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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
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
 
 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
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
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.

Mangosteen
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:    http://www.wineknowstravel.com/itinerary-vietnam/



Friday, August 2, 2019

Worcestershire Was An Accident


                   Worcestershire sauce adds an umami complexity to both salads & meats

Wine-Knows has just returned from its inaugural group to England to sample the Brit’s exploding sparkling wine industry (recently the English “fizz” has beaten numerous well regarded Champagnes in blind tastings).   We stayed in the enchanting Cotswolds area, a region filled with fairy-tale villages right out of a painting my modern day artist Thomas Kinkade.   Worcestershire sauce, created by accident, comes from the Cotswolds' town of Worcester.

In the early 1800’s two pharmacists in Worcester were hired by a local aristocrat to construct a culinary sauce similar to a savory condiment he had tasted in India.  The pharmacists, John Lee and William Perrins, made a concoction but it tasted nothing like what the noble lord had savored on his Indian journey.  Mr. Lee and Mr. Perrins were stuck with an entire barrel of the sauce which set in their basement for years.  One day they discovered the forgotten barrel, re-tasted it and were delighted to discover that it had completely changed to something delicious with the passage of time.

Lea and Perrins began bottling the condiment in 1837 and it became a big hit.  Condiments in Britain at the time were very popular as they gave flavor to an otherwise bland cuisine.  Worcestershire also helped to tenderize tough cuts of meat so it became even a bigger success.   The sauce came to the US in 1839.  To ship it across the Atlantic the company wrapped each bottle in a classical paper wrapper to prevent breakage on the sea journey.  Today, bottles are still wrapped in this brown paper.  Worcestershire, the oldest commercially bottled condiment in the US, is now exported to more than 75 countries.

So what’s in Worcestershire sauce?  Lea & Perrins lists the ingredients on each bottle:   vinegar, anchovies, garlic, molasses, onions, salt, sugar and water.  Although the components are known, the actual recipe is a closely guarded secret. 

Why not celebrate summer with a bottle of English fizz and feature recipes made with Worcestershire?   Worcestershire is terrific as an ingredient in BBQ marinades...as well as in the dressing of a Caesar salad.



The World’s Best Mussels


                                  Green-lipped mussels with onion & garlic in a wine sauce 

New Zealand’s green-lipped mussels are worth the trip across the Pacific to the southern hemisphere.  The good news, however, is that an international flight is not necessary.   Green-lipped mussels have become so popular in the US that they are now being widely imported.  Upscale Cali restaurants are featuring them cooked with everything from the classical wine and garlic sauce, to an Asian-inspired dish made with coconut milk and lemon-grass.  Google green-lipped mussel recipes and you’ll find nearly a half million suggestions.

So why are these mussels the latest craze?   This varietal (only found in New Zealand) is the largest mussel on planet earth---it can grow to over nine inches in length.  Biggest isn’t always best, but in the case of these mussels it surely is!   These mussels are flavor-bombs.  Their distinctive taste is both sweet and delicate… somewhere between a clam and an oyster.  Their plump meat is also tender and juicy.   In addition, the mussels also work well with a variety of cuisines (in Spain a few months ago I saw them prepared in a saffron-tomato sauce).  Last, let’s also acknowledge that these mussels are absolutely a feast for the eye---their electric green shell color is stunning, and the contrasting bright orange colored meat is a radiant against the backdrop of the green-black shells).

                                        Wine-Knows will visit a mussel "farm" 

The green lipped mussel industry in New Zealand is now valued at more than 350 million US dollars.  If you have a seat on the sold out Wine-Knows' trip in February 2020 to New Zealand you will not only be able to eat these delectable morsels, but will actually visit a mussel farm in the ocean.   Here you'll learn about how the mollusks are grown and harvested.  Then a chef will prepare for your lunch.  Of course, they’ll be washed down with some of New Zealand’s finest Sauvignon Blanc.




Friday, July 26, 2019

The Best Tapenade


                 The best of many versions I tried in France was one made with both olives & figs

I’ve recently returned from several weeks in Provence with two Wine-Knows’ groups who stayed at the villa where Julia Child wrote her hallmark cookbooks, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  One of the classical culinary stars of this French region is tapenade.  Tapenade is a finely chopped olive dish that is typically mixed with capers, anchovies, garlic, herbs and olive oil to form a thick paste.  Traditionally spread on a piece of bread, it is used mainly as an appetizer, however, I noticed in the last few years that many restaurants in this area are using it in other courses as well (e.g. chicken stuffed with tapenade, or a vegetarian dish studded with tapenade).

Tapenade is everywhere in Provence.  There are even dish towels and placemats with Tapenade recipes printed on them.  There are vendors at every Provencal outdoor market hawking free samples of the delectable treat.  I tasted tapenade in every flavor of the rainbow:  artichoke, sun-dried tomato, eggplant, and even hummus tapenade.  In every foodie shop I visited there were many different types available for purchase.  Some used the pungent local Niçoise olives, others used a mixture of black olives.  Some preparations featured only green olives, yet there were others that used a mixture of both black and green olives.

While I especially loved the artichoke and sun-dried versions, the one that really stood out for me was made with figs.  I simply couldn’t stop eating it.   I have tweaked several recipes and come up with my own fig masterpiece.  Do note that my recipe does not include anchovies.  While I love them, I felt they simply overwhelmed this version---regardless of how few I put in.   (BTW:  there is a traditional tapenade recipe featured in Julia Child’s cookbook but I much prefer the fig one as the figs add another level of complexity).

June's Fig & Olive Tapenade
  • 1/3 cup dried figs (cut in small pieces)
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 C mixture of both green and black olives, pitted
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon of lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • 1/2 tablespoon capers (rinsed to get rid of brine, then drained & squeezed dry)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme (plus more for garnishing)
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Baguette (sliced)
  • Goat cheese (at room temperature)


Cook the figs with water on low-medium heat in a covered sauce pan for 20-30 minutes until they are soft.  Save the juice for thinning the tapenade

Put the drained figs, olives, lemon juice, mustard, garlic capers and thyme into a food processor.  Pulse several time to mix ingredients well and pulverize.  With the food processor running, slowly add the olive oil a half of teaspoon at a time to incorporate it into the paste.    Finally, thin the paste to the desired consistency with the left over fig water.  Taste for salt and adjust if necessary.

Serve over toasted baguette slices (brushed with olive oil prior to toasting), with goat cheese on the bottom, then topped with tapenade and fresh thyme.

Bon appetit!


  

Friday, July 19, 2019

Treasure Island---Sicily


                                      Magnificent wines & fabulous gastronomy await visitors

Italy’s Mediterranean destination-island is a treasure trove of perfect seafood, intensely flavored vegetables, superb olive oil, and world-class wines. Strongly influenced by its many conquerors---from the Greeks, to the Romans, the Arabs, the French and the Spanish---the island’s culture represents a unique crossroads of the Mediterranean.  Stunning island geography, along with a breathtaking tapestry of art and architecture (including two of the best-preserved Greek temples in the world), completes this Italian jewel.

Grapes are grown on the slopes of Mt Etna

One of the biggest show-stoppers of Sicily is its wines.  Prepare yourself for new varietals that only are  grown in Sicily.   Indigenous grapes such as Nero d’Avola, Frappato, Grillo, Catarrato, Carricante and Insolia are not grown elsewhere.  Adding to the attraction is that many of these grapes are grown in mineral-rich volcanic soil which imparts interesting complexities.   There’s no problem ripening fruit in Sicily due to its idyllic year around climate.  All of this translates into lush, fruit-forward wines with a hint of minerality.  Simply put, Sicily’s wines are stunning and full of unique personality.

                                           Even the eggplant are special varietals

Sicily’s cuisine is different from any other Italian region.  In fact, the mainland Italians consider Sicily a continent.   The island’s culinary prowess comes from its vivid and diverse background of past conquerors who left their indelible mark on Sicily’s gastronomic scene.  Expect hints of exotic spices like saffron and cinnamon paired with local ingredients—lemons, blood oranges, almonds, fresh capers, and wild mountain oregano.  There’s an abundance of fish and seafood, with swordfish being one of the specialties.

    Vegetables are like you've never had them before 

Wine Knows will be visiting Sicily during their grape harvest in September 2020.  The trip is sold out.  If you will not be joining us but wish to explore the island's great quality/price ratio wines, here are my suggestions for the best producers, listed in alphabetical order:

  • Cusumano
  • Donnafugata
  • Occhipinti
  • Passopisciaro
  • Planeta
  • Tenuta Fessina
  • Tenuta delle Terre Nere


 Ciao!

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Worth Its Salt


                                      Watermelon nibbles are a luscious summer appetizer

Beloved friends of mine gifted me with a culinary salt block and I became an instant fan.  Not only is this a magnificent serving vessel for a variety of foods, but the block of salt also cleverly flavors the food.  Seems like I’m not the only one enamored... there are a variety of books on not only what to serve on it, but even books on how to actually cook on the salt block.  While I’ve never attempted cooking on my salt block, I love to use it as a tray for hors d’oeuvres.  It’s a conversation piece and a fun way to start the party.

Now, a little about the salt tray.  It’s an actual block of salt from the Himalayan mountains.   Supposedly these pink-hued slabs of salt were formed between 550- 600 million years ago.  That in itself ought to jump start any get-together. 

There are several reasons I enjoy using the salt block.  The first is its intriguing story, and the second is its pink-marbled beauty.  I also enjoy the delicate flavor it imparts to the food on which it is served.  The only downside is that the block is very heavy.  Its weight of twelve pounds is daunting.  (I have the 12” x 8” block that comes with an attractive black cradle which makes it easy for carrying.  It does, however, come in smaller sizes.)

Some of my favorite things to serve on the block are foods that require a little salt.  In the summer-time, I use it for cubed watermelon topped with a few fresh herbs from the garden and a small amount of feta.  I also like the dramatic color and taste profile of using it to showcase cantaloupe melon balls speared with a piece of a black Mediterranean olive.  Both of these warm weather appetizers are exquisite with the salt block to play up the sweet-salty combination.  My final fave is large shrimp that have been quickly sauteed.

Bon appetit.





Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Seeing RED on the 4th!


                                                        Summer calls for lighter bodied reds


The 4th of July always signals to me the switch to lighter bodied red wines:  out with the highly structured Cabernets, those big Mouvedres from Bandol, the intense Malbecs from Argentina, and those California Zinfandels with soaring alcohol levels.    The heat of summer calls for easier drinking reds without a lot of tannin or alcohol.  Here are my favorite four to honor the 4th.

Pinot Noir:
One of the best summer reds is Pinot Noir.  A more feminine grape, Pinot has lower tannins than most other red grapes which means it’s easier drinking in the warmer temperatures of July and August.   Silky and soft, Pinot Noir can be a refreshing summer alternative to the more powerhouse big reds of winter.

Barbera:
Barbera is also a good choice for summer-time quaffing.  The grape has very little tannin and lots of fruit profile.  Mainly grown in the Piedmont district of Italy (home to the heavily structured Barolo and Barbaresco), Barbera works well with summer’s menu of simple grilled meats, poultry and fish.

Frapatto:
One of my fave red wines to drink during the heat of the summer is Frapatto.  Grown primarily in Sicily, this gem of a wine is perfect as an aperitif or with a lighter main course such as poultry or fish.  When I think of Frapatto I think of strawberries as this berry is very prominent in both the varietal’s taste and aroma.   Serve it and I guarantee people will rave.

Grenache:
This grape, which is native to Spain, is also grown in France’s Rhone Valley.   Both countries make lighter-style red (unless the wine is aged in oak).   This low tannin wine serves up an impressive lineup of summer-time flavors of red fruit such as raspberry and strawberry (versus black fruit of the more highly structured reds).

Here’s to the RED white and blue!








Tuesday, June 25, 2019

World’s Best Banh Mi Sandwich?


I order mine with "the works"

Anthony Bourdain said this sandwich shop was the best in Vietnam….I say it just might be the best in the world.   Google banh mi and in a nano second you’ll get >36 million hits.  Bahn mi has become an international culinary hit.  There are now banh mi cookbooks, YouTube videos on tapas of banh mi, recipes for banh mi burgers and even banh mi pizza.  So, listen up when I say I know where the best banh mi on the planet is.

                    My fave spot has become so famous that it sells 3,000-4,000 banh mi daily

Let’s start at the beginning.  Banh mi actually means bread.  The French brought their beloved baguettes to Vietnam in the late 19th century.  The baguettes, made from expensive imported wheat, were affordable only to the French.  Once the French were kicked out of Vietnam, the Vietnamese began adding rice flour to the baguette, making it more reasonable in price.   The defeated French left behind warehouses filled with pâté, cheese, mayonnaise and expensive cold cuts which were all sold at rock-bottom prices in the local markets.  The Vietnamese, out of disdain for the French, began to eat these once forbidden products.  Out of spite and to flaunt their independence, the Vietnamese then began experimenting with local products as ingredients for the baguette.

                        There's a mind-boggling array of fillings...all prepared fresh daily

The actual banh mi, however, wasn’t birthed until the late 1950’s in Saigon.  Long before plastic and Styrofoam made everything portable, an ingenious couple who had fled north Vietnam to the southern capital, thought of making individual baguettes and filling them with a the Vietnamese version of pate, mayo and pickled vegetables.  They revolutionalized eating on the go in busy Saigon with their new sandwich as it could be carried away by customers in their hands.

  This place is so popular that the city's best bakery moved its location next door to the banh mi shop

Dove-tailing with the banh mi’s invention in Saigon during the mid 20th centry, the Americans also helped the success of banh mi.  During this period the US began sending wheat shipments which allowed the baguette industry to flourish.  By this time, the Vietnamese were also changing---they had become adept at making pâté from pork, adapting the Chinese version of BBQ to a local recipe, and were even making their own mayonnaise.


                                        Hoi An is also famous for its gorgeous silk lanterns

So, where is the world’s best banh mi?  It’s located in the UNESCO (United Nations World Heritage Site) seaside town of Hoi An.  There are at least ten ingredients, all of them working in total harmony:  a thin layer of aioli, a splash of the au jus left over from the roasting of the meats, a spreadable house-made pâté, BBQ pork, sliced tomatoes, pickled carrots and daikon, thinly sliced cucumbers, fresh cilantro, and finally a dab of fish sauce mixed with chili for the perfect kick.

      Wine-Knows will visit Hoi An's marketplace where all the bahn mi ingredients are purchased

If you’re coming with Wine-Knows in February 2020 to Vietnam you’ll be eating the Holy Grail of banh mi at this little dive of gastronomy.  There is one or possibly two spots remaining on this trip. http://www.wineknowstravel.com/itinerary-vietnam/.  If you’re not coming, the name of the place is Banh Mi Phuong….expect a line out the door, and be sure to order “the works.”


Monday, June 17, 2019

The Perfect Gin & Tonic Pairing


                                 Different Fever Tree tonics pair with different types of gins

Wine-Knows is wrapping up its inaugural wine and foodie’s tour of England.  In addition to visiting a gin factory, we have certainly sampled our share of gin and tonics on the trip.  While I’ve long known that the quality of both gin and the quality of the tonic were important, I’ve learned a lot about what gin works best with what type of tonic.  Let me explain.

First, let me say that I’m a big fan of Fever Tree Tonic thanks to my friend Liz who introduced me to it a few years back.  What I didn’t know until some months ago is that Fever Tree is made in London.  I learned on this trip that Fever Tree actually makes six types of tonic.   By doing a quick online search on the laptop I brought with me, I found them all available in the US.
  1. Premium Indian Tonic
  2. Elder flower Tonic
  3. Mediterranean Tonic
  4. Aromatic Tonic
  5. Lemon Tonic (sometimes called Citrus Tonic)
  6. Naturally Light (fewer calories)




So here’s the low-down.  Take a look at the picture above.  According to Fever Tree, here are the best pairings of Fever Tree with different gins (all of my favorite gins). 
  •  Hendricks pairs best with Elder Flower Tonic (both of them have floral notes)
  •  Beefeaters works best with Aromatic Tonic (both with robust juniper nuances)
  •  Bombay Sapphire marries with Mediterranean Tonic  (the perfect union of the herbaceous Sapphire with this rosemary infused tonic)

Check out Fever Tree’s website for which of their products pair best with your fave gin:  

http://fevertree.assets.d3r.com/pdfs/fever-tree_pairing-wheel_starburst.jpg)



Monday, June 10, 2019

England for Wine & Food Lovers


                                      Gin is now being replaced with world-class sparkling wine

Global warming has changed England’s presence in the wine world.  The Brit's wine country is located at the same latitude as France’s Champagne district and warmer global weather conditions now make the island’s weather comparable to Champagne.  England's sparkling wine countryside also has the same limestone soil as Champagne.  All of this means that England is now making sparkling wines that have beat-out many high-end Champagnes in blind tastings.

Few English sparklers are imported into the US.   England’s fizzes (as they are called), are the same price point as the real-deal Champagne, thus marketing the British fizz is problematic as England’s wine industry is in its infancy and few people in the US know of its quality.  Those coming with us on the inaugural English countryside tour in June will be among the first wine groups to make the trek across the Atlantic.

         Stroud Farmers' market is voted the best in England

England formerly has not been thought of a foodie’s mecca either.  That also is changing.  Farmer’s markets now abound and there’s a huge movement away from the former bland, frozen and uninteresting cuisine to a more global cuisine based on fresh ingredients and enticing flavors.   Fusion is the name of the game with old time recipes being modernized to incorporate tastes of France, Italy and Asia.

                          Harrod's Food Hall is a definite do not miss for any gourmand

India has long been an influence in England’s restaurant scene.  In fact, there are more Indian restaurants in London than in Mumbai and Dehli.  This means that gourmet food emporiums such as London's Fortnum Mason or Harrod’s have gigantic sections of Indian spices.  I always bring home tins filled with curry ingredients. Regardless of whether you like Indian food or not, these two temples of gastronomy’s fabulous Food Halls should not be missed by any food-lover.

Another item I can’t resist at Harrod’s or Fortnum Mason is their over-the-moon selection of Stilton cheese.  Blue Stilton is perhaps England’s greatest gift to the culinary world.  Both stores carry it vacuum packed for the flight home, but it also is available in pretty ceramic crocks that are a lovely souvenir.

   Fortnum Mason's Food Hall is mesmerizing

Both Fortnum Mason and Harrod’s also have mind-blowing tea departments.  Tea time in Britain is nearly a national institution.  There are hundreds of flavors available and their marvelous packaging would make even the Queen smile.

                                                     Maldon is one of my favorites

Another easy souvenir to bring home from England (or order on the Internet) is Britain's Maldon Sea Salt flakes.  It comes in several “flavors” but I usually gravitate to the smoky version.  Think France’s Fleur de Sel with an interesting smoke nuance.  As its lightweight, it makes a perfect item to bring home as a gift for another food-lover.

England is no longer a gourmet dessert and its southern coast's sparkling wine industry is growing exponentially.   British chef Gordon Ramsey has reached nearly rock-star status in the US.  English Michelin star restaurants abound.   To that I say, “Cheerio, mate!”


Saturday, June 1, 2019

Ratafia---the other Champagne Drink


                                      Ratafia and tonic just might become the new "in" drink

There’s a “new” old kid on the block in Champagne.  Ratafia de Champagne dates back eight centuries but it is now making a comeback.  Recently, the alcoholic drink was given a protected status by the French Government and it will have its own appellation.  So what is this Ratafia?

Ratafia de Champagne (as it is now legally called to protect the brand from being made only from grapes grown in the Champagne district of France), is made from the three grapes allowed by law in Champagne:  Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Menuier.  But, there’s a catch—Ratafia is always made after the grapes have been pressed to make the pricey bubbly.  The grapes are then pressed for a third and fourth time and this last pressing of semi-unfermented grape juice is then fortified with brandy. Voila…Ratafia de Champagne!

As the addition of brandy during fermentation halts fermentation (where sugar is converted to alcohol), Ratafia de Champagne has both residual sweetness, as well as an alcohol level of about 18%.   It is served cold, often as an aperitif, however, it can be served in lieu of Sauternes with a foie gras as a first course.  Ratafia can be also used as a dessert wine, or even in cooking where it can work magic with delicate sauces.

Ratafia de Champagne obviously has no fizz, but it does have beguiling aromas of candied fruits and honey.  Some compare it to a Tawny Port.   Like Port, it can keep in the frig a month after opening.  Although there are about 100 producers of Ratafia, each winery produces very little.  It’s a miracle to see a bottle in the US as it rarely makes it out of the Champagne region…and if it does, it’s seen in the top restaurants of Paris.  The potential for Ratafia’s growth is huge, and Champagne Houses are expected to ramp up production. 

Coming with us on the sold-out trip to Champagne in June?   You’ll be the first Wine-Knows to taste the new-old kid on the block!


Friday, May 24, 2019

How a Woman Changed the Course of Wine History


                                
                               The "widow" was the first person to use colored labels

Most every avid wine lover recognizes the neon orange label of Veuve Clicquot Champagne.   What many may not know, however, is that the person who not only created the label but also the brand was a strong-willed woman.   Not only did she do so in the early 1800’s, but this break-all-the-rules thirty year old woman was a widow (veuve means widow).   All of this was done with the deck stacked completely against her as no woman in France before her had ever run a business.

Veuve Clicquot did many things that ultimately altered the course of wine history.  Her first bold move was to sell Champagne outside of France, an unthinkable notion at the time especially since Napoleon had declared war on most of Europe.  The widow was the first in Champagne to do so.  She also ingeniously figured out a plan to cleverly slip the wine shipments through the naval blockades.   But the veuve was just getting warmed up.

Veuve Clicquot was a force well ahead of her time

                          
The widow Clicquot dramatically transformed the Champagne making process.  At the time, Champagne was cloudy due to sediments from dead yeasts.  She had a very keen eye on aesthetics. She was also the first person to use colored wine labels---up until this point wine labels had only been white.  But her biggest contribution to aesthetics was her revolutionary invention of a method that changed Champagne from cloudy to clear.  The ingenious process she invented, called riddling, is still used today by every Champagne company, as well as world-wide by makers of high-end sparkling wine. 

Veueve Clicquot wasn’t through yet, however.  She pioneered the making of Rosé Champagne, a revolutionary idea in the early 1800's.   With attention to the details of marketing, the widow played an instrumental role in establishing Champagne as the preferred drink of royalty and the wealthy.

                      Veuve's cellars are now protected by the United Nations World Heritage

Veuve Clicquot championed the entire industry of Champagne.  She was also the first business woman in France.  To pay homage to her contributions, the entire company was renamed in her honor.  Those of you coming to the sold-out Champagne tour in June will have a private tasting at Veuve Clicquot and will be able to toast her efforts in the extraordinary cellars in Reims.

A salute to Veuve Clicquot!