Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Italy's Latest “In” Beverage

Aperol is a wildly popular Italian aperitivo, (the French equivalent of an aperitif----an alcoholic drink, drunk before a meal to “wet the appetite”) especially in the North East region of Italy where it originated.  On a recent trip to Venice every table of Italians had an “Aperol Spritz” (Aperol mixed with Prosecco, a sparkling wine from the hills above Venice.)  The apertivo was hard to miss due to its bright neon-orange color, derived from an intense infusion of sweet and bitter oranges along with rhubarb.

Only recently exported to the USA, Aperol is becoming the new Bellini cocktail for Americans foodies.  Even Ruth Reichel, former restaurant critic for The New York Times and editor of Gourmet, has recently twittered about Aperol.

Here’s my fave way to serve it…my interpretation of the Aperol Sprtiz:
·        2 oz Aperol
·        2 oz Prosecco (or other dry sparkling wine)
·        Splash of sparkling water

Place all ingredients above in a wine glass with ice cubes and decorate with an orange slice.

Tomorrow we board a plane for a sorely needed R&R with friends at a villa on Lake Como.  You can bet that we’ll be having an Aperol Spritz to celebrate our arrival.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Talk Dirt to Me

It doesn’t matter what country we’re in, on all of our wine and food tours a fundamental concept is the French term terroir.  Derived from a Latin root meaning “earth,” terroir speaks to the relationship between a wine and that specific location in which the grapes were grown.  While there is no literal translation, terroir denotes the sum of the effects that the local setting has on the making of a wine.  Examples include the soil composition, sun, soil drainage, topography, humidity, and even the native environmental pests.     

Terroir is also critical with food products.  Cheese, olive oil, coffee and tea, for example, are also profoundly influenced by the terroirs in which they are grown. The village of Roquefort, France recognized centuries ago that they had a unique environment for producing blue cheese.  The soil that births grasses eaten by Roquefort area cows are one part of the area’s terroir;  local bacteria in the caves where the cheeses are aged are another factor responsible for creating a cheese like no other in the world, including no other blue cheese in France.  

Looking for a novel party idea?  How about a “Talk Dirt to Me” theme, where you offer wine made from the same grape grown in different regions of the same country (e.g. wines from California’s Central Coast and Napa Valley).  Combine this with a tasting of foods items made from the same product but from diverse localities (such as Parmiggiano Reggiano and Grano Padano, both made from cow’s milk in a similar fashion, but from very different terroirs).

Sunday, August 21, 2011

CORKAGE FEES---a Different Viewpoint

Many of us have succumbed reluctantly to the outrageous $35-50 corkage fees of some "destination" restaurants.  An upscale Italian trattoria in La Jolla, Ca. that I used to frequent (it’s now closed), offered a bit of sorely needed comic relief on corkage policies that went something like this:
  • If you bring in a bottle of French wine, you are either too intelligent to be dining here or a wine snob.  Corkage is the alcoholic content of the wine, times the square root of pi, divided by two, rounded off to the nearest dollar.
  • If you bring in a very old bottle of Italian white wine (older than 10 years), you should know better.  We feel sorry for your guests, thus, there will be no corkage for them.  You, however, must pay $20 to use a glass.
  • If you bring in a very special bottle of Italian red wine we know you are a very savvy wine connoisseur…and undoubtedly a very well off one.  So, whatever we charge you for corkage will be a trivial matter.  Trivial to us is $20.
  • If you bring in a sparkling wine, well now we are talking about something special.  It is $20 for Italian or domestic, and $30 for French.
  • If you bring in a bottle with a Costco bar code still on it, corkage is the total of the numbers on the bar code.
  • If you bring in a bottle of “Two Buck Chuck” from Trader Joe’s, you should be severely reprimanded by your guests.  Corkage is the retail price of the wine times ten.
  • Not withstanding anything written above, guests will pay just $20 in corkage per 750 ml bottle, double for magnums.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Fab “Meritage” Cheese

"Meritage" in the wine world signifies a wine made from a blend of grapes, most often Bordeaux varietals.  La Tur is an elegant cheese made from a blend of milk from cows, goats and sheep.  A meritage wine is meant to balance the best of all the varietals.  In the case of La Tur, the combination of the three milks makes for an exquisite product in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

This decadent gourmet indulgence comes from Italy’s Piedmont region (home of another gastronomic extravagance, the white truffle).  The operative word for La Tur is luscious. I can think of no other cheese with a more succulent texture.  This one would unquestionably be in my last meal’s cheese course…and that’s saying something as I am an aficionado of fine cheese.

La Tur (made by Caseificio Alta Langa in the same hills where truffles grow) is now fortunately exported to the US.  The company does not accept visitors, however, Wine-Knows Travel has secured an “exception” appointment to tour the factory and watch La Tur’s birthing process.  For more information about this 2012 tour to Piedmont (perfectly timed for the Truffle Festival and the harvest of Barolo), check out the trip at www.WineKnowsTravel.com

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A $1 Million Australian Syrah

In a blink of an eye, 462 cases of one of Australia’s most coveted Shiraz (aka Syrah) were destroyed by a freak forklift accident.  The loss, valued at > $1M, represented over 30% of the coveted Velvet Glove Shiraz produced by Mollydooker winery in 2010.  For oenophiles, this is tantamount to an art-lover watching a Renoir go up in flames. 

The Velvet Glove Shiraz, which has previously been given a phenomenal score of 99 out of 100 points by Robert Parker, sells for $200 bottle, although prices will most likely soar due to the accident.  Mollydooker has won numerous prestigious international awards, in addition to Australia’s Winemaker of the Year. This winery will be one of the stops on Wine-Knows' 2012 Harvest Tour to Australia (http://www.wineknowstravel.com/).

Listen to the winemaker’s description of the accident on this short video: http://www.winefoot.com/2011/08/sparky-marquis-talks-about-the-velvet-glove-accident

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Best UNKNOWN Wines in the World:

If you come to our home there's a very good chance that you'll be served one of the following wines sometime during the course of your stay.  We do this purposely to introduce guests to varietals they may not know.   These under-the-radar wines can be complex and extremely well made.  As they are virtually unknown to most Americans, prices of all these wines are very fair…and will remain so until they are discovered and prices dramatically escalate.

1.      Mencia from Spain:  Only grown in Northwest Spain,  the Mencia grape was not even known to oenophiles in Spain ten years ago.  Now that wines made from Mencia have won so many gold medals in the country, Spanish consumers in-the-know are clamoring to get it.  The New York Times and Wall Street Journal have recently jumped on the Mencia bandwagon, so savy American wine lovers are now joining in.   We admire this varietal so much that we took our latest group to Spain to the area in which it is grown…the tour participants fell in love with the it.

2.   Carmenere from Chile:   This grape was brought from Bordeaux by French settlers 150 ago.  While it is impossible to find Carmenere in Bordeaux today  (all of the vineyards were wiped out in the late 19th century by the bug phylloxera), the varietal has thrived in Chile.  Thought to be a “distant cousin” of Merlot, it offers a terrific profile of cherries and spices.

   3.  Torrontes from Argentina:   Twenty per cent of all white wine sold in Argentina is Torrontes.   Characterized by distinctive peach and apricot aromas and taste, this velvety textured fruit-bomb is one of my fave summer wines.   Serve it at your next party and you’ll have a following of Torrontes converts who will love you for introducing the varietal to them.

   4.  Vermentino from Italy:    Want to be instantly transported to a seaside trattoria on the Mediterranean?  Pop the cork on a bottle of Vermentino and you’ll swear you could be on the Ligurian coast (North West Italy near Genoa) or the island of Sardenia.  Both of these areas produce the best renditions of this white wine. Bright melon and floral notes are layered with ripe stone fruit and a hint of citrus.  The perfect wine for a hot day on the Italian seashore…or in your backyard.

    5.  Touriga Nacional from Portugal:   In our recent Blog posting of July 30, we spoke of one of the wines from the Douro Valley (home of the famous Port wines) that was one of Wine Spectator’s Top Ten Wines in the World.  This wine was made from Touriga Nacional.   The varietal, used to make expensive Ports, is one of the most under-rated in the wine world.  It can make an intensely complex non-Port wine that oozes flavors of concentrated black fruits, and completes the deal with a killer finish.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Golden Values from California’s Central Coast

“There’s gold in them their hills!”  On a recent trip to Santa Ynez, Edna Valley and Paso Robles wine regions to set up final details for our October tour, I was astounded to find these bargain gems:

  • Barrell 27 Wine Company:  ’07 High on the Hog Proprietary White ($15)  
A Rhone lover’s delight made from white Grenache, Viognier, Rousanne & Marsanne.   

  • Claiborne & Churchill:   ’09 Gew├╝rztraminer ($18)
This winery makes the best Alsation varietals (all bone dry) wines in the US.

  • Melville:  '08 Verna’s Estate Chardonnay ($21)
Yeah, I know, ABC (“anything but chardonnay), however, this one rocks.

  • Melville:  '08 Syrah Verna’s Estate ($24)     
You gotta be crazy….a good Pinot for <$25?  Yep, I’m crazy in love with this one.

  • Palmina:  '08 Barbera ($22)
Spice and berry notes on with this medium-bodied charmer make it a perfect summer red.

  • Palmina:   ’09 Tocai Fiulano Honea Vineyard ($22)
You’ll be catapulted to NorthWest Italy when you taste this pear and citrus bomb.

Central Coast Wine & Food Lovers Tour: