Friday, April 25, 2014

Slideshows of Wine-Knows Trips to New Zealand, France, Vietnam & Greek Yacht

Click below for the February 2014's Vietnam:
  (or paste it in your browser)

Click below for March 2014's NEW ZEALAND:  
(or paste it in your browser)

Click below for September 2013's Champagne, Burgundy & Provence:  (or paste it in your browser)

Click below for September 2013's Private Yacht in the Greek Islands:  (or paste it in your browser)

Click below for September 2012's  Bordeaux:  (or paste it in your browser)

Monday, April 21, 2014

Easter Lamb

Lamb Burger at Wairu River Winery in New Zealand

Yesterday was Easter and I often associate the holiday with lamb.  I’ve been dreaming of a lamb burger with carmelized onions that I had over a month ago at Wairu River Winery on the New Zealand Wine-Knows tour.  I had this same burger two years prior when my husband and I were in Kiwi-land scoping out possibilities for a future trip.  I’ve fantasized about that doggone lamb burger for such a long time that I decided yesterday to re-create it.

Thankfully during my last visit I made sure I spoke with the winery's chef about how it is made as there’s something I couldn’t quite put my finger on about its unique flavors. The secret appears to be in the 24 hour marinade.  I’m now gladly sharing the recipe as I know that the 14 people on the recent tour who also ordered it (and raved about it) will be making it pronto.

1 large shallot, minced finely
½ cup chopped fresh mint (don't even think about the dried version)
1 Tablespoon red wine
1 lb. high quality ground lamb
Salt & pepper
Carmelized onions*
1 heaping Teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1-2 Tablespoons olive oil

Preparation:  Mix the first 5 ingredients above 24 hours in advance and place in frig.  The following day form the lamb into 2 patties and grill.  Place lamb in buns, top with carmelized onions (and add garnishes such as lettuce & mustard as you prefer).  Or you can forget the bun and eat just the meat with the carmelized onions on top.

*For the onions I used a mélange of 3 large shallots, 1 medium sweet red onion, 1 large Maui onion, and 1 medium white onion.  Remember the trick to carmelizing onions is  LOW  AND SLOW.  Heat a skillet (preferably cast iron as it conducts heat best) with a few tablespoons of olive oil on low, and toss in the onions.  Do *not* stir them often as this disrupts the carmelizing process.  In about 15 minutes salt & pepper  them and add a tablespoon of fresh thyme.  Continue cooking---they should be done in about 30 minutes.

Friday, April 11, 2014

World’s 2nd Largest Coffee Producer---Vietnam

Coffee is a ritual in Vietnam & is often served in its own drip-pot 

The first morning of my recent trip to Vietnam one of the friends who I was traveling with greeted me in the hotel’s breakfast room with “You’re going to love their coffee!”  I thought she was referring to the Vietnamese iced coffee drink popular in California with sweetened condensed milk.  Instead, she passed me her steaming hot black coffee…and it was love at first sip. While waiting for the waitress to appear and order my own, I had to fight myself not to down her entire cup.  This was nirvana…definitely complex…hints of dark chocolate…with a nuttiness lingering in the background.  (BTW: I’m not a fan of the flavored coffees in the U.S. and this coffee was not in the same stratosphere as their American chemically- doctored counterparts.) 

When breakfast was over I asked the waitress where I could buy the coffee.  She replied “Right here.  We have had so many requests for it that we now sell it in one pound sacks for travelers.” I carried several sacks of this coffee with me throughout a two week trip in Vietnam, followed by Australia, then to New Zealand, and alas a week in Fiji.  I have been drinking a cup each morning since my return two weeks ago.  My overweight baggage charges were worth it as I never thought that I would be able to buy it in the states.  Wrong.

Since returning I’ve learned that Vietnamese coffee is available in the US due to the large immigrant community who missed their very special coffee. Moreover, I have discovered that Vietnam is second only to Brazil in coffee production and that coffee closely follows rice as Vietnam’s largest export.

The French introduced coffee to the country in the 1850’s but it wasn’t until after the recent war that Vietnam became a powerful coffee giant.  Ever heard of the Trung Nguyen?  Forbes assessed his worth to be a $100 million US dollars. This coffee baron owns 5 Bentleys and 10 Ferrari’s.  He is the Vietnamese Starbucks.

I was so impressed with my trip to Vietnam that I have decided to take a Wine Knows group in 2016 for a foodies’ tour of this magical country.  In the meanwhile, however, I’m forgoing my usual French Roast for my new found fave, Vietnamese coffee. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Best of the Best---New Zealand

More than 100 wines were tasted on the recent Wine-Knows trip to New Zealand.   As we visited only la crème de la crème wineries, choosing the premier wines is like being asked to pick your favorite Michelin star meal from 2 weeks of outrageously grand dining in Europe or Japan.  Of interest is that only one Sauv Blanc made it on the list.

Below is what floated to the top.  Wines varied from $12 to $80 US and are listed in alphabetical order by producer:

  • 2008 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir:  This winery was one of our Wine-Knows clients’ favorites.  An outdoor tasting overlooking the vineyards with one of the owners and the winemaker…what could be more sublime when you add rock-star wines?  This Pinot, with soft but complex tannins, was an elegant standout. ($60 US)

  • 2010 Bilancia La Collina Viognier:  Maybe it was the drop-dead gorgeous panoramic hillside terrace setting where the wines were tasted?  Maybe it was the oh-so-talented female winemaker that lead us through the tasting of her “babies.”  Maybe it was the unique combination of 85% Viognier mixed with Gewurztraminer (another aromatic bombshell) that created this heavenly mélange?  Whatever it was, it had me at “hello.”  ($40 US)

  • 2013:  Brannock Brae’s Grϋner Veltliner:  This white varietal, little unknown outside of Austria, was just only released from quarantine in New Zealand in 2008.  If this is any example of what the varietal is capable of in the Southern Hemisphere I would say that Grϋner might be the Kiwi’s next Sauv Blanc.  With a nose of peaches and nectarines, tastes of exotic fruits and white flowers, a solid acid backbone, all matched with a lovely finish… this one really stood out.  ($20 US)

  • 2012 Dogpoint  Pinot Noir.  The earth moved on this one, and it may have been the best Pinot of the trip.  A combination of old vines mixed with others, the aromatics were cinnamon and cloves mixed with raspberries.  Roses and blueberries on the taste, along with a very good finish completed this near perfect package.  ($50 US)

  • 2012 Dry River Chardonnay:   This winery’s owner has a PhD in Chemistry from Oxford.  As chemistry is the science of composition and structure, this Chardonnay is a perfect example of complex structure and well composed parts.  With its kaffir lime, melon, pear & vanilla nuances, I can imagine drinking it with everything from Asian to Mediterranean cuisine.  ($37 US)

  • 2011 Fromm La Strada Chardonnay:   This Char garnered “one of the best buys of the trip” award.  Made in the style of un-manipulated French Burgundy, it was all about the more austere mineral profile, with hints of gooseberry and lemons.  The winning element was the finish---impressive at this price point.  ($30 US)

  • 2013 Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc:  It was a real toss-up between this and their 2011 Wild Ferment Sauv Blanc, but I chose this one for its tropical nose versus the Wild Ferment’s slightly vegetal aromatics.  The flavors were grapefruit, lychees and a hint of peaches.   A fabulous finish wrapped it all up with a big bow for me.  ($25 US)

  • 2011 Mt Difficulty Long Gully Pinot Noir.  The outdoor tasting at this knock-out winery was stupendous…breathtaking vistas, gorgeous weather and 10 beautiful wines.   This single vineyard wine was the star of the Central Otago area (the new darling area for Pinot), and one of the best in the country. ($80 US)

  • 2011 Paritua Chardonnay:  I cried crocodile tears when I learned that this one is not exported to the US.  (In fact, China buys most of the winery’s limited production.)  Nonetheless, the long finish of its tropical fruit mixed with nuts really rocked my world.  The winemaker is coming to our home in August for a winemaker dinner…my fingers are crossed he’ll bring this wine.  ($30 US)

  • 2012 St Clair Grϋner Veltliner Block 5:   Although Grϋner is a very food-friendly varietal, I could sip this one all afternoon at our pool on a warm summer’s day….or, serve it as the perfect aperitif.  With an enticing lemon curd nose, it boasted a savory and spice-filled palate and a fairly decent finish considering the price point.  ($25 US)

  • 2013 Unison Rosé:  We had a killer night here at a private dinner composed of a 5 course degustation menu…all paired perfectly with this brilliant winery’s portfolio.  Bone dry, this well-made rosé made from Cab, Merlot and Sryah was matched with a homemade pumpkin tortellini in a tomato and chorizo sauce.   Loved every sip and morsel.  Fabulous buy.  ($15 US)