine.  Some occur because of chemical reactions in fermentation; others are present due to other factors (such as the use of oak).   What is interesting to note, however, is that most of these chemicals do not reach the threshold of one being able to distinguish them.  The majority of people have an average threshold for tastes and smells.   However, there are some people, who have a more sensitive threshold and may be able to distinguish tastes and smells more readily than others.

Friday, November 8, 2019

The Science Behind Grass in Your Glass

                     New Zealand's Greywache Sauv Blanc is one of the country's benchmarks
This is the third in a four-part blog series on aromas and flavors in wine that are directly related to chemicals produced during the wine-making process.  Today, we’ll discuss the grassy smell and taste found in wine.  These isn't a figment of your imagination, but is a scientific fact that occurs as a direct result of chemical changes during fermentation.

Have you ever wondered why your Sauvignon Blanc (SB) is reminiscent of freshly mowed grass?  This classical grassiness taste and nose found in many SB’s is due to chemicals called aldehydes.  These compounds, released during fermentation as yeasts turn SB grape sugar into alcohol, evoke the smell of just-cut grass.  The SB grape has  the ability to produce high level of aldehydes.  The perception of grassiness is driven for the simple reason that these same chemicals are also found in grass.  Cutting grass releases these highly fragrant chemicals into the air.

The less ripe the SB grape, the higher the propensity is for aldehydes, and thus the stronger the grassy profile.  New Zealand SB’s are known for their traditional grassy notes.  Kiwi SB’s are purposely picked a little less mature for this reason, but also responsible is the moderate climate where this country’s SB grapes are grown.  The Loire Valley also is famous for SB.  As this area is fairly far north, SB often can’t ripen to its fullest degree, so Lorie wines classically also have grassy nuances.   In contrast, California SB has abundant sun and generally is picked more mature.  This translates to less intense grassy nuances.  In Cali’s warmer growing areas, SB’s actually can take on ripe tropical notes.

Next week we’ll finish this series by discussing one of the common flavors in sparkling wine which is also caused by the science during fermentation.

Friday, November 1, 2019

How Can Wine Smell like a Banana?

                 Banana, green apple & gooseberry profiles are the result of chemical reactions

Why in the world does a wine taste or smell like any fruit other than a grape?  This is the second article in a blog series on the science behind certain flavors and aromas in wine.  This particular article will discuss three fruit flavors/fragrances that can appear in wine.  In fermentation, yeasts eat the sugar in the grapes and convert it to alcohol.  In this process thousands of various chemical compounds are produced.  All three fruit flavors below are a result of these complex chemical processes.

The banana-like smell and taste is a result of a chemical compound by the name of isoamyl acetate, a by-product of yeasts during fermentation.  The isoamyl acetate also occurs naturally in the banana plant, as well as in pears.  It is present in most wines, however, it is below the threshold of one’s ability to taste it.  It should come as no surprise that artificial banana flavoring is made from isoamyl acetate.

This banana smell and taste can appear in both white and red wines.  Aromatic white wines that are fermented at cooler temperatures (lower temperature enhances the amounts of isoamyl acetate) often display ripe banana notes.  For example, that banana nuances can often be found in Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Albarino.  Beaujolais is one of the few red wines that has a banana profile.

Green Apple
This flavor and smell profile found in wines is due to the lactic acid which is created during malo-lactic fermentation.  Lactic acid gives off green apple-like scents and flavors, in addition to a creamy mouth feel.  Wines that have pronounced green apple character are classically cool climate dry whites such as Chardonnay, Riesling and Gruner Veltliner.

Like green apples and banana nuances, this flavor and aroma is not part of the grape.  Gooseberry is created during alcoholic fermentation and is a by-product of yeast activity.   This fruit is typically less sweet so its taste is on the tart side (think pucker),  but gooseberries can also have a slightly floral scent.  Generally found in aromatic whites, gooseberry is classically associated with Sauvignon Blanc (particularly those from cool weather regions such as coastal New Zealand, or France’s Loire Valley).

Keep in mind that each person has a different innate level of tasting various substances.  It doesn’t matter what you taste or don’t taste in a wine.  The only thing that counts is if it pleases you.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Understanding “Buttery” Wines

                         Luscious, unctuous & buttery whites are magic caused by chemistry 

Ever wonder what’s the reason you smell or taste certain flavors in wine?   How do things such as “coffee,” “green apples” or “grass” appear in wine?  This is the first in a series of blogs on the science behind how these and other aromas and flavors develop.  Let’s start with “buttery,” a term often used to describe a certain style of California Chardonnay (although other white wines such as Marsanne or Roussane can also exhibit buttery characteristics).

The butter profile is caused by a common chemical reaction in wine-making called malo-lactic fermentation (ML).  During ML, bacteria converts harsh malic acid to the much softer lactic acid.  In this chemical reaction a compound by the name of diacetyl is produced.  Diacetyl is also found in dairy products like butter (diacetyl is even added to artificial butter to make it taste more like the real-deal product).
Butter nuances can be created, as well as manipulated, by certain interventions of the winemaker.   For example, winemakers can actually control the amount of butter-like character in a wine.  Different strains of ML bacteria produce different amounts of diacetyl so winemakers can pick and choose depending on what style of wine they want to create.  Winemakers can also control ML fermentation by raising and lowering the fermenting wine's temperature:  warmer temperatures activate ML, while cooler temps stop ML fermentation and arrest the production of the butter-like compound diacetyl.

The term buttery is used not only to describe flavor and aromas of wine,  but it is also used to describe the almost oily, unctuous texture of a wine.  Think creamy like cream...a smoother, rounder mouth feel.  This velvety texture is also a result of ML, and the diacetyl produced changes the feeling to that of a more dairy-like substance.  Buttery California Chars have this hallmark velvet-like texture.

There’s another factor that can create the buttery profile.  Aging in newer oak barrels imparts flavors and aromas but can also add to the creamy texture beyond that of ML.  The newer the barrel and the longer the wine is in contact with the oak, the more intense the butter and creaminess.  Stirring of the lees (batonnage), can also enhance buttery flavors.

Whatever the science, buttery preference is in the eyes of the beholder.  Some like it, others don’t.  Personally, I can swing both ways.  Some of my fave big fat buttery Chars are Dehlinger (Sonoma) and Cakebread (Napa).   

Friday, October 18, 2019

New Zealand---Benchmark for Quality/Price

                      Some of the world's best white wine values wine are in New Zealand

Outstanding quality and value wines can be found around the globe.   New Zealand, however, consistently knocks it out of the park for quality-to-price ratio.  For example, nearly 130 Kiwi wines recently reviewed by the Wine Spectator earned scores between 90-100 points, and the average price rang in at only 37 US bucks per bottle. Conversely, California Cabernets with the same Wine Spectator scores were $145 per bottle, while Cali Pinots were $63.  Similarly, high scoring South African wines (which are a huge value at the moment) were an average of $53 on Wine Spectator. 

Currently, Wine.Com (the world’s largest online store), lists a dozen New Zealand wines with Robert Parker scores of above 90 points for < $30---the majority are less than $20 and are Sauv Blancs., another behemoth of the internet wine world, also gives New Zealand major props for their high quality/low price wines.  In their recent World’s Top 50 Wine Bargains, several of them were from New Zealand.  Wine Enthusiast Magazine, lists three New Zealand Sauv Blancs in their Top 100 Best Buys which featured bargains from around the globe.  Forbe’s Magazine named New Zealand in 2017 as one of the most underrated wine regions. 

If you are coming with Wine-Knows to New Zealand for their harvest in February 2020, you’ll note that while the country has many pricey wines >$100 US, it also abounds with delightful values of superbly crafted wines.  Below are some of my fave quality/price Kiwi wines, all of which are available in the US.  Two are reds, but the remainder are whites.

  • Ata Rangi Sauv Blanc   
  • Greywacke Sauv Blanc
  • Greywacke Pinot Gris
  • Loveblock Sauv Blanc
  • Whitehaven Sauv Blanc 
  • Villa Maria Cellar Selection Sauv Blanc

  • Cloudy Bay Sauv Blanc
  • Quartz Reef Sparkling Brut
  • Te Mata Cape Crest Sauv Blanc
  • Trinity Hill Gimlett Gravels Syrah

  • Greywacke Pinot Noir
  • Te Mata Elston Chardonnay


Friday, October 11, 2019

Buried Treasure---Truffles

                     Truffles grow underground & specially trained dogs are required to find them

October is the beginning of the season for the world’s most expensive culinary treasure, the white truffle.  Only grown in a small area near the Italian Alps called Piedmont, the white truffle (tartufo bianco) is the most fragrant and most intensely flavored of all of the many varieties of truffles.  For this reason it is often called the “King of truffles.”  Its step-sister, the not-as-fragrant-black truffle, is grown in several parts of the world, but it is the highly prized white truffle which gourmands around the world not only covet, but pay mega Euros to feast on this buried edible masterpiece.

                             The tartufo bianco is the most aromatic & flavorful of all truffles

All truffles are a type of an exotic fungus that grows underneath the ground near the roots of certain trees.  In Piedmont, Italy the white truffle variety grows commonly near the roots of hazelnut, oak, pine or beech trees.  Truffles, a kind of distant cousin of wild mushrooms, are found by special dogs who have been trained to smell these highly fragrant edibles which are concealed several inches under the forest’s floor.

Piedmont in October is one big love-fest with the white truffle.  The charming medieval town of Alba is home to the Truffle Festival, a decadent food gala celebrating the area’s famous white culinary diamonds.  Weekends are grid-lock with aficionados from around the world descending on Alba for a smell and taste of the intoxicating white truffle.   There is pageantry with parades, music, and dance---all to honor the illustrious tartufo bianco.  

                                     Alba's Truffle Festival is a do not miss event for foodies

 If you can’t make it to Piedmont for the Truffle Festival, the next best thing may be dining at a Michelin star restaurant somewhere in the world during the months of October or November.    Be prepared, however, to spend almost $100 more per dish for the addition of the white truffle.  This means a $50 pasta will become $150 with the tartufo bianco.

Buon appetito!

Friday, October 4, 2019

The World’s Most Widely Planted Grape?

There are over 10,000 grapes on the earth, but not all of them are used in making wine. While numbers vary, most would agree that at least 1,000 of them are currently used to make wine.  Now, make a guess as to what wine grape is the most planted varietal.   If you guessed Merlot, you’re close…. it’s second.  If you guessed Cabernet Sauvignon you are right!  Cabernet Sauvignon accounts for >5% of the grapes for wine production around the globe.  There are more than Cabernet vines than both Pinot Noir and Syrah and plantings combined.

You may have been lucky on choosing Cabernet, however, for the most planted white wine grape varietal, what’s your guess?   Chances are >99% of you guessed incorrectly.  For white wine grapes, the world’s most widely planted variety is Airen.  That’s right…Airen.    This grape ranks 4th among both red and white wine grapes.  It is surpassed only by Cab, Merlot, and Tempranillo.  Airen vines account for more than both Pinot Noir and Sauv Blanc combined.

Airen is grown almost exclusively in Spain.  Up until a few years ago it was the world’s most widely planted grape.  If you’ve never heard of it, it’s because Airen is often used for Spain’s unpretentious wines.   The last five years, however, many of the Airen vines have been ripped out and replaced with Tempranillo, another grape native to Spain.    That being said, Airen and Tempranillo combined currently account for 45% of all of Spain’s wine grapes.

Below is a list of the Top Ten wine grape varietals across the globe:

1.     Cabernet Sauvignon
2.     Merlot
3.     Tempranillo
4.     Airen
5.     Chardonnay
6.     Syrah
7.     Grenache
8.     Sauvignon Blanc
9.     Pinot Noir
10.  Trebbiano (also called Ugni Blanc)

Friday, September 27, 2019

7 Facts Every Wine Lover Should Know About Cabernet Sauvignon

The harvest of Cabernet Sauvignon, one of the last wine grapes to be picked, is in full swing in most northern hemisphere vineyards.  There are many aficianados of wines made from this grape.  If you’re one of them, below are some must-know facts.

1. Cabernet Sauvignon is the most widely planted red varietal in the world. 

2. The varietal is also grown in nearly every wine producing country in the world.  From Napa to Bordeaux, from Chile to China, and from Australia to Italy, Cabernet Sauvignon can thrive in diverse terroirs.

3. There are many reasons, other than consumer demand, that Cabernet Sauv is so widely planted around the globe.   Its thick skin is impermeable to insects, its vines are hardy and low yielding by nature, and its late bud break allows it to avoid any early frosts.

4. Cabernet Sauv is an accidental grape.  It’s an unintentional crossing in the vineyard of the red Cabernet Franc with a white Sauvignon Blanc (grape vines used to be intermixed in the same vineyard).  It is thought to have occurred in the 17th century in the southwest of France near the Bordeaux region.

5.  Cabernet Sauv has a propensity to age well due to its tannin.  The varietal is usually aged in oak barrels which further augment the tannic structure and allow for long aging.  The flip side is the tannin make a Cabernet difficult to drink when young.

6.  When the grapes are under-ripe, Cabernet Sauv can taste of green bell peppers.  Over-ripe grapes move the wine to  raisin and prune-like flavors, as well as a high alcohol content.

7.  Caberet Sauv can easily overwhelm light foods.  Cabernet Sauv desperately needs fat and protein to neutralize its tannin.   A well-marbled steak, lamb with a cream sauce, or even pizza makes for an ideal pairing.


Friday, September 20, 2019

6 Facts for Syrah Lovers

Syrah grapes are already being harvested in the warmer regions of California.  The harvest in the coastal areas, however, won't happen for another week or so.  Here are some important things to know about the versatile variety Syrah. 

1.  Syrah is the exact same grape as Shiraz.  In Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, this varietal is called Shiraz.  In the US and Europe it is referred to as Syrah.

2.  Don’t confuse Syrah with Petite Syrah as they are completely different grapes.  That being said, Petite Syrah is actually the child of Syrah and a relatively rare grape by the name of Peloursin.

3.  Syrah is the darkest of all the red wines.  Made from a nearly black grape, the wine is opaque, an almost inky purple-black.

4.  Some of the world’s famous cult wines are made from Syrah.  For example, both Hermitage and Chateauneuf de Pape from France’s Rhone, as well as Penfolds Le Grange from Australia are made from Syrah.

5.  Syrah works well in both cool and warm climates.  In the cooler climates the spicy profile tends toward flavors of white pepper.  In warmer climates, the spicy character changes to black pepper with layers of espresso and dark chocolate.

6.  Syrah pairs great with bold foods:  think BBQ or spicy.  As with any pairing, try to match the wine’s weight and flavor intensity with that of the food’s weight and flavor intensity.

Friday, September 13, 2019

10 Things You Should Know About Merlot

  1.  Its name means "little blackbird" in French dialect.  
     2.  Merlot can be both a blending grape, or can be made as its own varietal.

     3.  This grape is one of the 5 varieties allowed by law in red Bordeaux wine.

     4.  Merlot's parent is Cabernet Franc and an obscure old varietal from Brittany called Magdeleine Noir de Charentes.

     5.  Merlot's relatives include Cabernet Sauvignon---a step-sibling.

     6.  Merlot wine falls in the medium-bodied spectrum for red grapes.  Its moderate tannin structure allows it be be drunk younger than the full-bodied wines like Cab Sauvignon.

     7.  The Merlot grape does well in several types of soil, from clay to limestone.

     8.  Merlot also can do well in both cool and warm climates.

     9.  Merlot's flavor can vary depending upon the terroir in which it is grown.  That being said, Merlot is usually characterized by a lush texture and plum is often the dominant flavor.  Cherries and raspberries are also very common.

    10.  Merlot is food friendly due to its mild tannin structure.  It is a good pairing with poultry, as well as pork and lighter red meats.

Friday, September 6, 2019

8 Pinot Noir Facts That May Surprise You

                        Salmon screams for Pinot---the varietal is a fabulous choice for fish

Pinot Noir is one of the first red wine grapes to be harvested each season.  The warmer regions in California began picking the varietal a week ago.  In Germany and Burgundy the harvest for Pinot won't occur for another week or two.  Here are some interesting tidbits for all the Pinot lovers during the time of its harvest.

1.  Pinot Noir, a 1000 years older than Cabernet, is one of the oldest wine grapes on the planet.

2.  It has the same DNA as Pinot Blanc & Pinot Grigio---the latter two are simply color mutations of the same grape.

3.  Pinot Noir is one of the parents of Chardonnay.  

4.  Germany is largest producer of Pinot Noir in the world.

5.  Pinot Noir actually means "black pine" in French.  It is named after its pine cone shaped bunches of fruit.

6.  Pinot Noir is more fickle to grow than many other grapes.  Its thin skin is sensitive to the elements and to pests.

7.  All red Burgundy is 100% Pinot Noir.

8.  Pinot Noir is the perfect pairing for food.   It can swing both directions---from seafood and poultry, to red meats.

Friday, August 30, 2019

8 Important Facts about Chardonnay

1.  Popularity
Although many think that Chardonnay wine consumption peaked in the early 1990’s, that isn’t true internationally.  In spite of the ABC (“anything but Chardonnay”) movement that began prior to the millennium, Chardonnay today is the second most planted white wine grape in the world.  (Airén, a varietal from Spain, is numero uno).  Among all wine grapes, Chardonnay ranks 5th in the vineyards across the globe.

2.  Origin
DNA research has unveiled that Chardonnay is a cross between Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc.   The Romans are thought to have brought Gouais Blanc from Croatia to Burgundy.  Pinot Noir, thought to actually be indigenous to Burgundy, mixed in the vineyard with Gouais and birthed Chardonnay centuries ago.

3. Old World versus New World
Burgundy is the epitome of the traditional old world style Chardonnay:  think less is more.  In Burgundy there is little (if any) new oak used, less manipulation (e.g. pumping over, punching down, fining), less alcohol, less fruit, and more minerality. Burgundy’s lean and mineral-laced Chablis is a classic example of old world style Char.

In contrast, new world Chars don’t follow centuries of European wine-making tradition.  New world winemakers push the envelope with riper fruit (leading to bolder, more fruit-forward aromas and tastes, as well as higher alcohol levels).   They also use techniques such as punching down and pumping over more often to extract more flavor.  New world Chars are also typically vinified using some new oak barrels.

4.  Oak
There are two other distinct styles of Chardonnay:  those aged in oak barrels or wine aged in stainless steel.  Many American Chars are oaked, and their degrees can range from a light use of oak to the full-on version of oak.  Several consider oaky Chars to have more layers of complexity.  Oak with Char translates to flavors ranging from vanilla, to toasted nuts or even crème brûlée.   On the other hand, for some the unoaked Chardonnay is viewed as the more pristine of the two.

5. Aromas & Flavors
Chardonnay’s profile is dependent upon several factors.  Obviously oak is a factor, as is the ripeness of the grapes.  In cooler climates where fruit is less ripe, one can expect Chars to lean toward a lemon profile with green apple notes.  Warmer weather Chardonnays are tropical often with aromas and flavors of pineapple and mangoes.   Moderate climates bring pear, peach and apricots flavors.

Buttery can be another descriptor of Chardonnay’s flavor.  This component comes from Malo-Lactic fermentation (often shortened to “ML”).   ML is a chemical process that winemakers can use to soften the acidity of wines such as Chardonnay.  In the process of softening, ML used with Char adds a butter-like flavor along with a velvet-like, creamy textures to the wine.

6.  Sparkling Wine
Chardonnay, one of the three grapes allowed by law in Champagne, is used all over the world to also make bubbly wine.  If Blanc de Blanc appears on the label, this means that the wine is 100% Chardonnay.

7.  World’s Best Chardonnay?
That is totally subjective depending upon what style appeals to you.  Oaked?  Unoaked?  Old World?  New World?  Cool climate or warm?  While I like them all, I tend to lean more toward the slightly oaked versions of both old world and new.  For example, I just returned from Burgundy where I tasted some jaw-dropping white Burgundies (all, of course, are made from the Chardonnay grape).   One of my favorites was the Cuverie of the Hospice de Beaune’s 2018 Bâtard-Montrachet (barrel-tasted), but I also loved Drouhin’s 2016 Corton Charlemagne.   Here in California I am a raving fan of Dehlinger and Merry Edwards’ renditions.  Again, the best is in the eyes of the beholder.

8.  Food Pairing
One size does not fit all when pairing Chardonnay with food.  Chardonnay, as discussed above, comes in many different styles and the type of Char must be addressed when pairing it with food.  Here are some general guidelines:
  • Unoaked Chardonnay pairs best with delicate foods such as simply prepared seafood, fish or chicken.  
  • Moderately oaked Chardonnay can work with richer foods such as lighter cream sauces.
  • Fully oaked Chars can take on foods that have an extra degree of richness such as pasta with a heavy cream sauce, lobster or scallops in a cream sauce, and meats served with a cream sauce.  Also rich cheeses and even foie gras can work with these big Chars.
  • Try to match flavors in the Chardonnay with those in the food.  For example, if you have a warm climate Chardonnay with rich tropical flavors, use similar flavors in the food to complement the wine (e.g. a mango-infused sauce).  Or, play to ripe Chardonnay’s impression of sweetness by serving it with ingredients such as corn, butternut squash or sweet potatoes, as well as foods that are carmelized.
  • Last, foods that don’t work well with Chardonnay include any type of tomato sauce or spicy dishes.

Friday, August 23, 2019

8 Things You Should Know About Sauv Blanc

It’s the beginning of the harvest for white wine grapes in California.  This is the first in a series of several articles.  Each week of the harvest a different grape will be showcased.  We’ll start with the varietal that is usually picked first, Sauvignon Blanc, and we’ll end with the grapes that are picked last (e.g. Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel).

Here are the important details to know about Sauv Blanc:

#1)   What is the Origin of Sauv Blanc?  
Sauv Blanc’s origin is France.  DNA researchers have traced its birthplace to the Bordeaux area. 

#2)   Is there any connection between Sauv Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon?
Yes.  Sauv Blanc is actually one of the parents of Cab.  The other parent is Cabernet Franc.  The crossing of these two varietals occurred sometime during the 18th century in France.

#3)   What about Fumé Blanc?
Sauv Blanc and Fumé Blanc are the exact same grape.  In the 1960’s Robert Mondavi, a marketing guru, decided to make quality, dry Sauv Blanc.  To differentiate his wine from most of the Sauv Blanc swill being produced at the time, he changed his wine’s name to Fumé Blanc (a play on words from France’s famous wine, Pouilly Fumé).  It was a genius marketing maneuver and his Fumé Blanc became an instant best-seller.

#4)   Where is the best Sauv Blanc made?
“Best” is in the eyes of the beholder.  Sauv Blanc, grown in many international wine regions, is currently one of the world’s most popular wine grapes.  France’s Loire Valley and Bordeaux produce stunning renditions.  There is also extremely well made Sauv Blanc in New Zealand, Australia, Chile and South Africa.  Additionally, in the US, California and Washington offer well-crafted Sauv Blancs.

#5)   How can so many diverse climates produce quality Sauv Blanc?
The Sauv Blanc grape thrives in both cool climate areas, as well as warmer climates, however, the wines are very different.  Cooler microclimates produce wines that have grassy, citrus (especially lime and grapefruit), and even gentle floral notes such as elderflower.  Warmer climate Sauv Blancs have flavors that develop with warmer temperatures such as ripe stone fruit (think luscious peach), or even tropical nuances. 

#6)  Is Sauv Blanc only dry, or are there any quality sweet versions produced?
Because of Sauv Blanc’s high acidity, it works especially well with sweet wines to balance their sweetness.  Bordeaux’s famous sweet wine, Sauternes, is produced from Sauv Blanc.  This grape is extremely welcoming to Botrytis, the “noble rot” which causes the grape to dehydrate and chemically change its flavor and aroma structure.

#7)  What about oak and Sauv Blanc? 
Sauv Blanc can swing both ways.  In an unoaked Sauv Blanc the wine’s fruit flavors are the star of the show.  If the wine is aged in oak, the fruit flavors are still present, however, you’ll also find additional nuances associated with oak such as vanilla, coconut, butterscotch, and even caramel flavors.  

#8)   How does Sauv Blanc pair with food?
Dry Sauv Blanc is a dream with food because of its acidity.  First, the acidity can cut through the fattiness of foods (think cream sauces, cheeses, and dishes with butter).   Sauv Blanc also works well with lighter foods such as simply prepared fish and shellfish.  The sweet version (still with a high acidity), works well to temper the fat as well (e.g. foie gras or crème brulee).

How about a Sauv Blanc tasting this harvest season featuring wines from around the world?  Perhaps you could pick two cool climate wines (in the case of California, that would be Sonoma) and contrast them with two warmer climate versions (think Napa).

Friday, August 16, 2019

Vietnam’s Exotic Fruits

                                    Vietnam's fruit opens a whole new world for food-lovers

Vietnam is replete with exceptional tropical fruits.  These fruits are a strong part of the nation's culinary profile.  For example, there are as many street food vendors selling fruit as there are serving the country's signature soup dish, Pho.  Fruit is so popular that carving it has become an art-form.  Moreover, no meal in a Vietnamese home is served without some type of fruit.

Most of these exotic fruits are unknown to Americans and Europeans.  However, due to the large population of Vietnamese in California many of the delectable fruits are now showing up in Cali grocery stores.  Not only are they insanely delicious, but they present beguiling opportunities for the foodie to experiment with new products.  

Jackfruit is the largest tree-borne fruit in the world

I simply can't get enough of jackfruit.  I loved this fruit so much that when we moved to San Diego ten years ago I attempted to have a tree planted---until I learned that it took 20 years for the tree to bare the first fruit.  Thankfully, I was able to find an Asian market that carried it.  Last year my local grocer began selling jackfruit, so it appears that I'm not the only one wowed by this seductive fruit.

Jackfruit's taste is somewhere between a pineapple and a banana.  It's distinctive.  It's also addictive.  When cooked, the fruit has a texture similar to pulled pork, thus it has become popular in vegetarian cooking.  (Trader Joe's sells a frozen jackfruit curry that is subline!)  My favorite way, nonetheless, is the raw fruit.

 Durian's taste is delectable

I was introduced to this fruit on my first trip to Vietnam years ago by a Vietnamese friend living in California.  She and I went to Vietnam to retrace her roots from living there as a child.  She made certain to warn me that this fruit was like a horribly stinky cheese in France.  She was right:  just get past the smell and you find a mouth-watering fruit.

Durian's taste, an almost indescribable cacophony of flavors, is a combination of sweet and savory.  The texture is super creamy.  Unfortunately, durian is very expensive due to its short period of ripeness.  Don't miss it if you see it.

Rambutan are harvested twice a year in Vietnam

Rambutan, which belongs to the lychee family, is an absolutely visually stunning fruit.  The first time I saw it I thought it was a flower.  Its Vietnamese name actually translates to "messy hair."  Once peeled, the interior reveals a white fleshy fruit which is a little like a grape in texture and taste.

Longan is eaten raw or dried like a date

Longan is another member of the same family as rambutan and lychee.  Its name means "dragon's eye" for when the fruit is peeled it resembles a large eye.  The fruit's musky sweet taste is similar to that of lychee with gentle flowery notes.  While eaten raw, it is also popular in desserts.

Dragon Fruit
Dragon fruit is a feast for the eyes & taste buds

While this fruit is actually native to Central America, it is widely grown throughout Vietnam.  Its bright red shell decorated with green scales resembles a dragon, thus, its name in Asia.  Inside is a white fruit studded with tiny black seeds.  Personally, I don't find much taste at all in the fruit, however, others feel its taste is a cross between a kiwi and a pear.

Star Apple
Star apple's interior is very creamy

The star apple is a gorgeous purple-tinged fruit when fully ripe.  Measuring only 2-3 inches in diameter, the small found fruit gets its name from the star pattern seen when the fruit is cut in half.  A spoon is necessary to scoop out the sweet interior as its delicate jelly-like pulp is juicy.  The Vietnamese call star apple "milk fruit" because of the rich milky liquid that oozes from its center.

The inside of the hard-shelled exterior is a big surprise

Native to Southeast Asia, the mangosteen is one of the best tasting fruits in all of Vietnam.  It's tough exterior resembles an acorn but a soft and sweet interior tastes like a melange of orange, banana and peach.  The fruit's segmented flesh is similar to than of an orange, however, the flesh is white.

Those coming with us to Vietnam in February 2020 will be able to sample most of these fruits on the foodie's tour of Saigon's exciting central market.  There are two seats remaining on this trip: