Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Greece’s Power-House Olives

I’m wild about olives, but one of my faves is the big, meaty one from Greece called Kalamata.  Increasingly popular in the US, these flavor-bombs can perk up even the most benign tasting dishes.  Kalamatas are so special that they are protected by Greek law…only olives grown near the village of Kalamata in southern Greece can be given this name.
To ensure quality, Greece has several additional laws related to Kalamata olives.  For example, they cannot be picked green like so many other olives.  Instead, they must be picked at their exact peak of ripeness.  They also must be hand-harvested (versus machine) to avoid bruising. 

While mostly used as an eating olive because of their incredible flavor, oil can also be made from Kalamatas.   As an eating olive, they are split before they are brined or pickled which helps further flavor the olive on its interior, as well as exterior.  Many are packed in olive oil after being brined, further adding to the olive’s complexity.
If you’re one of the lucky 12 persons who has secured a spot on the private yacht charter to the Greek Islands this September, I’ve already seen the chef’s nightly dinner menu and Kalamatas appear in everything from appetizers to salads, and from main dishes to their accompanying vegetables.   If you’re coming to our home for the Bastille Day party weekend in July (those coming going on the harvest tour to France in September), you can bet that there will be some Kalamatas in the tampenade that I’m making.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Champagne’s Ultra-Protected Brand Name

What’s in a name?  Lots if you’re a sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France.  The French have fought tres hard over the last twenty-five years to protect the use of the word “Champagne.”  With an army of lawyers on staff, the professional wine association of Champagne has waged war on the use of the name.  In the European Union (EU), absolutely nothing can be called Champagne unless it is a sparkling wine made in the Champagne district under strict guidelines that include the type of grape, the village in which the grapes were grown, etc.

For the last several years this French legal team has been fighting the war not just in the E.U. but have pursued campaigns globally to protect the Champagne name.  A big coup was made in Washington D.C. when American laws were forced to be changed over what wines could be called Champagne in the U.S. (only a few using the name Champagne were “grandfathered” in).  Everything else must be called sparkling wine.  The latest coup last month was in China where the French protectors-of-the-brand won the battle against the Chinese.  No wine now can be called Champagne that is made in China.

But the brand doesn’t include just wine.  It includes everything.  The militia of lawyers hired to protect the Champagne brand have battled in court everyone from perfume producers like Yves Saint Laurent (who produced a fragrance called Champagne until the cadre of brand attorneys wiped the floor with them and the fragrance seller had to change the name), to makers of lingerie in Italy (who similarly were forced to change the name of their fancy underwear). 

Those who are fortunate to be coming to Champagne with us in September will be guaranteed an intriguing day at the Champagne professional growers’ association.  We’ll hear first-hand about the many court battles that have been won, as well as what current crusades are being launched internationally to protect the use of the word Champagne.  (And, as we’ll also be taken through a professionally guided Champagne tasting, you’ll also have a great opportunity to learn about the nuances in their special wines.)

Viva la Champagne!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Burgundy's Classification Sysem

Burgundy’s system of classifying its wine can seem daunting…that’s because it is.  The entire scheme is based on the specific plots of land where the grapes are grown.  Here’s a stripped down version that will help you digest the many layers:

Grand Cru: 
ü Apex of quality

ü only 2% of the vineyards

ü There can be several different wineries that own a part of the vineyard, each making their own “Grand Cru”

ü Grand Cru is shown on the label

Premier Cru:
ü 2nd tier of highest quality wines

ü 15% of the vineyards

ü There can be several different wineries that own a part of the vineyard, each making their own “Premier Cru”

ü The name of the village in which the vineyard is located appears first on the label and is followed by “Premier Cru”

Village Wine:
ü 3rd tier in the quality system

ü 30% of Burgundy’s wine

ü The village’s name is the only prominent thing on the label

ü Only grapes from this village may be used

Regional Wine:

ü Lowest level of quality

ü 53% of Burgundy’s wine

ü One of Burgundy’s 3 regions must appear on the label which denote the area from which the grapes came (Macon, Beaujolais or Bourgogne)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

New Zealand's Hallmark Sauv Blanc

Sauv Blanc landscape in New Zealand
Sauvignon Blanc (SB) owes a lot to New Zealand.   Before the 1980’s it was barely on a wine lover’s radar screen.   Yes, it was part of my much beloved Bordeaux whites (a combo of SB and Semillon), in addition to the Sancere and Pouilly-Fumé from the Loire Valley, but the grape’s name never appeared on any of these French labels.  It wasn’t until New Zealand started producing well-priced, well-crafted SB as a single varietal and labeling it as such that the wine world took notice of the grape.
SB currently accounts for >50% of all the vines in New Zealand.  First planted in the Marlborough wine region on the south island, the variety has now spread to the north island and is particularly popular in the Hawke’s Bay wine district.   Wines from the more temperate Hawke’s Bay tend to be softer and less herbaceous than its southern counterparts.  As I’m not a great lover of the herbaceous profile, I tend to prefer those from Hawke’s Bay, although winemaker styles can definitely influence the product.

New Zealand SB’s have been said to be “like a child who inherits the best of both parents----exotic aromas found in certain Sauvignon Blancs from the New World and the pungency and limy acidity of an Old World Sauvignon Blanc.”  (Mark Oldman in his Guide to Outsmarting Wine).    On our recent trip to New Zealand this sentence rang true.  The lush SB aromas I so love (melons, tropical characters and lime) were mixed with crisp acidity, fresh-cut grass nuances, and even tomato leaf flavors.   Formed from a series of underwater volcanos, New Zealand’s volcanic-rich soil contributes a lovely minerality.  A definite Old World meets New.

Here’s a recap of my top 3 scoring best buy SBs (all under $30) from New Zealand in alpha order:
·        Fromm 2011 La Strada:  great citrus mélange

·        St Clair Pioneer 2011:  terrific finish

·        Terra Vin 2010:  floral & mineral love-fest

Those going on next year’s tour to New Zealand will have the opportunity to taste all of the above SB’s, as well as many others.  Moreover, you will visit both the north and south island to experience first-hand the stylistic differences of their different terroirs.

While Sauv Blanc may have put New Zealand on wine map, Pinot Noir is now the country’s new darling. Stay tuned for next month’s article on the world-class Kiwi Pinots.





Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Markets of Provence

June has arrived which means that the outdoor markets of Provence (located in France’s southern Rhone region) are just beginning to really buzz.   Market days in this area clock the change of the seasons and have done so for hundreds of years.  These much beloved weekly markets drive the mood of their respective villages and reflect France’s fascination with the best and freshest of culinary products.

Each village has its special day of the week for its market.  The biggest and best markets, however, can draw locals from a hundred miles away.  Among my faves are the Sunday market in pretty Isle Sur Sorgue.  France’s answer to Venice, the town meanders around the Sorgue River which creates a scenic background in which to shop.  This market (one of the largest in Provence) is popular because it’s also an antique market.   Radishes in every color of the rainbow set next to Louis XIV clocks.  Go early if you don’t want to walk a couple of miles as parking is limited and the market is among the most popular in Provence.
Aother darling is the Tuesday market in Vaison le Romaine (VLR).  History buffs shouldn’t miss this one as there are captivating Roman ruins (thus the town’s name, “Romaine”).  VLR isn’t as crowded as Isle Sur Sorgue, however, it can be jammed packed as well.   The perfect day for me is the market in the morning, followed by lunch at one of the many outdoor cafes (or, a picnic from market ingredients in the shaded central square), then a guided tour in the afternoon of the illustrious Roman amphitheater, baths and millennium old mansions.

We can’t discuss Provence’s outdoor weekly markets without discussing olives.  Olives and olive oil are synonymous with Provence.  Tapenade?  It’s one of the area’s culinary gifts to France (for that matter, the world).  An entire cadre of non-edible olive products also fill the markets…everything from a host of skin products to stunning serving bowls made from olive wood.
The markets are, likewise, a shopper’s paradise for perfumes, spices, potteries and fabrics.  Markets are perfumed with intoxicating scents of lvender products---soaps, oils, lotions, sachets, and organic lavender used in cooking.  (BTW…lavender is one of the 10-12 ingredients found in the ubiquitous Herbs de Provence).  You can’t come to Provence without being mesmerized by the super colorful Provençal fabrics made from centuries old patterns.   There are a plethora of vendors selling the fabric by the yard, but there are even more vendors offering it in the form of tablecloths, napkins, placemats, purses, bedspreads and the like.   Pottery is available in an addictive array of earth & jewel tone colors.

Travelers joining the Wine-Knows group for the harvest tour this September will have the opportunity to experience the market in Vaison le Romaine.  Oh, yes, and the market has vendors who sell suitcases for all of the tourists who can’t stay away from the special products of the Provençal markets.