Monday, December 29, 2014

What’s on Your Menu?

There’s something about the end of one year and the beginning of a new one that causes me to pause and reflect.  One of these year-end contemplations is often about my favorite meals of the year.  This time, however, it came in a different form:  what would be on the menu of my last meal?   Here’s my list:
  • To kick it off, a Kir Royale…and then an Aperol Spritz (Hey, it’s my last meal so who cares if I over-drink?)

  • Next, a Margarita with guacamole, home-made chips & salsa, and a chile relleno (I’m no longer worried about my weight!)

  • Then, fresh Dungeness crab…with lots of mayo and hot-from-the-oven sour dough French bread swimming in butter (goodbye cruel cholesterol count!)

  • To follow would be pasta with fresh porcini mushrooms & freshly shaved white truffles, served with a well-aged Dal Forno Romano Amarone

  • For dessert, I couldn’t leave this earth without having one more warm home-made brownie topped with pralines and cream from Baskin-Robbins (no worries about tomorrow!)

More importantly, however, than what’s on the menu is WHO I would be dining with.  A reminder for all of us:   we need to break-bread together with people we love more often…and bring out those old vintages now.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda

It’s that time of the year for contemplation… all of the shoulda, woulda and coulda from the last 12 months.  A year or two ago the Wine Spectator had an article in which the author lamented about his greatest wine regrets.  Here’s my list of wine roads not taken.

     I wish I had known Gruner Veltliner earlier as it’s my latest darling varietal.  Yeah, I know it’s hard to pronounce, but as hard as it is to say, it’s the inverse wonderful to drink.  While I tried it 35 years ago on my first trip to Austria, it never hit home until this year when I had some terrific GV in New Zealand.  Now I can’t get enough of this fruity (think berries, citrus & stone fruits) & floral white dazzler native to Austria.

    I wish I had drunk more wines from Bierzo, Spain.  I’m currently working on the 2016 Wine Knows tour to Spain and Portugal and it reminds me of how much I love these wines.  Made from the Mencia grape, these drop-dead gorgeous, complex reds from Spain’s northwest should be on every wine lover’s radar.  For quality/price ratio, Bierzo’s Mencia knocks it out of the ballpark.

     I wish my last 35 years of serious wine drinking had all been done blindly.  In my ideal world, all wine should be consumed without knowing what it is or how much it costs. Too many of us are persuaded by the brand name, the price, or some other factor that has no relationship (necessarily) to what’s in the bottle.  Taste it blind…then decide if the quality warrants the price.  Taste it blind and you may be very surprised as to what you find.

     I wish Riesling was not such a step-child.  I notice several people avoiding this varietal…probably because of their preconceived ideas of a sweet wine.  The Rieslings I love are bone dry.   True, older Rieslings are often acquired tastes due to their petrol profile, but when correctly paired with food, this varietal is an real unsung hero for most Americans.

What wine roads should you take in 2015?  What’s on your wine bucket list?  What are your New Year’s Resolutions related to wine?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Wine Trivia That May Surprise You

With holiday parties rapidly approaching, here are some tidbits for cocktail trivia with fellow wine lovers:

How many varieties of wine grapes exist in the world today?

What grape varieties are the most planted on the globe?
  • White:  Airen from Spain tops the list.  Next, is Chardonnay, then Ugni Blanc (a grape from France)
  • Red:  Merlot snags the numero uno spot, closely followed by Cabernet Sauvignon, then Grenache (if this last one surprises, you can blame it on Spain again.)

How many grapes go into the making of a bottle of wine?
Bordeaux’s Chateau Yquem claim that one grape vine yields one bottle of their Sauternes.  Other high-end producers state that one grape vine produces 2 bottles of wine.  Still yet other indicate that it takes about 2.5 lbs of fruit to make a bottle of wine.

How is wine heart healthy?
The dark color pigments found in red grape skins are responsible, thus only red wines exert a protective cardiac function.

How many bottles are in a barrel?
The standard barrel contains 300 bottles of wine.

What are the culprits that can taint a wine?

There are 2 that can especially wreak havoc.  Brettanomyce (aka “Brett”) is a spoiling yeast that causes barnyard smells in wine.  It can destroy an entire winery’s inventory as it’s difficult to eradicate.  The other is a chemical compound called TCA.  This culprit is often found in flawed corks, thus when TCA ruins a wine the wine is referred to as “corked.”

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The 10 Best Things I Ate & Drank in Vietnam

The month of December always puts me in the mood to ponder my year in review.  Today, I’m thinking about the many pleasures I had during 2014 in Vietnam.  In particular, I’m remembering the glorious culinary delectables of this exotic country.  Some of my favorite meals of this entire year were in Vietnam.  Here’s a recap of what floated to the top of my Vietnamese best:

                                                      Chicken egg rolls with a crunch

1. Numero uno has to be the panko-crusted egg rolls we made during a cooking demo at one of my favorite restaurants.  I’ve made these several times since I’ve returned and I always hear the exact same words from my guests:  “This is the best egg roll I have ever eaten!”

                            Exquisitely delicate tea leaf flowers decorate the middle

2.  A close second is the salad made with tea leaf flowers that we had in the home of one of Saigon’s master fruit carvers.  The salad was delicate but had an amazing depth of flavors and textures. 
                                  BBQ beetle nut leaves filled with a gorgeous melange of beef

3.  Jockeying for top honors with the two above is the minced beef cooked in a beetle nut leaf.  While it looked like a stuffed Armenian grape leaf from the outside, the beetle nut version was much more complex.  Adding to the complexity, no doubt, was the fact that it had been grilled over wood.  Definitely a winner.

                                       Dried snow mushrooms for my over-flowing suitcase

 4.  Stir fry vegetables with wild “snow” mushrooms had me at hello.  I was so taken by the taste of these exquisite mushrooms that I immediately had our driver transport me to the nearest market where I purchased a suitcase full of the dried version to bring home.  Let it snow, let it snow!

                  I ordered "the works," a melange of meat pâté, duck, and super fresh veggies

5.  I’m not necessarily an Anthony Bourdain fan, but when I watched his television show on his best “banh mui” in Vietnam I was intrigued as my Vietnamese friend in America had always spoken so fondly of these street sandwiches made on a baguette.  Bourdain nailed this one.  I ate one 2 days in a row at the place he recommended.  It was exquisite.

                     Banh xeo is always eaten in small bites wrapped in accompanying fresh greens

6.  While we ate at some of Vietnam’s noted culinary shrines, we also ate with a local foodie on a tour of her favorite street foods.   This place was only reachable by foot as the streets are too narrow for cars.  We sat in the middle of the street on plastic chairs at small tables that could have easily been in a kindergarten classroom.  Their specialty was banh xeo, a fusion of the French crepe with an Chinese egg fu yung.   

                                   Royal duck was served in this palatial restaurant

7.  Royal duck is one of the most famous dishes of Hue, the former capital of Vietnam during the time it was ruled by Emperors.  It is so named because it was created by the Emperor’s chef for one of the many royal feasts.  The only way to get the recipe was to bring a group here and have a cooking class, so that is exactly what I am doing in 2016.

                           Lotus flowers are used in many food dishes in Vietnam, as well as tea

8.   My Vietnamese friend from Los Angeles often speaks fondly of lotus tea…it’s apparently one of the few things she can't find imported into the US.   Although I didn’t know what it was when it was served to me in a very upscale restaurant, but after my first sip I knew it was special.  Upon inquiring, I found out it was lotus tea.  I bought a year’s supply to bring home.

                                            Think of it as the world's most decadent cappucino

9.  Our foodie guide in Hanoi insisted on taking us for the city’s famous egg-cream-coffee.  It sounded hideous to me and I asked for other options.  Luckily, she wouldn’t budge.  This could have been served in France in a Michelin three star restaurant and everyone would have raved.  Definitely rock-star status, and it will definitely be on the 2016 tour.

                             Coffee is very popular in Vietnam thanks to the French occupation

10.  Last but not least is Vietnamese coffee in general.  I was stunned on the first morning of arrival in the country when I found my group in the breakfast room totally enamored with their coffee.  It took one sip to win me over.  And, yes, I brought home 5 pounds of it but it didn’t last long.  Luckily, because of the huge Vietnamese population in California, there are several stores that I can buy it.  (BTW…every morning I start the day with a cappuccino made from Vietnamese coffee.)

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Sangiovese—Italy’s Most Planted Grape

        Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile de Montepulciano & Chianti all come from Sangiovese
If you’ve been to Italy and sampled their wine, there’s a very good chance it was a Sangiovese.  If you’ve been to Tuscany you’ve definitely had Sangiovese…Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile de Montepulciano, Morellino di Scansano are all Sangiovese.   Surprised?  It’s no wonder as Italy’s naming of wines is often difficult for many non-Italians to grasp.

Sangiovese is the most planted red grape in all of Italy…considering the huge amount of vines and the number of grape varieties that’s saying something.  The largest percentage of Sangiovese is in Central Italy (Tuscany and Umbria).  But, the grape is planted in nearly every nook and cranny of Italy, including Sicily in the far south.
Considered the work-horse varietal of Italy, Sangiovese produces everything from table wine in straw flasks to premium wines that sell for hundreds of Euro’s a bottle.  In addition to red, it is used to make rosé, as well as sparkling wines.  Vin Santo, Italy’s hallmark dessert wine, is also vinified from Sangiovese.

Sangiovese is not as aromatic as other reds such as Cabernet, Syrah or Pinot Noir.  For flavor profile, think red fruit.  A young Sangiovese offers flavors of strawberries, often with a hint of spice.  As the wine ages, it readily takes on darker red fruit flavors such as plum and tart cherry.   Herbal notes can be present, as can floral notes such as dried roses.  Sangiovese is fairly acidic with a good amount of tannins, hence, is typically aged in neutral barrels so to not intensify the already tannic structure.

Coming with us on the 2015 villa rental trip to Tuscany and Umbria?  We’ll be sampling several versions of Sangiovese, including the increasingly popular Super-Tuscans (international varieties that are often mixed with Tuscany’s Sangiovese).  If you don’t have a seat on this trip, it is sold out with a waiting list…but don’t wait to try Sangiovese.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

One of the Best Wine Seminars

                                         Barrel toasting can add many complexities to wine

Have you ever wondered why flavors such as mocha or caramel are present in wine?  I’ve been a member of the Society of Wine Educators since 1982.  The society has an annual conference drawing attendees and speakers from countries around the globe.  Over the course of 3-4 days, attendees have the opportunity to taste hundreds of wines in formal seminars that are conducted several times throughout each day.  One of the most enlightening break-out sessions in my nearly 30 conferences was a seminar on the effect of the barrel’s toast level on a wine. 

First, let’s discuss toasting.  Oak barrels are “toasted” (or charred) with fire to impart complexity to the wine.  Toast levels can vary from low intensity up to a heavy char.   A winemaker chooses the degree of toasting depending upon exactly what he/she wants to accomplish in their final product.  Some winemakers even choose a variety of different toast levels and then blend the barrels for even more complexity.

Now, back to that fascinating seminar on barrel toast.  The winery that sponsored this session had conducted an experiment over the prior year using one wine.  This white varietal wine that had only been in stainless steel served as the “control wine.”  The control had then placed in 4 different oak barrels—one with light toast, another with medium, a third with medium plus, and the last with heavy toast.  Seminar participants first acquainted themselves with the unmanipulated control wine, then moved through the varying toasts to learn the nuances of each level of toasting on the mother wine.  This exercise was one of the best learning experiences I’ve ever had related to wine.

Below is a general summary of how barrel toasting can influence the final flavor profiles in a wine:
  • Light toast:  coconut, hints of vanilla
  • Medium toast:  vanilla, subtle spices (e.g. cinnamon, cloves), mocha
  • Medium plus toast:  vanilla bean,  butterscotch, coffee, chocolate, more intensity of spices, nuts (e.g. hazelnut)
  • Heavy toast:  caramel, smoky, roasted coffee

Monday, November 17, 2014

The World's Sexiest Liqueur

Saint Germain’s bottle has to be one of the greatest marketing coups I’ve known.  How could it not intrigue?  How could it not tantalize?  How could you not want to know what this sexy fashionista was all about?  The art deco inspired packaging wreaks of the glamour and romance associated with this bygone era.  But, let me be very clear:  this is not a one-night-stand kind of liqueur.  Cocktails made from this elegant concoction will have you coming back for more…and more.

What is Saint Germain?   Produced in an artisanal manner, it is made from elder flowers in France.  These tiny flowers bloom on the hillsides of the French Alps during only a very short period in the spring.  They are carefully hand-picked and immediately macerated to preserve their fresh flavors.  (Each bottle of Saint Germain is numbered with a system that reflects the year in which the flowers were picked).  The exact recipe is closely guarded, but the finished liqueur offers distinctive warm floral flavors, along with pear and lychee notes.    

Never heard of Saint Germain?  You will.  It’s been around for about 7 years and is becoming increasingly popular for cocktails, especially in the US.   In fact, the New York Times credits this enticing liquid for “almost single-handedly invigorated the moribund liqueur category.”   In France, on the other hand, Saint Germain is not only used in a Champagne cocktail (which is how I was first seduced by it), but in desserts. 

My favorite concoction, however, was served at this year’s annual meeting of the Society of Wine Educators:

~ 1 part Saint Germain
~ 1 part pear-flavored Vodka
~ 1 part sparkling wine

Shake with ice and pour into a martini glass, and leave the rest to Saint Germain.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Best of Sicily

For those of you who couldn’t make the October trip to Sicilia, here are my thoughts on the “best of the best,” listed in alpha order:

Baglio di Pianetto
Wine-Knows ends our Sicilian tours at the special villa that is owned by Count Marzotto, one of Italy’s largest patron of the arts, as well as one of the country’s most powerful wine-moguls.  The Count’s chief winemaker (who presides over all of Marzotto’s wine empire), flew down from northern Italy to welcome our group.  The most compelling wine was the 2007 Salici, a Merlot that had been aged in a combination of new French oak and stainless.   While the vintage is difficult to find, it’s worth seeking out.    $30
                                                            Baglio di Pianetto's Villa

One of my perennial favorites in which to bring our Wine-Knows groups, Donnafugata’s private country is spectacular.  Our private dinner here began with an aperitivo in the gorgeous garden just as the sun was setting.  This wine which was served to “wet our appetite,” is one of my most beloved in Sicily and is made from a relative of the Muscat grape.  Sicilians call the varietal Zibbibo, and Donnafugata has named their version Lighea.  This Zibbibo is bone dry, offering a rich bouquet of peaches and floral nuances such as roses and orange blossoms.  Love, love, love it.    $20

                                      The setting for Donnafugata's stunning Lighea

Feudi Del Pisciotto
This winery was dazzling.  Once a former village, the entire small hill-top hamlet has been purchased by the winery.  Former homes have been converted into hotel rooms, other homes are slated for a restaurant and holiday apartments.  The church is now a stunning setting for wine-related events such as the private tasting held for Wine-Knows.  Each wine is named after the Italian fashion designer who created its work-of-art label (e.g. Versace, Brioni, Valentino).  Carolina Marengo’s seductive label had me at hello, but it was what inside that stole my heart.  This killer wine, made from the 2012 vintage of Grillo, was a luscious taste of the nearby sea, mixed with complex layers of apricots and pineapple.  I brought this bottle home to my husband.  Need I say more?   $35
                                                A church turned into a winery reception area.

Asking to choose a favorite at this very special property (a Napa-esque estate built with a mega Euro fortune) is like asking a parent to name their favorite child.  What I will say, however, is that the *best buy* at Gulfi is probably their well-crafted Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2012, Sicily’s only DOCG.  Made from a combination of Nero d’Avola and Frappato ( a lighter, strawberry nuanced wine), Gulfi’s rendition is sublime for its price tag.  Should you ever visit Sicily, consider staying on this property and definitely dine in their restaurant---one of the best meals of  Wine-Knows’ recent tour.   $25

                                 A winery, a destination restaurant & a B&B

Mount Etna has the highest vineyards in Europe.  This Etna winery produces single vineyard wine which they call “contrada.”   A contrada is actually a specific lava path where super-heated magma once flowed down the sides of the still active volcano.  These contradas are comprised of decomposed, mineral rich volcanic soil.   Their Contrada R 2012 was a knock-out.  Made from Nerello Mascalese (which are only grown on Etna), these grapes came from 100 year old vines.  The result was a complex eruption in my mouth of layers of red-fruit mixed with beautiful mineral nuances.   $50

                               Etna exerts a tremendous effect over the entire island's terroir

Located in Sicily far southeastern corner, the limestone soils of this winery offer one of the island’s premier spots for growing the Nero d’Avola varietal.  Only grown in Sicily, this grape is becoming more and more popular for oenophiles.  An aged “Nero,” can offer complex aromas of leather, cocoa, licorice and cinnamon, with mineral overlays of mint.  Riofavara’s Schiavé 2010 was all of this and more.  Kermit Lynch in Berkeley, Ca. is the importer.   $30
                               The owner & winemaker of Riofavara conducted a private tasting

Settesoli (MandraRossa Brand)

This was my first time to visit Sicily’s largest producer, but it won’t be my last.  Our private tasting here was led by one of the winemakers who presented an impressive lineup of the winery’s top tier, Mandrarossa.   I couldn’t decide between the heavenly white Santa Nella 2012 (crafted most from the local Fiano grape with a sprinkling of Chenin Blanc) and the Bonera 2013, a fabulous blend of half Cabernet Franc and half Nero d’Avola.  Again, all 8 wines we tasted during the formal 2 hour seminar were well made.   
                                        The taste of the sea was evident in MandraRossa wines

Friday, October 31, 2014

Rome’s Best Foodie Spots

I’m just returning from 5 glorious days in Rome.  While I’ve visited the city >20 times, I’ve always stayed in a hotel, eaten out all of my meals, and used free time for seeing the major sights.  This time I wanted my stay to be completely different.

My main objective for this visit was to see Roma via the culinary eyes of someone who lives there.  First thing was to pass up a hotel and opt for a more authentic experience of becoming a Roman.   I was fortunate to snag a marvelous apartment on one of my favorite squares in all of Italy, Piazza Margana.  This charming little piazza, right in the center of Rome, is devoid of has to wander down alley-ways to reach it.  I did not know until I arrived at the apartment that it was owned by the CEO of Benetton.  Its walls were filled with gorgeous works of art, a fortune of silver tea and coffee service was displayed on the antique marble-stopped table, and hand-cut crystal wine glasses beckoned us. 
   Piazza Margana apartment rental

The next days I spent seeking out gastronomic spots…from outdoor markets, to upscale food and wine emporiums…all with the intent of gathering ingredients for our dinners.  Here are my don’t miss places, listed in no particular order:
  • Campo Fiori outdoor market offered a huge array of fresh porcini muchrooms (which I used to make an exquisite pasta with a drizzling of truffle oil).  Nearly every stall at the market also offered dried porcini mushrooms in a wide assortment of quantity, as well as quality.  I snagged several pounds to bring home in my suitcase.  Vendors here sold pasta in every size, shape and color (including the green, white & red of the Italian flag.)  One of Rome’s better bakers is also located here at number 22 on the square.  
                                            Edible art at the outdoor market

  • Sant’ Eustachio coffee house.  You don’t have to rent an apartment to zero in on this place.  Long a favorite stop of mine for a “pick me up,” this place is not only a charmer, but it offers the best coffee in the city.  First, they roast their beans in a wood-burning oven.  Those in-the-know, however, say that it’s the water from an underground spring nearby that makes Sant’ Eustachio numero uno.  All I know, it that it’s simply the best.  (BTW---for a real splurge, try their granita d’café…an icy slush topped with decadent whipped crème).  The shop is located next to the church of Sant’ Eustachio, 2 minutes walk from the Pantheon, 5 minutes walk from Piazza Navona.  This was the best 1.5 Euro I spent this trip in Italy.  Pay inside at the cashier, and belly your way up to the bar.  Or, sit outside for 5 Euro…but all the action with locals is definitely inside.
  • Tre Scalini’s Tartufo.  Speaking of Piazza Navona, that brings me to the next don’t miss.  If you’ve been to Rome, chances are that you’ve had a “Tartufo” at Tre Scalani on the Navonna square.  While Tre Scalini is a restaurant, I usually opt to go into their take-out bar and grab a Tartufo, a fabulous rich concoction that I call “death by chocolate.”  Can’t think of a better way to kick the bucket.  This over-the-top, dense chocolate ice-cream dessert, is a mere 5 Euros in the bar, 10 Euros at the restaurant’s sidewalk café.  It’s still as good (if not better than) the first one I had in 1976.

                               Tartufo---this "truffle" is made from intense chocolate ice cream 
                                                 and covered with bittersweet chocolate
  • Eataly.  This upscale, gourmet food emporium opened in Rome a couple of years ago.  Eataly started in Torino and there are now Eatalys in every major city in Italy, New York (opened by Mario Batali and Joe Bastanovich), along with places like Tokyo.  Eataly rocks.  I spent over 1.5 hours in the place and could have spent more.  It’s located in Rome’s former downtown airline bus terminal and offers 4 floors of gourmet bliss.  My favorite sections are its immense book area which seemingly has every Italian cookbook ever published…most in English, but some strictly in Italian.  This section also boasts a full array of Italian foodie magazines (their versions of Gourmet, Bon Appetite, Food & Wine).  Their pizza section offers without a doubt, the best pizza I’ve ever eaten…and that’s saying something.  Both the Torino and Rome Eataly knocked it out of the park with their tasty pizzas---the perfect amount of crunch and killer flavors from the wood used in their ovens.  Another fave section is their houseware area…I bought several Christmas gifts here, including some for myself!  This place dazzles.         

4 floors of nirvana for food & wine lovers

  • Vinando Wine Bar.  Last, and in no way least, this one was one of my favorite meals over the last few years in Italy.  I had eaten dinner here 5 or 6 years ago…I still remember the stunning lamb dish had that had been prepared in white wine.  While it wasn’t on the menu this time around, the dish I ordered was equally fab.  A ubiquitous fry of calamari and shrimps was nothing short of sublime.  My girlfriend ordered the grilled lamb and it was top notch in every way.  While service is lacking, the table out on the square, along with the food quality and superb wine list, made up for it.  An added bonus was that our quite handsome apartment was in the former palace above--- 2 flights up…and we heard not even a whisper of the wine bar even though the floor to ceiling windows remained open while we were there. Magic at its best.  Definitely reserve & if the weather is nice, book an outdoor table.

                           Vinando is off the beaten track but in the epicenter of Rome

Not on my don’t miss list is a place I visited, one of the supposed “shrines” of Roman Deli’s, Volpetti.  Located in the Testaccio section of southern Rome, it had long been on my list, but because of its distance from the center I had never made it.  This year it was at the top of my list for visiting.  I was disappointed.  While the staff were super helpful, the place was small and prices felt astronomic.  On the morning of my visit, it was filled with Americans…all paying 3-4 times the price for dried porcini mushrooms of the same quality that I had purchased the same day at the Campo Fiori market.  Also, Eataly’s deli had a much larger selection of everything and it looked far fresher and more inviting than Volpetti.  Maybe I just hit it on an off day?  I don’t think so.

Living like a Roman definitely had its benefits.  If you need information on how to rent an apartment in Rome, please contact me at

Friday, October 17, 2014

Charleston: A Food Lover’s Paradise

Charleston is not only the cradle of South Carolina’s farm-to-table renaissance, but it has become the epicenter for sophisticated Southern cuisine.  Low-country cooking has now been elevated to an art form…succulent local shrimps are being served with the city’s artisan-milled grits; swanky cocktails are being made with Charleston’s hand-crafted Jack Rudy tonic.  It’s difficult to walk down the street without passing a restaurant of a James Beard Award-nominated chef.  The city’s food scene pulse is palpable.

Antebellum cooking has morphed into something that is exhilarating and exciting. This innovative culinary landscape has created a tsunami of new foodie shops.  A former furniture factory has been turned into a ground-breaking grocery store where Southern staples such as jars of homemade pickles or pimento cheese sauce appear along with freshly made Moroccan tagines and Italian salsa verde.  A few blocks away, a cutting-edge diner/foodie store offers an eclectic menu with dishes from Korea and Mexico, to Taiwan and also the South.  Its shelves are stocked with local roasted coffee, straight-from-the-farm eggs, and the area’s maple syrup.  Locavore at its best.

The Southern cuisine revival has also created a synergism for ethnic restaurants with an out-of-the box syntheses of the South with far away places.  One of the stars was opened by a chef who was raised in the South, but born in Israel to a mother from Shreveport, Louisiana and a father from Iraq.  His cooking, an interesting blend of his Iraqi-Israeli heritage through a South Carolina prism, includes items such as a Peach Salad, along with a Lamb Pita served on local artisanal bread.   There’s even a South-Asian fusion where Southerners are served “Asian soul food”…fried chicken is on the menu but its “black bean fried chicken over rice and spicy papaya salad.” 

In addition to its electrifying food-centric offerings, there are several other compelling reasons to visit Charleston.  Travel + Leisure just voted Charleston as the #1 city in the U.S.   While its “acclaimed cuisine” was cited in this significant award, so were its “charming boutique hotels, coastal setting, friendliness, garden ambiance and historic vibe.”   Wine-Knows will be taking its first-ever group to Charleston next March…perfectly timed for the city’s best weather and for its annual Home and Garden Show.   At the moment there are two spots remaining.  For more details, check out the trip at  

Friday, October 10, 2014

Paris by Foot...and by Mouth

One of the most requested items I am asked for by clients who hire me to develop a private wine and food trip for them, is a foodie tour of Paris.  While each one is customized a little differently depending on the client, below is a walking tour that encompasses many of the city’s culinary and oenophile shrines….all in one small district in the very center of Paris.  It can easily be done in a few hours, and is convenient to combining with sightseeing at the Louvre, Tullerie Gardens and the Champs Elysee.

The Madeleine district is a gourmand’s paradise and includes some of Paris’ most famous and most expensive food stores.   All of the shops are clustered around the square of the Madeleine church.  There’s something for every food lover all the way from savory to sweet, from moderate to tres expensive, from simple to lavish, and from tea to wine.  If you have time for only one foodie experience in Paris, look no further.

I suggest starting the tour in the morning and beginning with breakfast at one of my favorite gastronomic spots in Paris, Laduree.  Here are step by step instructions:

  • Take the Metro to Place Concorde and exit at the Rue Royale.  Walk up the right side of the Rue Royale to Laduree (16 rue Rue Royale).  This place is a gem from another century. Sit downstairs, even if you have to wait for a table.  Don’t leave without purchasing a snack for later----their world-famous macarons come in every shade (and flavor) of the rainbow (note:  these are not American coconut confections, but an entirely different melt-in-your-mouth delight).
Laduree oozes old-world charm & features gorgeous pastries.
  • Continue up Rue Royale to #6 Place Madeleine where you’ll find one of France’s legendary mustard producer.  Maille makes several mustards that are not exported including one with truffles.  There are over 30 flavors that change with the seasons, however, don’t miss cherry or a chive/fennel.   Tastings are available.

                               The Maille shop features several mustards that are not exported.
  • Proceed to Fauchon at 24-26 Place Madeleine.  One of the world’s most impressive gourmet emporiums, Fauchon is in a category all by itself.  To visit Paris without visiting Fauchon would be a sacrilege.  This is the gold standard for perfectly ripened cheese, exquisite foie gras, and to-die-for pastries.   This is the place in Paris to put together a once-in-a-lifetime picnic.   Beaucoup Euros.

                                               Fauchon:  the epicenter of Paris' gourmet scene
  • Next, head to Fauchon’s gift shop at 30 Place Madeleine, just a few steps away.  There is guaranteed to be something for any serious epicurean here to bring home.  Some of my favorite items are their huge selection of sea salt, Champagne stoppers to keep the bubbles, tea, and cocktail napkins.   All are light weight gifts, and are packaged beautifully.

                                                  Fauchon's gift shop is next door
  • The Masion de Truffe (truffle) is next at #19 Place Madeleine.  In business since 1932, this one is a Paris classic.  Go in as the smells are as awesome as a Chanel perfume.  All kinds of food items are available that have been infused with this magnificent item...I especially like to get a slice of their truffled foie gras.

                                                   The smell alone is worth the journey
  • Then, just a few feet away you’ll find Caviar Kaspia at  #17 Place Madeleine.  You will need to ring the buzzer to be let in.  If you’re in the mood for a wild splurge, head upstairs to their restaurant where you can do some serious indulging (and imbibing---they have a superb selection of champagnes by the glass).  Be sure to ask for a table with a view of the Madeleine church.

                                 Maison Kaspia offers a beautiful setting for a romantic lunch
  • Now, for your last culinary treat:  chocolate.  Pop into #3 Place Madeleine, Patrick Roger’s, one of the best chocolatiers in France.  Monsieur Roger’s is somewhat like visiting the Louvre of chocolates---it’s not unusual to see several feet high artistic sculptures made out of chocolate. If you’re a caramel-lover, you’ll also fall head-over-heels for his dreamy caramels.
The Madeleine Church is reflected in Roger's store window 
displaying his gigantic chocolate sculpture
  • You will now have journeyed around the entire Place Madeleine.  For your last stop, take a left on the street that begins in front of the Madeleine church, Boulevard Madeleine, and go to #3 Boulevard Madeleine.  Here you will find Paris’ most impressive wine shop, Lavinia.  By now you should be thirsty and Lavinia has a fabulous degustation.

Bon appetite!