Sunday, December 30, 2012

New Year’s Resolutions

Keeping it simple, here's what I'm committing to in 2013: 

·        Taste more wines blind

·        Try more wines I don’t know 

·        Don’t wait too long to drink a special bottle (save the
          bottle but drink the wine!)

·        Remember that more is not necessarily more…gems      
          can be found in all price categories

·        Decide what I think of the wine before I know the price

      Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Best of 2012

As the year comes to a close, it’s only natural to reflect on the superlative wines that have passed through these lips in 2012…a daunting task considering all of the bottles from our cellar that have been opened, the many special wines that we’ve been gifted (or were served in friends’ homes), a Society of Wine Educators annual conference and several meetings of the American Wine Society, as well as our more than three months of travel to wine regions outside of the U.S.  Here is a best-of-the-best, my Top 10 List, listed in no particular order (but like wines have been clumped together).  Prices vary from $20 to >$1000…all prices are per bottle cost.

·   Best Australian:  Peter Lehman 2009  VSV 1885 Shiraz.  This one was so compelling (and not available in the U.S.) that four of us on the Wine-Knows trip had several cases sent back home.  $60 plus shipping.

·   Best New Zealand:  Te Whau Vineyard The Point.  During our reconnaissance trip in April for the March 2014 tour, the earth moved so much when we drank this Bordeaux blend that my husband and I ordered a case (it’s not available in the US).  $80…including shipping

·   Best Champagne:   Piper Heidsieck Millesime 1999:   I’ve had some off-the- charts vintage champagnes but this one is très spécial.   Thank you Maureen & Howard for this exquisite gift.  $300-350

·   Best American Bubbly :  DMZ 2005. Made by Mumm’s in Napa, this super-star is aged for at least 6 years. DMZ is one of the finest American sparklers I’ve had and worth every penny.  Thank you Lynne & John for serving this superb aperitif of which I knew nothing about.  $55

  • Best Red Bordeaux:   This is somewhat like choosing your favorite child.  The tasting was a comparative one with Chateau Haut Brion paired with Mission Haut Brion.  The location was Chateau Mission Haut Brion. The Wine-Knows group split right down the middle on preference, but I personally preferred Haut Brion. $1000+

  • Best 2nd label Bordeaux:   Hands down this goes to a Chateau Latour’s 'Les Forts de Latour' 2001.   Thank you, Conni, for buying this on the Wine-Knows trip to Chateau Latour in 2008…and saving it for your recent birthday dinner!  $230

  • Best White Bordeaux:  Those of you who don’t know white Bordeaux, should rush out and buy a case of Chateau Lagrange’s Le Fiefs de Lagrange 2010.  I typically prefer reds, but this one will knock your socks off., especially considering its price.  $20

  • Best Barolo:   Paulo Scavino Barolo Rocche Dell’ Annunziata Riserva 2007.  I’ve been a huge fan of this producer for years, however, in the recent Wine-Knows truffle tour to Piedmont this one was ethereal.  $95

·   Best Bargain Barbaresco  Produttori del Barbaresco 2002.  This was not a great vintage in Piedmont, however, this producer managed to pull off a real coup.  Known for making a consistently well-crafted Barbaresco, the winery’s 2002 was of shocking quality considering its price.  $40

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

International Wine Awards Worth Noting

In the US, most oenophiles subscribe to the Wine Spectator, and every wine geek around the globe has certainly heard of Robert Parker.  Many Americans, however, do not know about Decanter, England’s equivalent of our Wine Spectator.  In several ways, I prefer Decanter.  Maybe it’s because of its fresh point of view, or perhaps it’s because of the format.  Nonetheless, listed below are Decanter’s 2012 International Trophy winners that were unveiled in its October issue. (Only those countries that Wine-Knows will be visiting in 2013 have been included, as well as only wines that are imported into the US).


·        Amalaya 2011:  Torrontes (85%), Riesling (15%).  US 

          price <$10

·        Bodegas Salentein Portillo Malbec 2011.  US price <



·        Casas del Bosque Late Harvest Riesling 2010.  US price


·        Undurraga T.H. Pinot Noir 2010.   US price $25

·        Viña San Pedro 1865 Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc

          2011.  US price $19


·        Château Brown 2010 (white Bordeaux blend).  US price


·        Château Routas Wild Boar 2011 (rosé from Provence). 

           US price $13


Although there were no International Trophies, there were two important regional trophies awarded:

  • Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2011 (white from Santorini Island).  US price $35

  • Gaia Estate Nemea 2007 (red from Peloponnese Peninsula).  US price $45

For more information, get the full list of Decanter’s 2012 awards at

Friday, December 7, 2012

Holiday Bubbles

While we never need a special event to pop the cork on a bubbly, many people regrettably think of sparkling wine only for special occasions.  With the holidaze quickly approaching, below are my suggestions for bubbles in categories ranging from less than $20 to $300.  All pair beautifully with most foods. 

·        Roederer Esatate Anderson Valley Brut:  Made by the same company that produces’s France’s legendary Cristal Champagne ($200), this American sparkler is consistently on my best buy list.  <$20

·        Le Colture Prosecco:  This is one of the best crafted sparklers from the Prosecco region (the hills above Venice).  Viva Italia.  <$20

·        Argyle Brut:  While not known for its sparkling wine, Oregon soars with this one.  Make sure you have plenty of it in your cellar throughout the year.  $20-25

·        Ca Del Bosco Franciacorta Brut:  Made by one of my fave producers in Italy, this luscious bottle is a magnifico way to ring in any New Year.  $50-55

·        DMZ:  Made by Mumm’s Napa, this super-star is aged for at least 6 years. DMZ is one of the finest American sparklers I’ve had and worth every penny.  $55

·        Piper Heidsieck Millesime 1999:  For a very special event, this one is très spécial.  I’m a lover of vintage Champagne and this one completely seduced me.  $300-350

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Great Books on Wine and Food

Winter is approaching…for many of us in the northern hemisphere, this means more time to read that stack of books we’ve been “meaning to get to.”  The holidays are also approaching and books often make terrific gifts.  Here are my Top 10  in which wine and/ or food are the central plot.

1.  Judgment in Paris ( George Taber)

This one is the classic of all classics for anyone who loves wine. Written by the Time Magazine correspondent who actually covered the world’s most famous wine tasting…where California red and white wines outscored those of France.  The tasting was blind, the panel was French, and the wines represented the top chateaux in France.  Nothing has been the same in the wine world since.
2. Salt—a World History (Mark Kurlansky) 

This is a must for any history buff who is also a serious foodie.  I couldn’t put the book down.  Written by a James Beard award-winning food author, this multilayered masterpiece traces the economic, scientific, political, religious and culinary aspects of salt through the centuries.  Don’t miss it.

3. The Widow Clicquot (Tilar Mazzeo)

Those of you coming with us on the 2013 trip to Champagne should put this toward the top of your must read list.  You’ll be mesmerized by the story of the early 19th century widow who single-handedly and against all odds, launched one of the most famous brands in Champagne, Veuve Cliquot (BTW…veuve in French means widow).  Highly recommended.

4.      A Year In Provence (Peter Mayle) 

If you haven’t read this hallmark book, order it today online.  There’s no finer introduction to Provence (or France for that matter) that seen through the eyes of this bon vivant writer.  You’ll laugh hysterically, you’ll be charmed, and all of your dreams about ever buying a crumbling home in France and restoring it will evaporate as you read his trials and tribulations of doing so.  Enchanting.

5.   Fast Food Nation  (Eric Schlosser)
Shocking, compelling and frightening all wrapped into one book.  This is imperative for any food lover who values healthy eating.  As the NYT so aptly put it, “It will make you think about the fallout that the fast food industry has had on America’s social and cultural landscape.”   

6.  Extra Virginity (Tom Mueller)
The subtitle on this recently published book says it all: “The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil.  This work is to Olive Oil, what Fast Food Nation is to the meat industry.  But, there’s even more to the book.  Mueller provides a delectable work of historical research and of expert reporting resulting in an intriguing food-lovers call to action.

7.   Blood, Bones & Butter ( Gabrielle Hamilton)

There’s simply no way to describe this soul-searching memoir better than the way Mario Batali did….

“Gabirielle Hamilton has changed the potential and raised the bar for all books about eating and cooking.  Her nearly rabid love for all real food experience and her completely vulnerable, unprotected yet pure point of view unveils in both truth and inspiration.  I will read this book to my children and then burn all the books I have written for pretending to be anything even close to this.”

8.  The Man Who Ate Everything (Jeffrey Steingarten)

A kind of around-the-world-tour-in-eating written by the award-winning food editor of Vogue Magazine, fearless gourmand, and the irascible judge on the popular show "The Next Iron Chef."  While his humorous personality doesn't come across on TV, you'll be rolling on the floor at Steingarten's hilarious tales in print.  Tantalizing recipes are sprinkled throughout as a bonus.

9.   Olive Season (Carol Drinkwater)

Drinkwater has actually written a trilogy (Olive Farm, and the Olive Harvest) about life on her olive farm in the South of France.  All of these books are sensual, personal, well-crafted accounts of her life and love affair with a parcel of land.  A former British actress who played Helen Herriot in the BBC’s adaptation of All Creatures Great and Small, Drinkwater writes books that are slanted more toward women readers who can empathize with many of the issues that she so beautifully illuminates.

10.  Portraits of France (Robert Daley)

Another great read for Francophiles, this one is divided into vignettes…many of which center around France’s wine and food centric culture.  From tracing the fascinating life of a bottle of 1806 Lafite Rothchild to an evocative story on the birthplace of General Lafayette, this bestselling writer delivers something for everyone who enjoys history and gastronomy.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

World’s Most Famous Wine Auction

    Hospice de Beaune in Burgundy

The third Sunday in November is often the Sunday prior to Thanksgiving in the U.S.  However, in the international wine scene, November’s third Sunday is almost sacred--- it’s the date of the world’s most famous wine auction.  This grand charity gala, known as the Hospice de Beaune, takes place in one of Burgundy’s most illustrious architectural buildings…the former 15th hospital in Beaune.  The hoopla of the auction, its dramatic setting, and the medieval cobblestoned city of Beaune all come together to create a magical experience.

For days prior to the actual auction, Beaune is a hive of activity with oeonophiles from around the globe celebrating…from black tie dinners in the city’s best restaurants to sophisticated affairs at chateaux in the surrounding countryside.  The final grand dinner at Chateau Clos Voegoet is pure theatre with more tuxedos and ball gowns than a New Years Eve at the Ritz in Paris.  Although it is not widely known, many of the events, including the auction, are surprisingly open to the public. It’s a fabulous chance to hob-nob with the world’s most prominent wine writers, the owners of Burgundy’s most famed wineries, celebrity wine lovers and Europe’s political movers and shakers.

Over the last 100 years, some of Burgundy’s greatest vineyards have been donated to the Hospital.  Currently, the charity owns nearly 150 acres of exceptional Premier and Gran Cru estates.  The venerable Christie’s auction house conducts the event which is now in its 153rd year.  The auction is important on two fronts.  First, proceeds go to charity.  Considering that last week’s auction raised $7.5 million bucks, that’s an impressive chunk of contributions for the local humanitarian coffers.  Second, prices during this auction have enormous influence in setting prices for all of Burgundy’s wine the year following the auction.  

France’s former first lady, Carla Bruni, was the guest auctioneer at the recent 2012 Hospice de Beaune auction.  For an extra $250,000 she offered to personally deliver the wine to bidders; or for an extra $300,000 her husband, Nicolas Sarkozy, would join her in bringing the wine. (Carla, who is an Italian also offered to throw in some pizzas if the bidder added another $1,000).  A Ukranian businessman took Bruni and Sarkozy up on the offer by bidding nearly $350,000.

Coming with us to Burgundy in September 2013?  We’ll be staying in the charming town of Beaune and we'll be touring the Hospice de Beaune!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Wines For Which I’m Thankful

There’s a plethora of good wines in this world.  Some stand-out for their quality-price ratio, others win over your heart because of the circumstances in which they were consumed.  Yet, more float to the top of our lists because they just plain knocked-our-socks off.  Here is my “Top 3” list for this Thanksgiving…culled from all of the above factors during my recent trips to Bordeaux and Piedmont, Italy.

Prinsi Gaia Principe Barbaresco 2007:  I’ve visited thousands of wineries around the globe.  One of the warmest welcomes I’ve ever received was a month ago when I took the Wine-Knows group visiting Piedmont to Prinsi.  To say that this charming family rolled out the red carpet is an understatement.   Likewise, to disclose that their Barbaresco was sublime is no exaggeration.  Best news of all is its modest cost for a Barbaresco of $48…I know of no other Barbaresco for this price that even comes close.  Contact for the location nearest you.
Les Arums de Lagrange 2011:  OK, I admit it.  I have had a long-standing love affair with Chateau Lagrange…the people, the chateau and their wines.  I recently took a group to Chateau Lagrange in Bordeaux for a private dinner and Lagrange’s white wine, Les Arums, really pulled at the strings of my heart.  (Considering I typically prefer red wine, it’s fairly compelling that a white took center stage.)  The fact that this lucious white was perfectly paired with a with a pumpkin and chestnut soup didn't hurt.  Now for the good news.  It’s just become available in the US.  As the chateau’s production of this Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon blend is miniscule, you’ll need to see it out on  It’s a steal at about just over 20 bucks a bottle.

Paolo Scavino Barolo Rocche Dell’Annunziata Riserva 2007:  I’ve tried 3 or 4 times to get an appointment with this super-star Italian producer, but I’ve always been told, “Sorry, Signora, but it’s the middle of the harvest and we don’t accept visitors!”  As I’m always in Piedmont at the time of the harvest (because it’s also the time of the area’s ethereal edible----the white truffle), I’ve simply remained a loyal fan.  This year the winery finally said “OK, Signora…you can come with your group.”   (I think they did so just to get rid of me!).  But, after having tasted these wines at their birthplace, I now know that was not the case as their hospitality was genuine beyond words.  Moreover, every single one of these wines was stunning.  For a holiday splurge, however, my vote goes to their Barolo Rocche Dell’Annunziata Riserva.  ($95 @ 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Best Choices for Thanksgiving Wine

By now all of us are scrambling to finalize plans for Thanksgiving.  In addition to the seemingly endless decisions about the menu (brine the bird?  anyone dislike brussel sprouts?  new dessert recipe or my never-fail standard?) one of questions always includes which wine?   

Assuming you’re serving turkey, my suggestion is either a dry Gewurtzraminer or a Pinot Noir.  For the dry Gewurtzraminer, I recommend one from Alsace (this tiny piece of eastern France makes the best "Gewurtz" on the planet.)  Great producers with good penetration in the U.S. market include Trimbach, 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. But, don’t despair as there are some great American Pinots that won’t break your bank.  The best bang-for-the-buck coming in under 20 bucks is Point Conception’s Salsipuedes from Santa Barbara.  In the $30-40 range the following wines from California’s central coast represent solid value:  Melville, Stolpman, Alma Rosa and Alta Colima.  If you can spring for $50, I suggest Dehlinger from the Russian River in California.  Oregon is also making some good pinots in the $30-$50 bracket, including Drouhin and Ken Wright.  Want to try a reasonable international pinot?  Can’t beat New Zealand’s Craggy Range $30.  (The Wine-Knows harvest trip to New Zealand in 2014 will visit this producer.)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Herbs of Provence

One of Provence's many outdoor weekly markets

Provençal cuisine (from southeastern France’s Provence district) has traditionally used many herbs which are often characterized collectively in France as "herbes de Provence."  No two blends are alike, but most contain a combination of the following aromatic herbs that perfume Provence: thyme, lavender, rosemary, fennel, marjoram, basil, sage, oregano and savory. 

The seasoning is quite versatile and can be used with meat, poultry, vegetables and fish.  My favorite ways to use herbs de Provence are with grilled foods, as well as a classical vegetable stew from Provence called ratatouille.  The mixture should be added to foods before or during cooking to infuse the flavors, but remember it’s pungent so a little goes a long way. 

While herbs de Provence can be found today in most American supermarkets, the mixture surprisingly was not even known in France before WWII.  Prior to this time Provençal cooks simply used individually the vast array of wild herbs that were gathered from the countryside.  A lot has changed.

Herbs de Provence is a generic term and is not a D.O.P. food (protected origin).  For example, by law Roquefort cheese can only be produced from cows in the town of Roquefort.  Furthermore, the cheese must be aged in the caves surrounding the town.  In contrast, herbs de Provence can be from anywhere.  Because its origin is not protected by law, many of these blends can come from Eastern Europe, North Africa or China---even the herbs de Provence sold in Provence.

On the 2013 harvest tour to France we’ll be in the Provencal countryside for several days.  You’ll have numerous occasions to sample the mixture from the region’s vast array of culinary specialties all the way from tampenade to the famous goat cheese crusted with herbs de Provence.  Bon appetit!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Carmenere---Chile’s “Lost” Superstar Grape from Bordeaux

                     Chile's dramatic vineyards with the Andes looming in the background

Carmenere is Chile’s signature red varietal.  Unless you’ve been to Chile you may not know this delightful wine as the grape is rarely grown outside of the country.  Even if you’ve been to Chile, you probably don’t know that carmenere was brought over in the early 1800’s from Bordeaux.  In the last part of the 19th century, however, all the vineyards in Bordeaux were wiped out by a bug called phylloxera*.  Bordeaux vineyards were not replanted with carmenere as the varietal had problems with ripening, as well as it often produced low yields.  Carmenere was thought to have been extinct.

That might have been the last word on carmenere unless a team of French scientists visiting Chile in the early 1990’s had not been troubled by the appearance and character of Chile’s merlot.  Upon careful analysis with D.N.A., it was revealed that much of the merlot planted in Chile was actually carmenere...traceable most likely to the cuttings that were brought over pre-phylloxera.

The name "carménère" in fact originates from the French word for crimson which refers to the wine's deep red color.   Carmenere is a member of the cabernet family of grapes, but its tannins are gentler and softer than cabernet sauvignon which means that carmenere is far more approachable while its young.   Paralleling its cabernet lineage, carmenere’s aromas and flavors include red fruit, spice and berries, but dark chocolate, tobacco and leather nuances may also be present. 

Carmenere is imported into the US and is becoming increasingly popular because of its terrific quality price ratio and because it can be drunk young.  Best producers?  I would suggest Casa Silva, Macquis and Montes Alpha (listed in alphabetical order, these are all under $15.)  Best year?  The 2009 was stunning and there’s plenty of it still around on places like, or 

Coming with us to Chile & Argentina for the harvest in March 2013?   There will be plenty of carmenere to sample, not only as a single varietal, but also blended with other grapes.  No doubt, you’ll return to the US as an aficionado of this lost varietal.

* If you want to learn more about phylloxera, check out my earlier posting on the bug that destroyed not only Frances’s vines, but all of Europe’s vineyards:

Thursday, November 1, 2012

"Salmon Screams for Pinot Noir!"

Richard Geoffroy, Dom Pérignon’s winemaker, quipped this comment ten years ago during a private visit with a Wine-Knows group in the Champagne countryside.  This was one of the most memorable tastings I’ve attended.  It took place in the Abbey of Hautvillers where monk Dom Pérignon made his famous bubbly wine discovery.  The Abbey, closed to the public, is owned by Moët (makers of Dom Pérignon).  We had a vertical tasting of Dom Perignon dating back to 1975 served by a white-gloved waiter wearing a tuxedo.  The winemaker’s remark has since been etched in my brain as I’ve always thought this match was about as close to perfection as you'll find.

Meaty fish such as salmon and ahi tuna pair beautifully with Pinot.  That being said, it really depends on how the salmon is prepared.  Butter based sauces, for example, would probably pair better with a buttery Chardonnay (marrying similar flavors and textures.)  But, BBQ salmon achieves rock-star status when served with a Pinot Noir.  My much-loved rendition is salmon cooked on a cedar plank on the "barbie."

Because Pinot Noir is a grape that requires a lot of T.L.C. to grow, it is typically one of the more expensive varietals.  For California Pinots I prefer Dehlinger, however, my husband is a Williams Selyem fan (both of these are from the Russian River and are in the $50 range).  For a less expensive alternative, the Santa Rita Hills of California’s central coast are producing some terrific Pinots that represent a great quality price ratio ($30-40)--- I especially like Melville, Stolpman, Alma Rosa and Alta Colima.  On the other hand, if you’re a red Burgundy fan, one of the best-bang-for-the-bucks is Dujac in the $200 range.  Willing to spend >$500 on a red Burgundy?  I recommend Meo Camuzet.  If you want to keep it under $20, the best Pinot I’ve tasted in this category is Point Conception Salsiuedes (refer to my posting from September 5, 2012).

As for salmon, it goes without saying that fresh WILD salmon is the best choice for taste and health.  Farm-raised are higher in fat.  They are also often fed fish meal that can be polluted with toxic chemicals

If you are coming with us on the 2013 France tour we will visit both Champagne and Burgundy...and you are guaranteed that there will be salmon paired with Pinot.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Caramel Lovers' Nirvana

Dulce de leche (DOOL say day LAY chay) has become a vibrant part of American gastronomy.  Long before Haagen-Dazs introduced its dulce de leche flavored ice cream in 1997, I was head-over-heels in love with this seductive caramel-like sauce.  Starbucks jumped on the culinary bandwagon shortly afterwards when it began offering dulce de leche coffee.  In the last 15 years it seems like everyone from famous Michelin star chefs to America’s Girl Scouts (who introduced cookies with dulce de leche in 2009) have been enticed with the ethereal edible.

Made from cow’s milk and sugar that has been slowly cooked over hours, dulce de leche is an art form in South America.  It is served everywhere…and on everything from simple morning toast to cookies.  Elaborate cakes can be filled with it…or topped with it.  Children are often served the spread on crackers as an after-school snack.  Dulce de leche candy is sold in every store and at every street kiosk.  It can accompany a pie on the side, or can be incorporated within.  One of my faves, however, is right out of the jar with nothing else!

While dulce de leche is thought to have originated in Argentina, other South American countries, including Chile and Uruguay, claim birth rights. Other historical sources contend that it may have come from India thousands of years ago.  Moreover, many other countries in the world have their own versions.  France, for example, has confiture de lait.  Mexico’s rendition (made from goat’s milk) is called cajeta

Regardless of the origin, like many recipes, dulce de leche is thought to have been created by an accident when milk and sugar were left on the stove too long.  Those of you who will be joining Wine-Knows in Chile and Argentina in March 2013 will have numerous opportunities to sample this yummy culinary mishap.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

TORRONTES---the Next "In" Wine

Torrontes wine country near the Andes 

I’m just back from nearly two months in Europe and my focus has now turned to the upcoming Wine-Knows South American tour.  Today’s a warm day in San Diego and I’m opening a bottle of Torrontes from Argentina….the perfect wine after a tango, but in my case, the perfect wine for dinner after a long first day back in the office.

Torrontes is not grown in the U.S. so it was a pleasant surprise on my first trip to Argentina nearly ten years ago.  I’ve mentioned this white varietal several times in my BLOG, but I’ve never devoted an entire posting to it.  I’m long overdue as it’s a perfect dry wine.  We often serve it as an aperitif in our home…and, there are few wine lovers who leave without asking me to write down the name of the wine.  Furthermore, Argentina’s recent export statistics show that I’m not the only one in the States who is loving this varietal.

For years it was thought that Torrontes had been brought by Spaniards to Argentina, however, recent DNA evidence shows this is not true.  Research has shown that it is not related to its namesake in Spain, but is apparently a hybrid of Muscat, a wine that excels at beguiling, powerful aromas of flowers and white stone fruits…which gets me to my next point.

One of the big reasons I love Torrontes is its aromatics.  Put your nose in a glass and you’ll wonder why it’s not sold as a perfume rather than a wine.  Floral notes, along with with melon, orange citrus, peach and apricot are almost as seductive as a bottle of Chanel.  Moreover, the varietal has fairly good acidity (I can’t stand flabby wines), as well as a smooth texture and mouth-feel. 

The varietal is the new "in" wine.  The New York Times published last year a review of twenty Torrontes that their panel of wine experts had tasted.  Each time I visit a retail wine shop, I notice new producers of Torrontes.  Last month I attended the annual meeting of the Society of Wine Educators and what do you think the seminar speakers from Argentina were touting?   You guessed it...Torrontes. We’re heading to Argentina in March 2013 for the Southern Hemisphere’s harvest…guess what I’ll be drinking!

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Ferrari of Chocolates

Today I’m in Torino (Turin) with the Wine-Knows Truffle tour.  While Torino is actually 150 miles from the city where Ferraris are made, this morning our group is visiting the Ferrari of chocolates, Guido Gobino.  Signor Gobino’s artisanal chocolates have become almost as famous as the sleek and sexy Ferrari and, like the car, they command top price.

To enter the “workshop,” you must be buzzed in by security.  At first glance the retail shop in which you enter could be a high-end gift shop in Manhattan or San Francisco.  Well coiffed, attractive female employees (straight out of a Fellini movie) snap you back to reality with their freshly starched white labcoats and formal welcome.  The smell of chocolate is intoxicating.  Everywhere I turn, I’m surrounded by drop-dead gorgeous packaging.  All senses are on overload. 

On the tour of the actual factory with Gobino, we learn that his family has been in the chocolate business for nearly 50 years,….but it is Guido who took the company on an entirely different trajectory.  In 1996 he opened his “artisanal workshop.”  It was Guido who began researching the field of chocolate and who discovered ancient recipes from Torino.  It was Guido who changed the focus to use of local products (such as Piedmont’s famous hazelnuts).  And, it was Guido who pushed for impeccable quality standards…with the same attention to quality details that are involved in making a Ferrari.

Signor Gobino is one of a huge number of chocolate-makers in town.  Torino has been associated with chocolate for over 400 years.  For a chocoholic, Torino is mecca.  In Torino’s central shopping district you’ll find Gucci, Prada, Ferragamo…mixed in between chocolate boutiques (one of which is Guido Gobino’s) and classy, old-world cafes with frescoed ceilings (that offer several types of chocolate drinks…and of course, chocolates.)   Gobino has become a legend among legends.   In the 2006 Winter Olympic Games, he was appointed the “Ambassador of Torino.”  The Academy of Chocolate in London, honored Gobino with the world’s best chocolate praline award.

While Gobino has chocolate boutiques popping up like mushrooms, today we’re fortunate to be at his actual “factory” (aka workshop).  I thought I was on sensory overload when we arrived in the retail shop attached to the factory, but now after touring the factory I’m almost delirious…a very good delirious.  Gobino ended the morning with a private chocolate tasting for the Wine-Knows group.  A Ferrari or a piece of Gobino’s praline chocolate made with extra virgin olive oil and topped with sea salt?  Hmmm…I’ll take the Gobino!