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Sunday, October 25, 2020

Granada & Seville: Spain’s 2 Jewels

Granada’s Alhambra Palace is one of the architectural treasures of Europe

 A client who is coming on the Wine-Knows' Mallorca tour next year asked me recently, “Which city in Spain is your favorite?”   While I love Madrid, I immediately knew that my numero uno choice had to be either Granada or Seville.   But, which one?  Both are located in Spain’s southern Andalusia region which borders the Mediterranean.  Choosing would be very difficult.

The Alhambra can be seen from all over Granada

Granada is arguably one of Spain’s most compelling cities.  Located at the foot of the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountains, it was ruled by the Moors for over 800 years.  In fact, Granada was the last Moorish stronghold in all of Spain.  This city is world famous for its Alhambra Palace, a walled fortress that is one of Europe’s most breathtaking pieces of architecture.  But, there is so much more to Granada than this astonishing Islamic citadel.

The historic old town offers authentic charm

Granada has a palpable soul.  The city has an energy, especially the historic Moorish quarter that surrounds the spectacular hilltop Palace.   Known as the Albaicin quarter, think of it as an exotic Casbah with meandering cobblestone alleys, a mélange of intimate flamenco clubs, atmospheric Bohemian cafes… and then layer on seductive bars with twinkling lights, exotic aromas from both restaurants and homes, and a distant guitar serenading lovers.  Granada's old town is intoxicating. 

Seville seduces both the young and old

Seville, on the other hand, has been voted one of the globe’s Top 10 cities to visit.  It has an air of sophistication.  It’s passionate.  It’s also mucho romantico.  There’s no wonder why the city is the capitol of passion-based flamenco dancing, and one of the most loved by travelers in Europe.  Sevilla has all the trappings for allure, including horse-drawn carriages, quiet pedestrian-only cobblestone streets, a jaw-dropping flood-lit Gothic cathedral, and even its own spectacular Moorish castle.

Seville's cathedral will provide a jaw-dropping background for Wine-Knows’ dining

But, wait!  Seville has an added bonus….it is very near Sherry wine country.   In about an hour visitors can go from a coffee on one of Seville’s  plethora of dramatic squares to tasting a flight of wine in the Sherry countryside.

Moorish architecture mesmerizes in both Granada & Seville

Granada or Seville?   I choose both….as can you for Wine-Knows will be visiting both Granada and Seville next October, 2021.  Currently there are a few spaces available so check out these two astonishing gems on www.WineKnowsTravel.com.



Saturday, October 17, 2020

Mallorca's Healthy Mediterranean Diet

                     This Mediterranean island's cuisine & lifestyle embody healthy living

Mallorca is a mucho seductive island just off the coast of Barcelona.   This dreamy Spanish isle has a rich history involving the Phoenicians, Romans and Moors, and its cuisine reflects an interesting tapestry of all of these past conquerors.  But, Mallorca’s food is much more than its historical roots.  Its culinary profile closely parallels the Mediterranean Diet, one of the healthiest diets on the planet.

 

                      Agricultural villages such as this one are a mainstay in the island's economy

The word “diet” comes from the Greek word “diatia” which means way of life.  The United Nation’s cultural arm (UNESECO) considers the Mediterranean Diet to be part of Mallorca’s cultural fabric.   Foods and lifestyle are intrinsically linked in the Mediterranean Diet.   This means that one’s way of living (both physical activity and community/family connections) are equally important to the actual food one eats.

Amphora were used for centuries to transport olive oil & wine

There are four cornerstones of the Mediterranean Diet and Mallorca has them all.  First, the island’s cuisine features an abundance of fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains and fish. Secondly, little red meat is consumed and dairy products are used in moderation (local olive oil is used).  Thirdly, agriculture is a big part of the island’s economy.  In addition to olives, Mallorcans raise a plethora of crops such almonds, carob, figs, apricots, tomatoes, peppers and onions.   (There’s no need for a farmer to go to the gym or out for a run after a hard day in the fields).  The last foundation of the Mediterranean diet is wine.  Mallorca’s wine industry is undergoing a significant Renaissance.

Fruit & old-world décor provide an unforgettable backdrop at this restaurant

Wine-Knows’ October 2021 trip to Mallorca will feature a week’s stay at a swanky private villa----and there are only 2 remaining spots.  Why not join us for the Mediterranean Diet, sensational island scenery, and some killer wines from grape varieties that grow only on Mallorca?   www.WineKnowsTravel.com


Friday, October 9, 2020

The Other Bordeaux----Sauternes


                                        Sauternes are among the world's most expensive wines

The grape harvest for Bordeaux’s white and red wine finished some weeks ago, but it is just starting for Bordeaux’s prized sweet wines, Sauternes (pronounced sew TAIRN.)  Sauternes is some of the priciest wines on the planet (a bottle of an old Chateau Yquem sold a few years ago for $117,000---that's $26,000 a glass, or $2,200 a sip!)   One of the reasons is that the berries are picked one at a time, rather than one bunch at a time.  Let me explain.

                                 Sauternes is a wine district, a town, and a sweet wine

Known as “liquid gold,” Sauternes is pricey because of the labor intensive process required to make it.  Grapes for these sweet wines are hand-picked carefully by workers who have been trained to look for “botrytis.”   Known also as the “noble rot,” botrytis is a fungus that attacks very ripe grapes.   Typically, it does not attack the full bunch, but only certain berries.  Workers must often make several passes through the vineyards over a period of weeks, picking only the grapes that have been effected with noble rot.  In some cases one vine is necessary to make one bottle of the most expensive Sauternes.

                          Botrytis concentrates flavors & causes flavor, as well as aroma changes

So how can rotted grapes possibly make such a magnifique wine?   First, the botrytis penetrates the grape’s skin and causes it to lose nearly 75% of its water.  However, much more than dehydrating and concentrating the flavors, botrytis actually causes a chemical change in the grape’s aromas and taste profile.  Third, while all of the above is occurring, the fungus also increases the actual acid levels so that this sweet wine is not cloying sweet.

                            Damp & warmth together create the perfect storm for botrytis

The terroir of Sauternes is key to botrytis.  The fungus does not happen every year, but only when certain conditions in the environment occur at the same time.  There are two rivers, one cold and the other warm, that converge into one river near Sauternes.  The mixture of warm and cold creates a mist.   Providing the afternoons are warm, this mist in addition to the heat create the perfect milieu for botrytis to thrive. 


If you’re one of the lucky Wine-Knows joining the September 2021 trip to Bordeaux, you’ll have the opportunity to sample some of the world's most famous Sauternes.  The sweet life doesn’t get any sweeter than sipping a Sauternes at its birthplace.



Friday, October 2, 2020

Sicily’s Ferrari of Chocolate


                                      Modica chocolate is characteristically grainy in texture

Italy makes some of the world’s most delicious chocolate pleasures.   Among  the Italian chocolate elitists, is one that is located on the island of Sicily.  Known as Modica chocolate, the delicacy can only by law be produced in the town of Modica.  This “town of chocolate” uses an ancient Aztec technique that was brought to Modica by the Spaniards in the 16th century (Modica had a close connection with the Spanish Crown).  Modica chocolate is now protected by the European Union with a special designation PDI, which guarantees the consumer it’s the real deal.

                            Modica is replete with chocolate makers using the Aztec method

Wine-Knows was to have visited Modica today but COVID delayed our Sicilian journey until October 2021.   Next year we'll learn that chocolate is produced the same way that it was at the time when the Spanish conquistadors sailed to South America and discovered the culinary magic of the Aztecs.   The Aztec technique of “cold” processing is used in all Modica chocolate.  Typically, chocolate is produced using heat which makes it smooth, but the cold method produces a characteristic crunchy texture as seen in Modica chocolate. Another major difference of the Aztec-based tradition is that there is no added butterfat---the only fat present in Modica chocolate is the cocoa butter that is naturally present in the cocoa bean.

                      The 21st century has brought upscale packaging & dozens of flavors

The Ferrari of Modica chocolates is Bonajuto. The oldest firm in Modica, the family of this company has been making chocolate since the early 1800’s.  In 1920 Bonajuto won the Gold Medal at the International Exposition in Rome.  Fast forward a hundred years…Bonajuto, while based on tradition, has become innovation-driven, research- based, and ethics-centric (Bonajuto’s cocoa comes from certified plantations that do not use child labor and working conditions are protected and safeguarded.)

                  The ingot shape, popular in Modica, was used by the Aztecs to shape their gold

More than 500 years after the Spaniards first brought the cocoa bean to Modica, chocolate has become Modica’s black gold.  There are too-many-to-count chocolate shops in the town.  Chocolates come in every size and shape, with flavors such as cinnamon, chili, orange, sea salt, cardamom, ginger, marjoram, nutmeg, white pepper, and vanilla.   Many shops even sell frozen chocolates for tourists to buy, especially during Sicily’s hot summers.

Lucky travelers on Wine-Knows tour rescheduled for next year, October 2021, will visit Bonajuto for a tasting and tour of the facilities.    But, you don’t have to go to Sicily to buy Modica chocolates as they’ve become world famous.   You can buy Bonajuto online from many sellers in the USA.