Saturday, December 31, 2011

Most Frequent Questions of 2011?

As this year comes roaring to a close, here are the top three wine-related questions I get asked---along with my answers.

1.  What wine region offers the best values?   Hands down, Mendoza (Argentina) offers the best bang for the buck.  Malbec, one of the main varietals of Bordeaux, achieves super-star status here.  Moreover, the wines can be drunk fairly young.  

2.   What are your favorite wines in the <$20 category?  You can’t beat Argiola Costamolino Vermentino from Sardenia, Yalumba Sangiovese Rose from Australia, as well as several Malbecs from Mendoza (see above) including Norton, Altos Las Hormigas, Zuccardi.

3.  What wines are off the general radar that I should know about?   The Douro Valley in Portugal(home of Port) is making some knock-your-socks off reds.  Bierzo (Spain) is also producing some world-class wines from the red Mencia grape.  Grown only in this small corner of Northwest Spain, Mencia is well worth seeking-out…and the price won’t break your post-Christmas wallet.  For white varietals, Vermentino (see #2) from Italy. and Torrontes from Mendoza, Argentina rock! 

Monday, December 26, 2011

Quality Wines From Temecula

Up until recently, quality and Temecula was an oxymoron.  Having moved a few years ago from the San Francisco Bay area to San Diego County, I’ve been praying to Bacchus that someday, someone in nearby Temecula would make a great wine.  My prayers have been answered with not only one winery, but two, that are making superb wines.  There’s only one problem:  they’re not cheap.

The first one that knocked my socks off had been recommended by a winemaker from California’s Central Coast.  We had oenophiles visiting from Northern California and I warned them several times during the 40 minute drive from our home, “Do not expect Napa.  Do not expect Sonoma.  In fact, don’t expect anything.”   Then we walked into Doffo’s tasting room and the earth shifted on its axis.

Doffo is committed to small lot, limited production wines.  The family, originally from the famous Barolo wine district in Italy, has great pedigree DNA and it shows in their wines.  Every sip I tasted was well crafted and could have competed with Italian superstars from Barolo & Barbaresco.  My visitors, who have traveled to the world’s most famous wine districts, immediately joined Doffo’s wine club.  I just received an email from them that the Tiarella Cabernet was “outstanding.”  It better have been as it was $200.

The second winery producing world-class wines is Leoness.  I was introduced to Leoness by my new friend, Debbie--- the local-in-the-know wine maven.   She served a 2008 Signature Select Melange ($80) at a dinner party she hosted this summer, and as the saying goes, the rest is history.  I raved so much about the wine that she recently invited us to Leoness’ wine club dinner party (the winery’s al fresco restaurant was just voted the best new restaurant in Temecula).   The winery is stunning and the food excellent…but the wines from the Signature Select series are the real stars of the show,

Monday, December 19, 2011

Best Wines of 2011

Ok, I know it’s a little like choosing your favorite child, but here’s the Top 10 wines I had in 2011. Wine districts represented include several from California.  As I am a Pinot lover the Russian River (#1,5,6,7,8) had the most entries, but  I also adored one from Santa Barbara County (#3).  Bordeaux also floated to the top (#4) along with the Yarra Valley of Australia (#2).   The last two will surprise many:  Portugal (#9), and most unpredicted of all, the Temecula wine district of Southern California (#10). 

They are in no particular order…the earth moved fairly equally with each one.

  1. Dehlinger Pinot 2001  ($50)
  2. Yarra Yering Red Number 3  2008 ($90)
  3. Piedrasassi White 2010 ($42)
  4. Chateau Leoville Poyferré 1996  ($175)
  5. William Selyem Pinot 1998  ($120)
  6. Hartford Court
    Pinot 2008 ($65)
  7. Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($30)
  8. Dehlinger Chardonnay 2008 ($45)
  9. Quinta do Vallado Reserva Douro 2008 ($50)
  10. Leoness Signature Select Melange 2008 ($75)
Top Value for 2011?  Hands-down it goes to Guigal’s 2007 Cotes de Rhone for $13….we’ve bought at least 10 cases at Costco and are heading back for more.  A top notch French producer, Guigal’s Rhone blend could masquerade in a blind tasting for 3-4 times its price.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Serving Whites at the Correct Temperature

The temperature that a wine is served at can dramatically alter the way it tastes and smells.  People generally serve red wine too warm (see my last posting) and white too cold.  White wine that has been stored in the refrigerator for several hours is often taken out and immediately served.   Refrigerators are typically 35-40 degrees.  However, the ideal temperature for serving white wines is 50-55 degrees (45-50 degrees for sparkling wines).

Colder temperatures mask the aromatics and flavor nuances of a white wine.  More complex whites are all but ruined by being served too cold as you will not be able to notice the quality.  The good news is that if you place both hands around the glass your body heat will warm the wine in minutes.  There’s no need to ask for help from the wait-staff (but informing them of the icy temperature should be done).

If you store your white wines at room temperature (70 degrees) here are some quick tips for getting them to appropriate serving temperatures:

  • Lighter-bodied whites (e.g. Sauvignon Blanc and Rosé):  refrigerate 3 hours prior to serving.
  • Complex whites (e.g. an aged Chardonnay):  refrigerate 2.5 hour prior to serving.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Keep it Cool---Serving Red Wine at the Correct Temperature

I’m a warm-weather-kind-of-gal (that’s why I now live in San Diego rather than San Francisco).  As winter approaches the Northern Hemisphere, one of the few benefits of this cooler time of year is the increased chances of being served a red wine at the correct temperature.  There’s nothing I find more irritating than to be poured a warm red.  The more expensive the wine (and the more pricey the restaurant), the more annoyed I become.

The ideal temperature for serving red wine is 55-60 degrees (lighter weight reds like Pinot should be served more in the 55 degree range, while heavier-bodied Cabernets are best at about 60 degrees).  Room temperature is typically 70-75 degrees, depending on time of year and climate.  Serve a red at this temperature and all you’ll taste is the alcohol.  A hot summer’s day can be catastrophic on a big, complex red that has not been appropriately chilled.

If you’re served a warm red wine in a restaurant be prepared for a possible battle.  Knowledgeable wait-staff will not scoff at bringing you an ice bucket, however, those not so wine savvy may convulse at such an outrageous thought.  Stick to your guns and insist on the ice-bucket.  (And, if you have a heart, use this as a teachable moment with under-trained staff to let them see the wine’s evolution from warm to the ideal chilled temperature.) 

For those of you who do not have the ability to store wines in their optimum 55-60 range, here are some quick tips for getting them closer to appropriate serving temperatures:

  • For lighter reds which have been stored at room temperature (70 degrees), refrigerate them 2 hours prior to serving.
  • For heavier reds stored at room temperature (70 degrees), refrigerate them 1 hour prior to serving.

Stay tuned for the ideal white wine temperatures in my next BLOG posting.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Best Bubblies for the Holidays

Sparkling wines are at big hit at our house year-round---not just on special occasions.  (I say pop a cork on a bubbly mid-week regardless of what season it is and turn a run-of-the-mill day or night magically into something not so mundane).  With the "holidaze" quickly approaching, below are my suggestions for the best bubbles.  They vary in price from $10-$120, but all represent good quality/price ratio in their respective ranges.  Most of them, Wine-Knows Travel has been fortunate enough to visit the winery.

Under $10
·        Cristallino Brut.  I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t have had it in a blind-tasting.  I later found out that Robert Parker had scored this Spanish cava with 91 points.  All of this for the great sum of $7.99.

$10- 20
·        Roederer Estate Anderson Valley Brut.   Made by the same company that produces France’s legendary Cristal Champagne that sells for ten times the price ($200), this American sparkler is consistently on my best buy list. 
·        Gruet Blanc de Noirs (or Brut).  Sparkling wine from New Mexico?  (For that matter, wine of any type from New Mexico?)  This is not any oxymoron.   The Gruet family, producers of excellent Champagne in France, have won countless awards for their very well-crafted American bubbles. 
·        Le Colture Prosecco.  This is one of the best made sparklers from the Prosecco region (which lies in the hills above Venice.)  Viva Italia!

  • Arglye Brut.    While not known for its sparkling wine, Oregon soars with this one. Make sure you have plenty of this one in your cellar throughout the year.
  • Ca Del Bosco Franciacorta .  Made by one of my fave producers in the world of sparkling wine, these luscious Italian gems are a great way to ring in the holidays.
  • Ployez-Jacquemart Champagne.  Made by a boutique producer, this one is hard to find in retail shops, but well worth the effort (suggest you buy online.)
$50 - $100
·        Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose.   I still remember my first sip of this and that was >25 years ago.  Yes, I love the beautiful “salmon” color, but it’s the taste that completely seduced me.

$ 100-120
  • Egly-Ouriet Champagne.   For those who can pony up the 100+ bucks, this French delight just might leave you breathless.  In a league of its own.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Stilton---The King of Blue Cheese

I am a raving fan of the blues…cheeses that is.  Every year at the this time my mother sends me a wheel of Stilton cheese from England.  Twenty-five years ago “mum” and I visited the premier producer of Stilton, located not far from Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest.  We still reminisce about that glorious day at award-winning Long Clawson Dairy.

Stilton, unlike Roquefort which is made from sheep, is crafted from cow’s milk.  While I adore Roquefort, I’m a Stilton girl all the way.  Stilton is a little higher in fat content, thus, has a more luscious texture.  Roquefort is sharp, whereas Stilton is more subtle.  But the real reason Stilton deserves kingly status is for its complexity.

Long Clawson Dairy, who recently won SUPREME CHAMPION at the International Cheese Awards, will ship its products:   However, if you want to fast track it for the holidays Long Clawson's fabulous cheese can also be ordered through William-Sonoma ($75 for 2 lbs, including tax and shipping).

My fave way to serve the King for Christmas?  A winter salad composed of fuyu persimmons, pomegranates, arugula and toasted walnuts or pecans…dressed with classic vinaigrette.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Best Sunday Night Dinner in Paris

Aligot, one of the restaurant's signature dishes.

I frequently am asked recommendations on where to eat in Paris.  The first question I ask is “What’s your budget?”  The second is “What night?”  If you’re dining in Paris on Sunday evening (when the vast majority are closed) and don’t want to drop a bazillion Euros----but still want to eat well---there’s one place that stands an Eiffel tower above the rest:  Ambassade de Auvergne.

The little jewel specializes in cuisine from France’s mountainous central area, the Auvergne region.  Its prixe fixe menu (28 Euro or <$35, including tip and tax) represents one of the best deals in Paris for quality cooking.  Don’t leave Paris without trying the “Ambassador’s” aligot, a mouthwatering potato dish infused with the region’s famous Cantal cheese---it’s totally sinful, but a sin you’ll never forget (and it is served with the prixe-fixe dinner). 

The other piece de resistance is their chocolate mousse which I learned about by accident.  One of my friends ordered it and insisted that I take a bite---I declined but my dear friend was unrelenting…and the rest is history.  After too-many-to-count pedestrian chocolate mousses in my life, I can say that this version is in a league of its own---absolutely superb!  The good news is that it, too, is served on the bargain prixe fixe dinner.

Ambaassade de Auvergne is located near Georges Pompidou Center on a small street away from the maddening crowds.  If you’re coming by Metro, it’s almost across the street from the Rambuteau stop.  If dining on Sunday, don’t even think about showing up without a reservation.  I prefer the rustic downstairs dining room decorated with a wooden-beamed ceiling and copper pots, however, the upstairs is attractive as well.  I suggest not choosing a wine from the Auvergne area…I’ve tried several and none were noteworthy.  But, not to worry as there is a good selection of moderate cost wines from several other areas in France.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Foie Gras is NOT French

Last week I broke the sad news that the croissant is not French.  I’ve got more troubling news for all of you Francophiles who love foie gras, a popular delicacy in France:  it is not of French origin!  Au contraire, foie gras actually originated in ancient Egypt.   In 2500 BC the Egyptians began deliberately fattening birds for culinary purposes through force-feeding.  This process then spread to Greece in the 5th century BC, and then later to the Roman Empire.  It was actually the Romans who brought the process to France.

Today, France is the leading producer and consumer of foie gras in the world.  If you’re one of the lucky folks who have secured a seat on the SOLD OUT  September 2012 harvest tour to Bordeaux, you will visit a famous farm where foie gras is produced.  You’ll be able to view the process of force-feeding (controversial for some in the US but not so in most other parts of the world), and judge for yourself how you feel. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Australia Bargain Wines

Those of you who have recently journeyed “down under” may think this title is an oxymoron---Australia at the moment is enormously expensive.   That being said, these wines (all imported to the USA) represent superb value for their quality/price ratio (listed in alphabetical order):

  • D'Arenberg The Hermit Crab:  The 70% Viognier and 30% Marsanne blend is a real winner.  California crab season is just opening and this Hermit would be perfect. ($18)

  • D’Arenberg Love Grass Shiraz:  Complex layers of dark fruit mixed with interesting savory notes and a good finish.  You’ll have a love-fest with this one.  ($25)

  • De Bortoli Windy Peak Pinot Noir: A nice little strawberry-cherry-raspberry infused vino from a well known winemaking family of Italian heritage. ($17)  

  •  Deviation Road Sauvignon Blanc:  This un-oaked gem boasts melon, citrus and floral nuances, along with a creamy texture and a super-duper finish.  ($20)

  • Innocent Bystander Shiraz/Viognier:  Not your usual blockbuster warm-climate Aussie Shiraz, this is a more elegant example of its cool climate growing conditions nearer the sea. ($20)

  •  Vasse Felix Chardonnay:  From Western Australia's coast, this one boasts citrus and spice notes, as well as an impressive finish.  ($19)

  • Wirra Wirra Church Block (Cabernet, Shiraz and Merlot):  Toss something on the “Barbie” and pop the cork of this well structured wine.  Hallelujah! ($20)

  • Yalumba Rose:  This delicate fruit bomb from Sangiovese grapes delivers a mouthful of ripe strawberries and raspberries, along with hints of flowers and minerals.  A decent finish seals the deal.  ($10) 

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Stellar Find in Milan

We just happened to be going to Milan at the time of their Fashion Week.  Although I was looking for accommodations several months in advance, there was absolutely nothing available.  Then, an Italian friend recommended Hotel Star.  “It’s only a five minute walk from the La Scala Opera House and a few minutes more to the Duomo and Galleria” she wrote.  Bingo…minutes later I found on the Internet that Hotel Star had availability!

I wasn’t expecting much as the special Internet prepayment rate (no cancellation) cost was $185 US per night.  (Considering its location that’s a miracle).  Our taxi turned off a busy road onto a small side-street and moments later we were at the front door of Hotel Star. As we entered I was surprised at the rather grandiose, marble lobby…after all, it was only a 3 star property.  When we opened the door to our room, I was shocked again, this time at the large, beautifully appointed space:  highly polished parquet floors, attractive wood paneling, gorgeous light fixtures and faux finished walls with a hand-painted mural. 

The bed proved to be extremely comfortable.  A marble bathroom with a Jacuzzi tub completed this perfect escape. The quality of the towels was excellent.  And, the tiny street proved to be a blessing in noisy downtown Milan as our street-facing room was perfectly quiet.  

Hotel Star ( has only 30 rooms and has been owned by the same family since the 1930’s.  Be sure and ask for a SUPERIOR room on the first or second floors, all of which have been refurbished and are well worth the extra small cost.  The only liability is the hotel does not have parking (although I was told there are parking lots within walking distance). 

Skip breakfast at the hotel (not included in the above rate) and head down the street one minute’s walk to Bar de Bossi.  The place was packed with well coiffed business men and woman stopping for an espresso or cappuccino before work in the nearby financial district.  We had a superb cappuccino made with Illy Coffee (our fave) for $2 each, and a delightful warm pasty ($1.50)…brilliant bargains in super pricey Milan.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

What Wine to Serve at Thanksgiving?

The first day of November finds many of us contemplating our Thanksgiving dinner.   Should I brine the bird?  Smoke or roast it?   Who in the crowd likes Brussels sprouts?  Who doesn’t?   Pumpkin pie or one of my new recipes---or both?    The plethora of questions often include what wine?   

Assuming you’re serving turkey, my suggestion is either a Pinot Noir or a dry Gewurztraminer, or both of the varietals.   These two wines work beautifully with turkey and most of the trimmings (with the exception of asparagus which is a horrible pairing with most wines.).   My preference is to conduct an informal experiment using both the Pinot and the “Gewurtz.”  I place two glasses at each setting and ask folks to try both wines with their dinner.  Guests are asked them to keep their preference to themselves during dinner and unveil their favorite after.  At the end of the meal, choices are revealed.  I  am always amazed that we typically get the same answers over and over:  50%  prefer the Pinot; the other 50% prefer the Gewurtz.  Often the majority are surprised at their preference.

For a dry Gewurztraminer, I recommend one from Alsace (this tiny piece of France makes the best Gewurtz on the planet….but just make sure the wine is dry.)  Great producers with good penetration in the US market include Trimbach, Domaine Weinbach, and Albert Mann.   Prices for these Alsatians range from $25-100, depending on if it’s a Grand Cru).  If you want an American Gewurtz, look no further than Claiborne and Churchill (California, Edna Valley).  This one is a steal at $20.

Pinot Noir can be pricey, especially those from Burgundy.  My suggestions for California Pinots are Dehlinger or William Selyem, neither of which are cheap ($55-75 for the latest vintage).  A good alternative for less is Melville’s Verna Vineyard at $26.  Oregon is also making some lovely Pinots---I suggest Domaine Drouhin or Ken Wright (both in the $30-50 range).  New Zealand’s Craffy Range
Te Muna Road   
by Martinborough offers an excellent quality/price ratio at $29.  Want to up the ante with a Burgundian?  Opt for Dujac or Meo Camuzet, both of which can be plucked for $50-450, depending on vineyard and vintage.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Croissant is Not French

As identifiable with France as the Eiffel Tower, the butter-rich croissant surprisingly is not French in origin.  The croissant’s ancestry can be traced back to 13th century Austria where it was then called a Kipferl.  The crescent-shaped Kipferl was brought from Austria to Paris in the mid-1800’s, but it wasn’t until the Boulangerie Viennoise (“Breadmaker from Vienna”) opened just after the turn of the 20th century that this morning pastry became a huge hit among the Parisians.   French bakers began immediately to make copycat products and named their version “croissant” in reference to its crescent (croissant) shape.   

Stay tuned for a future posting on my favorite spots in Paris for mind-blowing croissants. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Best of the Central Coast Tour

I’ve just returned from the Wine-Knows Tour to California’s Central Coast.   From Santa Barbara to Paso Robles, over 100 wines were tasted at 16 different wineries.   Although Rhone varietals dominated (Syrah, Grenache, Roussane, Marsanne & Viognier), we also had  many cool climate grapes such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay & Gewurztraminer.  Cab and Zin, representing the warmer areas, were also sampled.

Best wine of the trip?   Piedrasassi’s 2009 “White.”  I was left breathless by this cuvee...and that's saying something considering the number of well-crafted wines I taste each year.  Made mostly from Sauvignon Blanc, it also has some Chardonnay and Malvasia in the mix.  Bottled in handmade glass from Italy, the celebrity packaging is fitting for this super-star.  While it’s the first vintage of this particular blend by winemaker Sashi Moorman, I hope it won’t be the last. This stunning wine is a steal at $42.  Piedrassasi is located in Lompoc’s “Wine Ghetto.”

Below are the best of the rest, all noteworthy, listed in alphabetical order, with the winery/tasting room location noted.

  • Alta Colina 2010 12 O’Clock High  (Paso Robles).  Succulent tropical mix with peaches & apricots in this primarily Viognier blend.  Made by a 3 generation family.  $28

  • Alta Maria 2010 Sauvignon Blanc (Los Olivos).  Loved the melon & citrus nuances and great finish.  $22

  • Alma Rosa 2008 Pinot Noir La Encantada Vineyard (Santa Rita Hills).  Winemaker Richard Sanford has created a terrific berry-cherry-spice-floral treasure. $43

  • Barrel 27---2007 Head Honcho Syrah (Paso Robles).  Plums & raspberries with an overlay of chocolate.   Good structure and finish. $28

  • Chamisal 2008 Califa Chardonnay (Edna Valley). One of my fave Chars---complex, luscious and a killer finish.  $38

  • Claiborne & Churchill 2010 Gewurztraminer (Edna Valley).  Best crafted dry Gewurtz in the USA.  $20

  • Holus Bolus 2010 Syrah (Lompoc).  It won’t be bottled for another few months, but this one is worth the wait.   $26

  • Jaffurs 2009 Grenache Blanc (Santa Barbara).  Only 300 cases of this tropical gem.  $30

  • Melville 2010 Verna’s Pinot Noir (Santa Rita Hills).  One of the winery’s most popular, this one is flat our delicious.  $26

  • Palamina  2010 Tocai Friiulano (Lompoc).  Apricot & citrus mixed with floral notes, it’s a perfect summer aperitif.   $18

  • Stolpman 2009 Hilltop Syrah (Santa Ynez Valley).  Harvested from the best blocks at the estate, you gotta love this one.  $48

  • Tablas Creek 2009 Espirit de Beaucastel (Paso Robles).  I admit that I’m a raving fan of France’s Chateau Beaucastel, but this American Rhone-blend is pure bliss. $55

  • Talley 2009 Rosemary Vineyard Pinot Noir (Edna Valley).   Layers and layers of fruit and earth with a superb finish.  $70

Friday, October 21, 2011

Chocolates Down Under

Those of you who love chocolates from Switzerland are going to go wild over Haigh's Chocolates. Producing chocolate since 1915, these Swiss-trained chocolatiers are still turning out la crème de la crème products.  Controlling quality is one of the major secrets to their success…all the way from roasting of their own cocoa beans to hand-dipping each fabulous morsel.  My fave was the Shiraz Truffle, but the Praline chocolate was a close second.

There’s only one negative---they are not available outside of Australia.  If you find yourself in Melbourne or Adelaide on the March 2012 Wine-Knows tour, we’ll be touring the factory and sampling.  If you can't make the tour, you can learn the secrets behind these fabulous delectables in their book for sale on Amazon.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Truffle---the World's Most Expensive Edible

October is the height of the white truffle season in Italy.  While both Italy and France have black truffles, the white truffle (tartufo bianco) is only present in Italy---specifically Northwest Italy in the Piemonte district.  Known as the “King of Truffles,” white truffles command approximately $3,000 per pound. One of the most expensive gastronomic items on earth, these culinary treasures are worshipped by chefs around the world. 

A truffle is an exotic fungus---a distant cousin of the wild mushroom. Unlike mushrooms, truffles develop entirely underground.  Root systems of trees such as oak, pine and beech form the perfect milieu for truffles.  When mature, truffles emit a mesmerizing aroma.  The white truffle, however, is the most prized variety because of its over-the-top musky fragrance.  Highly perfumed, it’s no wonder why this delicious white version of the edible was considered the “food of the Gods” by the ancient peoples.

Alba is Italy's white truffle capital and every weekend in October crowds of thousands converge on the town to attend their world-famous Truffle Market where tartufi bianco can be purchased in sizes varying from small walnuts to tennis balls.   There’s also tartufi pasta (fresh & dried), tartufi butter, tartufi cheese, tartufi oil & tartufi paste for purchase. A cornucopia of local food specialties such as wine-flavored salami, divine chestnut desserts, and an expansive variety of wild mushrooms from the nearby forests are available.  The superstar wine from the region, Barolo and Barbaresco, complete the food and wine lover’s nirvana.

To learn more about Truffles, Barolo and Barbaresco, join the 2012 tour to Piemonte where you’ll not only attend the enchanting Truffle Market but accompany a truffle hunter into the forests to hunt for the delicacy.

Buon Appetito!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Corsican Wines: a Well Kept Little Secret

Winemaker's daughter at Domaine Leccia

The most famous Corsican, Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, may have been French, but until three months before his birth in 1769, the island was controlled under the rule of the Italians.  Italy still dominates in terms of Corsica’s wine scene as its grape varieties and winemaking traditions are Italian in origin.
Most of Corcica’s vineyards are located around the coast.  The leading grapes are Sangiovese and Vermentino.  There are 9 designated wine regions, the oldest of which is Patrimonio (1968).   It was here that I was based for 2 weeks, with day trips to the Cap Corse and Calvi wine regions.

I was most impressed by the island’s whites made from the Vermentino grape.  This varietal, which thrives on the Italy’s northwest mainland (Liguria & Tuscany), reaches super-star status on the island of Sardenia…just few miles from Corsica.  Currently one of the most popular white wine grapes in Italy, Vermentino is also catching on in the US.

So what is it about Vermentino that is so appealing?  Is it the subtle floral and fruity aromatics (think citrus, apricot, pineapple & tropical) that I love most?  Or is it the well-rounded mouthfeel that is beautifully balanced with a refreshing acidity?  Vermentino was a perfect match with Corsica’s shellfish, grilled fish or free range chickens.  And, Vermentino is often one of our "go to" wines wines on a warm day at our home near San Diego, California.

The following, listed in alphabetical order, stood out as the best of those wines that are exported to the North America:
·        Antoine Arena
·        Clos Nicrosi
·        Leccia

Monday, October 10, 2011

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Beer

OK, I admit it…..I know nothing about beer.  But, there are many savvy gourmands who love the stuff.   And, what I do know is that beer culture has moved way beyond fraternity keg parties and backyard family barbeques with mass-marketed canned brews of the 1970’s.  Upscale metropolitan restaurants catering to a dressed-up crowd are now expanding their offerings of expensive beers presented beautifully in designer stemware, paired with foods that amplify their taste.  Perfectly timed on the wave of this shift in beer culture is the The Oxford Companion to Beer.

Recently released by the Oxford Press, this mammoth undertaking by New Yorker Garrett Oliver, is encyclopedic in scope.  Like the changing restaurant landscape in relation to beers, it reinforces just how far the beverage has evolved, particularly in the United Sates.  The US, once the ugly step-sister of worldwide beer production, has moved to Cinderella status.  American micro brewers are now inspiring legions of suds lovers in traditional beer meccas such as England, Germany and Belgium.  Moreover, the renaissance in the US has surprisingly jump-started artisinal beer movements in places such as Italy, Mexico and Japan.
Mr. Oliver’s well researched compendium is a definitive resource which consolidates everything that is known about beer.  It’s not, however, just for beer lovers, but for amateur and professional brewers, as well as restaurants and their serving staff.  As with wine, knowledge about how and where the beverage was crafted, and the tradition surrounding the varying cuvees, is part of the pleasure of enjoying a bit of the brew. 

French and Italian foodie magazines along with their books on gastronomy now discuss beer, as well as wine lists.  The trend is continuing in Manhattan where upscale restaurants are beginning to offer <100 beers by the glass which are paired with everything from appetizers to desserts.   I’d say this is a trend to watch.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Eye Candy in Bellagio

Candy without calories?  Si signora!   I’ve got the perfect antidote for dieting on Lake Como---skip lunch (or dinner), hike up and down the town’s hillside streets and enjoy the cornucopia of eye candy in its many glorious shops. Whether you’re on a budget, or just paid a bazillion Euro’s for the lakeside villa next to George Clooney’s, there’s something for everyone. Here are a couple of boutiques that wowed me.

“In Bellagio” is a jewel-box of a store located in the epicenter of town at the intersection of the city’s two main shopping streets (stair-lined Salita Serbelloni and Via Garibaldi, the street above that parallels the waterfront).   The boutique features attractive hand-made items, along with gold, sterling and precious stone jewelry.  There is also a terrific selection of costume rings, bracelets and earrings that look as if they could easily be on a Milan designer’s runway.  Ask for Cristian or Luciana and you’ll be well taken care of. 

                                                         In Bellagio, Via Garibaldi 29

Azalea (31 and 41 Salita Serbelloni)

Fortuitously located across the stairs from the In Bellagio shop is another show-stopper that features the best of Como’s silk products.  Azaela, which has actually two shops on the staircase, offers slightly different products at each store.  Both, however, offer luxurious handmade scarfs, shawls and ties in an endless rainbow of colors, including a good collection by Missoni and Versace.  (At #41, be sure to ask for the Signora...versus the help you.  She is patient and offers a low-pressure approach).

Buon Appetito!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A New Michelin Man

Many Americans think of the Michelin man as a rotund little guy made of tires—the logo for the Michelin tire company.  I’m talking about a different Michelin man…. one who has a profound international influence over fine dining.  Micheal Ellis is the first American appointed as Director of the well known foodie’s bible, the Michelin Guide.

Michelin Guides began in 1900 as a freebie offered to French motorists embarking on a trip.  It offered tips on where to stop in France for help with the car, information on how to fix a tire, maps, and lists of hotels.  In 1920 Michelin began including restaurants and started charging for the book.  By 1926 it introduced a star to denote a very special restaurant with outstanding cuisine.  In 1931, the guide morphed to its present day hierarchical rating of one, two or three star system for establishments of the highest culinary talents.

Few gastronomes know that in 1944 when American soldiers landed in France they had copies of the Michelin guide.  The publication had ceased production during the war, but a special reprint of the 1939 edition was given to our armed forces so that they could use the guide’s detailed maps, as road signs had been taken down. 

Michelin Guides are now in 23 countries and often exert a “make or break” situation for restaurants or chefs.  At least one French chef has committed suicide over the loss of one of Michelin’s prestigious stars.  Fortunes have been made or lost over stars.  Divorces, bankruptcies, restaurant closures have been caused by a demotion in the guide.

Mr. Ellis, a native New Yorker who speaks five languages, took over management of the guide in early 2011.  He has an especially tough job ahead as sales of the guides in the last several years have been steadily dropping.  The guide has not kept up with the technological revolution.  While its website was launched in 1997, it’s not the most user-friendly.  Furthermore, why pay $35 for a heavy book each year if all the updated information is at your fingertips?  Another challenge facing Mr Ellis is the changing mentality toward dining.  Michelin star restaurants are often perceived as stuffy and out of sync with the current movement toward simple, informal, affordable and healthy.

I’m toasting Mr Ellis with a glass of Champagne in hopes that he work some wonders to move the guides into their next chapter. 

Friday, September 30, 2011

A Jewel of a Boutique Hotel

Having traveled within France extensively for nearly 30 years and having dropped beaucoup Euro’s on upscale accommodations, there aren’t too many places that take my breath away these days.  Hotel Loredana on the island of Corsica, however, did.  With only 18 rooms, this little French hideaway has it all.  Located a 10 minute walk from the unspoiled village of St Florent on a hill with 180 degree panoramas of the brilliantly blue sea, it’s no wonder international celebrities love this gem.  It’s small.  It’s private. It’s understated elegance at its best. 

The moment I entered I knew I was someplace special.  The marbled foyer contained a grand piano.  The adjoining salon’s décor could have easily been in Architectural Digest.  Staff was welcoming, helpful and gentile.  The bed chambers, large and decorated by someone with a great eye, have panoramic views of the sea.  Bathrooms are beautifully outfitted and luxuriously appointed.

The entire property exudes a private club feel.  Amenities include a large swimming pool overlooking the sea, a Turkish bath, and a massage center. There is no restaurant, purposely….to protect the privacy of the guests no outsiders are allowed on the premises.  To compensate, 24 hour room service is available, or room service can deliver guest meals to a lovely shaded poolside terrace. 

While the hotel is rated only 4 stars (to receive 5 stars it must offer a restaurant), prices reflect its 5 star pedigree.   Rooms begin at $700 US (440 Euro) and move up to $3,400 US (1,950 Euro) for a suite.  A light French breakfast is an additional $30 (23 Euro) per person.  

Actress Kathy Bates had just spent a week at the Loredana and has already booked a return.  She joins a long list of entertainers and superstars who have slept in this mesmerizing little jewel.   Want seclusion along with peace and quiet?  Look no further...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Corsica—France’s Best Kept Secret

Lying just 100 miles off the French Riviera, Corsica might as well be 1000’s of miles away from the maddening crowds and jet-setters of Cannes, Nice and Antibes.  Technically part of the Provence region, this postcard perfect Mediterranean jewel may just be one of the last unspoiled spots in France. 

Corsica is the most mountainous island in the Mediterranean, thus travel can be slow and arduous.  Furthermore, getting to Corsica, is no piece of gateau.  Although closer to Italy than to France, there are no direct flights from Italy to the island.   While only 100 miles from Nice, flights from the Riviera are few; consequently, supply and demand drive prices to about $250 for a 45 minute quickie.  Yes, there are ferries, but they are also few.  Many run only during the summer or on weekends…to add insult to injury, journeys vary from  4-6 hours.  All of this translates to fewer tourists (especially Americans).  All of this, most importantly, translates to a more authentic experience.

Just 50 miles from the Italian mainland (and only 7 miles from the Italian island of Sardenia), the island offers a magnfico fusion of French and Italian cuisine.  Imagine every restaurant offering salade de chevre (goat cheese on a bed of greens) and agneau Provençale (lamb braised in with tomatoes, thyme and olives), along with a wide assortment of homemade pastas and wood-fired pizzas.  And the fusion doesn’t stop there.  There’s crème brulee or tiramisu.  I think I’m in heaven.

In 1769 the Republic of Genoa (now northwest Italy) sold Corsica to Louis XV for 40 million francs (approximately 5 Million US dollars).  I’d say that the French made out like a bandito.

Stay tuned for details on Corsica’s wine scene, as well as a charming celebrity hideaway.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cheeses Fit for an Emperor

We’re on the island of Corsica where we’ve rented a home with a glorious view of the sun setting over the Mediterranean.  Just 100 miles south of the French Riviera, the island’s claim to fame is Napoleon's birthplace.  In my book, the island’s notoriety should be its cheese.  Lying only 50 miles from Italy, Corsica is an interesting combination of French and Italian culture, including its cuisine and food products.

Cheese is one of the pillars of Corsica’s gastronomy.    The climate, terrain and robust wild plant vegetation provide a perfect formula for cheeses which are very different from those of the mainland.  A mind-boggling variety of artisanal cheese exits;  from mild and creamy to pungent and firm, all are made from free-grazing sheep and goats.  Most are made by small producers.  As there are hardly any cheese shops on Corsica, people buy cheese at the morning markets.

Brocciu is the only cheese on the island to bear the prestigious AOC seal (made under a host of stringent regulations that control the origin and the production of the product).   Similar to Italy’s ricotta, it is made from the whey, a byproduct of cheese-making that is usually discarded.   Like ricotta, Brocciu, is used in many dishes such as salads, pasta stuffing, omelettes, cakes and pastries.   In fact, Brocciu’s so popular that it’s sold in reusable containers---refilled frequently by the local cheese-maker.   It can be consumed fresh, or aged in small discs. 

Brin d'Amour, a "spot of love," is aptly named.  Sheep graze freely on wild herbs from the Corsican scrub such as rosemary, thyme and oregano, and what they eat adds a specific flavor to their milk.  The resulting rich cheese, which is also covered with the wild herbs, has a velvet-like, voluptuous consistency that melts in your mouth.  Floral nuances mix with savory and a subtle blend of spice.

The Giancoli family produces nearly 70 Chevre de la Tavagna cheese per day.  Their farm, located on the northeastern side of Corsica (just across from the Italian mainland), is in a mountainous area where their goats roam at will.  The artisan chevre, usually aged for 7 months, is pungent.  But, get past its smell and you’ll find a taste that represents the best of a glorious Corscian mountain landscape mixed with a touch of the Mediterranean’s salt air.

Both Brocciou and Brin d'Amour are exported to the USA.  If you can't find them locally, they are available online.  For information about Corsican wines to accompany your cheese, stay tuned for my next Blog posting.