Tuesday, April 30, 2013

3 Must-Haves from Greece

In an earlier posting this year, I discussed the great whites of Greece.  The country has an enormous 8,500 mile coastline (including 1,400 islands), so there’s a tendency for a myopic focus on pairing white wines with Greece’s sea-based cuisine.   Truth be known, however, culinary Greece not only heavily leans toward lamb and pork, but the surrounding oceans have long been over-fished making anything from the sea very expensive.    There’s an entire new world of red wines from Greece that warrants exploration.  The good news is that many of the best are exported.

In addition to many indigenous red grapes, Greece is now growing international varieties such as Cabernet  Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese and Syrah.    The country’s winemakers are heading off to study in Bordeaux, Burgundy and Tuscany…and returning to their homeland armed with viticultural degrees from the best universities in Europe.  Bazillons of Euro’s have been invested in the last ten years in Greece’s  wine industry.  All of this makes for an interesting landscape for wine consumers.

Below are my top 3 picks for your next Toga party: 

·        Domaine Gerovassillou, Avaton 2008.   This one, winner of a gold medal in London at the illustrious Decanter Awards, is a luscious blend of three indigenous grapes :  Limnio, Mavroudi and Mavrotragano grown in Greece’s far north, Macedonia.  Imported into the US.   $30

·        Gaia Estate Nemea 2007.  From one of the top producers in Greece, located 90 minutes south of Athens on the Peloponnese.    Made from the indigenous Agiorgitiko (St George), it’s  chocked full of complexity with layers of raspberry, truffles and floral…a long finish completes the super package.  Imported into the US.  $45

·        Domaine Skouras Megas Oenos 2008.  I visited this estate shortly after its jaw-dropping winery was built on the Peloponnese Peninsula south of Athens.   Megas Oenos is one of Greece’s iconic wines, made from 80% Agiorgitiko and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon.    Imported into the US.   $25

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Crush on Gigondas

Say Gigondas (jhee - gohn - dahs) and I become giddy.  This small sleepy wine village in the heart of the southern Rhone makes wines by the same name that have me often times falling head-over-heels.   A red only district, its wines are infatuating, charming, and dare I say…sexy !

So what about Gigondas makes it so appealing?   The wines are a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre, the “Holy Trinity” of the Rhone’s south.  (This special trio is also used in Chateauneuf du Pape).  Gigondas wines typically have a higher concentration of Grenache.  The best Gigondas are the red fruit-drenched ones tempered with layering complexities of mineral and herbs.  Think big, brawny, meaty meets savory. 

It’s not just the taste profile, however, of Gigondas that is beguiling.  The best crafted examples boast a voluptuous texture.  Silky, rich, creamy.  Like I said, “You had me at Gigondas.”

On this fall’s harvest tour we will visit the village of Gigondas where all of its 700 inhabitants are seemingly involved in something to do with the business of wine.   Located on a hill overlooking Provence’s breathtaking landscapes, Gigondas is a charmer filled with cobble-stone streets, elderly men playing boules on the central square, and numerous shops selling guess what?  Gigondas.

Leave it to my husband, Toby, to introduce me to Gigondas.  Toby has been a long-time admirer of these wines.  I still remember the first bottle he ordered years ago at a restaurant in France ---a seductive Chateau Crayon.   Many years later, both Toby and Crayon are still my favorite crushes.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Mustard Laced with White Wine

Mustard has played an important role for at least 3,000 years.  The Christian Bible discusses mustard as a remedy for muscle aches and chest congestion.  Even Shakespeare wrote about mustard’s value in several of his plays.  It was not until 1856, however, that wine was added to mustard by a man in Dijon, France….and the rest is history.

Prior to 1856 mustard was mixed with vinegar.   The new version with wine, on the other hand, made the condiment smoother and more palatable.  A local inventor by the name of Grey came up with a machine that automated the processing of mustard seeds.  Armed with the recipe used to make the wine rendition, he and his friend (Antoine Poupon) opened the Grey-Poupon mustard store in Dijon where they sold their wine infused version in earthenware pots.

Dijon mustard, in contrast to many food items in France (e.g. Roquefort cheese)  is not covered under French laws that address origin of the product.  As a result, mustard produced in any part of France (or the European Union) may be called Dijon.  

Cooks Illustrated (one of my favorite foodie magazines)  conducted a few years ago a test on the best tasting Dijons. The panel of 22 experts acknowledged that they preferred the “spicier” mustards.  They tasted 8 major brands.  The winner?  You will be surprised…Grey Poupon!  The runner-up?  Maille.

On this September’s tour to France, we’ll visit the area where the wine-infused version was invented.  There will be opportunities to see Dijon being made, to taste and to buy.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

New Zealand's Delectables

I was a raving fan of these delicious morsels long before my first trip to New Zealand---the mollusks are wildly popular with chefs throughout the world, especially in foodie-centric California.  While I an enchanted with the mussels' emerald green color, I'm most taken with their luscious taste, along with the fact that their meat-to-shell-ratio is higher than other species.  One of the largest mussels on the globe, New Zealand's green variety can grow up to 9 inches in length...making for a meal in themselves.
The green-shelled New Zealand variety is unique to the cool, clean waters of the country's sheltered sea which is replete with a plethora of tiny inlets and islands.  On my recent trip I learned that their mussel industry is valued in excel of 230 million US bucks.  Apparently, it is one of the fastest growing businesses in the nation.
I also learned that this industry operates within some of the strictest quality standards in the world.  Green mussels from New Zealand are 100% organic.  They are cultivated in their natural environment and laws prevent additives, fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides or any artificial feed.  (Too bad the shrimp industry in Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam don't subscribe to the same rules.)
If you're joining the Wine-Knows group going to New Zealand for the grape harvest in March 2014, we'll be visiting a mussel "farmer."  At the "farm" (located in the drop-dead gorgeous Marlborough Sounds---2,500 surface miles of sounds, islands and peninsulas), we'll learn all about the famous bivalve, and taste different preparations paired with the local Sauv Blancs and Pinot Noirs.
Bon appetit!


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Asparagus & Wine…A Potentially Lethal Combo

                                              An un-oaked white Burgundy pairs beautifully

We are just returning from >month in South America and are thrilled to find that our Farmers Market now has a profusion of gorgeous asparagus.  This is an opportune time to discuss the oh-so-difficult (but-not-impossible) pairing of wine with the fabulous green edible. There are 3 rules of thumb in serving asparagus and a glass of wine together…

1.      Finesse it:

You’ll often find asparagus paired with a rich sauce….there’s a reason for this.  Creamy sauces tend to mitigate the grass and sulphur -like flavors of this vegetable.  If you can’t bear the thought of the butter and egg yolk-laden hollandaise or bernaise, then I suggest you move on to one of the other options below.

2.       Grill it:

This is rapidly becoming my favorite way of eating this delectable and pairing it with wine.  The char-grilling does something to dampen the herbaceous taste and makes it friendlier for wines.   Try it, you’ll like it.

3.       Hide it:

This past fall I brought home a suitcase of dried porcini mushrooms from Italy.  They have a strong, earthy flavor which can work beautifully to conceal the parts of the asparagus that wreak havoc with a wine.  The perfect combo?  A pasta of porcini and asparagus with a touch of cream added, and a dusting of Parmiggiano-Reggiano (yes, both of the latter add a whisper of butter fat…just enough, however, to help down play the characteristics of the asparagus that fight with a great glass of Barolo).  Magnifico.

General rules of thumb about what particular type of wine to serve with asparagus?  Many recommend pairing with a Sauv Blanc, but I’m not keen on this.  While the idea is to combine two similar flavor profiles (herbaceous), I find this over-whelming.  Wines with lots of acid are also not a good match as the acidity magnifies the metallic flavors in asparagus…this can be a really bad thing.  Moreover, avoid the big buttery, oaky Chards as they tend to overwhelm the delicate flavors of the asparagus.




Thursday, April 4, 2013

Jewels & Gems of Chile & Argentina

Choosing my favorite wines from our recent Wine-Knows trip to Chile & Argentina is akin to having to pick my favorite child.   Suffice to say our group had some mind-blowing, world class wines in both countries.  Here are the ones that caused the earth to move for me (listed in alpha order):

Altair 2009 Sideral ($26):

This producer makes only two wines of which Sideral is the least expensive (their main label is $70).    I’ve done a comparative tasting of both Altairs (both are Bordeaux blends dominated by Cabernet Sauv) on three different occasions and have always preferred their main label, however, this year it was Sideral that was the run-away winner!   I can’t think of any other more voluptuous red for $26 (or that matter for $36, $46, or $56).   Note:  the ’09 won’t be released until this summer…you can bet that we’ll be ordering cases.  (Production is small, so recommend seeking it out online at wine-searcher.com)

Catena Zapata  2010 Alta Chardonnay:  ($40 retail, but $25 now @ Costco)

I’m a red girl, however, this white was crazy good.  I was so impressed that I couldn’t wait to buy it until we returned and ordered a case of it on the internet from my hotel room in Argentina.  (Only to find out when we arrived home that Costco carries it for $25…no problema, picked up another case!)  Note that Catena produces a couple of different Chardonnays…this one is their most expensive “Alta” line.

Los Maquis 2010 “Franco”  ($90)

Made from 100% Cabernet Franc, this stunning wine is a new one in the portfolio of one of my most adored boutique Chilean producers.   Crafted in concert with a famous Bordeaux consultant (who has worked at Lafite-Rothschild and Margaux), this one should be placed in a blind tasting against  Cheval Blanc (also 100% Cab Franc)…folks may be surprised at which one wins.   Importer:  Global Imports in Berekley, Ca.

Montes 2010 “Purple Angel” ($60)

This was by far the finest example of the Carmenere varietal that we tasted.  (Brought to Chile in the 19th century prior to phylloxera, it was not replanted in Bordeaux post infestation due to its late ripening tendencies.  In the warmer climate of Chile, however, Carmenere has achieved rock-star status).  Made from 93% Carmenere (7 % Petite Verdot), this one is a knock-out.   (Montes has excellent penetration in the U.S. market and Costco often carries many of their offering, including Purple Angel.)

Viu Manent 2011 Carmenere Secreto ($13)

This has to be the best bargain wine of the trip.  “Secreto” means “secret” and this shouldn’t be one.  Those of you who don’t know Carmenere should try this producer’s spicy little bomb filled with lush red fruits and soft tannins.  If they were charging twice the price, it would still be a steal.

Viu Manent 2010 Syrah, El Olivar Alto Vineyard  ($25)

OMG…all I can say is it you have find it, buy it!  This one is layers of complexity, on top of more layers of complexity.  Superbly made.
          Importers & distributors: http://www.viumanent.cl/about-us/distribution/north-