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Friday, July 3, 2020

4 Wines to Celebrate the 4th

For our special American holiday, here are four made in the USA wines that should be included in your independence day menu.  These wines have been chosen for their ability to pair with summer foods, as well as their terrific price-quality-ratio.   One is a blend, the three others are 100% varietal.  They are equally divided between white and red.  All are available online (K&L has all four).

White Rhone Blend
Tablas Creek’s “Patelin de Tablas” (Paso Robles) is consistently one of my favorite California white blends of luscious Rhone varietals such as Grenache Blanc, Roussane, Marsanne and Viognier.  It’s a real bargain for $20.

Alban’s Viognier (Central Coast) knocks it out of the summer ballpark.  Alban was one of the first pioneers to use this white Rhone varietal on the coastal Cali.  Like all Viognier, this one serves up stone fruit, citrus layers and floral notes.  ($28)

Cabernet Franc:
This grape is the mother grape to both Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  Offering less tannin than its offspring, it’s the perfect summer red aperitif wine.  Lieu Dit (Santa Ynez Valley) offers a superb rendition ($30).

If you love Pinot Noir for its silky elegance and Syrah for its spice, then you should check out Grenache.  It’s the backbone of those beloved reds from Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  California’s Central Coast Nelle vineyards produces one of the best renditions. ($38 online)

Cheers to the red & white, as well as the blue !

Friday, June 26, 2020

5 Apps That Scream Summer

When I think of summer, a brilliant palette of fruits immediately comes to mind---especially melons, stone fruits and tomatoes.  Summer’s temperatures make for lighter eating, so my summertime appetizers are not only visually stunning but are healthy fare.   (Note:  while there is cheese or meat in a few, their amounts are minuscule.)

Watermelon, arugula & goat cheese
Cut watermelon in circles.   Top with arugula, goat cheese and browned pinenuts.  Drizzle with balsamic and top with fleur de sel.

Nectarine, prosciutto & arugula
I use white nectarines in this simple stunner.  Cut fruit in wedges and wrap with prosciutto and arugula.   Sprinkle with drops of a good olive oil.

Olives & cantaloupe
Cut the cantaloupe into small pieces (I use a melon baller).   Serve with a back olive on a toothpick.

Peaches, tomatoes, mozzarella & mint
Slice baguette and toast.  Add mozzarella, tomato & a peach wedge.  Top with a good salt and piece of mint.

Yellow gazpacho shooters:
If I had to pick one favorite summer recipe this one would be it.  It’s from the magnificent Sunday Dinners at Luques cookbook.

Friday, June 19, 2020

5 Cocktails that Scream Summer

Summer is only days away.  Here’s what is on my list for aperitifs to get our summer parties started (once we're safe for gatherings)!

Rosé -Strawberry Sangria
Nothing says summer more than Rosé and strawberries---I’ve combined them both in this delectable drink.  

Recipe:  Add ½ cup of both sugar and water to 2 cups of sliced strawberries---simmer for 10 min and let completely cool.  In the meanwhile, add all of the following ingredients together in a large pitcher:  3 cups sliced strawberries, 1 cup raspberries, 1 orange thinly sliced, 1 cup orange juice and 1/3 cup Gran Manier.  Add the completed cooled cooked strawberry mixture.   Let steep together for at least 1 hour in the frig.  Prior to serving, add one bottle of sparkling Rosé.

                                         A Cotswold toast to a special week in England

Pimms Cup
Strawberries are the star of yet another drink---this is England’s most popular summer-time libation at Wimbleton.

Recipe:  Add the following to one bottle of Pimms:  an equal size amount of lemonade (preferably homemade, although Trader Joes has a good substitute), ½ cup of seeded, peeled & finely chopped English or Persian cucumber, ½ cup of finely diced apple, 1 cup of thinly sliced strawberries, a good handful of finely chopped mint).  Let sit in frig for at least 30 minutes to chill and marry flavors. Serve in a glass and top with a sprig of mint or cucumber.

                                           These easy cocktails are a crowd-pleaser

Limoncello Spritz
This one is simple.  Simply combine 1/3 part of Limoncello with 1/3 sparkling water, and then add 1/3 part of tonic water.  Serve with lots of ice, a piece of summer-time basil and a wedge of lemon.  It’s really refreshing on a hot summer’s day.

                                   Summer on Lake Como demands Aperol Spritzs

Aperol Spritz
This perennial fave is also simple.  Combine one 750ml bottle of Aperol, with an equal amount of Prosecco.   Gently mix in 1 cup of sparkling water, and serve in an ice filled glass, topped with a wedge of orange.

                                   Elderflower is the secret to this ethereal gin & tonic

Elderflower Hendrick’s Gin & Tonic
This glorious aperitif is another easy cocktail.   Hendricks pairs well with elderflower and cucumber.   Plan for 2 oz of Hendricks per cocktail, and 5 ounces of Fever Tree’s elderflower tonic.  Use one generous teaspoon of St Germain per drink (an elderflower liqueur).  Mix with plenty of ice and serve with a slice of cucumber.

Summer-time bottoms up!

Friday, June 12, 2020

10 Terrific Summer Wines for Under $20

No, there’s not been a typo.  All of these wines are not only well made but represent excellent QP/R at price tags of less than 20 bucks.   With only one exception (the very first wine), all of them made the Wine Spectator’s most recent list of the World’s Top 100 Wines.   None are Rosés as these wines were discussed last week.

80% are white wines with Sauvignon Blanc (SB) being the most common grape.  Gruner Veltliner garnered two spots on the list.  80% are wines from outside the US (Austria, France, Italy, New Zealand and Spain), and are bargain priced because Americans don’t know the varietals.   One of the two reds is perfect for summer quaffing as an aperitif.  The other red is the ideal match for a summer dinner of BBQ chicken or meat.  There's also one sparkling wine in the mix.

(Listed in random order):

~ Joel Gott SB (California):  a perennial personal fave for quality-price/ratio, this producer sources his grapes from northern California.

~ Quivira Alder Grove SB (California):  this succulent wine even received a 90 point score from Robert Parker.

~ Mt. Beautiful SB (New Zealand):   Great aromatics and a full-bodied flavor abound in this Kiwi wine.

~ Bernard Ott Am Berg Gruner Veltliner (Austria):  Wine-Knows always visits this producer for his lineup of stunning Gruners.

~ Meinhard Forstreiter Kremser Kogl Gruner Veltliner (Austria):  Mineral-driven, this Gruner is phenomenal for the price.

~ Godeila Mencia (Bierzo, Spain):   This mencia grape wine is complex & pairs beautifully with grilled meats.   

~ Planeta Cerasuolo (Sicily, Italy):   A blended red wine of two varietals (neither grown in America) this one can easily work as an aperitif or with a summer meal (especially BBQ fish or pork).

~ Dom Pierre Luneau-Papin “Clos de Allees” (Loire Valley, France):   made from old vines of Melon de Bourgogne, this rendition of an obscure varietal is so yummy that it was scored a 91 by Robert Parker.

~ Jean Perrier Cuvee Gastronomic (Savoie, France): gorgeous fruits juxtaposed with minerals with this unknown grape called Jacquere.

~ llopart Reserve Brut Rosé Cava (Catalonia, Spain):  the family has been producing wine since 1385.  This sparkler makes me want to shout “Olé!”

Make no mistake about it.  If these above wines were blind-tasted, one would never come close to guessing their super reasonable price.  If you can't find them locally, all are available for purchase on the internet...just make certain to order them soon so they're not transported during the summer's hottest temps.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Time to Stop & Smell the Rosés

Summer is around the corner.  I can smell the roses blooming in the garden but I’m also yearning to smell summer’s Rosé in my glass.  Rosés can be made from any red skinned grape.  Their aroma and taste profiles vary depending upon the grape varietals that are used, the terroir in which the fruit is grown, and the style of the winemaker.  Below are examples of what to generally expect from four different varietals commonly used for Rosé, as well as stylistic elements of the world’s largest Rosé producing area, Provence.

Pinot Noir Rosé
Pinot Noir grapes have the lowest amount of pigment of all the red grapes, thus in general Pinot-based Rosé is lighter in color than others (although it all depends upon the amount of time the winemaker left the juice in contact with the skin).  Flavors of strawberry or raspberry are of often present.

Syrah Rosé
As Syrah is the most highly pigmented dark grape, these Rosés can be deep in color if left to marry with the grape juice for any length of time.  Syrah Rosé typically offers both fruit and savory notes:   strawberry and cherry can be mixed with white pepper and olive nuances.

Cabernet Rosé
Like Rosés made from Syrah, Cabernet can vinify a deeply colored Rosé due large amounts of color pigment in Cabernet skin.  Think cherry and black currant with touches of spice.

Tempranillo Rosé
One of the most common Rosés of warm weather Spain, Tempranillo can make a killer Rosé.   These Rosés often include a combination of fruity and savory notes:   strawberry, citrus and stone fruit, along with background notes of green peppercorn or fennel.

Provençal Rosé
This is a style of Rosé made in France’s southern region of Provence.  This area is one of the most famous Rosé producers in the world---nearly half of all of Provence’s wines are Rosé.   

Provence's Rosé are often a blend (rather than 100% varietal) of the region’s red grapes:  Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvedre, or Syrah.  They are typically very pale pink (or even coral) in color.   Flavors are dependent upon the types of grapes used.  The profile can vary from citrus to exotic fruits, from stone fruits like apricot or peach to berry flavors such as strawberries and raspberries.  Often times these Rosés also have a salty minerality.

Take some time to stop and smell the Rosés this weekend!

Friday, May 22, 2020

10 Memorable Wines for Memorial Day

              Gaia on the island of Santorini, Greece had one of the most memorable tasting settings

Wine-Knows has visited more than 25 wine-making countries around the globe.  We've tasted tens of thousands of wines since the first group we took to Europe in 1978.  Selecting a mere ten is a near impossible task, however, we’ve managed to narrow it down.   Nine are wineries; one is an actual wine region.  If you’ve visited any of them with us you’ll understand why they made it on this blog.   (Listed in alpha order by country.)

 Argentina's Catena Zapata: most memorable architecture

                              Austria's Domaine Ott: most memorable Gruner Veltliners

             Chile's Montes:  most memorable mountain top setting for a private dinner 

     France's redecorated Chateau Beychevelle:  most memorable place to sleep in Bordeaux

                                 Italy's  Ferghettina:  most memorable sparkling wine in Italy 

                        New Zealand's Valli vineyards:  most memorable winemaker dinner

Portugal's Douro Valley:  most memorably beautiful wine region 

                           Spain's Binigrau Nounat:  most memorable wine on Mallorca island

    USA's Dehlinger Pinot Noir:  a memorable choice for my recent black-tie birthday dinner

Wishing you a memorable weekend...

Friday, May 15, 2020

Garam Masala Vs Curry

              Fabulous chicken tikka masala (recipe below) uses both garam masala & curry spices

Both garam masala and curry are complex combinations of spices that are emblematic 
of Indian cuisine.   These two important spice blends, however, are used in many countries of the world beyond India----from the Middle East to Pakistan.   (Curries are even popular in Asia).  Garam masala and curry are often confused.  They serve much different purposes and are not interchangeable.

While curry and garam masala contain several common ingredients such as cumin, ginger and coriander, the key differences between these two is the fact that curry is turmeric-based.  Tumeric, a bright yellow-orange root, is the main ingredient in many curry blends.   It is responsible for the classic yellow-orange appearance of many curry dishes.   

Another difference is that garam masala has a sweeter taste than curry (although garam masala does not not a grain of sugar).  Looking at garam masala’s composition one can easily see what’s responsible for creating the illusion of sweetness:  pungent cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and cardamom.   Fennel seeds also add to its sweet character with hints of licorice flavor.   Garam masala, however, has a multifaceted profile that extends beyond its sweet spicy nuances.  Pops of black pepper mix with perfume-like ginger, and aromatic mace to create a multi-layered symphony of flavors.

The last difference between these two spice blends is that garam masala is often added at the end of cooking to flavor so that it not only seasons the dish but adds aromatics.  In contrast, a curry spice blend is mostly used on the front end to impart deep flavor during the cooking process (e.g. marinating with curry spices prior to cooking significantly enhances flavors).  Curry is also frequently used to add complex flavors to a sauce that is cooked over a long period of time.

Below is my favorite Indian recipe.  This chicken dish uses both garam masala and a blend of curry spices.  I serve it with a brown rice/fresh spring pea mixture…and a dry Gewurztraminer.

Bon appetit!

Friday, May 8, 2020

Rhone Rangers, Part II

                                 Large rocks provide warmth to vines during cold nights

This is a second article in a two part series on France’s world-class Rhone Valley wine district.  Today we travel to the southern sub-zone of the Rhone.  Many readers may know this southern area because of its famous wines from the town of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

The southern Rhone terroir is different from the cold, harsh north.   The Mediterranean Sea exerts a tremendous influence by moderating the south’s temperatures.  Winters in the south are far less dramatic, and southern summers are hot but cooled by the effects of the Mediterranean.   Large rocks washed down over the millenniums from the Alps and other mountains by the Rhone River, also help with the climate:  retaining heat, they provide warmth to vines on cold nights.  Their smaller pebbles create excellent drainage.  

While Syrah is supreme in the northern Rhone, the big kahuna red grape of the southern Rhone is Grenache.  While Grenaches comprises nearly 70% of the south’s vineyards, there are several other red varietals allowed by law.  All southern Rhone wines are blended.    While wines are mainly Grenache, a little Syrah is added to for its color and spice, as is Mouvedre which adds structure and elegance.  The southern Rhone blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre is so popular that it is frequently called simply GSM.  This famous blend has been replicated around the world.

The southern Rhone’s Holy Grail appellation is Chateauneuf-du-Pape (“the Pope’s new house,” named so after the papacy was move from Rome to this area in 1309).  These wines are some of the most seductive I know.  Like all southern Rhones, they are Grenache-centric, however, similar to the northern Rhone, laws allow for combining both red and white grapes.  GSM is strongly represented in the mix, but there are also some white grapes added in small amounts.   

While red wines are the majority produced in the southern Rhone, opulent whites are also made.   They are scare but, oh, but they can be divine.  Made from unknown varietals like Ugni Blanc, Clairette, Grenache Blanc, and Picpoul (along with Roussane and Marsanne), a white southern Rhone from Chateauneuf-du-Pape can be a religious experience.

Pop a Rhone wine to celebrate the weekend!

Friday, May 1, 2020

There’s No Place Like “Rhone”

                     The Hermitage is one of the northern Rhone’s most famous appellations

France’s Rhone Valley is home to some of the world’s most epoch wines.  This wine region, a huge area with over 6,000 grape growers, is divided into two distinct sub-districts, the northern Rhone and the southern Rhone.  Today’s blog will focus on the northern sub-zone (next week we’ll discuss the southern area, home of the famous Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines).  

The terroir is quite different between the northern and southern Rhone, and no doubt has played a role in splitting the two into diverse areas.   The Rhone’s northern wine district has a harsher climate with colder winters and hotter summers.  The northern district's terroir is also influenced by topography.  Milleniums-old glaciers moved through this area carving out dramatic hillsides.  These steep hills now provide good drainage, complex soils, and excellent sun exposure for vineyards.

Terroir dictates the type of grapes that are the most suitable.  In the northern Rhone, Syrah accounts for about 80% of the varietals.  Thought to have actually originated in the northern Rhone Valley, Syrah is the only red grape allowed by law in the northern sub-region’s wines.   These are cool climate Syrahs at their very best.  White grapes, including Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussane, are also important in the area.  Interestingly, in the northern Rhone, red and white grapes can be blended together to create a red wine.  Whites are used to round out the Syrah, bringing flavor and aromas into the mix, as well as softening the angular tannic structure of Syrah.   

Cote-Rotie and Hermitage are two of the most prestigious appellations within the northern Rhone.  Both of these premier areas allow the addition of white grapes into making of a red wines, however, their percentages of white used are often quite small.  These benchmark, complex and bold reds are frequently nearly 100% Syrah.

While most famous for its red wines, the northern Rhone also makes some drop-dead luscious whites.  They are rare and some of my favorites on planet earth.  A blend often of Marsanne and Roussane, they are pricey due to supply and demand.  These gems are definitely worth seeking out.

Tune in next week for the killer wines of the southern Rhone.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Italy’s Secret Seaside Villages

             Very near Portofino & Santa Margherita, Camogli is in another world

In keeping with April’s homage to Italy during its battle with Coronavirus, this is the final article in the blog series on Italy.  I’ve been somewhat hesitant to divulge these unspoiled gems in writing for fear these would become the next Cinque Terre.  But there’s never been a better time to share my private list.  Italy sorely needs travelers to replenish its devastated economy.

Each one of these villages are unspoiled by foreign tourists.  All are popular with Italians, but you’re likely to be the only American in town at several.  I’ll start in the north just south of Genoa and work my way down Italy’s western coast as it passes through Tuscany.  Next, will be a resort that’s a popular getaway spot for Rome---near the Amalfi Coast but a world away from the madding crowds.  Then, we’ll travel clear down to the toe of Italy, Calabria.  I’ll finish with a little treasure of a coastal spot on Italy’s east coast, near the heel of the country, Puglia.


Camogli is a real-deal fishing village where clothes are still hung out from balconies to dry
I found Camogli >40 years ago on a train ride down Italy’s western coast from Genoa to Rome.  My heart skipped a beat when the train passed through this stunning small village of brightly colored homes on the sea.  I vowed to return to it the following year---which I did, and have returned nearly 20 times.

In 1989 a landmark cookbook, Italy the Beautiful by Lorenza d’Medici, was published.  This large format coffee-table book had a drop-dead gorgeous photo on its cover---I recognized it immediately as Camogli.  I thought for sure than Camogli was a goner as the cookbook sold to foodies in the US like gelato on a hot summer’s day.  Not true.   Thankfully, Camogli is difficult to reach (most trains do not stop), so a car is required---and there is no place to park it!.  Moreover, Portofino and Santa Margherita (easily accessible) are nearby so most tourists past by charming Camogli.  Big mistake.

                      There’s no better place to stay in Camogli than Cenobio Dei Dogi

I’m going out on a limb here by also divulging my hotel in Camogli, Cenobio dei Dogi.  Once the summer home of the Genoa Governor, this understated four star property has the best position in town overlooking the miniature half-moon bay.  Don’t even think about getting a room without a seaview.


Castiglioncello is a Tuscan gem known only to Italians

I’ll drive miles to seek out the best gelato…that’s how I found Castiglioncello.  I had a group of Wine-Knows on the sea in Tuscany learning about the area’s Super-Tuscan wines.  I heard that Castiglioncello had one of the area’s best ice-cream makers so I took the group for the afternoon.  The gelato was good, but it was the village that everyone loved.  I’ve returned numerous times as it makes the perfect pre Wine-Knows spot to recover from jet lag, or the ideal spot to relax post tour.  (As the town is located just 30 miles south of Pisa, Pisa’s airport makes it easy to access.) 

 I snapped this photo of a picture advertising a villa for sale in a Castiglioncello real estate office

Castiglioncello is positioned on a pine forest promontory with hills that fall right down to the sea forming cliffs, little inlets and sandy beaches.  Homes are built among the pine trees giving it the feel of the pine-filled residential areas of Carmel.  There are only a handful of small hotels as the charming town is filled with vacation homes of inland Tuscans who escape here every summer to avoid the heat and crowds of tourists.   This is the place to rent a villa with friends, or a seaside home…and pretend you’re an Italian on holiday.


Sperlonga's ancient hilltop town is literally a movie set

I first learned of this Mediterranean stunner many years ago from a friend who used to live in Rome and frequently escaped here during the summer for a beach holiday. Sperlonga is halfway between Rome and the Amalfi coast, but a world away from both.  Sperlonga is so gorgeous that it has been used for many movie sets.  In fact, Italy’s popular television series Capri is not filmed on the island of Capri---it’s filmed in enchanting Sperlonga.

A nearly mile long dreamy beach awaits you in Sperlonga

Sperlonga has one of the best sandy beaches in all of Italy, but it also has a drop-dead dazzling medieval hilltop village.  For me, the best plan is to stay on the beach (love Hotel Aurora, a simple but charismatic family-owned hotel), and then walk to the old town nightly for dinner, or for a morning’s stroll and cappucino. 

Calabria's Tropea is for "those in the know"

Heading from Sperlonga south 300 miles along the sea we come to Italy’s province of Calabria, the toes of Italy’s boot.  One of this area’s most beautiful town’s is Tropea.   Known for its cliff-side old-town, 2.5 miles of pristine beaches, and its prized red onions, this gem should be on every Italy lover’s radar….thankfully, it’s not as it’s too far south and there are no major airports nearby.

                          The medieval town is filled with  a plethora of dining venues

Like Sperlonga, Tropea’s historic hilltop town is right out of a movie set.  Tropea, however, was a far richer and larger town in its maritime hey-day than simple small Sperlonga.   One could spend hours wandering Tropea’s historical center maze of cobblestoned, and pedestrian only streets lined with 17th and 18th century palaces.   Five star Villa Paola is a former monastery that has been converted into a magical 11 room hotel.

Polignano al Mare

 Covo dei Saraceni (left upper) is Polignano al Mare's best hotel 

I was first introduced to this charmer when I saw a one page photo of it in a travel article some 30 years ago.  It was so beautiful that I built an entire vacation in Italy’s fascinating area of Puglia around it.  I’ve been back a couple of times since and would jump at the chance to go again as Polignano by the sea is a special destination, spectacularly positioned on limestone cliffs filled with caves along its sea.

      Dinner in this grotto restaurant is one of the most magical settings I've ever experienced

Polignano’s picturesque historic center is a delight.  The town’s only entrance is through the Arco della Porta.  Enter and you find a magical center filled with architectural traces of the town’s Arab, Byzantine, Norman and Spanish past conquerors.  In addition, four of the watchtowers that once guarded the ancient sea town remain and add to the beguiling charm of a past era.

My favorite place to sleep in town is Covo dei Saraceni, a 4 star cliff-side hotel with a terrific view of the sea, and a great feel of the Italian dolce vita.

Viva Italia!!!