Friday, March 25, 2016

The Spicy Condiment of Vietnamese Heritage

   The iconic Rooster's color belies its contents---red hot!

What foodie hasn’t heard of Sriracha (see ROTCH ah)?  Not only does this condiment appear on nearly every tabletop of most Asian restaurants in the USA, but it has also worked its way into main-stream culinary America.  There are now Sriracha-flavored potato chips, both Sriracha mayonnaise and mustard, as well as Sriracha jerkey and Sriracha popcorn.   Almost unbelievably, there is now even Sriracha lip balm for sale.  How many knew the Sriracha empire was started by a Vietnamese immigrant?

In the late 1970’s a former major in Vietnam’s southern Army immigrated to the Los Angeles area of California.   He was disappointed to not find the traditional hot sauce he had so loved in his native country.   On a shoestring budget he decided to make his own.  In a broken-down Chevy van he began peddling his concoction to the large community of Vietnamese via their local markets and restaurants.  The rest is history.

His family-run business, Hay Fong Foods, now employs over 200 people and has sales in excess of $60 million.  Named after the boat on which he escaped from Vietnam nearly 35 years ago, Hay Fong’s Sriracha was named at Bon Appetit’s “food of the year” in 2010.   The company has never advertised.  But, the company also never trademarked the name Sriracha and that has proved quite problematic.  While Hay Fong’s iconic packaging is easily recognized for its clear plastic bottle showing its bright red contents along with rooster logo and bright green squeeze-bottle top, it has come under fire from competitors.  It seems everyone is now making Sriracha and knock-offs fill supermarket shelves.

I just returned a few weeks ago from Vietnam with a Wine-Knows group.  There were no bottles of Hay Fong Food’s Sriracha on the tables, however, most restaurants had a similarly colored bottle of equally high-octane sauce tableside.  As I sampled each,  I couldn’t help but think of the perseverance and drive of the USA’s creator of Sriracha----a tribute to the hard-working people of his beautiful homeland.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Wine & Food Grazing in Downtown Bordeaux

Below are the don’t miss spots in Bordeaux for any serious gourmand or wine-lover.  As all are located in the town's central area, they can be reached on a walking tour---which means more available calories for indulging.  Skip lunch and opt for a grazing journey across the city.

                                             Canelés are culinary treasures from Bordeaux

Canelés at Baillardan
Don't even think of visiting Bordeaux without having one of these petite dark-caramel pastries which are a specialty of the region.  There's no better place to have them than at Baillardan.  Made from an ancient recipe, these addictive morsels should be front and center on any foodie's list. (

                                      The goat cheese section at Fromager Jean d'Alos

Cheese at Jean d’Alos
Passionate Monsieur d'Alos has run the city’s premier cheese shop for nearly 40 years.  He treats his assortment of >150 cheeses as if they were jewels…which they are.  Don’t miss a tour of his 15th century aging caves located below his shop.   (

                      Pain et Bricoles is extremely bite & you'll know why

Bread at Fabrique Pain et Bricoles                                                     You’ll need some bread to go with your cheese and there’s no better place to procure it than at this artisanal boulangerie.  Be mindful, however, that the line can often stretch out the door, so plan accordingly.  Rather than a baguette, opt for the killer crusted rustic country bread, Pain de Campagne. (

                                        L'Intendant is mecca for wine lovers 

Wine at L'Intendant
This is the Bentley of Bordeaux wine shops.  A four floor emporium of who's who in the wine world, this superstore is a must for any lover of wine. Most affordable wines are on the ground floor and prices rise as you ascend the spiral staircase to the oldest vintages on the top floor.  There are about 15,000 bottles.  (

                  The best of the Bordeaux region's food products await at this covered market

Covered Market:  Marché des Capucins
While it is Bordeaux's largest market, is is not a building of beauty...but it is a fabulous larder that showcases the best of the French southwest culinary world.  And, it offers great gourmet items to bring home for gifts.  Who wouldn't love a beautifully decorated box of fleur de sel from the nearby Atlantic? (

                                           Your walk's reward at Saunion
Chocolate at Saunion
After too much walking, certainly a little treat from one of the city's best chocolate shops is in order, non?   The same family has been producing chocolates at Saunion for four generations and their pieces are works of art. Expensive?  Oui.  Worth it?  Main oui!    ( 

Bon voyage.


Friday, March 11, 2016

Quinoa---The Highest Protein Grain

Fields of ready-to-harvest Andes quinoa 

This time next year Wine-Knows will be in South America on tour for the Southern Hemisphere’s wine harvest.  Quinoa, one of the world’s highest protein grains, has always been a crowd-pleaser on our prior culinary & wine trips. We’re counting that this interesting grain will also tantalize the 2017 Wine-Knows crowd.

Quinoa (pronounced keen wah) is native to the Andes mountains of Peru and Bolivia.  It is actually the seed from a plant that grows up to six feet tall.  Archaelogical evidence shows that the seed has been used in the Andes’ diet for 3,000 – 4,000 years.  Surprisingly, quinoa is in the same family as beets and swiss chard.  Quinoa has become very popular in many countries around the world the last ten years as nutritionists learn more about the ancient grain (in January of this year Mc Donald’s just quinoa to its menu in Hong Kong).  

Nutritional analysis shows the super-food quinoa is a complete protein, which means it provides all nine essential amino acids for good health, including the heart-friendly Omega 3.  Amino acids are necessary ingredients for a strong immune system and healthy muscles, just to name a few of their many critical roles in promoting good health.  

Not all plant-based proteins, however, are created equal.   Most grains (such as wheat and rice) are missing one or more of the essential amino acids. Quinoa also offers delivers a generous amount of dietary fiber, as well as several B vitamins, and minerals such as iron, zinc, calcium, magnesium, manganese, and phosphorus.  The even better news is that it is gluten-free and easy to digest.  Last but not least, quinoa contains no cholesterol.

But, there’s also bitter-sweet news.  With the rising global popularity of quinoa, many of the people in Peru and Bolivia can no longer afford its price which has risen to keep up with demand.  While attempts have been made to grow it in Colorado’s mountains, it appears that the Andes micro-climate is one of the few places on earth that quinoa can flourish.

We only have 4 seats available on the 2017 harvest trip next March.  All of our previous South America trips have sold out early with waiting lists so we're expecting another sell-out crowd. Please contact us at your earliest convenience if you are interested.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Malbec---Bordeaux’s Blending Grape

               Rue Malbec, one of Bordeaux's main streets, demonstrates the grape's importance.

It’s late summer in the Southern Hemisphere and Malbec will soon be harvested in Argentina’s version of the Napa Valley, Mendoza.  Malbec has put Argentina on the international wine map, winning all kinds of Gold Medals at some pretty impressive international wine events.   While 70% of the world’s current Malbec is grown in Argentina, the grape’s origin is France….not far from Bordeaux. 

Malbec is one of the five red grapes allowed by law in Bordeaux. At the time of the legendary 1855 Classification, Malbec was the most planted grape in Bordeaux.  This changed in the late 1880’s when the phylloxera bug wiped out most all of Europe’s vineyards. The Bordelais replanted, but beefed up their supply of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot which were much easier to ripen in Bordeaux’s cold Atlantic-influenced weather than Malbec.  The horrific cold temperatures of 1956, however, wiped out even more Malbec.   Once again, winemakers in Bordeaux turned to planting the more frost resistant Cabernet and Merlot.  The thicker skins of these two grapes better protected them from frost than the thinner skinned Malbec. 

Today, Malbec is only a small percentage of Bordeaux’s blend.   A deeply pigmented grape, Malbec is primarily used to deepen the color of Bordeaux’s cuvees (blends).  With global warming on the upswing, however, this may change.  When fully ripe in Bordeaux, Malbec can also add red fruits such as raspberries to the profile, but more importantly, it can contribute interesting nuances such as tobacco, mushroom and chocolate.  Thus, a Malbec renaissance in Bordeaux may be on the horizon as temperatures are rising.

The Wine-Knows trip in September to Bordeaux is sold out, however, we still have availability on the 2017 Harvest Tour to South America in March.  During the Argentina portion of this tour, we will taste Malbec from the highest vineyards on earth.  For more information about this tour: